Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer

Pilot, the independent shiba.

Photo courtesy Kristen Adams/Flickr

Dear Dogcharmer,

I have a shiba inu named Pilot. He is smart and totally adorable, but he is a challenge when it comes to training because he not food-motivated. He is usually more interested in his own independence than my treats. He’s quite bonded with me and affectionate, and he wants to please me most of the time, but he loves to run and explore, which leads to trouble.

I would love to be able to walk with him off-leash while we are on-Island. Often he sticks pretty close by for a while on our walks, even when he is off-leash. But after 10 minutes or so, he gets mischievous and runs off, usually way down the beach or sometimes into the dunes. He always comes back, but he does so when he wants to, about 10 to 15 minutes later.

Also, when he comes, he often comes toward me but doesn’t come right to me. He stays just out of reach, stays to the side, or comes to me for a second and runs to get space again. Sometimes he does this at home, too, walking away from me when I call him as though he doesn’t want me in his personal space.

I would love to give him some freedom to run, but I need to be sure he is safe and that I’m being responsible. What can I do to train him to come when I call him?



Dear Lisa,

I’ve met my fair share of vicious golden retrievers and pussycat pit bulls, so I’m not a big fan of labeling breed temperaments. But if there is a generalization I can make based on my experience with the shiba inu breed, it’s their independence. If you want a dog with an attitude that closely resembles that of a cat, the shiba is for you! If you want a pet that when outside and untethered, reliably comes when called, don’t get a cat or ferret. Getting a strong recall from Pilot starts in the house. I’d suggest that if he is fed twice a day, you go to once, morning or evening, whatever suits you. Dog food is left down for 20 minutes. If he doesn’t eat, he missed the meal. (It might help the training if he’s a little hungry.)

During the day, when he doesn’t expect it, you call him to come. When he comes, the moment he arrives, he gets a small piece of meat. At no other time does he get people food. When in training, he’s on leash outside. Period. Every time he runs off ignoring your calls, the two of you are taking two giant steps backward. When he’s coming to you almost 100 percent of the time in the house, see if you can slowly start replacing the people food with dog treats. Then it’s time to take it outside, with Pilot wearing a harness attached to 50 feet of rope, and you’re back to meat rewards.

Don’t hold the rope; let him drag it, but keep it within your reach. If he’s going too far too fast, step on the rope as you call out “Wait up!” Also, lots of recalls. If he doesn’t respond immediately, pick up the rope and give it a tug, praising him the moment he is heading your way. Calling him to come should be firm, upbeat, and happy. As he gets better, you can shorten the rope a few feet at a time.

In truth, what we’re talking about isn’t just the come command, it’s off-leash training, which almost always requires more than just “come.” “Heel,” for when for whatever reason Pilot needs to be next to you; “Leave it” for when he sees a squirrel or skunk, and “Stay,” when needed.

So Lisa, even with a great recall, given a strong enough distraction, you’ll need more than “Pilot, come.” An e-collar, using electric stimulation, vibration, or tone, can probably speed up the training, but that needs to be done only under the direction of a pro. Make the effort and it will pay off. Good luck.

The Dogcharmer