Severe Biting Problem
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  • D

    Hello Basenji Forums! My girlfriend and I have had our 4 month old basenji boy since he was 9 weeks old and we are experiencing some severe biting issues. Excuse the long post, but I want to be sure to provide as much detail as possible because we could really use some help! Here is our story:

    February:
    Since we have had him he has always been fairly mouthy and although he was kept with his 3 litter mates and his mother during those first 9 weeks, it seemed like he never completely pick up on the bite inhibition concept. Early on we tried simulating basenji puppy yelps, to continue his bite inhibition training, but it didn't appear to be effective. We used a "Timeout" leash that was tied to a door handle with nothing else around and where he could be safely left alone to correct behaviors such as biting us, biting the furniture, going upstairs, or being places he shouldn't be (e.g., on the bookshelf). This was extremely effective! I think after about 3 trials he understood that upstairs was bad and although the furniture biting took a little longer, he soon had no interest in it. However, he never really stopped biting us. We never "played rough" with him and eventually decided that instead of timeouts, we would just ignore him when he bit us, although he never seemed bothered by the fact that we ignored him as if it is what he wanted.

    March:
    The biting began to escalate. Although timeouts were seldom and usually in spurts, he began biting us HARD as we carried him over to his "Timeout Zone." Putting the leash on him was difficult because he would try to bite the entire time, but even after clipping the leash on he began lunging at us. If we walked by within the first minute or so of the timeout he would lunge and attempt to bite. A few times he was able to catch a pant leg, or a leg itself and these bites were vicious. Soon this behavior permeated beyond just timeouts. Sometimes while we were out on walks he would randomly decide to attack our legs. Eventually, it would just happen randomly in the house. I tried to diagnose what triggers these episodes but it wasn't easy. It certainly happened more often when he was going on a crazy run around in circles spurt. We had been told by our breeder to randomly take away a toy from him, just to remind him who's boss, to which he would sit patiently waiting for us to give it back or throw it to the other end of the room for him to chase. However, when he gets something he's not supposed to have and we take that away, the biting usually follows. For instance, we keep his toys in a canvas-like box thing in a corner. I don't mind so much that he chews on it, but a couple of times he dragged it out to the middle of the room. So, I would tell him no, and simply put it back in the corner. Each of the 2 or 3 times this happened it would lead to him chomping down on my legs and feet.

    I think it is important to note that when these biting episodes occur, they are not love bites, they are not single nips. They are "chomp chomp chomp", jump up to bite at the knee or thigh "chomp chomp," go gnaw on the foot. They do leave marks, and at that point in time they occasionally broke the skin. However, he makes no noise while he does this, no growling, no showing of teeth beforehand. We spoke to the breeder about this and she didn't seem alarmed. She reminded us that she has never bred an aggressive dog and that he was a puppy and probably just scared. Although I couldn't completely wrap my head around the idea that fear was the cause, I considered that perhaps carrying him over to isolation in timeout could cause him some stress, leading to a defensive escape response of biting, but this certainly did not explain everything. We decided we needed some professional help, so we scheduled a consultation with a positive reinforcement trainer.

    April:
    After meeting with the trainer she confirmed that he was extremely mouthy and that "mouthy" didn't really do it justice because they were in fact BITES. She explained this was very abnormal behavior, even for a puppy. We worked out a training plan that involved only positive reinforcement. Therefore, we did away with the timeout and essentially picking him up all together. He would have to get in his crate on his own and get away from or off of things in response to our commands and rewards, not by us physically picking him up. Thus far, this process has been a nightmare and he is at his all-time worst. He will now repeatedly go upstairs, he chews pillows and blankets that he never was even remotely interested in before but worst of all, the biting has increased exponentially. We use an "Eh-Eh" sound whenever he is biting something he shouldn't, including us. This is supposed to distract him so that when he releases, we praise and reward him. The noise rarely gets him to stop and trying to divert his attention with a toy is almost equally as ineffective, but treats will eventually get him to stop and pay attention to whats in our hand. However, this is a very painful process. He will attack our feet/ankles/legs, whatever he can get a hold of, bite down, and tug at the skin. Meanwhile, we refrain from touching him and are just using the "Eh-Eh" command and holding treats in front of his face to try to get him to stop. As a psychologist, rewarding him right after he stops biting somewhat contradicts my training and it seems that this would simply reinforce the initial biting, but this is what the dog trainer prescribed. While I am happy he chooses to attack me instead of my girlfriend most times, I am applying a couple new bandages to various parts of my body almost every time he is out of his crate now because he has CAUSED BLEEDING. It seems that all the bad behaviors we thought we had trained out of him are back and the biting is as bad as it has been.

