Heart of Dixie Shiba Fanciers


1. Handling Hints and Procedures by Dave Gordon

2. The Versatile Shiba by Alexis Amerosa

3. Service Shiba Interview by Alexis Amerosa

1. Handling Hints and Procedures

If you don’t take anything else away from today’s training class, it is my hope that you will log one thing into your indelible memory banks – YOU NEED TO BE SHOWING YOUR PUPPY WITH THE THOUGHT OF “HAVING FUN”, “LEARNING” AND “NOT CARING WHETHER YOU WIN OR LOSE”!

I have said a thousand times that the show lead is a telegraph line directly from you to your puppy. I can’t impress this enough. If you get nervous, your puppy is going to get nervous! If you are calm, your puppy will do better. All dogs will react to the vibrations that their owner is putting out.

While your puppy is growing and waiting for that time to enter your first show, it is very important to socialize your puppy. If your puppy’s first time away from home is also its first show, your puppy could get frightened from the noise, the many dogs and the crowds of people. If that happens, there could be a chance that your puppy’s show career could be over. There are ways to recover from a bad show experience if this happens but it is always better and easier to start out the right way.

It is also very important to practice at home. You can play with your puppy and have lots of fun, but when you put the show lead on your puppy, playtime is over. You need to encourage your puppy to get excited about going for walks, but under control. Practice gaiting, turns and baiting and when your puppy does what you want it to do, give it lots of excited praise. Your puppy will very quickly figure out how to please you. Remember, puppies have very short attention spans, so don’t go through long training lessons. AND, never quit a training session when your puppy is doing something wrong. Figure out something that your puppy knows and get it to complete that task correctly. Then give your puppy lots of praise and quit. If you quit while your puppy is winning or acting up, your puppy is training you.

By not caring whether you win or lose, you are taking the pressure off of yourself. You will enjoy the showing experience more and actually you will be opening up your mind to be able to see, absorb and learn more from your surroundings. Make mental notes from your show experience or even written ones. Then ask someone for an explanation. The fastest way to learn is to ask questions. No one in this training class will think you are stupid for asking a question. Everyone here had to start somewhere.

The first thing that a new exhibitor needs to know is the standard of the particular breed that they will be showing. Get familiar with the conformation of your breed, the grooming required and the speed at which your breed should gait. When you are walking or running with your puppy, depending upon your standard, try to take your steps in rhythm with your puppy. The Judge is looking for the perfect gait but stomping directly on the other side of your puppy would be distracting for the Judge.

The next thing to learn is the positioning of the legs or stance when your breed is set up. Know where the head and ears should be held, and finally know where the tail should be. There are ways to make your puppy look better and there are ways that you can mess up your puppy. A good way to practice at home is to set up your puppy between you and a mirror. You can watch and see if you are doing what is recommended for your breed.

Once you have entered your puppy in the first show, go to the show early and walk your puppy around and let it get relaxed and acclimated to the surroundings. Puppies under six months old are not allowed on the show grounds. Then go to ringside and watch the Judge while he/she is judging other breeds and get familiar with what he/she is expecting from the exhibitors. Whatever the Judge is asking others to do in the ring, he/she will be asking you to do the same, unless your breed standard calls for something different. If a Judge speaks very softly or with an accent, you will already have an idea of what he/she is asking you to do.

Unless you are in the “six to nine puppy dog class”, you will even have time to observe what the Judge is expecting from your breed. Don’t just stand there at ringside and chat with your back to the ring. Kenny Roger says – “You never count your money while you are sitting at the table. There’s plenty of time for counting when the dealing’s done.” There will be plenty of time to chat after the judging is done. Some people are capable of talking and observing at the same time, but that is rare when you are starting out.

When you are in the ring, be very courteous to the Judge and other exhibitors. It should be “Yes Ma’am” or “Yes Sir” when the Judge asks you to do something. ONLY, when you are the first in a line of exhibitors and the Judge asks the whole class to go around the ring, turn to the person behind you and ask – “Are you ready?” Sometimes the Judge may ask everyone to go around the ring, one at a time. When moving around the ring in a group, never crowd the person in front of you because it could throw off the movement of their puppy. This is part of good sportsmanship.

Speaking of good sportsmanship, when someone beats you, always congratulate them. When you are courteous and a good sportsman, your competitors, that have been doing this for a while, are more willing to help you. When the Judge hands you your ribbon, ALWAYS thank them! Remember, it does not make any difference whether he/she gives you a fourth place ribbon, say thank you. You will probably be showing under that judge again someday. You do not want to burn any bridges!

Another important thing, especially for our junior handlers, is to be in a good mood. Smile and look like you are enjoying what you are doing. I don’t ask everyone to smile as much as I ask the juniors, but if you are not enjoying showing dogs, you won’t be doing it for very long. AND the Judge will realize that you do not want to be there and less likely to give you a win.

Remember – Not everyone can win the first time showing, especially if you are showing a puppy. There are some judges that refuse to put up puppies for points. But, your puppy needs the experience and the ring training. No matter how much you practice at home or in a training class, the actual show experience can be very different. If your puppy acts bad, don’t get mad. Your puppy will remember a bad experience from the show. This is what I tell people. The first time in the ring with a new puppy is a learning experience. Whatever your puppy does wrong or even whatever you may do wrong, that just tells you what you need to practice on before the next show. My take from a particular show is not whether I win or lose, but whether the puppy that I am showing has shown well. Not everyone can win every time. If they did, the rest of us would quit showing.

When you first go in the ring for your class, the ring steward will usually ask you to line up by arm band number. Set your puppy up on the floor or free bait until the Judge says to go around the ring. If you are first, ask if the one behind you is ready and take your puppy around the ring and set up. If you are further back in the line, wait until the one in front of you has been examined and starts its movement. Then set up your puppy on the table or the floor.

