Thanksgiving woes…
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  • J

    We came home for the holidays, and had an unfortunate sequence of events yesterday. I'm frankly at a loss for explanations. Dex, our 10 month old basenji, has been with us since 4 months and has met everyone that attended our family party last night on multiple occasions. He has been very well socialized with strangers, since we've been preparing him for therapy work at the hospital. However, yesterday I saw a totally different dog. On a day where our routine was no different, he was SO jumpy and had tons of anxiety. He snapped at a family member twice, one that he is always comfortable with. This is also not his first family party, but of course probably the loudest as it was Thanksgiving. In the end, we had to keep him away from family all night as he was on edge. What can I possibly do better in this situation, and how do I nip this in the butt so that we can proceed in our therapy training without aggression becoming a problem (which it never was until last night)? We have another Thanksgiving party tonight, and I'm a little nervous for what he will do. I'm usually so confident in his behavior at these gatherings. ANY advice/thoughts are appreciated!

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  • @jdido09:

    He snapped at a family member twice, one that he is always comfortable with.

    What led up to the snap? What age family member? What might have occurred that you didn't see? And was alcohol involved? (when people are affected by drink their body language changes…...can be misinterpreted by the dog). Also, the dog is 10 months old......an age when there are possibly hormonal changes. Is he neutered?

    I would be on the lookout for any anxiety in his manner tonight, and perhaps keep him away as a safety measure until you get a better read on this. Better safe than sorry.....

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  • Was there too many people around 'his house?'. Maybe he felt threatened and did not know what to do with so much hub-bub going on.

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  • @krunzer:

    Was there too many people around 'his house?'. Maybe he felt threatened and did not know what to do with so much hub-bub going on.

    This is what I was thinking. It is different to meet one or two people at the same time, but a whole, loud household could have been overwhelming for him. At the next big, louder function, keep your eyes on him and give him lots of praise when he interacts well. Place his crate in a quiet room to give him a place to relax. Throw in some of his favourite toys and check in on him to let him know he is not forgotten.

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  • D

    Could someone have fed him something that he should not have had?

    Jennifer

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  • P

    Yes my first thought dcmclcm. Also this was a new experience for him and so much for him to cope with. Can you think back to whether there was a trigger.

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  • J

    Sorry guys for the delayed update, just got back from the week.

    dcmclcm, no he didn't get fed anything. He was sitting next to me when the snap happened.

    Patty, my parents have two dogs, and one was barking a few minutes before the incident. Dex hates barking, so he went to swat at her face to essentially tell her to stop. I grabbed him, hence why he was sitting by me when the incident happened. This may have flustered him… not sure how to avoid it though.

    krunzer & eeeefarm, there were indeed a lot of people, but not his first family party (first Thanksgiving though)

    Hopefully I answered all of the questions. Oh, he is neutered by the way!

    I do have an update to share as well. As I mentioned, we had another Thanksgiving party to attend on Friday with people Dexter had never met, including a 2 year old. We were very cautious with him, had the kids put him into a sit and give him a treat, and all was well. I was very proud of how he acted with the 2 year old, being very mild manner and taking the treats from him so gently! It was like he knew that he was dealing with a baby...

    BUT, the night didn't go perfect. At a VERY random moment, with no trigger, Dexter went to one of the kids (~10 years old) and jumped up on them and grabbed their sleeve and tugged. He didn't growl at all or seem aggressive, but was doing it just like he does when his rough play gets to be escalated. Whenever he does this at home, I make him stop immediately so that he knows he took it too far. Unfortunately, this instance resulted in us crating him. The next day, he did it again with multiple people he had met several times before! I am completely puzzled, and there was never a trigger for any of the instances. He just randomly would decide he wanted to play rough, and put his mouth on the person's (both adult and child) shirt sleeve with his front legs jumped up on their hips.

    At home, there is just the two of us and him, but he is well socialized with people around the area regularly. I want to resolve this rough housing/playful aggression so that it doesn't occur over Christmas when we go back.

    Any thoughts on this latest action? It seems too out of no where to not have a meaning behind it.

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  • Where were you when the jumping/sleeve tugging occurred? Since the snap happened when he was beside you, is there any chance this is possessiveness or jealousy? My guy is quick to intervene in any PDAs between my husband and I…....not in an aggressive way, but he does try to get between us and direct our attention to him. With the latest behavior, perhaps he is just trying to get someone to play and pay attention to him? (is he feeling left out of the action, perhaps?) Without actually witnessing the incidents it is hard to guess what is triggering the behaviour.

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  • Yeah, kind of sounds like he was 'protecting' you. My boy does the grab your clothes thing, when you aren't paying attention to him or when he is upset because you scolded him.

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  • He just sounds stressed to me. Give him frequent breaks from all craziness around the holidays. I don't think it is necessarily fair to expect him to be perfect when all of that activity is going on. One of my dogs gets a stressed more easily than the others so I limit her exposure to large crowds of people, particularly when she is tired. When dogs get stressed, it can get more difficult for them to respond to commands they more reliably respond to under normal circumstances. Plus they can act out.

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  • J

    I agree not to expect perfection, and I don't at all. I am just looking to correct the behavior for the times that he is out with family. It happened multiple times in a variety of settings, so it wasn't a particular trigger I don't think. It may be overall stress from the week in a place away from home, or just an attention-getter / wanting to play act. If it is just simply an act of playing, has anyone had success taming this? I don't want to prevent him from playing by any means, but we do have an ultimate goal of therapy work, and I want him to know the limit to his play-aggression. Thanks!

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  • The impact of stress is cumulative.

    If you strengthen his manners and impulse control particularly in settings of distraction that would help. The behaviors have to be strong for the dog to be able to act through emotion.