    Again, it is hard to tell if these bites are aggression because he isn't growling or anything like that, but at the same time it doesn't seem to be for attention or to initiate play, because toys and such will not get him to stop. Further, these episodes have occurred while giving him attention, or in retaliation for taking something away that he shouldn't have.

    Couple of extra notes:
    He is not yet neutered
    He gets a few .5 to 1.0 mile walks a day, plus potty time outside. We do not have a fenced in yard, so physical exercise is something we've considered as a cause. However, we do have a tie-out outside that we use but he would much rather sniff and lay in the grass than run around and exert energy. He seems to get more energy out by chasing after the toys we throw in the house. Also, we have been able to take him off leash to a few places to run him around. The behaviors will still persist at night.

    Thank you for reading this, I know it is a long post. Please provide any thoughts or suggestions you may have, or even just support to let us know that we're not bad puppy owners! We're reaching out to every resource we can for help, but nothing has seemed to work yet. I am a research oriented person with a strong psychology/behavior mod background, so any empirically supported information would be fantastic! Also, if I somehow missed some important detail, please don't hesitate to ask.

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  • C

    Hello! I wanted to share the growing "pains" that my husband and I have experienced with our little man that is very similar to yours. We've had our Basenji since he was seven weeks old and is now just over two years old. When he was a puppy and had his baby teeth, his biting was terrible. He bit us all the time, except when he was sleeping. And those little teeth were like razor blades. We were going through band-aids very quickly.

    The breeder said that they pick up on biting when they are very young playing with their litter-mates. Even from a young age their play is somewhat focused on dominating the other siblings. The method to keep him from biting was to lightly clamp his muzzle with just your thumb and forefinger. Using your entire hand could cause too much pressure and hurt the sinus cavity. So we tried this method. It did not work.

    We next consulted with our veterinarian. She recommended that when he tries to bite your hand, grab his lower jaw with your thumb on his tongue and hold it for a few seconds. He will try to resist and force your hand away to free his mouth. This technique worked okay and he appeared to actually think about it before he tried to bite. I assume knowing his mouth would be grabbed. This, unfortunately, did not completely stop the biting, but it was a start.

    We continued to work with him but it was difficult to play with him without being bitten. He was determined to grab your hand when playing. After his baby teeth were replaced with adult teeth, which are quite large for such a small dog, the cuts to the our skin diminished. He still tried to bite, mostly during play, but the adult teeth bruised rather than cut. We have stopped all rough play and started enforcing our dominant role in the family. But it has taken a lot of time and patience working with him to stop biting. He still mouths a little when he is tired or wants attention, but he doesn't bite fiercely anymore. We didn't see real progress until he was about 14 months old. So patience is the key.

    As for tearing up things like pillows and blankets and such, we wound up putting these things away or out of his reach until he learned to respect it. We've even taken away toys that he tried to tear apart and reintroduced them to him later under supervision. He has two small blankets that we have designated for him only and he has put holes each one. But he knows they are his and he seems to understand that because he has not even attempted to tear up anything else of ours. Except maybe socks if we leave them out where he can get to them. But I believe that goes back to when he was a puppy and we gave him a pair of old socks to play with.

    Today, our little man loves to play fetch and lay at our feet and wants to be close to us most of the time. He knows a lot of commands, obeys them most of the time, especially if a treat is involved. He displays the typical Basenji aloofness when he doesn't get his way. But all-in-all he is a wonderful addition to our family. And the more mature he gets, he seems to be calmer, obeys better, and enjoys being with us.

    Some other information about him - he was neutered at six months of age; he has a large fenced back yard to run around in; he was crate trained as a puppy but has not slept in his crate for almost four months (he sleeps on the fouton in our spare bedroom); he loves going for walks and meeting new people and other pets; and most of all, he is spoiled rotten.

    I hope this is helpful information. My husband and I were very frustrated at first and it has taken almost two years to really get the biting completely under control. But we feel a Basenji is a great dog to have as a pet.

    Good luck!

