Toby is Ten!

Happy birthday to Toby, who turned 10 today!

Four weeks old

Toby at Four weeks old

He is now officially a Shiba elder, and he celebrated his status by doing what he likes best:  nothing much at all.


Often I take the birthday dog for a ride to get a burger at a drive-through, but today I had a puppy class, and was in town already with Zora, so Toby had to forgo his birthday ride.  That’s ok:  Toby is rather….um….portly, as it is, and I didn’t think I needed to add to his quest to be World’s Largest Shiba.    He did, however, have a bully stick, and got lots of attention.   In some ways, Toby has kept his puppyish figure, and his interests have remained much the same too:


Toby then….

though these days, he takes up a lot more space:


Toby at 9.5 years old

Oh, Toby did have a slim period, but that has long since passed:

Toby and Bel in better days

Toby and Bel in better days

(Bel was a puppy in that photo, and Toby was around two years old).

Mostly, Toby seems to be returning to his youth in some ways.   As a puppy, while he didn’t exactly enjoy other dogs, he seemed to be able to tolerate being around them:


Toby and Gideon were puppies together.

But his middle years were difficult.  His friendship with Gideon went sour and Toby seemed to lose every fight he started:

Toby's Neckerchief

Toby’s war wounds

Toby's Neckerchief

Yeah, I lost, but I got this cool neckerchief…

Of course, the fight(s) with Bel were the worst, and in 2008, we nearly lost him.   The damage she did was so great, Toby’s liver began to fail.  But thanks to the best vets ever, and to Toby’s fighting spirit, my heart dog pulled through.


After 6 weeks at the vet, I brought my boy home


Wounded by still smiling!

Toby has seen a lot.  Of course, he has scars, both physically and emotionally.   Toby was very scared and reactive with other dogs ever since then–and who can blame him?  Every interaction he’d had with other dogs seemed to go very badly indeed, and in the years afterwards, Bel tried to attack him every chance she could.  Finally, it was too difficult trying to keep them separated in the house–Bel was masterful at getting through doors and knocking down dog gates.  Toby got his own room,  the sun room, which had also been his recovery room.


Toby in his room

I don’t think he minded.  He had his own chair, and privacy, and big windows, and he seemed to feel safe in his room.   He came into the rest of the house when the other dogs were outside and he slept in the living room at night, but he would happily run back to his room in the morning.   I did worry that he was lonely, as he had no dog friends, but since he’d had such bad luck with other dogs, I think he was more comfortable on his own.

There were some hard times there before Bel died.  There are always mistakes when you have to manage dogs that don’t get along, and we had some too.  Once Toby slipped outside when the others were already out, and I suddenly heard a very aggressive barking.  I ran outside and what I saw was horrible:  Toby was running towards the house, with three others dogs (Oskar, Bel and Leo) in pursuit.  But Toby isn’t fast, and Oskar knocked him down and bit him, and Toby was on his side, screaming, and Bel attacked.  I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to pull two dogs (Oskar and Bel) off Toby and shove them into the car which was the closest place for me to put them (thank god I’d left the doors unlocked!)

Toby had run, crying, back to his room and was on his chair when I got there, and Leo, sweet Leo, was rolling on his back in front of Toby, as if to say, “look, I’m harmless!” Thankfully, Toby was ok, and there was only one minor puncture wound to treat.  But I still feel guilty about that:  it was my fault, as I hadn’t locked the door to Toby’s room, and during the night the wind blew it open, so it was slightly ajar and he was able to go out.   Seeing him on the ground, with the other dogs attacking him still makes me teary:  my old fat boy, wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, but they went after him the moment they saw him.

Something did good out of this though:  after seeing Leo make appeasing gestures, I wondered if perhaps Leo and Toby could become friends.  So very slowly, over the course of year, we began to test it out.  I took them for walks together.  We let them sleep in the same room, with Leo in the crate.  Leo is the perfect dog for rehabilitating a reactive dog:  he reads other dogs well, and he is nonthreatening.   A lot of those early walks involved the two dogs not looking at each other all, or sniffing near each other, but with no eye contact.  Polite dog behavior.  Then we let Toby loose in the yard with Leo on the leash, and then the two of them loose in the yard together, where they continued to politely ignore one another.  They weren’t friends yet, but they were getting along, something which I thought was amazing progress.

