My Shiba Inu is starting his second blow-out of the year!

Shibas don't shed. Twice a year, they "blow their coats," like wolves. It's a process that will go on and on for a good month. Big clumps of fur come out and blow around the floor like tumbleweeds.

The Shiba Inu, according to an article by National Geographic, is the closest breed to the wolf. And like the wolf, when they are "blowing," they look like they're being attacked by giant moths — great clumps of fluff coming out and leaving moth-eaten patches in their fur as the soft undercoat comes out.

Once done, they'll be sleek and handsome again. But in the meanwhile they’re pretty ragged looking. The amount of fluff they blow over the process is astounding. It could fill several shopping bags. It’s almost as light and soft as duck down. (I’m thinking about saving some this time for the birds come spring. It would make super nest lining. Or I might stuff a pillow with it for him as an extra bed, or both. There will be enough.)

Shibas blow their coat, as I mentioned, twice a year, in January and August. They originate from the Island of Inu, just north of Japan. They weren't really known in the U.S. until 10-20 years ago. But Japan’s seasons are the same as ours, so they have no problem with Maine. When I first got him — he’s 11 years old this summer — it was rare to meet someone who knew the breed. When I would answer their questions as to his breed with Shiba Inu, people wold look at me in puzzlement as though I was speaking in a foreign language. Come to think of, I guess I was.

Now, more people recognize the breed. They come in three color patterns. One is the black with tan like Mr. Tucker, who looks like a small wolf (23 lbs.), especially his face with the triangular wolf eyes. Another is fox red and looks like a fox without its white-tipped tail, and the third is cream-white with pale apricot ears. We now have all three colors within the family, as everyone fell in love with Mr. Tucker and wanted the same breed.

Shibas are super smart and headstrong and will always test the waters to see if they can be the “Alpha dog.” You have to establish, firmly, from the get-go, that you are in charge and you have to establish that every day! If you do, they will respect that and will be obedient — except in one thing. They are runners. They must be on a leash or a run or they are off, tossing a grin at you over their shoulder as they take off.

I spent the first few years in utter frustration, trying to catch him once he was loose. You do not catch a loose Shiba. It’s a great game with them. Once, he got loose down at the village store. Half the village was trying to help me catch him. I finally went into the store and bought a beef jerky stick, his favorite. I opened the car door and tossed it inside. He jumped in after it and I had him. But he never fell for that again.

Then one day, a couple of years ago, I opened the door and let him out absentmindedly without hooking him on the run. He knew it in a flash and off he went. He got to the end of the driveway and looked back, waiting for me to engage in the chase. I was too tired. I knew I couldn’t catch him anyway. So I said: "Have fun,” and closed the door. Then I peeked through the curtain where he couldn’t see me. He was puzzled but then trotted off down the road.

I got out a special treat and a new bowl that became his treat bowl, opened the door and propped it open, then watched him as he ran around the neighbor's house across the road, then back across the road and around the other neighbor's place, and then after about 10 minutes, I guess he was bored as no one was playing the chase game, and headed home.

I went to a corner in the kitchen and waited. He came in the house and immediately smelled the treat. As he went to get it, I dashed over and closed the door. And instead of scolding him, I praised him for coming back. (Thank you, Pavlov.) That was three years ago. He still gets loose now and then, but now he’s back and straight to the treat bowl in two or three minutes. (Shibas will respond to fairness, and being treated with respect. They don’t respond well with harsh treatment. Anyone who thinks they have to hit or mistreat a dog to "teach it" should not have a Shiba — maybe not any dog.)

YouTube and regular internet search engines have a lot of great information on Shibas. They are, as I said, highly intelligent and headstrong. But as long as you establish leadership and treat them fair, you’ll have a wonderful friend. And for an old lady like me, there are other traits that are perfect.

First off, they sleep the hours of a cat, an average of 18 hours a day. But unlike a cat, although they like to sleep on the bed with you, they will never crowd you or move around all night. Mr. Tucker’s spot is at the foot of bed with his head toward the door. He is always on guard. (And Shibas will protect you fiercely.)

Another really great trait: He has every toy — a large basket-full now — that he’s ever been given. They do not tear things apart and will not touch anything in the house that they have just once been told not to. Well, there is a caveat to that: If you leave the garbage can out where he can get to it when you aren’t home. When it comes to food, all bets are off. (Although he has never once ever gotten into his dog food bag. Wonder what that says about commercial dog food?)

Oh, and I never have to worry about locking my car if he’s in it. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to challenge him. He’s not a barker. The Shiba will sit quietly and watch people come and go without a sound or movement but let someone touch the car and they explode. And they will not be cajoled or back down. He’s the same if anyone he doesn’t know approaches me too fast. He’ll give a good warning that it’s best to pay attention to.

I never taught him tricks. I taught him commands. (It just seemed beneath his dignity to teach him to perform.) Fortunately, when teaching him, I included hand signals and when out walking, "rein-trained" him by tugs and pulls with the leash. Now he is — to paraphrase an old saying — deafer than the proverbial doornail. But he still obeys by hand signal and his eyesight is that of a hawk.

Yep, Shibas are a great dog. But it’s highly recommended that someone who thinks they might want one should study up on the breed first so as to work with the strengths and foibles and characteristics of the Shiba. In other words, let it be a Shiba and you’ll have a great companion.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools. She now lives in Morrill. Down T’Home is published on alternate weeks.