untrained Basneji won’t learn!

Hi all,

A year ago my partner and I were given a 4yo male entire Basenji from his elderly parents. He was never trained, never socialised, left in the backyard to his own devices and never been disciplined.

I have tried so hard to teach this dog basic commands and try to get fix his behaviours and nothing is working! I have sat with him almost every day for the past year doing consistent positive reinforcement training, but he doesn’t even listen to his name half of the time. Let alone basic commands like sit, stay, come etc.

The main issue is that he is extremely nervous and anxious about every thing. To the point that it has made him aggressive towards myself and my other dog (5mo Labrador). My Lab will just walk past him and he will growl/snap/attack and would pin her down when she was smaller until I rushed to help her. If I accidentally touch him when he’s not expecting it, he will bite me and continues to try to attack me even when he realises it’s nothing to be scared of. He will also try to attack the neighbours and neighbours dogs through the fence.
He is terrified of everything from walking on the grass to seeing a cord lying on the ground. He won’t go to the toilet on the grass outside because he refuses to walk on it. When I leave for work, he has to be put inside otherwise he escapes the back yard and if I do something that is out of his routine like leave for work early or put him in time out when he’s being naughty, he will chew up furniture or shoes, etc.

Seriously lost with what I can do to help this dog. My house is constantly caged up/baby gated to stop him from chewing things/peeing on carpet and I can’t leave my other dog with him alone without supervision or he will attack her.

Does anyone have any tips for me? Particularly a training method for a Basenji who doesn’t seem to react to positive reinforcement training?

Thank you!

It would seem that he may be able to learn after he has worked through his fear and anxiety. He seems to be in survival mode. Would it be possible to see a holistic vet or therapist? He may need certain foods, supplements or remedies to help him work through his issues. From the owners of many Spanish rescue dogs that are over here (Netherlands) I hear it can take up to 2 years for them to calm down.

@kjdonkers thank you for your reply. My next step is to get a behaviourist or therapist in for him as he seems to be progressively getting worse. Its hard seeing him so stressed out all time in what’s supposed to be a safe environment.

Get a full workup from your vet, especially thyroid, as medical issues can cause aggression.

The most worrisome description is his continuing to attack you. That, as a behavioral aspect, is a very bad sign.

Even severely abused dogs who have stable temperaments usually recover fairly quickly (ie months) with good treatment. This dog seems to be escalating. Of course bringing in a new dog probably didn't help, as it upset the balance.

He may need medication &/or a very good behaviorist to turn things around. However, understand that if it isn't medical, you simply may have an aggressive unstable dog. They can be managed, but not really changed significantly. At some point, you may have to decide if this dog is living in a state that is never going to give him peace and putting him down may be the kindest option. Hopefully they will find something treatable medically and a good trainer can then help backtrack the bad behaviors. But you clearly had been doing your best and please remember that no matter what the outcome.

@kjdonkers Dogs of all Breeds have been placed on Human Anti Depressants and Anti Anxiety Meds. Please do not give up as I believe that there is some great advice from the Group here. He needs to first feel safe. They all do and his position in 'His' Pack has been compromised by your new Dog. Many times Basenjis are a 1 Person only Dog in the home. He is acting out against you specifically as he feels you have betrayed him by getting the new Dog. It is going to take a long time before he accepts your apology.

If he were my Dog I would get the Full workup by a Vet. There are plenty of Holistic Vets but they prefer to prescribe things like plant-based meds. I have worked with Holistic Vets for my Equines but never for the Canines, Felines or Lupines.

He may do well with Xanax which is an anti-anxiety med. All Pharmacies will fill Prescriptions called in by a Vet.

You csn work with a Behaviorist but I do not have much faith in them because they use techniques that force the subject to do what THEY want. This is extremely dangerous for the Animals, especially Dogs and Horses. Remember, most often it is the case that the animal is being DEFENSIVE and NOT AGGRESSIVE.

A regular well recommended Dog Trainer is just fine. Your Dog has been betrayed by the first owner by not giving him any attention or socialization. If the Trainer trains BOTH of your Dogs together it may break down that feeling of jealousy.

Good luck and please do not give up!

@debradownsouth Hi Debra, thanks for your advice. I will have a vet check him fully over and check thyroid. He will also be getting desexed tomorrow as I'm hoping this might be the first step in calming him down.