And then Bel died, and the dynamics in the house changed dramatically.  The relief in the house was palpable:  Toby knew his tormenter was not there.   He started to relax.   And he and Leo became friends for real.


We’re friends, but I still get all the toys.

It was a pretty amazing change for an old dog.  They are easy together, and lately, I’ve been thrilled to see Toby even greets Leo with a polite sniff and tail wag.  They’re even comfortable enough together to chill out on the sofa together:


And perhaps the bigger miracle is this:  Toby even tolerates puppy Zora!  They’ve been loose in the yard together several times now, and while Toby will give a warning growl to get Zora to keep her distance–no puppy play for Toby!–he also doesn’t seem to be threatened by her.   I’m hoping this will continue as she gets older, too.  It would nice for Toby to have a big protector too, like Leo has with Oskar.


Polite greetings with puppy Zora in the background

So my old boy has learned some new tricks, and I think he’s happier having some friends, or at least knowing that most of the dogs he lives with will not hurt him (he still can’t get along with Oskar, but two out of three isn’t bad!)

Toby may be 10, but he’s a Shiba, so I hope he has many more years left–Shibas are relatively long lived dogs.  He’s not as healthy as he could be, as he is hypothyroid and probably is in the early stages of Cushings disease.  He has always had mild luxating patella, but his age and weight are starting to take a toll, and that leg is getting a bit worse.  And while Toby has long wanted to be the World’s Largest Shiba, I would very much like him to lose some weight, though the various diets we’ve tried haven’t taken much off.  He’s getting hard of hearing–sometimes I can call and call, and when I go in front of him and he sees me, he’s clearly startled:  he didn’t hear me.

But I love my old fat boy like crazy, and am so thankful to have had these past 10 years with him, ten years in which we both had to fight hard and struggle against enormous odds.  We’re both a bit scarred, a bit less trusting than we were ten years ago, and a bit more tired, but also wiser, and we’ve learned to value true friends and simple pleasures.



So here’s to Toby, who is 10, my first Shiba, and my favorite fat boy in all his splendor, and with all his nicknames:    Toby Toby, Toby Soprano, Pope Toby the Only, Fatboy Slim, Toblerone, Devil Dog, Bobo.  May we have many more years together, and you’ll always be my best boy.


Toby as Best Man

Happy Birthday, Toby!

Today Toby is 8!

In honor of his birthday, I thought it might be time for a Toby retrospective.  Toby, this is your life!

Four weeks old

This may be the cheeriest he ever looked, and honestly, we’ve debated…is that really Toby?  Did he ever look that innocent?  (That was a picture the breeder sent).

Toby quickly developed the typical grumpy-buns Shiba puppy face:

Puppies together

Or maybe he just thought, what am I doing here with this Not-a-Shiba?

Of course, Toby’s interests and hobbies developed early:

And you may also notice, when you look at later photos, that his overall shape has not changed much either!

Well, that’s not entirely true.  Toby did have a svelte phase as a young dog, and he even had a phase when he got along with Bel (before she went all psycho on him):

(And wasn’t Bel a pretty puppy?  Shhh…don’t let Toby hear me say that.  This is really all about him, after all!)

Some of you will remember that when Toby first came to live with me, he was very concerned about the fact that there were not enough Shibas around, and he felt the need to call to Japan for some more.  He was initially at least sort of happy to have another Shiba in the house, though he knew all along that Bel was not from Japan, but from Nebraska, which in his mind, explained a lot about her.  I’m sure he would like me to say that he quickly got over the idea that there should be more Shibas, and now he believes that there are entirely too many dogs in the house.  And possibly in the world.  Because of course, he should be the ONLY one.

