Lockdown has got us all wishing we had a furry companion at home. Don’t we all wish we had a little creature around that we can show off at our Zoom meetings and blame for the “distractions”? For some of us, this dream has become a reality. We were fortunate enough to speak with May, who has been raising her Shiba Inu, Basil, in London in the past year. She has generously shared her experience of raising a Shiba Inu as a first-time dog owner, so if you are interested in getting your own Shiba in the future – read on!
First, a profile…
Age: Almost 9 months old
Birthplace: Swansea, Wales – it was a long drive to get him!
One special thing about him: Basil is the least picky eater you’ll ever meet, we can feed him any medication without hiding what it is because he’s just excited to be offered it. The downside to that is that he’s not opposed to eating trash either, which is hard to train him out of!
How did you decide you were getting a Shiba? Did you pick to have a male or female and was there a reason for it if you did?
My partner and I had always been very enamoured by Shibas (it would make our day if we spotted one from afar!) but knew that it was a challenging breed. We briefly considered having a Westie or a Corgi – my partner wasn’t too keen on a Cavapoo although I would’ve really liked one! – but couldn’t stop thinking about the possibility of owning our dream breed! I think we were discussing the possibility of getting a dog and planning around it for about half a year.
After doing some research, I came across a London Shiba Inu group on Facebook that arranged lots of meet-ups and walks pre-covid. We tagged along to one and had the opportunity to meet lots of Shibas and speak to their owners about their experiences, which boosted our confidence somewhat as many were also first-time dog owners like we would be. I thought that the breed’s independence would be great as we both work full-time jobs and there would be times where our dog would need to be at home for a few hours before having a dog-walker over on days we are not working from home. Their tendency to be quite clean/have select shedding seasons was also ideal. They’re also known as great apartment dogs in Japan which is great as we are planning to live in apartments for the foreseeable future. Shibas actually don’t tend to pee or poop in their own gardens as they see it as an extension of their space, which is a sign of how particular they can be! We loved how Shibas have quite a personality and a lot of sass. Lastly, their intelligence was also a wonderful factor as we wanted to do lots of training with him.
We didn’t really have a preference on gender. The internet seemed to suggest that boys are friendlier and more willing to please but from the female Shibas we’ve met, I don’t see a clear difference between the genders – it even seems like girls may be easier as boys get very tense around other intact (not neutered) males when they’re older. When Basil’s litter came out, it was 3 red males and 1 white female (which the breeder wanted to keep) so we had to choose a boy anyway! Which works out for me as Basil is very much a mummy’s boy.
Has your experience with raising a Shiba Inu been as you expected? Can you talk about what you’ve enjoyed most and what you’ve found most challenging?
Raising Basil is probably the most rewarding thing we’ve done! Seeing him grow and develop new skills is a joy to watch. He has also become such a funny and loving dog. I’ve really enjoyed learning his quirks and helping him navigate different situations. It’s been interesting to see the world from his perspective – we’ve had to desensitise him to being on loud roads, walking past large groups of people, sitting on the tube – we are always so happy and proud to see him thrive in an environment he was initially apprehensive of (i.e. aspects of city life that we as humans don’t think twice about!). I’ve also loved running his Instagram as it’s put me in contact with so many other Shiba owners across the globe, where I can share my experiences about raising Basil with other owners who have gone through – or are going through! – similar situations. Good thing because there’s nothing I like to talk about more than Basil now that I’ve become sort of a dog mom.
Despite going into this fully committed (I even took a year off from starting work), there were some months that were incredibly hard! There were lots of things we anticipated but still found ourselves unprepared for. It can be especially rough at the beginning, since having a tiny puppy that’s solely reliant on you for its happiness and survival is a lot of responsibility all at once. It can take its toll for sure so it’s important to have a support system! There were other things that we had no idea about – for instance, puppies can get sick very easily and often. The first few times they’re ill can be a very overwhelming and worrying time but we soon became well-versed with what the standard procedures are and how to monitor him better. I also had an especially hard time bonding with Basil as a puppy, as I was so preoccupied with meeting his needs that it was difficult to relax and enjoy my time with him. It took some time to build up the confidence to take him on longer walks, expose him to new situations and start training him outside our flat as puppies can be so unpredictable – it didn’t help that I had unrealistically high expectations for both me and Basil! There were times where I definitely did not feel capable enough to handle him and doubted my abilities.
However, adolescence was (and still is!) one of our biggest challenges. We saw the aggressive tendencies Shibas tend to have become very evident once he reached 5 months as Basil’s behaviour became very erratic. There would be weeks where he would be very vocal about not wanting to be touched, and ignored us completely outside! and to pull at everything he sees despite our work on loose leash training. There was a month where Basil was incredibly dog selective and growled at almost every dog we met – even those he had grown up playing with! He also began to show signs of resource guarding inside and outside the house. It was definitely the “fear phase” that we were told about but didn’t think it would affect us that badly as we had worked so hard to build a foundation with him as a puppy. It took us some time to not mourn the sweet puppy he was, and start having more empathy and understanding towards the teenager he currently is, who is currently viewing the world through a completely different lens with lots of fluctuating hormones! We started being more sensitive to his boundaries – for instance, arranging playdates with dogs we know he likes and not encouraging him to meet every dog we cross – and we saw immense progress in his trust in us. We also found a great behaviorist who is working with us through this challenging time. Basil is now so much more happy and relaxed! He’s really great with most dogs now but we try to stay away from other intact dogs until Basil is neutered.