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  • Ignoring biting won't stop it. Waiting for something to reinforce can be a frustrating and useless exercise. Serious biting should never be tolerated! My own approach is to "bear hug" the dog until he quits it. None of my Basenjis have been bad for biting, but my current boy used to get carried away in play, or resent being moved from a comfortable spot. In any case when he tried (or succeeded!) in biting, I would hold him until he quit struggling, then praise and release. If the biting starts again, repeat. My boy doesn't bite these days, and if he is getting wound up and rough in play, I just have to verbally remind him and he settles right down. He has learned that biting doesn't get him what he wants. Your boy needs to learn that lesson too.

    Basenjis are quick and tough but they are small. If getting hold of him is a problem, let him drag a leash for awhile, but take control of this behaviour and do it consistently. The first few times will be the worst. I agree with the above post, although you are more likely to have contact with teeth that way. You can sometimes cure a biter by essentially shoving your hand down their throat, if you are willing to risk some abrasions. Gagging isn't fun and most don't enjoy the experience. Some will argue that all training should be "positive" with no discipline, but sometimes you just have to take control of the situation and stop the unwanted behaviour.

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  • Have you spoken to the Breeder? For a 4 month old to have that behavior, I agree with the trainer, it is NOT normal…. Most pups, especially if with their Mom's and littermates till 9 or 10 weeks learn bite in inhibition.... so honestly, I would wonder if that was really the case. Also, now at 4 months he is starting to loose his baby teeth

    By the way.... cooneywright, 7 weeks (IMO) is way to early for a pup to leave their littermates and Mom. That is the worst age for teeth and biting.. as that is what they do with there littermates... and it is that interaction that teaches inhibition

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  • First Basenji's

    I can only imagine the frustration that this biting has brought to you….while reading your post it occurred to me that you found no trigger for him. Could it be frustration to a degree? Ask your trainer for insight on trick training, this will make him think through something while getting 'only good stuff from your hand-the food.' I say food as you can start feeding most of his meals by hand (if this works for your timetable from work etc). If he bites you during training, leave the room and close the door-but not long enough for him to tear into any furniture etc, just 5 seconds or so and come back into the room like nothing happened. If the biting is from fear, he will learn to trust you, if from frustration, at least he is 'working' for his food. Another thing occurred to me while reading, would you consider a blood work screen? If you plan to get him neutered (hope!) he needs it anyway before surgery (most Vets do this) and you can talk about the screen for thyroid or something else that he may have pain some where(?). If he really likes it outside, sit near him and just veg with him in the open. Let him come over to you while he is in a calm state. I love being out side with the furbabies and just looking off into the great blue with them, not talking, just BEING is bonding too! hope some of this info helps.....keep up the good work and keep us informed!

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  • C

    Drew, read your post. Was wondering how it is going with the biting because our problems are so similar it's not even funny. I am beyond frustrated and concerned with the biting and "mouthiness". Can you tell me if you have had any improvement and if so what has caused it?

    Thanks!!!!

    @Drew:

    Hello Basenji Forums! My girlfriend and I have had our 4 month old basenji boy since he was 9 weeks old and we are experiencing some severe biting issues. Excuse the long post, but I want to be sure to provide as much detail as possible because we could really use some help! Here is our story:

    February:
    Since we have had him he has always been fairly mouthy and although he was kept with his 3 litter mates and his mother during those first 9 weeks, it seemed like he never completely pick up on the bite inhibition concept. Early on we tried simulating basenji puppy yelps, to continue his bite inhibition training, but it didn't appear to be effective. We used a "Timeout" leash that was tied to a door handle with nothing else around and where he could be safely left alone to correct behaviors such as biting us, biting the furniture, going upstairs, or being places he shouldn't be (e.g., on the bookshelf). This was extremely effective! I think after about 3 trials he understood that upstairs was bad and although the furniture biting took a little longer, he soon had no interest in it. However, he never really stopped biting us. We never "played rough" with him and eventually decided that instead of timeouts, we would just ignore him when he bit us, although he never seemed bothered by the fact that we ignored him as if it is what he wanted.