Below are steps for handling suggestions:

Junior handlers only – Wait with a smile until the judge asks you to present your dog.

  1. Set your puppy on the table or on the ground with the lead around your neck or hidden in your hand. Never leave the lead dangling. It is a distraction for the Judge and just plain looks bad. I never use bait when I am setting up a puppy. You want to teach your puppy to stand where you put it, with the head straight to the front. If you have bait, your puppy will be constantly looking for a treat.
  2. If your breed is a table dog, try and set the puppy close to the Judge’s side of the table and right at the front of the table. If you use the front of the table as a guide, the feet will always be straight, looking from the side.
  3. Quickly move the back and front legs into an approximate position.
  4. Clean the neck, keeping the collar up high behind the ears and the head up high.
  5. Take the collar in your right hand and reach over the shoulders with your left hand. Set the front left leg by taking a hold of the elbow. Point the toes straight ahead and the leg straight up and down. You can use the head to help you set the feet straight, in case your puppy is toeing in or out.
  6. Take the collar in your left hand and set the front right leg by taking a hold of the elbow. Point the toes straight ahead and the right foot should be the width of the chest away from the left foot and the leg straight up and down.
  7. Take the collar in your right hand again. Keep the head high and pointed straight ahead. Using your left hand, reach back and set the back left leg with your first finger on the inside of the hock. Set the left leg a little wider than the hips and from the hock to the table or ground should be as perpendicular as possible to the table or ground. The toes should be pointing straight ahead and the hocks straight back.
  8. Still using the left hand, set the back right leg in the same manner.

NOTE: Make every attempt to set the legs on the Judge’s side first because he will be watching you and you want your puppy looking as good as possible.

  1. Make sure that the ears and tail are in the correct position and signify to the Judge that you are ready. Note – Some Judges will not wait for you to get ready, so your motions should be quick and fluid. If the Judge approaches and starts checking the bite, continue setting up the rear.
  2. Always be calm and talk to your puppy. Use a one word command like stand or stay.

When the Judge is approaching you puppy, be ready for the puppy to move. If they move, keep setting up as best possible. Many Judges expect puppies to move, so don’t panic.

11. Always say "Good Morning" Or "Good Afternoon" to the Judge.

12. After the Judge finishes checking the bite and head and starts down the side, move to the front and hold your puppy’s head in the correct position. You want the judge to see a long straight arched neck and a straight line from the back on the head to the tail.

I started this section with “Handling Suggestions”. “Suggestions” is the key word. I would never tell anyone that they needed to show the same way I do. I will tell you what works for me, what I think makes your puppy look better or things that might make it easier for you to handle. Other people may say something entirely different. Don’t argue with someone else and say that Dave said this. Listen to what they have to say. There is no one way that is going to be the gospel. You can try different things and see what works the best for you. This class is by no way a dictatorship.

One point that I like to make is that you want the Judge to see a long clean unbroken neck. We have several different color leads that we use; depending upon which dog we are showing. Try and get a lead that will blend into your puppy’s neck.

When the Judge asks you to move your puppy down and back, there are several ways to get there, but always make sure that your puppy is straight in front of the Judge before you start moving. Junior handlers must always do a courtesy turn before they start the down and back. Also, make sure that you have your puppy’s attention before you start moving. Move down and back in as smooth of a motion as possible, without the lead dangling from your hand. If you start out and your puppy starts acting up, it is perfectly acceptable to return to the Judge and start over, as long as you have only gone a quarter of the way down the ring. After you have gone down and you come back to the Judge, stop about six feet away, turn your puppy slightly so the Judge can see the side view and bait your puppy. This is where it becomes a benefit to watch the Judge before your breed shows. Some Judges want your puppy to bait on them so they can see the expression. If that is the case, run your puppy up a little closer to the Judge and let the Judge do the baiting. When the Judge tells you to circle around the ring, return back to the starting corner and move around the ring. Keep your eye on the Judge. If you are half way around the ring and the Judge turns to examine the next puppy, then keep going to the end and praise your puppy. If the Judge really likes a puppy, the Judge may follow you all the way around the ring. If that is the case, when you get to the end, stop and bait your puppy like you are really showing it off. This is for juniors and everyone, always be alert and watching what the Judge is doing. If the Judge is glancing around the ring between the time he/she is examining other dogs on the table or floor, always have your puppy ready and looking good.

Junior handlers – The best advice for juniors - always be prepared in the ring.

When you are standing in a long line and the Judge is still examining other puppies, sometimes you can relax your puppy. But if the Judge is on the last puppy, you should have your puppy set up on the floor and ready for the Judge to make his/her final examination and placement in the class.

One last point today for juniors - Do everything possible to keep the puppy you are showing between you and the Judge.

2. The Versatile Shiba

Alexis Amerosa

I decided to do something a bit different for my article. I decided to interview Mary Engstrom. Mary has accomplished amazing things with her Shibas and I figured she would have some wisdom to share with us. The NSCA honored Mary at last year’s banquet for Mayday’s and Mary’s accomplishments. Mayday was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for earning his CAX and the Versatile Shiba award for titling in Agility, Rally, Coursing, Fast CAT and Trick Dog.

I’m a firm believer in doing more with your dog. Dogs were not made to sit around idly. They need a job – an activity like nosework or barn hunt, a sport like agility or conformation, training exercises like obedience or rally will give a dog a sense of purpose and fulfillment. That’s why I decided Mary would be the perfect person since she is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to working with our independent breed.

