By Matt Kasprzyk
I have a new riding buddy.
Royal Zero the Zombie Killer has been a part of my pack for about 17 months now. He’s not a fox. He’s about a year and a half old Shiba Inu, one of the oldest breeds in the world, despite almost going extinct after WWII. My goal has always been to develop him into a great trail dog.
I’ve been nervous about the task for a couple reasons. Shiba Inus are notoriously independent dogs and can be a challenge during obedience training. Because of this it’s suggested that they always be on a leash. Obviously not a good thing if I have aspirations of training him as a trail dog.
On top of that, Shiba Inus were originally breed for hunting. Not only is there a temperament barrier to overcome, I have to also train him to suppress thousands of years of instinct when out on the trial. This wasn’t the best choice of dog if all I was after was a good riding buddy.
So from early on we kept him well-socialized and active with lots of exposure to people and other dogs. This seemed to have a great affect on his personality, as any trainer would predict. And although he’s just recently started coming on rides, Zero has spent a lot of time outside playing and hiking.
One of the techniques we’ve learned through obedience classes is that in high stimulus settings you need to have an “uber” treat as a reward. Something your dog wants above anything else. For Zero, it’s a ball. Not food, but rather just a ball to chase. Sticks work almost as well. So when hiking I’ve always tried to keep him engaged on what I’m doing, whether it was kicking leaves for him to bite or finding sticks and throwing balls to play fetch with. Also make sure your dog is the right age for prolonged exercise.
Zero has also learned a lot from another Dirt Rag office trail dog. Josh’s riding buddy Toby has been a great influence on Zero when off the leash. Once you’re accepted as pack leader I think it gets much easier. Keep him focused on you, keep him safe, and have fun. There’s a strange primal enjoyment to riding with your pack.