Soon Toby entered into the darker days of his misspent youth.  There was a lot of fighting.   Many of these fights he started.   Unfortunately, he didn’t win any of them, unless by winning we mean who got the most scars and vet visits.  There was the battle between Toby and Gideon that ended their friendship.  Toby started that, of course, and while Gideon would forgive and forget to this day, Toby has a very long memory indeed.

This was not the first time, nor the last, that Toby got an “outfit” from the vet to cover the wounds he had from a fight.  This was, perhaps, the most dashing of his outfits!

Then there were many “Very Large Array” outfits, in which Toby imitated a giant satellite dish:

And here’s what he looked like after coming very, very close to losing his life to Bel’s murderous attack:

It was quite an outfit, but as you can see, Toby still kept his spirits up, with the help of some Liberty Ale.  Oh wait, I guess I drank that!  This picture, by the way, was after he finally got to come home from his five-week stay at the vet.  We really did almost lose him, but as my vet sometimes jokes now “only the good die young” and we all know Toby is NOT a good boy!

Of course, Toby has had some other types of outfits too.  Not all of them were medically necessary.  The Toby Soprano look, for example:

Or  Toby as the Great Pumpkin:

Of course, Toby looks good in everything, and he knows it.  Even a sweater with the tag on it just accentuates his rugged good looks!  (And he really does prance around whenever he wears something).

After the attack by Bel, Toby never really did tolerate any other dogs again, and he still doesn’t.  In his life, he only had one true dog friend, and that was Kai, his foster father.  This is a picture of them together, not too many months before we lost Kai to cancer:

Yes, Toby has faced many challenges in his eight years, including baths:

Toby says "I hate this"

But he is always magnificent:

Even if, like so many of us, he’s grown a bit more plush with the years.

After all, he still has his same hobbies–foraging, sleeping, foraging some more.

Happy birthday Toby!  You’ll always be the dog closest to my heart.   I hope we have another 8 years together, and you become the old crotchety Shiba we all know you’re destined to become.

PS.  Toby was watching TV tonight, and has been inspired to write a “State of the Shiba” post.   Stay tuned for that!

Toby’s Still Acting (Out)

A Photo Essay

Apparently, Toby has found his acting career so compelling that he wants to continue it.  And apparently, he has decided I am the perfect audience for this, because according to my husband, Toby does not do nearly so much paddling and howling when I am not home.  He saves that pleasant behavior for me!  I’m his chosen audience, apparently.

However, he does have another, very rapt audience.   We have blocked off the area behind the sofa, so Oskar can’t get over to the sliding glass door where Toby is, but Oskar was so entranced by Toby’s “performance” that he got on the sofa to watch:

But then he decided he needed to get a bit closer:

Oskar has seen Bel and Toby lay on the back of the sofa, so I think he decided he might want to try that, but of course, it’s quite different when a 110 pound Akita tries it!  When the sofa looked like it was going to flip over, U. called Oskar to get off the sofa, and since Oskar’s a good boy, he obliged.  But on the way down, something caught his attention:

That’s when we discovered that there was another member of the audience:

(blurry photo--it was an Oskar action shot!)

Bel was watching too!

Toby should be delighted that he has such an attentive audience for his daily acting, but he seems not to be.  He wants ME to pay attention to his acting.

And I feel I’ve had enough.

So after some useful input from the Shiba forum, I realized I missed some obvious solutions to Toby’s situation.  First, yes, it probably is a kind of separation anxiety.  He’s used to me being home a lot of the time, and even if I’m not in the room with him, he knows I’m here.  But this fall, I’m busy with work and classes I’m taking, and I home a lot less than usual.   Toby feels neglected.