I agree, bringing a new dog would have upset him, he previously had the run of the house. In some ways I think it may have been a good thing, he is slowly learning how to be a dog and copies her behaviours. Its just one day he will act terrible, then the next day he'll be manageable. I just don't understand it.

Once he has recovered from the desexing surgery, we are bringing in a behaviourist. Hopefully they may be able to determine the cause of his fear or put us in the right direction to help him. We will be trying everything we can before having the discussion of putting him down, but as you said, its just not fair on him to be living this way especially if it continues to go downhill.

I am so sorry that you have had all these difficulties and you've certainly been very patient to try to solve his problems without professional help.
However whatever you do, please, please find a Basenji qualified behaviourist. So many who have little knowledge of primitive breeds make the most horrendous mistakes and can, therefore, make matters worse.
I'm assuming you're in the USA where in my opinion you'll be able to find a suitable person. In the UK, it has become increasingly difficult to find a Basenji knowledgeable behaviourist. Although I'm well versed in Basenjis, I'm unwilling to offer any tips about his behaviour as I haven't seen your boy.
I sincerely wish you success in improving his and your lives.

@patty Australia, not USA based.

@antigone Thanks Antigone.

We only got pup about 3 months ago and he was going downhill long before then, I do agree that it may upset him now not being the top dog anymore.

He is doing better in some ways now that we have pup, he is slowly starting to copy her normal dog behaviours and learn how to actually be a dog and how to act in some situations (like going to go to the toilet outside). He was previously with a Chihuahua and, now he is with a new dog that is already larger than he is, so I think he struggles with that as well.

I will definitely look into a Holistic Vets and trainers as you recommended. Thanks so much.

@patty As senjisilly said, I'm in Australia. I will try my best to find a Basenji behaviourist. Basenjis are quite rare here that I don't even know how my partner's parents came across this breed in the first place. I've taken him to the vets and most have never seen one before. Most people here haven't even heard of the breed, so it makes it just that bit harder!

@reneemay Castration is likely to have little to no effect on your boy's behavior. Do not count on it helping you. Have you contacted the nearest Basenji club to you for help and advice? Not knowing which state you live in makes it difficult to to give you more information specific. There is the Basenji Club of Victoria - http://www.basenjiclubvic.org.au/ , the Basenji Club of NSW - http://www.basenjiclubnsw.org/ , the Victorian Basenji Breed Association - http://www.vba.org.au/ . These organizations could be useful in helping you find the best professionals to help you with your Basenji boy's issues.

Good luck.

last edited by senjisilly

@senjisilly I'm in QLD, based on the Gold Coast. Thank you so much for sending those through, I think I will contact them regardless, just to see if they know of any specific trainers in my area.

Bringing a new puppy into the mix when you were still having so many issues with the first dog was not the best idea. Intervening all the time rather than letting them work it out likely made the situation worse. But hopefully this will turn out for the better. Lots of times a second dog elicits helpful behaviors if for no other reason than a little competition can be a good thing.

Agree that treats work and that all scientific evidence says castration has no effect on behavior. The latter is one of those zombie ideas that you simply can't kill.

Getting some help is a good idea. A Basenji is a dog so you don't need to find a "Basenji specialist". Any good dog trainer should do just fine, holistic or not, assuming there isn't an underlying medical issues.

FWIW, on not knowing commands, I thought my first Basenji couldn't comprehend even the most basic commands. Then one day he slipped up and showed me knew the word for "squirrel". Turned out he had QUITE the vocabulary. Smart little devil knew if I thought he didn't understand he could ignore me. LOL My guess is your dog knows more commands than you realize.

Good luck. Hope things work out well for you and your canines.

@donc No, It wasn't the best decision to get a puppy given his state. Honestly, I was just so drained from this dog. I was really sick of having a dog that doesn't enjoy being with me at all despite my daily attempts for so long. I don't know if that how most Basenjis are? Or it could be he just isn't used to having much human interaction or affection from his past.

Haha! Sometimes, he will listen to his name or sit when I ask and it will blow my mind. They seem to be a very stubborn and cheeky breed with selective hearing!

Hi reneemay,
These behaviours sound like normal basenji behaviours! Lol. My dog hates walking on grass, she's aggressive, she doesn't answer, she jumps at a piece of string in the grass, well, that's a basenji for you (my little monkey hopped in the car one day and chewed the blinker handle off!).

