6 month B constantly trying to eat things on the street

Hi everyone, our 6 month old basenji is food obsessed and has unfortunately had an incident or two finding food scraps / chicken bones on the street and trying to consume (we've been able to remove quickly from his mouth). he is a city basenji and we live in an urban area.

his love of food has been great from training perspective since he is so highly food motivated, but challenging when taking him for walks. he is constantly pulling and sniffing around which means we often don't get a lot of distance covered during the walk. this is okay, because we have been doing clicker training and using commands like "focus" and "touch" for recall and its been working great. however our main concern is when he is too quick for us and grabs a piece of food or worse, a tossed out bone on the street. we have been using the "leave it" command and it works well if its a low value object (like a fluff or a weird stick). if its food related/high value, he doesn't let go and we have to take it out of his mouth.

has anyone had similar experiences with their b? if so, any tips or guidance would be greatly appreciated! we are starting to wonder if we should consider a muzzle for safety as he's caught chicken bones one too many times. this morning he actually tried eating a piece of plastic that he found (i was surprised because he usually only tries to consume food related objects) and when i tried to remove it from his mouth his bite caught my finger and drew blood 😞

I tend to think that "scavenging" for food is instinctual and, as such, is not going to be something you can un-train out of a dog. Be alert while you are on a walk. When your dog starts to veer off course, see if there is an obvious reason for it. Instead of trying to get your dog to drop or let go of something that's already in it's mouth, use the "leave it" command before your dog is close enough to get it. It's not as easy as it sounds. I've seen my dog fish whole bagels out of a bush. I just don't understand why people are such slobs that they won't pick up something they drop. smh Chicken/bones are probably the worst. But try to understand that your dogs nose is designed to notice things you don't.

Focus on your dog when you go for a walk (leave the phone or any other distractions at home). Use the walk as a chance to work on training your dog. You can reinforce commands like: "heel" while you walk, "sit" when you stop at a corner, "stay", "come", and many, many others... including, of course, "leave it".

Something to consider: carry a little bag of dry kibble to use as treats (or bribes) so that each time your dog sees something and "leaves it", your dogs attention will be redirected to you for praise and a piece of kibble. Eventually, your dog will learn to look at you when he passes something intriguing, instead of dragging you close enough to snatch the chicken off the curb.

@yaleezaforeva - I agree with Elbrant, this is common for any dog to scavenging, not just Basenjis. You need to watch your dog and instead of kibble to use as a bribe, take treats that are high value to do a "trade"....

You might try training "It's your choice". Since you are already into clicker training you are one step ahead. The point of the exercise is that the dog only gets the food reward from your hand, never from the ground or the floor. Once you generalize the behaviour it should help to control his scavenging, although you will likely have to "proof" him by setting him up quite a few times. And you need to be quick so he doesn't self reward. However, it is a good thing for a dog to learn, and if properly trained will prevent them from grabbing food inadvertently dropped on the floor, or helping themselves to an unguarded treat. I hasten to add, it isn't the easiest thing to train a Basenji, and you have to be absolutely consistent! A basic training video here.

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last edited by eeeefarm

I'm sure everyone has had this experience. LOL Liking trying to get dogs who dig not to dig, trying to stop this behavior is going to be hard. There is a saying that for training some breeds "the fastest route is the longest way". Unlikely you are going to find a magic and quick solution.

Actually it sounds like you are having some success using the clicker in training. If you can keep that up and have him pay attention mostly to you rather than to the things on the street you'll solve the problem. However, to be honest I have a 2 1/2 year old female who does the same thing -- food scavenged on a walk seems to have particularly high reward for Basenjis -- and I haven't really tried to alter it. She's particularly prone to putting everything and anything she finds in her mouth and, most importantly, I'm struggling to get her to pay attention. The attention part is the key. Once that happens then training for all types of things becomes possible. Without it pretty much everything is difficult. (FWIW she does fine with It's Your Choice games and is used to shaping behaviors. But that is indoors and/or at home. Walks are a whole different adventure.)

Here would be my suggestion: You say the clicker is working. Take it with you on your walks. When your pup looks at you click & treat. Do that until your pup decides you are the center of the universe and is constantly looking at you. Then start teaching him to heal. It will take some time and effort but your problem will resolve.

last edited by DonC

@DonC, you are right that attention is key, but in this case paying attention to the dog at all times when walking is absolutely key. Letting him get used to scavenging on walks will be self rewarding, and something that should be avoided. Best not to use a flex lead so he is close at hand and can be observed. Apart from anything else, it is dangerous for a dog to pick up things on the road. Poison or splintered chicken bones can be the result. The person on the end of the leash needs to be guarding against this.