1. What made you get into dog sports with your Shibas?

I completely fell into it by accident. I had read a lot about the breed before I got my first Shiba Koshou, so I knew I was going to be working with an independent dog. Everyone I spoke to said “if you are serious about getting a Shiba, you had better enroll that dog in every obedience class you can find!” I enrolled in a series of 3 obedience classes taught at my local park district. The first session was just obedience. The second and third sessions were half obedience and half introduction to agility obstacles. I didn’t know anything about agility really, but I thought if I had to include that to get the obedience, then so be it. At the end of the series of 3 courses, the instructor pulled me aside and said “I have done this for 20 years and I can’t even believe I am saying this about a Shiba, but Koshou is a really good obedience dog and I see signs of him becoming an exceptional agility dog. You HAVE to go on training him, especially with agility.” She recommended some trainers in the area. I figured it couldn’t hurt me to get off the couch and he might enjoy it. The next thing I know, he was the top novice Shiba in the country his first year competing, he earned his PAX (Preferred Agility Excellence) title, earned high in trial at the NSCA national companion events in Jumpers with Weaves, high in trial for rally at the NSCA companion events twice, and went on to become the world record holder for the Shiba breed in the Clean Run 60 Weave Pole Challenge. To this day I am grateful to the trainer who saw the potential in him and encouraged me to move forward with him at a time when the conventional wisdom was “you can’t do that with a Shiba.”

2. Have you trained other breeds? What was the most difficult part of the transition of breeds?

I had a couple of other breeds before Shibas, but didn’t train anything beyond basic skills with them. However, as my journey with Koshou progressed, the school where we took agility lessons asked me to become an agility instructor after seeing us train for a few years. (The owner actually said “if you can accomplish so much with a Shiba, you can certainly help these handlers with more traditional agility dogs.”) That was a great experience in that it allowed me to realize that EVERY dog has issues that the handler has to work through. Shibas are just more consistent in that many of our issues revolve around the independence of the breed. If you look at what a dog breed was born to do (Shibas are independent hunters), you will find the clue as to how to best work with their temperament rather than trying to use a one size fits all training method.

3. I know I personally have struggled with competing with Nekora in the Agility Course Test - what are some tips you have to motivate a difficult to motivate dog?

I didn’t know anything about agility when I started the sport beyond what I had seen on TV. It looked fun – the dog and the handler whipping through the courses. I figured if I just taught the dog how to correctly perform the obstacles, we were ready to enter a trial. It took me some time to learn that 90% of the success on the agility course was actually due to what happened BETWEEN the obstacles. The dog has to be acclimated to the trial environment by utilizing fun runs, UKI or NADAC trials (which allow some training in the ring) or just visiting an actual trial and using the warm up jump. You need handling skills such that the dog knows when to run full out versus when a turn is coming. All courses have requirements for side changes (when the dog is running on one side of you, but with a direction change, it is most beneficial for the dog to start running on your other side.) There are several types of side crosses and you and the dog must be fluent in how to execute them. The dog needs a start line routine and a recall after the run. I tell potential handlers that the dog should be performing at a higher level than the level you are entering because trial environment stresses will give you a lesser performance at a show than you get in a controlled environment like a class. Compared to teaching all of these, just getting them into a tunnel seems easy now, doesn’t it?

4. What do you feel makes a good versatile/sport Shiba? Genetics? Training? Patience? Dog sense?

Obviously, the dog has to be structured in a way that suits the sports of choice. For example, a Shiba with a somewhat loose patella might not be the best fit for agility. For coursing, you want a dog with a solid prey drive. For obedience, dogs that have strong handler focus work well. Personally, I prefer a more spirited Shiba to a less independent one because, while the more timid dog might be more obedient, the more spirited dog will be better equipped to handle all the chaos and distractions in a show environment. To some extent, it will depend on what the handler is willing to spend time training. I have more willingness and patience for training to channel the energy of a driven dog than I have energy for motivating an uncertain dog.

5. What was one of the hardest things you’ve taught/accomplished with your dogs?

I spoke of Koshou’s agility career earlier, and how as a handler, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. Shibas like to be right, and are quite offended if they believe they have earned their reward, yet none is forthcoming. In my case, unbeknownst to me, the errors were because I didn’t know how to use my body language to signal side changes, turns and obstacle discriminations, but of course at the time I thought “this dog is blowing me off.” Some dogs stress up (get the zoomies) and some dogs stress down (refusals, no eye contact, etc). Koshou stressed down, so I found myself with this dog that I could see was easily capable of doing all the obstacles, but was refusing to run, hiding in tunnels, or stopping in the middle of a course and yawning! I kept taking class after class after class and, because the classes were just about obstacle performance, we kept failing in trials (a year and a half of shows with 0 qualifying runs.) We had our “aha moment” during a seminar when the instructor said “you have to break this down into WAY smaller steps for him. He doesn’t know that it’s just fun to run with you.” And from that sentence, an agility career was born. I took ALL of the obstacles out of agility and pulled him out of classes. We went to our “yard” (a public grassy area in our condo complex) and worked on just making a highly rewarded game of running with me. I called it “the cheese game” (his favorite food). I put him in a stay and walked maybe 50 feet away, released his stay and took off running, zig zagging around the park. The lead out distance was important because it allowed us both to be running at full speed for some distance before he reached me. If he could catch me, he could have the cheese. After several weeks of this, all I had to say was “cheese game” and he would practically turn himself inside out for a chance to play. For the next couple of weeks, we continued the cheese game, but this time with an agility jump set up in the park. The twist was, I made sure to never send him over it. I just wanted him to learn that it was fun to run with me, and oh, by the way, there might be some agility obstacles out there too. I could see him eyeing that jump, and remembering those were rewarded. When I could see he was practically pointing to it, I sent him over the jump. You would think I had shot him out of a cannon. We GRADUALLY built up to having more and more obstacles there (that I might or might not ask him to do that day.) He learned that the real game was running with me and the obstacles were just bonus fun. Until the day of our last run together, we always referred to running a course as the cheese game to keep that excitement for him.