Someone suggested I try a thundershirt on him, and I thought, what a brilliant idea (and then, why didn’t I think of that?)  So I got out Bel’s thundershirt and tried to put it on him, but Toby is a bit, well, more substantial than Bel, so it would not fit around his girth.   Then I got some suggestions for substitutes.  I decided to try these, first just with a t-shirt.  I found a smallish one of mine and put it on him, but obviously it was not small enough:

Toby Soprano

While he looked rather dashing in it, it had absolutely none of the swaddling effect necessary to calm anxiety.  I’d also been directed to a good link to a blog that talked about anxiety wraps for dogs*  (see below), so I decided I could easily make one out of an old boxing hand-wrap:

This was slightly more successful:  it did at least fit tightly, and Toby was intrigued with the process.  I don’t think I wrapped it quite right (and there was rather a lot of material to use), but Toby seemed pleased with his new look:

Toby says "I look good!"

Toby dreams of his boxing debut

And he was actually calm for, oh, about 15 minutes.

Deep sigh.

 I’ll have to try wrapping him up in a different way, perhaps with more across the chest.  Probably tomorrow, as I’m sure he’ll be back at it soon.

*Here’s a link for the blog that has the home made  anxiety wraps for dogs:   The Peaceful Dog

Bonus Photos:

A couple of weekends ago, we cleaned the chimneys.  Bel got into the soot:

Bel's a little chimney sweep

And so did Toby, which is why his chest still looks a little grey in his “Toby Soprano” photo.  But here’s what he did look like:

Both Shibas need a bath!

You Get What You Pay For (A Lesson on Choosing a Dog Breeder)

I was on the Shiba forum recently, responding to a thread called “Where did you get your Shiba?”  I started thinking about how important it is to do your research, to find a good breeder, but it wasn’t until I wrote out my response that I realized my two Shibas illustrate the difference between really doing your homework and finding a good breeder, and going for the less expensive and less well-bred dog, which will likely cost you more money in the end.  In fact, once I calculated how much I’ve spent on my dogs, I was shocked, so I suppose this post is also about the cost of owning dogs.

Like many people, I was not always well educated about how to buy a pure bred dog, and what constitutes a good and ethical breeder.  My story will illustrate that.  Nowadays, I’m frustrated by people who buy a dog from a backyard breeder or worse, a pet store, but I admit I didn’t know better either–I had to be educated.  (Actually, my frustration is not so much with those that don’t know better, but rather with those that do, and who still support bad breeders).  I found this article to be a good one in terms of discussing what the different types of breeders are.  What I call “backyard breeders” they define as amateur breeders, and what they call “hobby breeders” is closest to what I define as a good, reputable breeder.   Their definitions are down near the bottom of the page linked, but the entire page has useful information.

So in case someone reading this doesn’t know about what constitutes a good breeder, here’s some information for you:

This link (from the same page) also includes a very good–and long!–list of things you should consider when trying to find a good breeder.  Seems like a lot of work?  It is.  But believe me, it’s worth it. Another important site is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) which is a registry that collects information on orthopedic and genetic diseases in animals. This is where you can find out if dogs have been tested for, at minimum, hip dysplasia. Although there are no guarantees that healthy parents will produce absolutely healthy pups, the odds are sure better when you know about the health of the parents.

Our Story (A Tale of Two Shibas):


I got Toby from a small breeder (a hobby breeder according to the article above) who is active in showing and was active in breeding for show, but is not very active anymore with Shibas.  His sire is a top stud (Japanese import Ch. Tenkuu Go Etchuu Wakasugisou; his OFA rating is good on hips and normal on elbow and patella) and his dam also had good lines (San Jo The Eyes Have It, and her OFA rating on hips is excellent and normal on patella). I paid about the going rate for pet quality pups for him ($900).  He still has some health problems (mild luxating patella, low thyroid, and some inhalant allergies) but is generally a very healthy dog.  His temperament is not the best, and that was clear from when he was a pup (I was not experienced enough to understand that a pup who was 7 weeks old and very dog reactive was going to be a problem; now I would have spotted the problem, though I might still have gotten him).  Still, he’s in pretty good shape overall, though quite large (another reason he was sold as a pet quality pup).  I wish he were less reactive, but otherwise, even with the problems that have shown up with him, I feel like I got a good deal.