Oh my goodness! It almost sounds like you're expecting to have a perfect basenji!!! I can't tell you how many times I've had to dig stuff out of my basenji's mouth. It's almost a daily thing. And, it's definitely my fault because I should be paying closer attention. Consider yourself lucky that your b doesn't get angry and try to bite you!!! (I've had foster b's that would bite if you tried it.) The worst is trying to dig cat poop from your dog's mouth (it falls apart). Not pretty.

Basenjis are scavengers. Period. It's part of their job to keep the native villages clean. Just wait until he rolls in fox poop !

I never wasted my time with "no" when my guy got hold of something off limits. My scornful "Is that yours?" usually had the desired effect unless it was something particularly attractive to him. And I certainly have pried my share of forbidden items out of mouths! It irks me when I see dog owners ignoring a dog who is busy sniffing and then ingesting God knows what! If you are unlucky it can cost you a vet bill or worse. (but then, I am a control freak. Difficult with a Basenji!)

last edited by eeeefarm

@eeeefarm
.............(but then, I am a control freak. Difficult with a Basenji!) -

LOL!!! Oh so true!!

This could be 'my dog specific' but here's my experience:
I had a dog, Ibis, that was extremely food motivated. We have light gray floors, so anything dropped, like a piece of kibble, was immediately snatched. She learned if she didn't get it, someone else would. So, she associated a small dark spot on grey flooring, food. Not really a problem at home, but she was like your dog, including at shows I took her to.
This went on until she was about 2 when we got to a show early, like usual. The show flooring was concrete, there was a 'turd' and Ibis snatched it. She spit it out immediately and to be honest, though I continued to watch her as much as before, she never did that again, except at home.

She continued to be extremely food motivated, which is why I never lure coursed her, except ONCE. I took her to a trial in which my other dogs were entered. At the end, there would be a practice, so, I entered Ibis in that. She was a very observant dog, but I figured she liked to chase things, let's see. We were at the line, she wore her pretty color, and ran 10 feet when I released her. Then, she made a beeline to the LUNCH counter. It was at least 75 ft from where I released her, behind us.

One thing she continued to do, was chase any little critter that moved - just at home, the only place she had an opportunity. The other dogs knew not to pursue a skunk, but Ibis had to learn by doing (her usual way of learning things). Did you know skunks can climb 5 ft privacy fences? Ibis thought that would be the perfect time to grab the critter. What she didn't know was that was a prefect time for the skunk to spray her in her face! We were lucky it didn't affect her eyes. She never did that again.

I guess this story shows examples of understanding the dog's African history and showing that it's part of who they are. You have to be constantly aware of what's going on, and sometimes if you can't change the dog, you have to change their surroundings.

Ibis was the most work, but I sort of miss her the most, and really worked at filling my free time when she left!

@eeeefarm said in 6 month B constantly trying to eat things on the street:

@DonC, you are right that attention is key, but in this case paying attention to the dog at all times when walking is absolutely key. Letting him get used to scavenging on walks will be self rewarding, and something that should be avoided. Best not to use a flex lead so he is close at hand and can be observed. Apart from anything else, it is dangerous for a dog to pick up things on the road. Poison or splintered chicken bones can be the result. The person on the end of the leash needs to be guarding against this.

I guess I failed to express my points very well. Yes you do not want your dog eating things from off the street. But I don't think you solve this with a shorter leash. I think you address it with training. That's going to take longer but will yield more satisfactory results. If you can get your Basenji to pay attention to you when you're walking the battle is mostly over. If they think the rewards are better if they do what you want them to than if they just go off and scavenge then they'll do what you want them to. If not they won't.

My guess is that currently we have a dog straining on a leash in front of their owner with their nose to the ground, ready to grab anything that looks like it might be interesting. What you'd rather have is a dog trotting along looking at their owner and forward. That doesn't mean they shouldn't get to sniff. There is for sure a time and place for that. Just not walking along the street.

^^^^^ I agree! The idea will be to reconfigure what the expectation is when you’re taking your dog for a walk. It will take training and I strongly suggest the use of a martingale collar or slip lead when working this behavior because it will send an additional, automatic, and silent message to the dog that will make a treat and voice command that much more effective in the long run.

When you start you’ll have to keep a very short leash so that he learns what the expectation is. You want him trotting at your side, focused on you, not scanning the horizon for potentially poisonous yummies or the next thing to sniff. Eventually (probably far in the future) you might be able to loosen the leash and give him a little more room, but don’t change the expectation! Walks are about being focused on you. When it’s appropriate you can give him ‘sniff breaks’ where you can completely loosen the leash and let him sniff around to his heart’s content. Then when the walk starts up again, his attention must return to you.

And yes it is possible with a basenji (it’s possible with any dog, and making excuses based on breed, which I unfortunately hear from way too many people, achieves absolutely nothing but a miserable owner and a miserable and possibly dead dog) because I’ve done it with mine and it’s made our walks far more enjoyable. I wish you the best of luck!

last edited by theresab

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