    I would also suggest training Go to Mat or Go to a Crate. The mat/crate is a safe place to go where the dog doesn't have to worry about what is going on around him.

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  • Some dogs simply get overwhelmed with a lot of people around. They pick up on emotion easily and can get stressed out.

    I know Kananga doesn't like it when I have a lot of people over at my home. If it's just 1-3 people he's fine. Any more than that and he's stressed. I keep his crate in a quiet spot in our home and he knows he can go nap there if he's overwhelmed. It gives him a safe spot away from all the noise/people. Never have had an issue.

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  • My guy gets stressed if there are too many people and not enough couches/chairs. "What, me sit on the floor? I don't think so!" :) I second the idea of "go to mat" or "go to crate" if he doesn't already know it. I also don't think his reaction to crowds will likely be reflected in therapy work, as that is typically a quieter setting…..

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  • I would really back up before these behaviors become set and stress related to being with people. You may seriously have to reevaluate if his temperament is suited for therapy work also.

    Walk and play the heck out of him so he is tired for a few days. Then set up small group visits with people. Keep him leashed, have people utterly ignore him unless he is settled. They can toss him treats. Once he has learned to settle next to you (may take 4 or more visits), try without a leash. You need to build up a routine of calm and if it requires leashed for 4 visits or 10 visits til he gets it right, you do it.

    For the grabbing clothes– a brisk NO, and put into a down with whoever he is grabbing totally ignoring him. Have them do the tree thing. Obviously safest to eliminate this behavior with home and family.

    Once you have him settling around a small group, work to get a few more, more noise, more activity and build up so that he is adjusted and not stressed.

    It sounds like simple overload/stress, but if you don't fix it with a lot of work, you can forget therapy work.

    You might also write KDiamondD@aol.com. Copy your story to her, and ask her advice. She trains both therapy and service dogs and truly is amazing. (Kathy Diamond Davis also has books.) Tell her I referred you to her.

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  • D

    I was also going to suggest more exercise. Also if he is not neutered, it is breeding season and perhaps it is hormonal. If he is neutered, I would get a complete thyroid test done. If he is not neutered, I would wait for a few months when breeding season would be over for Basenjis. I would ask his breeder if low thyroid runs in the family.

    Jennifer

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  • @dcmclcm4:

    I was also going to suggest more exercise. Also if he is not neutered, it is breeding season and perhaps it is hormonal. If he is neutered, I would get a complete thyroid test done. If he is not neutered, I would wait for a few months when breeding season would be over for Basenjis. I would ask his breeder if low thyroid runs in the family.

    Jennifer

    Even if he is neutered (and I think that was already stated that he was) it is Basenji breeding season and neutered dogs know this and can react differently to situations.

    My first Basenjis, Maggii and OJ were never really comfortable with a crowd. As baby puppies they really didn't care, but as they grew it changed. We found that they were much happier greating people and then going to their crates in a room with the door closed (to stop young children from fussing around them). On the opposite end of the stick, our Mickii loved people, children and crowds. In the middle was Kristii who as a young dog did not like crowds, children and really people in general. She was the classic aloof with stranges and even sometimes with people she knew. However the older she got the more she wanted to be with everyone. As an elder her favorite people were children of any age.

    That said, I would agree with the stress factor. Even if he has been around other family gatherings, remember he is starting to grow up… things change.. just like with human children.

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  • I feel its important to think of the difference between nipping because he is excited and/or playing rough, or being aggressive towards people.. I think they both deserve great concern.. but i think , and I'm no expert, but I would think you would go about the solution in a different manner. Ayo loves to be around people, and Ive never had too many people over at one time, but he has been with me on vacation in houses full of people and lots of children, and he has nipped a couple of times while playing. He gets very excited and pulls on your clothes and has jumped and nipped. A strong NO,, and ignoring him for a while has worked every time, but he hasn't stopped doing it, i mean… he stops at the moment. But, a few months later, in another place he did it again. He has gotten better as he has gotten older, but he still does it every once in a while. It really helps to tell people to ignore him when they first meet him and if he gets overly excited....This is by no means, acceptable behavior and it hurts when he does it, but its not an aggressive attack bite..... I would never describe him as an aggressive dog..

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  • My guy got quite excited when my friend and I headed down the hayfield with him. It was novel to have her along, and he jumped and grabbed her sleeve…...an attempt at play, not aggression. I just said "oh, I don't think so!" in THAT tone, and that was the end of it. Sometimes Basenjis get carried away with themselves and just want someone else to join in their play......so it may all be quite innocent, if unacceptable. It can be useful to have a disapproval look or phrase that is slightly less emphatic than "no!" (which should always mean exactly that!), to inform a dog he is slightly over the line without totally squelching his enthusiasm......or at least I find it so. :)

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  • I'd suggest Control Unleashed - the book, the dvd's or both. This book talks alot about stress, learning, and over threshhold. Also remember that stress is cumulative. Sometimes it works out that 1+1=2 but sometimes 1+1=4 (in terms of stress anyway)

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  • J

    Really appreciate the advice everyone, very helpful!

    Debra, thus far he is fantastic with strangers that we encounter, minus the Thanksgiving situation at family parties. So I do hope that the setting matters, and a therapy setting would bring out a 'different,' more work-like Dexter. We are working very hard to prepare him for therapy work, and I work in the hospital, so I won't be taking him nor taking the certification exams until he is ready.

    Dmey, how you described Ayo's actions is near identical to what I encountered last week.

    I will be trying Control Unleashed. I do give an emphatic "NO" for the over-excitement and rough play, but like dmey has explained, it only lasts for a few short minutes. Any way to make this understanding last longer? Should I put him away for a while to settle down when it happens?

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