6. What do you think is probably the most difficult sport for a Shibas to compete in?

My hat goes off to the folks to do obedience. The guidelines for performance scoring can be pretty rigid. These people have made a serious time commitment to getting those sits perfectly straight, and having their dogs hold a down stay for a long time with the incredible distraction of other “strange” dogs lying down nearby.

7.What are some tips you would give someone who wants to compete in multiple sports with their Shibas?

Watch your dog and honestly assess its strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Pick sports that both you and the dog will enjoy. No matter what you pick, there will be show costs, training costs and a commitment to training time. I like to compete in multiple sports because it gives me options. I had a recent knee injury so I used the time away from more active sports to train tricks. Also, behaviors learned for one sport will carry over to other sports. We use tricks during our agility warm up to get the dog focused. I recently used the same “wait” command we use on the agility start line to hold my dog in place off leash for more than 5 minutes in an open field when the coursing line broke. I highly recommend at least working for a novice rally title no matter what other sports you choose because it gives the dog exposure to working with you in the ring, and can be done on leash. No matter what sport you choose, be sure your dog is physically fit. And in the event your dog has been performing well and suddenly starts refusing to do something, be sure to eliminate any physical reason such as injury or hypothyroidism.

8.What do you feel is the most important aspect of competing with a Shiba?

Hands down, the handler’s emotional state. Our emotions travel right down the leash to the dog. You have to remember that these are beings who can clearly read the slightest lowering of the head or a barely perceptible (to us) curling of the lip or dip of the tail. We might as well be screaming “I AM REALLY NERVOUS” before we go in the ring because they read our expressions that well. I had to learn to come to a place where I truly felt that whether we Q or not, this run is a chance to just have fun with my dog and get an assessment of what we need to work on. As I look back, I wouldn’t give up any of our runs – even those where we messed up – because the dogs were giving me really good information about what they needed. I just needed to put my ego aside to see it.

9. Do you have any words of wisdom for owners who want to participate in sports with their Shiba?

Go for it! You don’t know until you try. Just don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t do that with a Shiba.” Your mind set must be “how do I get this independent thinker to WANT to do this” rather than “my dog knows the command and doesn’t do it anyway.” Work with the independence rather than trying to stifle it. I really like clicker training for shaping behaviors and getting the dogs to think “what can I offer her to get her to click the thing so I get the treat.” The sooner they learn that they are actually in charge of when they get the reward (by guessing the right behavior), the faster they start to partner with you.

10. What do you look for when selecting a sporting Shiba?

My current Shibas are Mayday (who came to live with me at 8 weeks of age and is now 4 years) and Thunder (who became part of our pack at 8 months of age and is now 20 months.) Four years ago when I decided I wanted a puppy, I worked with Mayday’s breeder to temperament test. We dropped things behind him to see how he reacted to the noise. He very appropriately startled, then went back to investigate the noise. I wanted a shiba with a somewhat higher ratio of leg to torso. That is, when you look at the dog in profile, I wanted his legs to be longer than his torso was high. Leggy dogs seem to have an easier time jumping and a longer stride for running. I also wanted a pup who would seek me out to engage. Finally, he showed his prey drive and work ethic by happily retrieving a ball again and again even at that young age. All of these have served Mayday well in his careers in agility, rally, coursing and trick dog.

Thunder came to me quite unexpectedly. I had expressed an interest in another litter that was planned a year out. I thought that particular breeding should produce a great working dog. Thunder had other plans. His breeders (the same folks who had the litter planned for the following year) had decided just the night before I met him to place him in a pet home. He and Mayday adored each other; he was of an age where I could begin sports training immediately, required no housebreaking, and had all the physical and emotional characteristics I look for. SCORE! I am mentioning him separately because he had one additional characteristic that is critical in adding a second working dog – that is the relationship between the two dogs. I don’t care how great of a working dog the next dog might be – I can’t do it if my home will not be happy. The bond between these two dogs is remarkable and means that I don’t have to spend time training them to get along.

11. Did you find a difference in attitude between males & females? Do you have a preference in gender when picking a working dog?

I think that is truly just personal preference. For agility I prefer the boys. They are just sillier and more tolerant of my mistakes. For coursing, I have never seen a Shiba with greater prey drive than my Chin Chin. She was ready to hunt no matter if it was birds, squirrels, rabbits or the plastic bag lure.

12. It sounds like participating in even one of these sports - let alone multiple Shiba sports - is a definite commitment of time and resources. What drives you to do it?

The day that each of my dogs joined my pack, I promised their breeders that I would see to it that they lived full lives with lots of opportunities for enrichment, and I promised each of the dogs I would give them a life that any other dog could only dream of. Each sport we do offers a combination of different benefits to the dog - physical challenges, mental stimulation, unleashing of prey drive, one on one time with the handler, problem solving, working structure, the joy of earning a reward, a deeper bond between dog and handler, and the joy of just watching a dog be a dog. These sports experiences help them become more confident dogs in everyday life. With the variety of sports that we participate in (rally, agility coursing, Fast Cat and trick dog) we always have something fun and exciting to do, and the work never gets stale. And while we talked a lot about all of our activities, I do make sure we schedule time with nothing to do as well. And this isn't just about the dogs-- the activity has been good for my own fitness as well.