They don't call Basenjis the 'untrainable dog' for nothing. Give up on dog training ideas because they just think very differently. There's some good advice here about contacting the Basenji clubs and basenji breeders and I always seek their advice first before vets or behaviourists with little knowledge of basenjis. I disagree with DonC that they are just a dog like any other. They're not. They're an ancient breed with behaviours much closer to their ancestors than domestic dogs. You have to think differently with them.

I tend to change my behaviour before trying to change a dog that is already anxious. I walk my basenji twice a day at times when there are not many other dogs about with a retractable lead. They're sight hounds and smell hounds and they need to get out and sniff. If another dog comes along we stop, I reign her in, I hold her firm and I give a small growl. Let the other dog walk past (some she's not aggressive with and she has a play). Then we're off again. I use a lot of growling sounds for disapproval and lots of rubs when she's good. Never food treats. When we're inside she follows me everywhere and if I want her I just click my fingers and she's at my side. She's part of my pack, and I'm the top dog. I got some great tips from the Dogman Martin McKenna because he lived in a pack with dogs when he was a homeless boy and so I use some of those pack behaviours he advises, and they work like a dream (search the Net for info). I never feed my girl canned dog food and rarely biscuits or treats. She has to eat like she's in the wild. Lots of offal, chicken meat, and game meat (and you can find this all in our supermarkets here in Oz cheaply). These dogs were also known as bird hunters, so chicken is her number 1 food. I think diet plays a big part in how animals cope and behave.

I never touch my girl when she's sleeping because she can bite if startled, just call her name until she wakes up. Chewing and shredding furniture and curtains (yes, I've seen it!) is boredom. These dogs (small as they are) need work. Can your lifestyle accomodate this, if not, then I fear he won't improve. The worst thing for a basenji is to be left alone, period. They need a pack. I f your lifestyle can't accomodate this then it might be best to move him on to someone, that knows basenjis.

I hope the above helps, for what it's worth. But I have a super dog. She's demanding but she's a little champ. Best of luck, and please let us know how you get on.

@reneemay
Yes, they can be draining to have. And they won't show you that they enjoy your company (but they do need you). And yes, most basenjis are like this: they're strong-willed, mischievous and hear only what they want to hear!!

I would walk the puppy and the basenji together (always), so he gets the idea that the puppy is part of the pack. The basenji will be so hyper about the world around him that he probably won't focus on the pup when out walking.

Word of warning- If you do take him out walking, don't ever let him off the lead - because he won't come back!! And they have zero road sense!🤷🏻♀

I have two dogs and two females. The females each run with a male, and are kept apart. The dogs dislike each other, intensely, and we have the house and yard configured so that any confrontation is between double fences. I work on the premise that there should always be two gates between them.

Basenjis are always a bit twitchy, so always make a noise before approaching them, and give them some warning of your intentions. I would not agree with the desexing, but I can understand your present situation. I am not a desexer! It will take approximately 6 to 8 weeks for the hormones to be purged out of system.

Find a local training facility and take him to an obedience class, even a beginners class will get you to understand your dog and how to get the best out of him. He also might learn something, as well as you. You cannot 'bash' him into submission, you need to make him think it is a good idea to do the things you want.

Fear aggression is something that occurs, and the obedience training will help enormously. Mine still react to a strange thing, and will jump out of the way. (We get brown snakes and I like the "jump' at something strange approach.) A tired B, is a happy B. Take him for walks, with variations, so that variety. Mine are walked from 1 to 2 Km every day, and it is for their benefit notmine, although it is good for me as well. Let us know how you get on.

@pippi Thanks Pippi, this is very helpful. I'm glad that some of his behaviours could be normal!

We are currently working on the daily walking situation. We go a little bit further each day within his comfort zone. He gets himself in a state of anxiety and can't cope when he leaves the house and goes somewhere not familiar. He shakes, cries and basically shuts down, sometimes pees himself too. So we've made ourselves aware of his limits and what signs to look for and slowly increasing the walking area as we go.

He is only left alone for max 4 hours Mon-Thurs between my partner and I's work shifts. My other dog is very energetic, so she is given a lot of daily exercise so we can definitely accommodate that part of it. Its just his fear/anxiety holding him back and I don't want to push him unless hes comfortable.

@redial Thanks Redial. We have tried a local RSPCA school obedience class that my other dog goes to each week. They felt he wouldn't benefit from it due to his anxiety and also posed a threat to the other animals/trainers if he was to bite.

We are getting a home trainer out in the coming weeks to help us out and hopefully we can find his confidence and eventually be able to enroll him.

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