Hyper reflexive Aggression and startle

Aggressive behavior on the up tick

My 2.5 y/o boy, Thor has always had a hyper reflexive startle when at rest and sleeping. As of late (2-3 mo) he has become even more aggressive , to the point that we walk around where ever he is laying/sleeping.
Even at 10 weeks old, He presented with this behavior. That old adage”let sleeping dogs lie”, for the most part we have learned to adhere too It. He does sleep nightly in his crate. When startled he awakens with wild eyes, appears to be looking at you..... but sometime I think he is not fully awake all the while he is in full attack mode? His appearance; springs up on all 4s, hunched back, growling, hair raised on back and neck and a glazed look to his eyes, not often will bare teeth in his snarl.
He, also has shown a “higher” level of aggression in territorial settings.
Trying to take something from him,
His play time can be easily elevate to an aggressive stage, Tossing a ball...toy....
If you walk away he comes up and nips you in the backsides, hard to get him to stop, a firm no is not something he response quickly to.
Same Nipping pattern when he isn’t being shown the attention he thinks he should get......
My Husband and I too, have allowed some of the behaviors to persist, but now he can go full blown Kudjo and we are not even sure what set this level of rage up.

Ex: he gets something he knows he isn’t suppose to have, will bring it and shows It off....runs away. The chase is on.....when we take said trophy....Kudjo with His unexpected rage, Or fear, Or lack of inhibition...... do not know what switch we just flipped? We then are in a defensive mode to keep from getting a serious bite
He has bitten my husband and drawn blood before he deescalated the situation. Startled awake by my sister in law, he seemed to take flight, had his mouth around her arm growling????? Nothing serious, but he did cause bruising. All the while we have continued with a positive attitude that he will settle with a calming and soothing approach regarding all of this unsavory behavior.

On a positive note.
He gets plenty of exercise, we have a closed pool cage he can run around like a race track, He has a proud royal gait, He is a fine looker, Black and white beautiful shiny coat, up to date on all his immunization, he is regularly seen by a vet, Raw diet, healthy appetite, regular BM, bell trained to potty, smart as a whip, just perfect in every way, but one.

My question after my venting.... I know this breed is prone to thyroid Immune deficiencies. He does not outwardly show a proclivity to hypo or hyper symptoms ie: hair loss, excessive shedding, weight gain or loss, decrease or increase activity.......none the less his personality has become more easily agitated and for me a fear from his aggressive behavior.
If I requested a Thyroid panel, what must I ask for, my vet has 2 Basenji’s and Thor is one of the two. She has little experience with this breed.....looking for answers and help with my fire ball Basenji, Thor.
From:Thor’s Human mom.

If you search the forum you will find quite a few threads on thyroid. Here is one. Also, this outside link.

Many Basenjis resent being disturbed when they are sleeping or comfortable. Not unusual for the breed. However, with the escalation you are seeing you need to rule out a health problem and then address it as a behavioral problem. I like to use tact to avoid this sort of issue, but some things are not negotiable. If play is resulting in aggression you need to cease the play immediately if he becomes aroused. And he needs to learn that "no means no". Or you could try the "nothing in life is free" approach. Much depends on your relationship with your dog. When you say he sleeps in his crate at night, is that confined or with the door open? Where is the crate? Some of his behaviour sounds like attention seeking, e.g. running off with something he isn't supposed to have. Chasing is what he wants you to do, apparently an attempt to lure you into play, and you are rewarding him by participating. This is a hard one if the item he has is something he can damage or that can cause him harm. Maybe hang a leash on him so you can grab it and put an end to the game. He is of an age to be testing limits, and if you are not clearly the leader, he will take that position himself.

Have you spoken to his breeder about the temperament? That would be your first course. And of course a full health panel should be done to make sure there is no health issues. As far as Thyroid, you would want the full panel, not just what would typically tested in regular blood work.

The picture you paint of your dog leaves me with the impression that... If he were to get loose and Animal Control caught him, they would probably put him down. So, here it is: Tough Love v1.0
(I'll appologize in advance.)