Mary’s Shibas and their accomplishments:

Koshou Friend of Kurgan “Koshou” – RE OA OAJ MXP4 MJP3 MJPB PAX XFP and Clean Run Ultimate Weaving Shiba (60 poles)

Hi-Jinx Designed in Black “Chin Chin” – RA NAP OJP NFP

Hi-Jix Jumpin Black Flash “Mayday” – RN NA NAJ DCAT TKA

Shoei Hi-Jinx Thunderstruck “Thunder” – CAA BCAT TKN

3. Service Shiba Interview

By Alexis Amerosa

I have had the amazing honor of meeting two very special women who have Shiba Inu service dogs. I’ve been fascinated with the fact they have reliably trained their Shiba Inus to be service dogs, a breed that is considered too stubborn to train reliably. So I kindly asked them to answer some question I thought of to give us a little insight of how they trained their service Shibas. To keep it more anonymous I’ll use their initials instead of their full names. I was also given the amazing opportunity to interview the facility owner who trained Mira.

CRW owns Mira and CH owns Chiyo

  • What was the biggest training struggle you faced when preparing your Shiba to become a service dog?

CH: There were none until recently! As a puppy, Chiyo could easily ignore other dogs lunging and barking at him in public. The challenge that we are facing is now that he’s maturing, he wants to play with these other dogs. We’re training hard to teach him that he has to ignore them like boring pieces of furniture. He’s slowly getting better considering we’re fighting Mother Nature and his instincts. But I know we will get through this passing “teenage” phase with persistence and high value treats! He’s a smart boy.

CRW: Honestly, the biggest struggle I faced was myself. Mira was the first dog I've ever owned, so I doubted my ability to raise and train her properly. Nor was I sure how to cope with certain kinds of attention from others once Mira became a full access service dog.

A little over a year prior to getting Mira, I confided in my parents that I was struggling with PTSD. I told them that my psychologist said that I should consider a service dog, and they were incredibly supportive. After looking at different breeds and options for a year, I finally met my breeder at a show. Soon after, I put down a deposit on a puppy. At this time, only my parents and my aunt (who raises Canine Companions for Independence [CCI] puppies) knew that I hoped to make Mira a service dog.

There was definitely some internal conflict before I picked her up. I looked forward to finally having something that could help me with my PTSD. At the same time, doing so would make my struggles more public once Mira and I became a service dog team. Almost no one in my life, friends or family, knew about my disability, and I didn't want to disclose this information until Mira actually became full access.

Again, Mira would be the first dog I ever owned, so I feared 'ruining her' through poor training. Fortunately, I had (and still have) a good network of supportive dog people: my aunt, who raises CCI puppies; my many friends who show their dogs in conformation; and everyone at the Pawsitive Action Foundation (PAF), where I trained Mira.

Happily, Mira swept away my anxiety a few days after coming home with me. My fears faded as we bonded. Training, while time-consuming and sometimes exhausting, was incredibly rewarding for both of us. She was a really easy puppy and I was surprised at how adapting to her training schedule helped me. There have been times when my PTSD made it impossible for me to maintain a normal schedule, due to panic attacks and fear of the same. However, with the responsibility of taking care of Mira, I found that I was better able to take care of myself. This meant that I could focus on raising and training her to the best of my ability.

This was the beginning of a tremendously positive change in my life. For the past six years, I had been unable to find the strength that I needed to take care of myself for my own sake, but I was able to find it for hers.

When Mira became a full access service dog with PAF, I was faced with a new conflict. Up until this point, I had kept my struggles with PTSD private. Having a service dog is like wearing a giant neon sign saying 'there's something wrong with me' in public. Mira was helping me so much, but by acknowledging how much she was helping me, it also meant I had to truly acknowledge, confront, and accept how much my trauma affected me as well. Any attention, positive or negative, was an uncomfortable reminder of this.

I began to worry that the attention brought about by having a service dog would create more stress, anxiety, and panic attacks in public than it would prevent. I am incredibly grateful that members of the PAF with their own PTSD dogs noticed and understood what I was going through. They helped guide me through these conflicting thoughts without judgment. While PTSD isn’t something that can be cured in a traditional sense, only managed, I was able to work though a lot during this transitional period, and continued to work as hard as I always had with Mira. With her help, I've been able to mitigate a lot of my PTSD symptoms, allowing me to find joy in things I had been unable to for years, such as shopping by myself or attending public events with large crowds. She's allowed me to live my life without fear again.

  • What company did you use to task train your Shiba? What made you decide to use that company?

CH: We used Canine Connection, a company that does all kinds of dog training, including a service dog training program. We chose them because the trainer, Chelsea, had experience with Shibas and could come to our home for lessons, which was something we needed because it made it so much easier with my disability. Once we had our initial evaluation with Chelsea and saw how she and Chiyo interacted, we knew she had a special touch with him!

CRW: I trained Mira through the Pawsitive Action Foundation (PAF) led by Norma Ross. The PAF is a nonprofit organization that primarily helps veterans by providing them with highly trained assistance dogs. They also help the differently abled population. The PAF raises and trains Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Australian Shepherds, and Goldadores (all of which are health- and temperament-tested) to be placed as service dogs. Since 2008, the PAF has successfully placed 80% of the dogs from their training programs with clients in need. The remaining 20% who are not placed as fully certified assistance dogs have still gone on to serve as therapy dogs or companion animals.

I learned of the PAF through my mother, who took her rescue dog there for training, as well as one of my conformation friends who helped produce a litter of Australian Shepherds with Norma. My friend's pick from the litter is currently a grand champion.

I contacted Norma about a month before I had even picked Mira up. I did this to see what kinds of training programs the PAF offered. At this point, I didn't mention that I wanted to make her a service dog, I just asked about general training. Norma was incredibly excited to hear that I was getting a Shiba, and informed me she used to own Akitas, (including one from the same breeder as Mira), and that her dogs had achieved success in areas such as obedience, agility, and conformation. There was no judgment or skepticism about wanting to train a Shiba, only genuine enthusiasm, so I was completely sold on bringing Mira there.