I didn’t know what questions to ask the breeder though. I never even asked about health tests, because I didn’t know to do that. (I have since looked on the OFA website for information about Toby’s parents which I noted above.) Now I would want to see results of these tests, and some good breeders post the results on their website, though it is actually relatively easy to look up the information yourself, as long as you have the registered names of the parents. It is important to note that the hip, elbow and knee tests will not be effective til after the dog has reached maturity, ie. after two years of age, though some breeders may include preliminary tests done before that age. This means, of course, that is important for dogs not to be bred before they can be tested.

Obviously, these health tests aren’t guarantees. Both Toby’s parents had normal knees, and Toby does not. But Toby also has a relatively mild LP, and may not ever need surgery.


Bel was very much an impulse purchase.   I wanted another dog, and thought another Shiba would be perfect, but I’d read that Shibas get along better in male/female pairs, so I was going for a female.  Too bad I didn’t do further research so I could understand what constituted a good breeder.  I wanted a Shiba right then, and I couldn’t afford to pay $1,000 for one (or so I thought….but as this story will illustrate, it’s better to pay the money up front for a healthy dog then get a so-called “bargain” that isn’t one).

I got Bel from a place that was sort of a large backyard breeding operation–someone who I believe meant well (and even does right by her dogs in the sense that she did volunteer to take Bel back when I was having the worst problems with her), but is still far from ideal. (This breeder would probably be called a commercial breeder according to the article linked above, and she did indeed have USDA certification, which is actually NOT a good sign when looking for a breeder).   Bel came from a farm, a real working farm, where they also bred several different types of dogs.  If you read this, it might sound close to a puppy mill, and perhaps some people would define it so. I did visit, and I saw that all the dogs were healthy, and the place was clean and looked well run.  The breeder bred about 4-5 different types of dogs, and it looked like there were 2-3 litters of pups available.   Some of the adult dogs were in a big pen (the size of a normal suburban yard) and some were free, and some, most of the adult Shibas, were kenneled.  As I said, they looked healthy and everything was very clean, (and I don’t mean to suggest that kenneling dogs is a sign of a bad breeder; it’s not).   What bothered me about this breeder now is simply that there were too many different types of dogs, and that she was not doing the things that a good breeder would do:  the dogs were not screened for genetic disorders; the dogs were not socialized; the dogs were bred somewhat out of whimsy–she bred the dogs she had without concern to if they’d produce good puppies. She told, me for example, that she liked the look of a more prominent chest in Shibas, so she was breeding for that, even though this is not a part of the breed standard. This place was not awful. The breeder seemed sincere. I’ve since learned, however, that sincerity and “not awful” are not good enough reasons to buy a dog from someone.

In comparison to Toby, I paid $300 for Bel.  She was about 12 weeks old when I got her.   Her health and temperament issues are legion.  Her degree of luxating patela is bad in both legs, (as readers of this blog know, she just had surgery done on one leg, and will need to have the other done next year).  She has epilepsy we think (unexplained seizures and other odd behavior that seem to be petit mal seizures).  She is low thyroid.  She is unpredicatably dog reactive (not all the time, but when she is, it’s bad), and she is very very fearful with people.   She was not socialized during the critical puppy socialization window (7-12 weeks) and so she is not at all comfortable around people.  I love her, but she was definately not a good deal in terms of price.

I’ve spent a fortune on both my dogs. Toby has probably had about $8,000 worth of vet bills, but because the biggest bill was from a fight he got in with Bel that Bel won, I should really count his vet bills as part of the cost of Bel.  If I do that, I could say that Bel has easily cost $10,000.  Yep, you read that right: about $10,000. She’s five years old, so that’s $2,000 a year, and in that count, I only mean vet bills; I’m not counting food, or the piles of books and remedies I’ve tried to get Bel to be a “normal” dog–that’s not counting training or DAP diffusers, special harnesses. $10,000. That’s my bargain Shiba!

So my lesson here?  Spend more money up front, buy from a really good breeder, do all the homework on background of parents, etc, and hope for the best (because even the best breeders can’t control everything)

Next Up: Review Two of FreshPets Select food, and more on Choosing a Breeder