@sandy-hovis said in Hyper reflexive Aggression and startle:

Even at 10 weeks old, He presented with this behavior.

IMHO, his aggressive behavior is largely a result of your interactions with him. First, you chose to allow him to behave this way when he was a baby. This would have been much easier to deal with then.

He does sleep nightly in his crate.

You thought if you tiptoed around him when he was asleep, then that would be all you had to do. And at some point you decided to put him in the crate at night. Sleeping in his crate is preventing him from protecting you, one of his strongest instincts. If you are afraid of having him out of the crate at night, start draping a lightweight blanket/sheet around his crate to create a cave-like den (to make him feel more secure). Then, instead of letting him wake up in panic mode, start talking to him when you wake up. "Good morning Thor"... you don't have to be a loud, just normal, "Thor, are you ready for breakfast?" You need to be consistant. If he is still in a panic, reassure him that it's ok and when he his calmed down he can come out for breakfast. Eventually, I think he should be sleeping with the crate door open.

Trying to take something from him, ... Ex: he gets something he knows he isn’t suppose to have, will bring it and shows It off....runs away. The chase is on.....

Again, this is related to your behavior. Thor thinks you are playing a game with him. A game should be fun and end with laughter and belly rubs and "good boy's". But you don't look at this like a game and it sounds like it turns into a fight.

First, anything the dog should not have should not be sitting out where Thor can get it. This includes shoes, remotes, your food, etc. Yes, I'm suggesting that you clean instead of punishing your dog for understanding the difference between his and yours.

Second, in order to keep your dog safe, you need to teach Thor to let go of things on demand/command. "Drop!" should result in an instant release no matter what it is. Example: chicken bones. Cooked chicken bones can splinter and create medical injuries (even death) for dogs. If Thor would happen to be on a walk and find one, you need to be able to say, "drop", and have Thor actually drop the chicken bone. Or, if needed, allow you to open his mouth and insert a finger to remove it. I don't get the impression that you would be able to do either right now.

All the while we have continued with a positive attitude that he will settle with a calming and soothing approach regarding all of this unsavory behavior.

ummm, excuse me.... I'm sure you are already offended at what I've written, but it seems pretty obvious to me that you need to teach your dog how to behave. Start with either one hour long walk a day, or two shorter ones. Every day. On a leash, where your dog is allowed to snif and smell, but also expected to learn how to sit and wait while you say hello to a neighbor and be polite around other dogs. Your daily walk creates an environment that promotes bonding with your dog. He will learn that you are in charge, not him (which is what you've been teaching him up to now). He will also get the exercise he craves and the socialization he needs.

Please, this is important. You have already accepted that you and your husband have allowed the behavior. Isn't it time to do something about it?

Without knowing the pedigree/breeder hard to say were this behavior started... could have been that this temperament was present in the sire/dam.... and especially since since this started a such an early age. While I do not agree with many of the suggestions by Elbrant... I would suggest at this point if the breeder is no help that you enlist a professional to evaluate this dog. With what you have indicated, you could get seriously hurt and by ignoring the behavior in my opinion it will only get worse. And if you get bit and have to go to the doctor/hospital, it will be reported to animal control... that is the law in most all states. Even if the Thyroid comes back low... that would not account for the behavior at 10wks and beyond.

@eeeefarm Thor- for day, he has an open rest /sleeps area during the day. Inside our common area a resting area, a canvas platform outside and a locked crate at night in our bedroom. He is not crated until we go to bed, which is around 11p. He sleeps on an open sofa during our evening hours. If he is asleep we make sure we wake him by calling his name, letting him know it’s crate time...After a potty break he willing goes to his crate because he knows he gets a tiny treat, easily settles down and we cover it to keep him comfortable.
When he was a puppy we tried sleeping with him since he was so small, we learned very quickly about his his sleep startle issue.....
We are going to work more diligently with behavior modification, he is so smart and as my husbands tells it, “ The boy has personality”. As well have him checked out medically to rule out any health issues.
We are retired and get to spend a lot of time with him, so their is lots we can achieve if we give it the old college try. I will contact the breeder as well.
Thank you so much for your quick responses and check the link you sent.