I chose to join the PAF's Owner Trained Program. Here, I completed Mira's training by participating in their classes at least once a week, as well as receiving occasional private instruction with Norma. Mira and I did this until we accomplished our goals. Mira was too young (eight weeks) to start classes when I got her, but we were allowed us to sit in and observe classes for free until she was old enough to socialize. Once we began classes, Mira excelled and progressed with her obedience training quicker than I honestly anticipated. Whatever nervousness I had about training a dog was long-gone. Every week, I took what we learned in class and continued to practice and build upon it at home. I can't begin to describe what a joy it was to literally pour blood, sweat, and tears into doing my best to raise Mira to become a mentally and emotionally sound Shiba. Our hard work since the beginning really paid off as she started to mature. The bond between us was incredible, and Mira was consistently a well-mannered dog who wanted to please. Because of how much she was already helping me, I finally built up the courage to ask Norma if she would qualify as a service dog with the PAF when she was around six months old.

Mira and I met the qualifications with the PAF, and from this point on I trained her as a PTSD service dog. There is no official service dog registration or certification under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). However, I chose the PAF because they have their own organizational requirements that an owner-trainer has to complete before their dog is considered a fully trained assistance dog. Their service dogs are held to very strict and high standards if they are to become full access. Their dogs are also highly respected in our local community. Mira was 'in-training' for a long time, and only became a full access PTSD service dog with the PAF after we attended public outing training classes, completed our AKC Canine Good Citizen, AKC Canine Good Citizen Advanced, AKC Urban CGC, and PAF's Public Access Certification. Through this process we customized her training so that she would be able to help me mitigate my PTSD.

  • What lead you to your decision to have a service Shiba? Where there any biases from the training company when you mentioned the breed?

CH: I decided on a Shiba because even though I had loved many breeds growing up, I had bonded very deeply with my neighbor’s Shiba Inu, Nikko, in a way that I hadn’t with any other dog before. I used to baby sit him when his owners went on vacation, and I absolutely loved his energy. I knew a Shiba was for me. Also, I knew I couldn’t handle a large breed. I needed a smaller dog, but one still tall enough to reach me for the retrieval tasks that I need. Then there’s also the fact that Shibas are a primitive breed, one that is known to be highly intelligent. I needed a dog that would be able to use its own decision making skills to help me in the event I could be unconscious. Shibas have that intelligence that separates them from the average dog. Our trainer had experience with Shibas as well, so she knew exactly what to expect from my little puppy and had no negative bias against his breed

CRW: As I'm sure you can imagine, I took the question of what breed would best be best suited for me very seriously. Any breed can be a service dog, but there is a reason that Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and crosses of the two breeds make up the majority of the service dog population in the United States. Both breeds are highly trainable, possess stable temperaments, and have the stamina to perform a wide variety of tasks in any environment (especially public areas where other breeds might tend towards being too shy or aggressive). I considered these breeds as options, but did not feel that they would fit my own personality, temperament, or lifestyle.

I continued to do research and considered my options for about a year, but deep down I think I knew that I had committed to getting a Shiba pretty early on. What attracted me the most toward the idea of a choosing a Shiba is that they are mostly a 'one-person dog', and they usually develop a fierce loyalty toward the person they have bonded with. It was pretty hard for me not to fall in love with the idea of an intelligent, confident but quiet, naturally clean, and athletic dog with energy levels similar to mine. One who would be loyal but not clingy once I earned their respect. Breed size was another large draw. I plan on returning to school in August to pursue a PhD, and a bigger breed simply wouldn't be realistic with the associated lifestyle or housing. I made sure I also understood the potential negatives of owning a Shiba and prepared myself for how I would handle certain behaviors if I were to encounter them.

As mentioned earlier, I went to the PAF before I had even picked Mira up to see if I wanted to train with their organization. I was aware that there is a stigma about Shibas being 'less trainable' than other breeds, so I asked Norma her opinion on the subject. She did joke that problems can arise when people own dogs smarter than them, but believed that Shibas and other Inus are perfectly capable of successfully participating in any dog activity, and can excel when they have good communication and trust with their handler.

While I didn’t receive any negative bias from the PAF, I did receive plenty of (reasonable) warnings from knowledgeable friends against owing a Shiba as a first dog. I can’t imagine the reactions I would have gotten if I had told people I was getting one with the intention of making it a service dog. Fortunately, my gut instinct about my compatibility with the breed proved to be correct. I personally did not experience any major difficulties, Shiba-specific or otherwise, while raising and training Mira. She was as close to perfect as you can get with a puppy, and quickly matured into an incredible service dog. I don’t think my success with her is the result of simply getting lucky with a 'good Shiba'. It’s because I picked the breed I knew I would connect and bond with best. This bond, combined with proper early socialization and thousands of hours of consistent professional training (which I will elaborate on below) has allowed Mira to excel in becoming the service dog I needed her to be. I also didn't train or treat her differently than any other breed of dog at the PAF. Given how successful Mira and I are as a team, I would argue that with the right owner and training, Shibas might actually make better psychiatric service dogs than many other breeds due to how strongly bonded, trusting, and in-tune they are with their one handler.

  • How does the general public react to your dog? Do you get the question “how did you train your Shiba?”

CH: Chiyo is always met with curiosity and enthusiasm from the public, whether he’s out working or just going for his morning stroll with me. I get stopped by loads of people asking me “what kind of dog is that?”, and of course “how did you get him trained?” I’m happy to answer everyone’s questions, so many people have never even heard of the breed when I tell them he’s a Shiba Inu. Even less people understand what it takes to train a service dog. It takes hundreds, if not thousands of hours for a service dog to be fully trained, which is something many people ask about him and I’m glad I’m able to educate them. Sometimes they are wondering if a service dog could be something that they need in their own lives. I feel it’s important to share Chiyo’s journey because it shows what service dogs, specifically service Shibas, can do to help people with disabilities.