Have you heard the infamous Shiba Inu scream yet? 🙂
I don’t think I’ve heard the scream that Shibas are known for (yet!!) – but Basil became more vocal when he hit adolescence. He’ll talk at you when he’s excited, displeased, hungry, or impatient for us to get up – it’s very funny most of the time.
Can you talk about the process of finding a breeder in the UK?
I went onto Champdogs and messaged through the entire list of Shiba Inu registered breeders in the UK/Wales. It’s quite an old website with lots of inactive accounts but I still had lots of breeders message me back. Most are happy to put you on a waitlist, but I would not expect to hear back from most of them unless they’re very organised – it’s very much a first-come-first-served sort of situation when a litter does come as there’s only a few puppies each time to meet a very high demand. I was lucky enough to have messaged a breeder who had a litter due the following week, but I still had to be very persistent for updates so I could be the first one to put down a deposit and have first pick! Basil was the chonkiest of his siblings so I had to pick him, obviously.
However, it could be especially difficult to get a Shiba if you live in an apartment. Breeders understandably ask you a lot of questions (where you live, what your occupation is, how many flights of stairs you have, why this specific breed etc.) and we got turned down by some breeders because we did not have a garden. It’s of course a personal preference, and we know lots of Shibas in London who thrive in apartments, but breeders have the right to pick an environment (and the people!) they believe their puppies will do well with. We justified our decision as we live in a pet friendly apartment complex that was great for socialisation, and we are surrounded by big open spaces and nearby parks for lots of exercise.
How much time do you spend with your Shiba on a daily basis? Shiba Inus are sometimes known to be not that affectionate – have you found that to be the case?
Since Basil is a lockdown puppy, we’ve been home with him every day – although when lockdown measures were looser we would leave him at home for a few hours to run errands, meet friends or have dinner. We walk him around 4 times a day and do lots of training sessions that coincide with his mealtimes to make sure he’s mentally stimulated. He’s very spoilt!!! We’ll definitely need to work on separation anxiety and build up his confidence in being alone at home soon.
Despite the breed being known as aloof, Basil thrives on attention and belly rubs as he likes people more than dogs! He has certain people he adores in our building – if he sees them from afar he’ll refuse to move, start to cry and make airplane ears until they come over. Basil also rolls over and offers his belly to you as you walk by when he wants belly rubs and enjoys being fussed over. He also jumps up on the couch and naps next to you once in a while, which is very lovely. However, it’s very much affection on his terms – if you try to pet him without his invitation then Basil will probably walk away – but him being able to express consent to being touched has always been really important to us!
What’s the best way to meet other Shiba Inus/for Basil to socialise in the UK?
The Shiba Inu London Walk Facebook group as I mentioned before is really good – going on their walks has really given me an understanding of the breed’s play style. They can sound really scary and loud with lots of teeth baring, which can be too rough for other dogs, but they have lots of fun. Having an Instagram for your dog is also very useful as people can DM you and ask for a playdate as well! We’ve reconnected with Basil’s siblings via Instagram as well and plan to meet at some point.
Would you recommend a Shiba Inu to first-time dog owners? (Are you one yourself?)
We are first-time owners! I would only recommend getting a Shiba if you have lots of time and commitment (and also a strong support system as I can imagine it’s quite challenging to do it alone – I personally don’t think I could!). It’s also really important to have a strong understanding and acceptance of their temperament. Unless you have a really special Shiba, the breed won’t always be friendly to every dog (or person, although that hasn’t been the case for Basil so far), their playstyle can be quite rough, their strong-willed/self-serving nature can really test your patience when they regress on their training especially in adolescence, and they are generally quite quick to tell you when they don’t like something! Otherwise, they’re very loyal, hilarious and intelligent – I have no regrets having Basil and he’s definitely taught me to be a better person! But it’s definitely not the easiest and they’ll definitely be some bad days, although we are seeing progress every day and I hope Basil will be a good boy in maybe a few years time haha
If there was one thing you could say to someone thinking about getting a Shiba Inu, what would it be?
Puppies can seem really tolerant of things that they may end up hating in adolescence (especially Shibas!) – so it’s important to take things slow and build positive associations! Make sure they are happy being handled (e.g. in a bath, being put in their harness), and that they don’t get too overwhelmed in new situations or whilst meeting new dogs (sometimes over-socialisation may flood them too much). Most importantly, be patient! Everything is new to your dog and it’s important not to attribute too many human traits on your Shiba or take their behaviour too personally – they’re not trying to be difficult on purpose! Lots of empathy is needed but once you and your Shiba get on the same wavelength and you become their advocate it’s one of the best things in the world 🙂
Finally, any silly/funny stories and anything else you would like to share? 🙂
It was a 4 hour drive there and back to collect Basil. When he finally got in the car with us, he only wanted to be carried by me and not my boyfriend – literally squirming out of his arms and only falling asleep in mine! A boy who knows what he wants haha! He also held his bladder for around 6 hours which is scarily impressive for a 8 week old puppy – we stood outside with him for so long before we took him back inside, where he finally laid down and peed right in the middle of our kitchen.