Game of Bones
"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried."
Our life bears little resemblance to Shakespeare's Richard III. For starters, King Richard was gravely deformed and I'm strikingly handsome. But the dark winter in the German forest is only amplified by the current pandemic and restrictions on certain freedoms. More than ever we wait for a glorious summer and more certainties about la vita quotidiana. One certainty is that our little Shiba, Yuki, is akin to the son of York, and has made a positive impact on our isolated winter months.
My wife has a long history of loving and caring for the Shiba breed, most recently with Pacha who passed away almost two years ago. In August of 2020, for Kathrin's Birthday, I decided to surprise her with a new Shiba puppy. My reservations were grave. Two dogs are a bit of work for two people, three dogs seemed exponentially more challenging. But without hesitation I decided, once again, that a road trip to Italy to secure our new family member was not out of order. Given the origins of the Corona virus outbreak in Europe, it felt a bit like traveling into the heart of darkness to pick up Yuki in Lombardia.
Of course the trip was mostly a breeze, but for being told on a couple of occasions (incorrectly), that we were forbidden to get out of the car in Austria due to some emergency pandemic restrictions. Worse than that, we were told by an Austrian gas station attendant that we could not cross into Italy without a negative Corona Virus test. This too proved to be false thankfully. So we proceeded to pass a few nights in the city of Trento, from where Kathrin made a day trip to Treviglio to snatch up Yuki while I received the green light ride to the crest of Monte Bondone (affectionately referred to as the "Mountain of Trento" due to its prominence) to catch some of the Giro. This was followed with a few more days in Prato, to get to know Yuki and ride up to see the queen stage of the 2020 Giro d'Italia atop the Passo dello Stelvio.
Naturally, the readership of this blog series, few though you are, may be looking for some non scientific and anecdotal advice on the differences in character between a Shiba and a Shikoku. If so, please read on.
From my experience, the Shikoku breed is most, if not all, of those things you would read on-line or in other published literature. They are loyal, athletic, prone to chasing prey, energetic and yet relaxed and affectionate in the extreme when at home. Our male is very protective of us and has a tendency to assert himself if he perceives a threat to my wife. Our female, is docile by comparison, but utterly capable of asserting herself under limited circumstances.
While our Shiba Inu shares some characteristics with the Shikokus, she is strikingly different in the main. Yes, she is athletic and masterful at chasing small prey like mice. And yes, she is at times inclined to snuggle with you and even let you pick her up. But her independence and fearlessness are without rival compared to Rumi and Sugu. Never, and I mean never, has either Shikoku raised so much as an eyebrow when casually picked up or snuggled. The only form of aggression they display is... as my wife calls it, "the face rape." That is, an endless and happy licking of your face until one or two skin layers are displaced (basically, a free spa treatment). However with our Shiba, the odds are less than 50% that she won't growl and look to sink her baby teeth into you if you dare pick her up when she is unwilling. Elettra Grassi, the Italian breeder (Tessaiga Shiba), from whom we obtained Yuki could not have described her better... "Shiba is dominator of the world" and "you see the fight eyes in Nippo grand national". It is also the case that 70% of her pedigree is NIPPO which contributes to Yuki's fighting spirit. If only we had taken a closer look at her sire Yama Chan beforehand, we could have seen what awaits us. She is less than half the size of our Shikokus and she has never backed down when play fighting, of which she is always the instigator. She also has a talent for chasing them out of the kitchen when there is a sign of competition over food.
The point is that these primitive Japanese breeds are similar in features, but very distinct in their nature. A positive of Yuki is that you can travel with her outside without a leash and she will never stray from eyesight. She will also put a smile on every person and dog's face who she overwhelms. With the Shikokus, there is always the risk that they will catch a scent (boar or deer) and run for kilometers before returning home. So the Shiba is a good bet for the less attentive or more risk averse owner. The Shikoku is more of a people pleaser at home and will lavish you with kisses and attention but can be handful outdoors off leash and with certain other dogs. Lastly, Yuki has these cat-like tendencies and is not shy jumping onto tables or sitting in a windowsill to get a better view... qualities we assume she will outgrow over time.
With that throat clearing, our little Yuki is possibly the most amazing creature. A genius IQ and a challenge to manage. But in the mornings, when she is still sleepy, she is the reason you want to wake up. But no less so with the Shikokus. They are simply different breeds and it's been a pleasure to learn some of the differences as well as similarities.