CRW: "Is that a fox? No? Well it looks like a fox! What kind of dog is it? Doge! SHIBA! It's the dog from the internet!" In my personal experience the general public acts in one of two ways: curiosity about the breed or, if they're familiar with Shibas, pure excitement.

Unfortunately, regardless of breed, a lot of people get uncontrollably excited to see dogs in public places. The most common reaction I get is simply people wanting to pet Mira. It's up to each individual handler to decide how they want the general public to interact with their service dog. I personally don't mind if people pet Mira as long as they ask politely first. If I agree to let someone pet Mira, I will give her the command 'make a friend', to let her know someone is about to approach and touch her. First, I make sure she is sitting. Then, I allow the person to approach her and pet her on the side or under her chin. I like structuring greetings with strangers because there are a lot more people than you would expect who try to run up and pet without asking.

I am very firm with telling people to stop, and that she's working, if they’re trying to pet Mira without permission. I'm also very good at weaving her out of the way. When Mira is working in public, she is supposed to focus on me and ignore environmental distractions. However, to do that she needs to be able to trust me without worrying that anything too uncomfortable or stressful is going to happen to her, such as strangers startling her or touching her in inappropriate ways.

When Mira was still in training, she was so small that we had to use a recycled vest that originally belonged to a Labrador puppy. The only signage it had was a PAF logo. During this time, the general public was a lot more invasive. The public became less so once Mira started wearing her official full access vest. The vest displays 'PAF PTSD Service Dog' and her obedience titles. She is an unusual breed, and I don't have any visible physical disabilities, so there have been members of the general public who have been accusatory and rude to me.

While a service dog is not legally required to have a vest or any signage about a person's disability, the transparency has made everything so much easier for the both of us. I've found people are a lot more respectful about not trying to pet or distract Mira when she's wearing her vest, and are significantly less disruptive overall while we're working.

Finally, I don't think I've ever been asked how I've trained Mira. I have, however, been stopped and told by many different individuals who are familiar with, or own Shibas, who feel the need to inform me that they're un-trainable. I've learned not to let this negativity bother me and usually just smile and nod as Mira and I go about our business.

  • Did your instructor have to alter any task training to fit your Shiba’s needs? (training style, height restrictions, etc.)

CH:One thing that Chelsea did that was a customization to Chiyo’s training was teaching him his “perch” command. When Chiyo was still growing, he could retrieve items for me, but wasn’t tall enough to reach me yet. Chelsea taught him to jump up on his hind legs so that he could be tall enough to put objects in my hands. I’m on the short side and have long arms, so it was just the little boost he needed in the meantime until he grew to full size. Now that he’s an adult, he doesn’t always need to use his perch command to reach me, but it’s still a useful skill as well as a building block for other more complex tasks he now knows.

CRW: At PAF, Mira was trained and held to the same standards as any other service dog in training there. We sometimes had to improvise smaller equipment for Mira since most things at PAF are sized for Labradors. The fact that she's smaller never prevented her from participating in anything.

Mira progressed in her training around the same pace as the other dogs at PAF (and sometimes quicker), but there were a few occasions where Norma and I decided it would be best to alter her task training. Both were situations where we had to break down certain commands into more steps than another dog, such as a Labrador, might need. This was because Mira would sometimes over-think things. When we were working on recall, she was excellent at responding to 'come' unless I told her to 'stay' first. She was very proud of her 'stay' and would not budge even if I tried to call her over after. To help clear up the confusion between the two commands for her, I had to break up the command into 'wait' (a temporary stay where she is supposed to respond to commands after) and 'stay' (where she does not move at all).

The second time I had to break up commands was during retrieval training. For Mira, this was probably the task that took her the longest to learn. First, I had to teach her to target the color yellow (what I use for anything I want retrieved because it's highly visible to dogs yellow-blue dichromatic color perception) and how to 'hold' objects in her mouth. Then I had to teach her she could move around while holding objects, something she seemed personally reluctant to do. Finally, I taught her how to pick up objects marked with yellow and bring them to me. I had to rework how I approached certain tasks a few times. However, once things click for Mira, she is incredibly consistent and happy to do her job in any environment.

  • What was your Shiba’s motivation to work for you? How did you wean out treats?

CH: Chiyo naturally has a very high work drive, and he is extremely food motivated. I discovered this the day I brought him home at 8 weeks old. I made him do simple commands for spoonfuls of wet food, and I was so surprised that he came already knowing how to “sit.” Right then I knew I had a special one. He loves to work, craves mental stimulation, and constantly wants to learn more. I get tired before he does in our training sessions! But we don’t have to wean out treats, just like you wouldn’t wean an employee off pay checks. Though there are tasks he does perform without expecting compensation, rewards keep him interested and I believe in a fair trade. Chiyo will happily train all day long, especially when there’s something tasty to be earned. To him, working is his favorite game, and he always wins.

CRW: Mira's motivation to work for me ultimately comes down to the way I raised her and structured our relationship (and continue to do so) from the day I brought her home. I've always hand-fed her, and I believe this is critical. Hand-feeding established a very clear power dynamic between the two of us very early on. If Mira every needs anything, especially food or toys, she has to work for it. I've never let her run off with either to enjoy on her own terms. Of course, I make sure that this relationship is fun for her, with lots of positive reinforcement and praise. She's definitely a dog that enjoys to solve problems and think things through in her own way. I'm convinced one of the reasons she's done so well in obedience is because the way I've trained her leads her to believe that the behavior I require of her is her own idea.