    March:
    The biting began to escalate. Although timeouts were seldom and usually in spurts, he began biting us HARD as we carried him over to his "Timeout Zone." Putting the leash on him was difficult because he would try to bite the entire time, but even after clipping the leash on he began lunging at us. If we walked by within the first minute or so of the timeout he would lunge and attempt to bite. A few times he was able to catch a pant leg, or a leg itself and these bites were vicious. Soon this behavior permeated beyond just timeouts. Sometimes while we were out on walks he would randomly decide to attack our legs. Eventually, it would just happen randomly in the house. I tried to diagnose what triggers these episodes but it wasn't easy. It certainly happened more often when he was going on a crazy run around in circles spurt. We had been told by our breeder to randomly take away a toy from him, just to remind him who's boss, to which he would sit patiently waiting for us to give it back or throw it to the other end of the room for him to chase. However, when he gets something he's not supposed to have and we take that away, the biting usually follows. For instance, we keep his toys in a canvas-like box thing in a corner. I don't mind so much that he chews on it, but a couple of times he dragged it out to the middle of the room. So, I would tell him no, and simply put it back in the corner. Each of the 2 or 3 times this happened it would lead to him chomping down on my legs and feet.

    I think it is important to note that when these biting episodes occur, they are not love bites, they are not single nips. They are "chomp chomp chomp", jump up to bite at the knee or thigh "chomp chomp," go gnaw on the foot. They do leave marks, and at that point in time they occasionally broke the skin. However, he makes no noise while he does this, no growling, no showing of teeth beforehand. We spoke to the breeder about this and she didn't seem alarmed. She reminded us that she has never bred an aggressive dog and that he was a puppy and probably just scared. Although I couldn't completely wrap my head around the idea that fear was the cause, I considered that perhaps carrying him over to isolation in timeout could cause him some stress, leading to a defensive escape response of biting, but this certainly did not explain everything. We decided we needed some professional help, so we scheduled a consultation with a positive reinforcement trainer.

    April:
    After meeting with the trainer she confirmed that he was extremely mouthy and that "mouthy" didn't really do it justice because they were in fact BITES. She explained this was very abnormal behavior, even for a puppy. We worked out a training plan that involved only positive reinforcement. Therefore, we did away with the timeout and essentially picking him up all together. He would have to get in his crate on his own and get away from or off of things in response to our commands and rewards, not by us physically picking him up. Thus far, this process has been a nightmare and he is at his all-time worst. He will now repeatedly go upstairs, he chews pillows and blankets that he never was even remotely interested in before but worst of all, the biting has increased exponentially. We use an "Eh-Eh" sound whenever he is biting something he shouldn't, including us. This is supposed to distract him so that when he releases, we praise and reward him. The noise rarely gets him to stop and trying to divert his attention with a toy is almost equally as ineffective, but treats will eventually get him to stop and pay attention to whats in our hand. However, this is a very painful process. He will attack our feet/ankles/legs, whatever he can get a hold of, bite down, and tug at the skin. Meanwhile, we refrain from touching him and are just using the "Eh-Eh" command and holding treats in front of his face to try to get him to stop. As a psychologist, rewarding him right after he stops biting somewhat contradicts my training and it seems that this would simply reinforce the initial biting, but this is what the dog trainer prescribed. While I am happy he chooses to attack me instead of my girlfriend most times, I am applying a couple new bandages to various parts of my body almost every time he is out of his crate now because he has CAUSED BLEEDING. It seems that all the bad behaviors we thought we had trained out of him are back and the biting is as bad as it has been.

    Again, it is hard to tell if these bites are aggression because he isn't growling or anything like that, but at the same time it doesn't seem to be for attention or to initiate play, because toys and such will not get him to stop. Further, these episodes have occurred while giving him attention, or in retaliation for taking something away that he shouldn't have.

    Couple of extra notes:
    He is not yet neutered
    He gets a few .5 to 1.0 mile walks a day, plus potty time outside. We do not have a fenced in yard, so physical exercise is something we've considered as a cause. However, we do have a tie-out outside that we use but he would much rather sniff and lay in the grass than run around and exert energy. He seems to get more energy out by chasing after the toys we throw in the house. Also, we have been able to take him off leash to a few places to run him around. The behaviors will still persist at night.

    Thank you for reading this, I know it is a long post. Please provide any thoughts or suggestions you may have, or even just support to let us know that we're not bad puppy owners! We're reaching out to every resource we can for help, but nothing has seemed to work yet. I am a research oriented person with a strong psychology/behavior mod background, so any empirically supported information would be fantastic! Also, if I somehow missed some important detail, please don't hesitate to ask.