@Sandy-Hovis Of course the first thing is to check for a medical issue, but if there isn't any problem there then I think you will find working with him will improve the situation. With Basenjis I find if you can engage their brain, they often rise to the challenge and work with you, building a closer relationship. Exercising their minds is as important as physical exercise. One thing I did with mine was to teach the names of his toys and work up to him retrieving them by name, particularly making a game of it by hiding them so he had to go look for them. He seemed to enjoy this. If you haven't investigated clicker training, it is a good way to go for teaching new behaviours. I found it particularly useful in teaching a Basenji to pick things up and give them to me. It becomes a behaviour you can put on cue, as opposed to relying on throwing something and hoping for a retrieve.

One cautionary about the aggression. Try to avoid confrontation, but if push comes to shove, you cannot let the dog back you off by being aggressive. That only teaches him that if he doesn't want to do something, all he has to do is threaten to bite or actually bite. Can you normally pick your dog up and handle every part of him? It's important to be able to do this, although with some dogs you have to be very diplomatic, but there should not be any "no go" areas, for instance, you should be able to clip his toenails, handle his ears, open and inspect his mouth, brush his teeth, etc. If you can't currently do these things, you can gradually and gently work toward them. Don't take on anything you don't feel confident about. Get help if you feel you need it, but make sure of the qualifications and skill level of anyone you get to help you.....and ideally they should have Basenji experience!

last edited by eeeefarm

@eeeefarm - I agree that "nothing in life is free" however if you do not know exactly how this is done, you really need to enlist a behaviorist and not try to do it yourself... again, you could be really hurt...

@elbranwe
I am not offended. There is no community of Basenjis in my area and my vet is new to this breed. This forum after reading it seemed like an honest and responsive way to seek and receive a helping hand. With our beautiful boy Thor. This is why I wrote, if I wanted softy and fuzzy I could have done nothing or given the dog to a shelter or rescue, dropped off in the woods or simple have him put down. I am obviously concerned and want a healthy happy dog and family. I will have a Thyroid panel done.

Now to your response, There are suggestions you have given that we as owners needed reinforced, and some you addressed that we already do. A little history. He is from a reputable breeder in Homestead Florida. We have his linage and will do some research on both the breeder and line to see if he was predisposed to aggression.

We got him at 10 weeks old, not knowing this pup or much about the breed...with the little we could find out...he seemed like a good fit. Within days he showed an unnatural aggressive response when startled and this did alarm me, therefore startle was already present. I blamed it on the newness of being away from his siblings and mother.

We had a trainer come to our house. Some things worked and others did not. He was of the old military style school, his attitude was with a heavy hand this defiant little fellow will obey. Thor did not receive this well, was belligerent through out the 8 week training sessions of 1 hr a week. Trainer indicated he was highly intelligent but with a big “A” and we needed to keep him in check. We did not heed this warning. I have had many dogs in 72 years, this little one has tested us.

When we first got him if you touched his ears, hind quarter, or his tail (tail was especially off limits) while awake he would snap and growl. During his training period he would show his dislike for a command with an aggressive posture show his teeth, growl and have fire in his little eyes. Like the flip of a switch.
Potty trained in 2 weeks on a bell to go outside it was unbelievably easy. He has never had an accident in our house. He is so smart and staying just a half step ahead of him has been our greatest challenge.

I worked with him On desensitizing those sensitive body parts by slowly and gently touching and rubbing these areas... he no longer has this issue when awake, he rather enjoys a soft touch running down his back and good message to his hind quarter and legs. I can unfurl his tail to some degree and he is totally accepting.
Let me preface, when awake.