I also made sure early on to teach her that I'm the most fun and interesting thing to be around. When she was a puppy until around six months old, our obedience training would be in very short segments multiple times a day. When we weren't training, I would tie her on a six-foot lead clipped to my waist. This allowed her to be a puppy, while also teaching her that her place was to always be near me. I've heard Shibas are known for their cat-like independence at times, but the way I raised her never allowed Mira to be that aloof. I used the time we weren't training for socialization. CCI has a fantastic socialization timeline for what potential service dog puppies should be exposed to, based on their age. At PAF and at home, I made sure I properly exposed Mira to as many sights, smells, sounds, trusted people and dogs in as enjoyable of a manner as I could.

I've never had a problem with Mira being willfully disobedient, stubborn, or destructive. If she engaged in behavior I didn’t want, I would correct her by firmly telling her 'no' and showing her what I expected of her instead. If she listened, she would be rewarded, if she didn't, I would crate and ignore her. I would come back and repeat until she understood the correct behavior I wanted from her. This never took very long, as Mira did not enjoy being ignored and not receiving any attention. The crate was boring, spending time with me was fun.

Once she was around six months old and understood all her basics, I began to wean her off treat rewards. I began by making treats rewards random. For example, if I asked her to sit, instead of rewarding her every single time, she would get one treat for every three successful attempts. Mira responded really well to randomization. She didn’t seem to get frustrated and I think it became a fun mental game for her. Soon, I was able to spread out treat rewards even further, and today she consistently listens without any treats, just praise. Spending so much time and effort teaching Mira to explore the world with manners and confidence created trust and a special bond between us. Ultimately, this bond is why Mira is motivated to work for me and has lead to where we are today. Treats, praise, and consistently firm but fair training simply laid the foundation.

  • Was there any specific method you used or the breeder used for picking a Shiba for you? (genetics, temperament, etc.)

CH: I didn’t know it, but I was given pick of the litter. His breeder jokes with me about how she wishes she had kept him for herself! Chiyo was specially picked for me when I explained to the breeder what I was looking for and that the puppy was to go into training to become my service dog. I stressed the importance of a calm temperament and the smarts needed for the demanding job the baby would fill. She seemed pretty skeptical at the idea of a working Shiba, but said I could certainly try with the right puppy. And the right puppy he was indeed. When I asked the breeder what made her pick this baby for me out of all the others, she said he was the most “personable”, and that she could tell even at those stages of infancy that he was different than any other puppy she ever had.

CRW: When I put down my deposit with the breeder, I made it very clear that I would prefer a girl. I also wanted the most even-tempered puppy in the litter. My breeder was very honest with me about what was available when some litters were born, and they selected a puppy for me based on my preferences. I don't know if there was any specific method they used to pick a puppy, but I highly respect them for doing their best to meet my needs. Everything was very transparent, I was able to meet Mira's parents and see how she was raised before coming home with me. I do believe the way Mira was raised with her breeder as a puppy has contributed to her mental soundness as an adult.

  • What do you feel makes a dog service dog material?

CH: There are so many important qualities that go into the making of a service animal, and in my experience, among the most important is the dog’s temperament. Besides willingness, a dog in training needs to be able to keep calm and focused in any and all situations. Loud crashes and bangs, large crowds, long hours, food everywhere, and people of all ages trying to grab at you because you’re a cute dog out of context are just some of the things you’ll need to tolerate if you’re a prospective working animal. Many dogs can be taught to fetch, but not many can be taught to like living their lives in public. That’s why desensitization is vital when beginning with a puppy, and it’s a lot easier when that puppy has the right temperament as a foundation.
Next to that, I’d say trainability. You need a dog that enjoys the work, can pick up quickly, and that wants to learn. When you find what motivates your dog, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish. Chiyo still surprises me every day, and it’s just a joy to work with him. You can see how much he adores his job, it gives him such a sense of purpose, and he knows how needed and appreciated he is. I thank him every day for his service.

CRW: According to the ADA a service dog is defined as:

"… any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."

Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public must generally allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of a facility that is open to the public.

The best service dogs are those with an even temperament, who are able to perform specific commands, and provide calm, reliable assistance after receiving years of expert training. I do not believe a dog should qualify as a service dog if they are: overly friendly or fearful; easily stressed out by crowded places; inappropriately reactive to other dogs; or cannot be controlled by their handler and consistently behave in unacceptable ways such as barking, having accidents, eating food, or disturbing other people. As I stated previously, it is undeniable that there are certain breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and crosses of the two that naturally excel at service dog work compared to others. However, any breed is capable of becoming a service dog if they are able to meet the rigorous standards to which a service dog must be held, as Mira and I love demonstrating.

While this is another topic in its own right, it is clear that across the country, more and more people are taking advantage of the ADA in order to have the convenience of taking their pets out shopping, to local businesses and to restaurants. Many people with disabilities who use service dogs have faced increased discrimination from businesses owners and other patrons, due to prior bad experiences with fraudulent service dogs. It is extremely frustrating to learn about people taking advantage of the ADA and passing off their pets as fraudulent service dogs. I don’t think there is a clear solution to this complicated and nuanced dilemma. However, I would strongly support better legislation that makes misrepresenting an assistance dog a punishable offense, as well as requiring proof of basic obedience training such as minimally acquiring a CGC before allowing a dog to become full access. The best I can do is to lead by example when Mira and I are working. Every time I go out in public, my goals are to show what standards a legitimate service dog is held to, and to demonstrate how a highly skilled service dog can enhance a disabled individual's independence.

  • Do you have an advice for people who want to task train their Shibas?

CH: I meet lots of owners who want to know how to get started with task training their Shibas! I’ve been able to help many families online by giving training advice and making little tutorial videos with Chiyo demonstrating how to teach new commands- from retrieving medications to getting your dog to use a litter box. For those who are just starting out I tell them first it’s helpful to have a private trainer do an evaluation to see if their dog has the right capabilities to suit the needs of the handler. Decide if you want to have a professional to help you with training, or if you’