Herding Instinct Test with Shiba Inu
A good friend who has Shibas invited me to a Herding Instinct Test at some local sheep farms in Washington. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have had with Shibas and I encourage anybody who loves to watch their dogs be completely natural and free, to give it a go if able.
Herding is not really anything that comes to mind when we reflect on the long history of our breed. Sheep were never a native animal of Japan. The few flocks present are mostly out of imported sheep from China and Australia, and generally do poorly in Japans climate. Additionally, the large open pastures of Europe, America and Australia that spurred the need for specialist breeds like Sheepdogs and Border Collies, are nonexistent in this small island country.
Behavioral patterns, or Model Action Patterns (abbreviated as MAPs, although Fixed Action Pattern was a recent popular term to describe this), are instinctive behavioral responses to stimuli. With herding breeds, the instinctive behavioral response is triggered by the instinct and drive to chase and contain uncontrolled movements, which is why people will see Border Collies herding things other than sheep, such as children, cats or chickens. These MAPs are also present in several of the known multi purpose farm-dog Spitz breeds related to Shibas. The other hunting Nordic Spitzes like Finnish Spitz, Elkhounds, Lapphunds, Buhunds, Vallhunds and Samoyeds all share a recent ancestry with farming and herding breeds as early as 100 years ago, although herding and hunting, as with most breeds, is no longer their primary function.
Herding relies on skills honed from hunting, namely eyeing and stalking, which BCs as a breed excell at. The eyeing, stalking, and chasing are all sequences of hunting that in herding breeds has been heavily selected for, with the final step, the kill bite or what sheepherds call “using mouth”, being selected against.
Likewise, because a dog is not a recognized herding breed, does not mean it doesn’t have the instincts. As only a few highly specialized lines of herding breeds perform in sheep trials, the Herding Instinct Test is adequate in proving the drive regardless of breed. I’m sure those with Shibas can recall numerous instances of their Shibas stalking, stalking, stalking, chasing, chasing, pounce and kill bite (ususally with toys, sometimes with leaves or even small birds and rabbits).
Hunting breeds such as the Shiba, are known to have strong prey drive, which is great for successful herding. For instance, Catahoula Curs and Lacys are used for baying and catching both domestic hogs and wild boar, as well as for herding livestock. Shibas are often claimed to have been once used with wild boar, and as we see with other breeds like Catahoula and Lacys, it is the same predatory instinct. American farm shepherds are also used to this day to herd and hunt, such as the Treeing Scotch Collie, the Treeing Farm Shepherd and the English Shepherd.
I don’t expect to see any Shibas at a herding trial any time soon. They are not recognized by any herding associations and are just too independent to take specific direction at a distance when presented with something they love to do (MAP for chasing), which is why all dogs, even Border Collies, need to learn proper impulse control. This is why I find herding lessons to be very valuable teaching tools for my dogs.
Interestingly, several of the herding instructors have recommend herding lessons for dogs with histories of livestock worrying as a measure to teach better impulse control. Of course, any dog that is untrained or unmonitored should never be left unattended with any flock or herd.
I need to remind myself that although our Shibas are not Border Collies, they and the other Nihon Ken are ancient breeds of dog with the same fundamental instinctual tools that have been refined in modern purpose bred specialist dogs such as Collies. Shibas are instead a dog with many uses, and a “can do” dog like a Shiba Inu, who can alert, hunt, control pests, and be a dutiful watch dog and companion at the end of the day would have definitely been valuable to small villages and homes.
We have gone back several times for lessons, and plan to keep going. The dogs go home dusty and exhausted, but with huge smiles on their faces after an honest day’s labor, reminiscent of their hunting past.