Monday, September 30, 2013

Behavioral Issues When Greeting Other Dogs

This is a long overdue post I wanted to make but kept pushing back and rewriting. For those who had been following us for a while would know that I've always took pride in socializing her early and that she gets along with most dogs nicely. Well, since a few months ago, that' no longer the case. 

I have been seeking help from forum members, Maya's trainer, and a behaviorist. This letter I wrote pretty much sums up the situation:
"I have a 3 year old Shiba Inu, Maya, who we owned since she was 8 weeks old.

Since a few months ago, Maya has started to growl at dogs when meeting, on and off leash. Sometimes when she's on leash, she would even lunge at the other dog. It started with big dogs, then to all dogs, from on leash to off leash, from indoors to outdoors.
A typical meet starts with her being all excited to see another dog. She would run up to the other dog, sniff its face and all of the sudden freeze up once the other dog sniff back. A split second later, she would start growling. The only dogs she's ok with, were the ones who avoids conflict and would turn away when Maya runs up.

We had been working very hard socializing her since she's a puppy and she had been great with dogs. But now things just keep getting worse and worse, and I don't know how to fix it.

I feel like I can no longer take her to dog parks, meetups, doggie daycare anymore. The only place that seems to be ok for her now is the beach, but I'm so afraid some day she can't go there anymore as well.

Today we met a Shiba puppy at training class. Maya was so excited, but as soon as the puppy came close to her, she growled, lunged, snapped within a split second. Both owners were quick enough to pull the dogs back, but I felt terrible, as the puppy was definitely startled. This is the first time she acted out on a Shiba.

I feel so frustrated and defeated..."

Maya's  trainer also helped me filmed a short clip of her meeting another dog. This is the typical worse case situation: big dog + indoors + on leash.

Members from the forums had been very supportive and told me this is a common behavior in Shiba Inus. Many owners carefully manage their dogs' greetings, avoid dog parks, or block between dogs during walks. I started to be more careful with managing her interaction with other dogs as well, but since this is still a newly developed behavior, I really wish there's a way we can "fix" it. I don't expect her to be a social-butterfly or get along with every dog, but I do hope she can be more tolerant of other dogs, learn that she can always walk away when she feels uncomfortable, or even just prolong the period of her growling / warning signals so I can react.

I contacted a highly recommended behaviorist, C.Z., in our area, and lucky she was able to add us to her busy schedule. She met us at our home and went through the details of Maya's everyday life. Then we took Maya to meet with her dog, Little Guy, and Maya did extremely well with the greeting. While I thought that it doesn't count because Little Guy is a super well socialized and polite dog, C.Z. believes this means Maya "still has hope".

She then left me some "homework" to do. Instead of dealing with the greeting problem, she wanted me to enforce Maya's recall, focus, and impulse control. While I was secretly hoping there's some quick answer and solution, I understand a solid training foundation is the key to take control when it gets too exciting, too overwhelming, or too scary for her. I guess I just have to be patient and take things slowly.

Meanwhile, as we work on the training, since she does well at the beach, we will continue to take her there as often as we can. Too bad it's not close enough for us to go everyday and the weather will be turning cold soon. It also sucks (for the dog and the humans) that we have to give her a bath after every trip.

Today, I took her for an evaluation at a doggie daycare, which was recommended by another reactive Shiba's owner. I was was super nervous and so afraid they won't accept her. However, the trainer there is really experienced and helped her greeted other dogs nicely. Since the place is near my office and they have half day (6 hours) sessions with very reasonable price, I'm planning to take her there once a week (after she's less itchy). Hopefully some positive interaction with other dogs can help her become more comfortable around other dogs..

I know when we got a Shiba that this may be what we signed up for, but we kind of let our guards down when we saw how good she was as a puppy. Especially after the allergies flared up and she lost interest playing at the dog parks, we've been slacking off on taking her out to meet other dogs. I really hope the training, beach visits, and doggie daycare can help with the reactiveness, or at least make her a happier dog in general.


  1. Face-sniffing. We took a "leash monster" class with Zuko and I can see it in the video - Maya gets pissed when another dog sniffs her face (or stares at her). Zuko is exactly the same way. We were told in class that face-sniffing is super duper awful rude doggie behavior. Unfortunately, Shibas are also hard-core face sniffers (rude). It's like they think they can do it but no other dog shall dare face-sniff the Shiba royalty!

    I've learned to mostly just let this go. Zuko is better off leash. He goes to doggie daycare, he hangs with some Shibas off-leash. I don't bother with dog parks because I worry about the owners, not the dogs. Too many of them are busy on their cell phones. Hiking is the hardest one: big dogs, off leash, bounding up to Zuko. I have to get between him and the dogs because they will just jump all over him. I could rant for a very, very long time about people who let their dogs off leash and then yell at you "he's friendly!!" and their dog charges your on-leash dog.

    1. Yes, I think I just need to get over the feeling about failing to socialize her, and how great she used to be. Dog parks doesn't work for us either, because she has no interest in the other dogs, and would just wonder around and growl at whoever come close to her. The beach is the best, but it's getting cold... I hope she can enjoy daycare, cause she can really use some doggie friends.