I will from this point be more judicious in keeping things out of his reach, but I swear he can stretch to 7 feet tall and grab something that seems well out of his reach. He is always on the propel looking for something to snatch. He has hopped on a table and over a baby gate once, I said no sternly and he was responsive to the command or maybe startled in a good way immediately back on solid ground. He doesn’t realize his own jumping capabilities. This is a good thing.

His social skills or the lack their of is a major concern for me. He does not interact often with people or other animals he must always approach them, never the other way around. We tell people immediately, do not reach out to him, let him come to you if you are receptive, if not we keep him at bay. He is highly aware of dog people and non dog people....it is uncanny how he knows. He is not a people pleaser and we have to use a soft muzzle when we go for an outside activity. He gets car sick every time we travel so outside activities are very limited. There are few dogs in the area to socialize with and the dog park is to far to travel with him. He idolizes my husband and is his shadow. He shows me attention and on his terms, for a touch, a rub, a treat, or play time. He is no lap dog.I hope that this history sheds some light on the trek we have taken with Thor. We love him, and will try very hard to make the corrections you suggested. Thank you for the 101.....will keep you posted. I am open to anything that could help us undo some of the things we have not accomplished so far. old dogs do learn new tricks.

@sandy-hovis - I find that a bit as a problem... Of course heavy hand doesn't work with this breed or any other in my opinion... most pups at the age you got him are used to being handled and touch and breeders raising pups make sure that is done from birth... I would still like to see his breeding and/or breeder... as this is a real issue in my opinion... I have been in the breed for 30+ years and pups are raised with the family and worked with from birth... they know human touch period? I have never had a pup show these responses especially if handled at birth and raised with the family. Seems to me just going by what you are saying that this pup and the litter for that matter was not socialized with humans at birth... Oh and I would say also that really it is never necessary for a Basenji to have their tail unfurled? Many times that hurts... handling the tail is one thing, unfurl is another. Breeders typically pick up and handle pups when asleep... they are and should be used to that. And in my opinion as a breeder... desensitizing should have been done by the breeder...

@Sandy-Hovis What you have written rounds out the picture a bit. Sure does sound like this pup was not properly socialized by the breeder, as tanza says, and as is so important. I expect the heavy handed trainer reinforced the pup's mistrust of humans, which is unfortunate. Being firm is one thing. Trying to force obedience is another. Given half a chance, most animals will take the path of least resistance, but if you push too hard, instead of understanding and cooperation you risk defiance or a fear reaction and shutting down.

It sounds like your husband is the "chosen one". Perhaps you can even things up a bit. Who feeds and walks your pup? If you assume responsibility for his needs he may tend to look to you more, if that is what you would like. The hyper reactivity is worrisome but I think if you can build trust it may lessen. Being consistent is important. I am sure you know much of what is being suggested, since you have had many dogs, and at the bottom of it a Basenji is a dog, although some will swear they are half cat! 😉

last edited by eeeefarm

@tanza
Thank you for the feed back and your concern.
When we got Thor, he did not liked to be held, he was never touchy feely. Yes, I did have to work with simply touch while awake. I read an article and began working on desensitizing him to feeling violated. Like I said his tail/flank area was totally off limits any time of the day. When he was about 3 maybe 4 months old, he would rest his paw on my lap for mere seconds, even now he rest his head on my lap for a few seconds then moves off and will lay beside me. if I feel he is falling asleep I make him move to to his daybed. it was not until he probably 6 months old before I could hold him close and he lay his head on my shoulder. I was elated. I can still hold him close for short periods of time for a quick snuggle.

About stroking his tail and unfurling it, he allows it to relax just enough to let it unfurl when stroking him. I have never forcefully and never have I tried to straighten it in the slightest. I am sorry if I gave that impression. Just To touch it was a major feat of sorts.

I am going to do some research on his history and address my concerns with the breeder, and vet, with all of the concerns as well try and find somebody to help us help him with Some behavioral modification.

@eeeefarm
It is great hearing many responses, We have had a learning curve with him, more like a you turn. He is a normal pup 98% of the time....but that left over.....part! Wheeee is causing me much anxiety.
Thanks for the encouraging words. I will get this great little dog what he needs.