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  • First Basenji's

    well, I read your long post, and throughout the post I kept wondering why you did not try to feed him his regular meals and I suggested? Don't think it is really out of bounds for him to associate you in charge of his resources esp food (if his really likes his food….) (really just try this, really) Time outs don't really make sense to me from a dog's point of view. (why didn't he bite through the leash?) the better procedure for a 'time out' is YOU leaving the room. This way he still does not have you to bite on, no one around to act out in front of you, and if he still bites anything inappropriate after you leave the room such as furniture, pillows etc, then his problem might be that he is extremely frustrated for some reason. Maybe the pain in his mouth from teething, an impacted tooth(?) , a medical problem in this mouth or somewhere else??? Not trying to be anthropomorphic, but when a baby cries, it is uncomfortable for some reason. It is not out of the question to take him to the Vet to rule something out that may be going on physically.

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  • K

    Hi Drew,
    Already some sensible advice on this thread by others.

    I have a mixed bag of questions for you on things that we found are valuable around biting/destroying and behaviour in general - there may be one cause, but very likely there are more than one:

    • If you walk him, does he get time to explore the world with his senses, especially the nose? Easily excitable breeds like basenjis need to work their brains to become tired. Walking or running is not enough. If on leash, our B's are allowed to sniff around as much as they like. They never destroy anything, and we do not crate them ever, not at night and not when we are away. We make sure they get a great walk in the morning to see them through the day.

    • On the walks, does he get the opportunity to socialize and play with other dogs? No better teachers-of-good-dog-manners than dogs. 10 minutes of playing is enough to wear them out. Our Lela didn't bite a lot, but misbehaved around the house of a mature akita bitch - not for long! She has been deeply respectful of this dog since.

    • Does he get strong chews? Chewing is a deep, instinctual need, is good for the teeth AND it is a great total body work out. Maybe he needs to chew every day to satisfy his need and release energy.

    • What would happen if you and him were in a room and you didn't throw toys around for him to chase but instead you were to sit very still on the floor, without moving, without judgment, without a sound? Basenjis have incredibly open senses, the less these are excited the beter the behaviour. And the less you judge or have emotions, the quieter the dog. Basenjis are excellent 'energy readers': if I a give a command with all kinds of thoughts or doubts attached ('they won't obey, what will happen if…'), nothing happens. When I give a command withOUT any thoughts, and from an open heart, it always works. The sweeter my voice (as if talking to a baby), the better it goes. If I should name one thing that my B's have taught me, it is this: being in the moment, loving, no thinking.

    • Have you considered some sort of class? Like mantracking, agility. It is important for a dog to do stuff with the pack leader, it's the best way of bonding and to them it's 'work'. Dogs are 'work animals' and are at their best when they can do what they were meant to do. I do mantracking with Binti and she takes it VERY seriously, and she is dead tired after an hour of class. And you become a strong team together.

    • Speaking of the pack leader: do you really feel deep down inside you ARE his master? And your partner? And if so, do you project that sense in a calm way? Lela was our first dog ever, and we really had to learn to be the pack leader and to let her know in an appropriate manner. When Lela was in her biting-to-see-who's-boss phase, she usually went for my wife who was less secure back then. She hardly ever tested me. To be clear: it's not a muscle thing, it's conviction from within.

    • How about a visit to a dog communicator? Someone who relates to an animal on an energy level - maybe your pup is trying to tell you something that is not easily understood. We did this for both Lela and Binti and we were astonished at what we heard. Lots of useful insights.

    • How about a visit to a holistic vet or therapist? We changed from a regular vet to a holistic one and he helped us greatly with an issue that Lela has about being touched at the head. The central therapy were custom made flower remedies. The vet told us that a lot can happen in gestation and at the breeder's house, in the family dynamics, stuff that you can't train an animal out of, but needs to be addressed on an energy level. There are wonderful remedies in the USA: e.g. Alaskan and www.anaflora.com Also, he or she can check for deficiencies and for optimalization of his diet.

    • In the same vein: how about a few sessions with a practitioner in Healing Touch for Animals. I am a level 2 practitioner and it is amazing what the work can do and the information you can get through these sessions - https://www.healingtouchforanimals.com/

    All the best and let us know how it goes.
    Kees-Jan Donkers

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  • Sometimes… when you are replying to an OLD POST, it helps to click on the person's name. Many people post once or twice and never return. Yep..

    Drew
    Join Date 01-18-2015
    Last Activity 04-16-2015 09:06 AM

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