Rescued Basenji's play turns to biting

  • Help! I have a rescued Basenji, that we got about a month ago. We think he's about 3 years old. Previously we had 2 Basenji's that we raised from pups to old age, so we're not new to the Basenji antics. Oliver has a problem in that when we start to play, he gets so rambunctious that he starts nipping… hard. There's no growling involved, but he gets so worked up and fixated on what he's doing that he's hard to stop. if you get him away from you, he just moves on to the next person. Neither of our other dogs did this. I'm assuming it's a dominance thing, but don't know how to stop it. We're not aggressively playing with him so that he feels threatened, but that Basenji switch goes off and all of a sudden his hair's on fire, he's going 100 mph, and then he starts nipping.

  • When he starts to get wild, everyone needs to turn their backs and walk away. There is a citronella spray, Direct Stop, and I have heard that a squirt of that stops unwanted behavior, like nipping. Not a pepper spray, just a noxious odor. Again, I have never had to use it but have know people who got fast results with it. But being very observant and watching for what seems to "flip his switch"…and avoiding it when you can, may be your best solution.
    When we first got our (late) Topper he was 1 1/2 and he would go nuts and nip in a frenzy, we eventually worked him through it. Some are just more mouthy and lave less bite inhibition.
    Good luck,

  • Anne is on target. In the Control Unleashed book, this sort of behavior is labeled "over threshhold". the CU book does a great job of explaining this sort of behavior and how to play games to increase a dog's self control and I (often!) highly recommend it. What I would do with this dog is lots of obedience work with LOTS of rewards for things like "sit" and "down". Watch for signs he's getting over threshhold and have him sit (and reward) BEFORE he goes OT. Ask for a sit, and stand very still and wait for him to comply. REWARD when he does (and if you've rewarded that "sit" often enough, he will.) Then you can redirect him. Games like the Off-switch game and the Relaxation Protocol are very helpful as well as the commend "leave it".

    Please don't think your dog is trying to dominate you. Just think about him as being ignorant about how to play (but not unwilling to learn!). Mentally, I believe that will put you in a better place to work with your dog to create the dog you want and know he can be. I believe that people who think their dogs are trying to dominate them create a "him versus me" mentality that is unhelpful and potentially harmful to your relationship.

  • Ayo does that when he gets overly excited as well. He really feeds off of the persons excitement when playing and unfortunately the normal reaction to his nip is the very thing that gets him going even more. I figured out how to handle it, so he hardly ever gets like that with me anymore, but every once in a while hell get like that with someone. You basically have to stoplaying and throw commands at him like sit stay. Unfortunately it means the end of the game. I can't really play like that with him . I play fetch, which he loves and then when he gets all excited he just starts nipping and biting the stick..

  • My boy can also get worked up, especially in the winter when he doesn't do as much outside. We will be playing and he will start to get rough. Fortunately I have an "off switch" for this. He understands when I tell him he's out of line. I just say "hey", or "settle down" or something similar. ("ouch" works too!) This started, I think, because my husband would get him wound up. His nips were never meant to be nasty, just going beyond comfortable, and I got onto this early, so it isn't an issue. I can tell you what I did, initially, but I expect I may get jumped on if I recommend it. I would restrain him physically when he got out of hand. I am not recommending it, as I don't know your dog. But with mine, I would just hold him still and quietly tell him to stop his behaviour. When he settled down, I would release him. I have always used this tactic with puppies, but with a mature dog you could potentially make his behaviour worse if you don't "read" him right.

    If this nipping is becoming a frequent problem and you don't soon find a solution, I would cease all physical play with him for awhile. Concentrate on games that keep him busy but don't involve any roughhousing or anything that can lead to it. Maybe keep him busy with clicker training new behaviours, which will give him mental stimulation and should also lead to more control of him.

  • What type of play prompts him to go over the top?…. the suggestions/comments already posted are dead on.... Did you get him from BRAT? Or from a breeder? If from BRAT, have you talked to them? If a breeder, have you talked to them?

  • Cara gets the wilds. We worked on soft mouth and at almost 3, it is extremely rare for her to exert pressure but she is very mouthy. I am okay with that. She has learned the moment, in her wild dog state, that she puts any pressure, play is over and she gets only my back. Fortunately she loves to fetch so we redirect that mouth as much as possible. In most dogs I would have simply stopped all mouthing, but she is the most oral dog I have ever owned. She used to go to sleep with her mouth on my hand arm or thumb rubbing me with her tongue as a self-soothing action. She rarely does that either now. My only input is to just assure you it is normal, you just have to work on fixing it.

  • Good on you for rescueing Oliver.
    We have had three Basenjis, the first was a rescue and the two we have now are from breeders. I have found with them all that if you try to play fight then they bite hard and don't hold back. We never do this sort of play with ours as they go over the top and this works ok for us.
    Sometimes they get a bit silly when out for a walk and will occasionaly nip our legs, we put a stop to this the minute they start nipping the leads otherwise they move on to us 🙂

  • Sounds like at 3 years old he is just now learning what it means to play.
    I have heard of using the OUCH very loud when he nips…. basically the dog thinks "uh oh that was not a good thing to do"
    Encourage play, just work on play where he gets his energy out but not psycho play. Taking him for walks isn't going to be enough.. that doesn't get out the energy like running like a wild banshee. He needs to release some energy.. perhaps a dog park or a locked up tennis court when you could throw a ball for him to chase around?

  • Okay Kathy, I am laughing. We always yelped with other breeds, and they GOT IT. When I got my first basenji and yelped, she was like "KEWL a living squeaky toy!" A loud OUCH might have worked better.

  • Our Mickey gets pretty nippy when excited, too, and it was much more of a problem when he had those crazy sharp puppy teeth, but now at 1 yr old he responds pretty quickly to "gentle" and "kisses", "no bite" prompts. But when he gets too worked up I have to just walk away because his first instinct is to mouth & he doesn't seem to know his own strength.

    Someone mentioned winter activities - I would strongly suggest looking into getting a Varsity Ball (if you google it it should come up) - they are indestructible and big! Def for outdoor only. My guy likes to roll his around and try to stand on it - it's pretty funny. And it's almost the only time you'll hear him growl and bark - he gets so worked up with it that I have to put it away sometimes or else the neighbors will think he's vicious (he sounds it when playing with this thing!). BUT he comes in from outside panting and exhausted, so it's a nice alternative for him. I would caution, though, that bc the ball is really hard, he's knocked it into our rain spouts and caused them to fall down. So just be careful if you have anything outside that could get damaged.

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