@eeeefarm
I am not quite sure what you are asking regarding touch?
He is a hundred times better than when we first got him.
We brush his teeth nightly, we can open his mouth to get something out, reluctantly. But if we doing some kind of inspection he allows it for a short time. I can pick him up and walk around with him. I can walk him into the pool, he is at ease with me holding him and his front paws over a noodle, I know how much he can handle then release him and let him swim out. He has never been In the pool alone, we have never encourage him to jump in or become frightened when he is in the pool. On long walks in the Florida heat even a morning walk can cause him to get somewhat over heated......he never shows any aggression walking him slowly into the pool. I feel him relax in my arms as the water cools him down. But for sure he is no water dog. LOL
When at rest, we really don’t touch him, If you even accidentally touch or get to close he will give you “the look”. He will act out if someone outside his small immediate circle, tries to touch him...this to me is not acceptable. We tell people not to pet him. So thus a soft cloth muzzle when appropriate, seems to create a very dossal Thor. The muzzle is not used often, Mostly and only around strangers and small children. It protects them, us and him. I hate having to do it, even still. Safety first.
Let me know what you are looking for with touch, every little bit helps

@tanza I forgot to let you know, he is 100% Basenji, he is AKC registered.

@sandy-hovis - I didn't assume he was not 100% Basenji, my reason for noting about his breeding and breeder was to indicate if this was/is coming from his breeding. From the beginning when you had issues with him (at 10wks) the go to should have been with the breeder and understanding how he was raised and in what conditions.

@eeeefarm
Having Thor from such a little guy and not being able show him affection on even a minimal level was hard.
I had to actively seek out and research on a way to touch him without “the look” or growling at me. This is a little known trait in dogs and a subject that is not easily found or talked about. I got lucky a dog psychologist wrote about desensitizing touch, that is how I know the term. I was able to work with him on petting and light touch, firmer touching with out him hunching with raised hair and snarling. . He was a sensitive little guy. If you reached for his face as if to pet him he would snap at you. You could not touch his ears, and in no was I pushing them in any manner that would cause discomfort. I have never had a dog that behaved like Thor. As I explained to Tanza, the hind quarter was the toughest, I included touch from head to his tail and as he relaxed, his tail relaxes, unfurled and I followed all the way to the tip with ever so gentle touch, and to this day he is receptive.
My husband is the dog walker, they both like and share in that activity, he can run with Thor as I cannot. We share feeding him. He will sit and wait until the bowl is down. I am the one that will more often than not make him wait. I am the one he trust in the pool. He sits outside with my husband while he is working in the yard. Thor will run from front to back just to see my husband mow the grass. Quiet time for Thor is resting on the cool tile floor while we are working in the kitchen. We both take him out for potty breaks, Thor and I have a special time in each day for play time he reminds me by bringing me a toy. We both interact at different times of the day with different activities. Thor is so astute he is so quick with great paw, head, eye contact he can juggle 4 balls at the same time with his paw and noise it amazes me how he uses his paws to hold the balls and flicks the balls with his noise. He can be so funny and playful. With any activity there is the risk of him becoming hyperactive, There is a fine line I walk. When I do recognize inappropriate behavior, I walk away
Or stop the activity... he displays his displeasure by running up and nipping at my cloths or backside.....I really am at a loss with what to do with this unacceptable behavior. I have tried standing still, tried ignoring him (that was not smart), he is a persistent one. Not found a good solution. Please know this does not happen with every play period rather. But it does occur, not found a good solution. If you know one, I am willing to give it a try. I like ending these sessions on a positive note.

@sandy-hovis said in Hyper reflexive Aggression and startle:

@eeeefarm When I do recognize inappropriate behavior, I walk away
Or stop the activity... he displays his displeasure by running up and nipping at my cloths or backside.....I really am at a loss with what to do with this unacceptable behavior. I have tried standing still, tried ignoring him (that was not smart), he is a persistent one. Not found a good solution. Please know this does not happen with every play period rather. But it does occur, not found a good solution. If you know one, I am willing to give it a try. I like ending these sessions on a positive note.

