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Bowdu and Belle
15 November 2011

Bowdu met Belle, a young black and tan Shiba, for the second time. He wasn’t so nice to her the first time they met at the beginning of our stroll around the park. This time, they met at the end of the walk, so I guess Bowdu was in a more receptive mood… at least, at the start.

Shy Belle

He plopped down on the grass, apparently too tired to stay on all fours. Belle kept circling him and edging closer for a cautious sniff. Even though I thought Belle was being sufficiently deferential, Bowdu was irked. After a few approaches (which did elicit some warning grimaces from him), he blew his cool and launched himself snarling and snapping at poor Belle. She responded by screaming and tripping backwards over her dropped tail, but Bowdu insisted on haranguing her a bit more before I called him off.

The confrontation only lasted seconds, still enough to visibly shake her. Nobody was hurt, and her owner wasn’t mad. Passing park visitors veered sharply aside, giving us wide berth. Between Belle’s shrieking and Bowdu’s barking, these Shibas certainly didn’t sound like dogs you’d want running with your own harmonious pack.

Shy Bowpi
Bowpi keeps her distance.

“Sometimes she deserves it. She’s a little brat,” said Belle’s owner. I’ve thought similar things about Bowdu, until he gradually started taking the offensive position and moved to full-on jerk. While I was grateful for her tolerance, I still felt sheepish about Bowdu’s rowdy behavior — especially since in this scenario, her dog did very little to “deserve” this reaction.

I’ve reached a point where I’m seldom apologetic about Bowdu’s gruff temperament. Some might even say it’s “hard-wired” into the breed. Rub enough Shibas together, and you’re bound to create some divas and devils out of the friction. Yet, I know it’s a cop-out to fall back on some reified notion of breed temperament in order to excuse myself for not having the world’s most perfectly trained dog. “Well-trained” doesn’t automatically mean gregarious though. In a way, Bowdu’s open disdain for the majority of dogs that he meets just makes our private, cuddly moments that much more personal. No doubt Bowdu could have made a great project dog for some expert trainer, because he can be incredibly responsive with the right motivation. But no one could’ve trained him to be nicer than he ever wants to be.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that training is one category absent from this blog. I’ve grazed the literature and have my preferences based on what works in my limited experience; any successes have always been a matter of contingency. Though we’ve put lots of effort into socialization, the Two Bows haven’t been systematically trained to do much. I only ask them to behave decently when enjoying some of the same things I do — taking long walks in the parks and woods, meeting and observing other dogs, going for meandering drives.

Then again, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed these activities to begin with, had I not had the company of my dogs. They’ve done as much to train me as the other way around.