Shibas in Agility
This article was written by Mark Giles and appeared in the Shiba Inu breed column of the AKC Gazette in June 2015.
When you think of agility dogs, a Shiba is probably not the first breed that comes to mind. And yet, there have been many Shibas that have been very successful at the sport, the highest title earned to date being the Master Agility Champion 4 (MACH4) title. I often have other agility competitors and judges tell me what a difficult breed a Shiba must be to train and how much they respect what I’ve been able to do with my dogs. I never know quite how to respond since I’ve competed successfully with several different Shibas in AKC agility over the past ten years. So what does make training a Shiba different from training a more traditional breed, say a Border Collie or a Sheltie?
Shibas certainly have athleticism and enthusiasm, perhaps the two most important requirements of a good agility dog. The breed standard uses such words as “agile,” “alert,” “nimble,” and “keen” to characterize this breed, which is also defined by its “spirited boldness.” However, it also says the Shiba has “an independent nature,” and that independence can certainly prove a challenge for many beginning agility handlers! That’s not to say the Shiba can’t become an excellent agility dog, but it takes more work and a deeper understanding of your dog’s psyche.
First, a typical Shiba will ask what’s in it for himself. Some breeds may happily play agility just because Mom or Dad asks them to, but a Shiba has a different motivation. Therefore, the very first task in getting a Shiba to run agility is to convince them it’s what they want to do. Figure out what motivates your dog, turn it into a game, ensure the dog is always having fun, and you will succeed. Shibas are all about the game!
One of the other issues in training a Shiba is that you can’t do repetitive drilling of any exercise. Once you have practiced a sequence a couple of times, the Shiba will often become bored and wander off to find something more interesting. They require extra patience and ingenuity on the part of the trainer. Change things up constantly to keep the Shiba entertained so that playing with you is always the most interesting and fun choice for your dog.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to have a bit of humility and a large sense of humor. The first time you set foot in a ring at a trial and unsnap your Shiba’s leash, don’t be surprised if he has his own ideas about how he’d like to spend his 60 seconds in the limelight. Even my most experienced Shibas surprise me occasionally with antics that might make you think they’d never set foot in a ring in their life. When things don’t work out, you have to be able to laugh at the idiosyncrasies of your dog and still return undeterred and optimistic for your next run.
In the long run, training a Shiba for agility can be extremely positive and immensely rewarding and they can make terrific and fun agility dogs, but you have to be willing to do it on their terms. You cannot force a Shiba, but instead must accept coequal status as teammates. And isn’t teamwork what all dog sports are ultimately about?