Wow, so much more information now! It is clear there were problems with this pup from the beginning. Certainly sounds like he was not properly socialized and perhaps something happened to destroy his trust in people before he came to you. A properly socialized pup should have no problem with you picking him up and handling him all over. I think you have done an admirable job with a difficult situation!

About ending play.....I suggest you develop a routine for that. If he is food motivated that would be a good way, perhaps you could ask him for a behaviour he does not find stimulating, ideally something that he does calmly, and then give him a "jackpot" reward for doing it, and you walk away while he is eating his treat. One possible thing would be ask him to go to his crate and when he enters it give him a handful of treats. This signals playtime is over. Don't lock him in, but walk away. (if you haven't already done so, it would be good to have a command for going to his crate).

Have you done much obedience training with him or is that difficult? Again, if you haven't investigated clicker training, it is a good way to teach, as it is "hands off" training, no need to touch him.

@tanza said in Hyper reflexive Aggression and startle:

my reason for noting about his breeding and breeder was to indicate if this was/is coming from his breeding.

Yes indeed - this is something which should have been discussed with the breeder from the get-go. You must never allow a Basenji to gain the upper hand, as this one obviously has ! cos you will find it very hard indeed to regain it.

Personally, I am inclined to snap if awoken suddenly from a deep sleep ! Never just wake him up - approach slowly, talking to him in a quiet and soothing way until he wakes up and is totally conscious, THEN you can shift him from your favorite arm-chair !

Clicker training works OK, but get someone to train you how to train your dog. That is the way most trainers (should) operate. And be consistent. Instill into him that certain actions on his part will invoke the same reactions from you, every time. Ceasing the play, walking away, ignoring him all works but it must happen every time.

And above all, do not laugh at him ! Basenjis have a tremendous sense of homour but do not like to be laughed at and if he thinks bad behaviour makes you laugh, he will persist.

But please - is he in the online Basenji database (see my signature block) ? - if not, please let me know his registered name and parents (and a photo) and I will add him and dig out any siblings to put in too.

@eeeefarm
Thank you for the compliment. I needed that.

We have worked with him, had a trainer when he was younger, hard to find someone that can work with such a an excitable boy, and understand his temperamental nature. Military style is not a workable way to interact with me or him.

Excellent suggestion, he is food motivated, the crate treat exercise is a good way to drawn down his excitement when over stimulated. He can go from playing with balls , To pushing them around , throwing them, plays tag with them and off he goes from self excitement., ( our common area and kitchen is in a circle) he can run in a circle, bounces off a wall like a flip turn in swimming....and it’s all for show. Yes we have allowed it. He blows off some steam and lays down on the cool tile afterwards. No harm no fowl. He could be trickster if trained. He is walked 4-5 times a day around our neighborhood. We cannot take him for longer walks because we live 2 blocks off a heavily traveled Main Street. We do not want him to go near it, for his own protection he would get hurt.....we never got the stop command down with the trainer. Because he could not be trusted off his leash, he would bolt every time. He always has been a runner, gosh he is one fast stealthy one.
With Thor there is always that “But”!
The clicker you suggested, I can give it a try as well. As long as something works, it’s a good thing.

We have already started to incorporate making soft sounds or name calling when he is in a light sleep, letting him know we are near or approaching him.

On a blog, There was another suggestion on desensitizing his inability to tolerate even a slight brush or touch ....at rest. Need feed back on this one, since you are getting a feel for Thor and his responses At rest.

Blogger- When the dog is in a light state of rest/sleep touch him gently with a finger or two. if you afraid he will over react use a wooden spoon to touch him gently like a finger until you can actually put your hand on him? Sounds like a good idea ,but I think Thor would overreact and not tolerate this approach at all? Opinions? Or possible approach?

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