Part 1: Training methods,Our Story, Our Experiences…Warning long post...


  • Warning….. This is a very long post so get some popcorn and something to drink before you start reading!

    One day, after having a long talk with our Basenji, Roo, I looked at him and said, "You know what your problem is? It's your face!" Of course, Roo is a dog, so I got no response except for the face. For those of you that own Basenji's, you know about the persuasive powers of the FACE! Ask yourselves, how many times have you said, just look at that sweet Face!

    First I need to qualify our statements by saying, Miranda and I are not professionals! We understand that our dogs are not people so we treat them accordingly. Our methods may not give you the same results or work for you at all. If you try our methods you do this at your own risk.

    Disclaimer over, so lets get to the meat(bad pun) of this post!

    Our Story:

    As many of you that have been in this forum know, we acquired Roo (Our Basenji) at the very early age of 8 weeks. While this age is considered acceptable to separate a puppy from it's mother and litter by many, there are opposing point of views. This post is not about debating that issue, and is only related to our experiences and methods of raising our Basenji.

    After a losing a much loved American Eskimo Rescue to old age and kidney failure a few months before, Miranda and I were in the mall and happened to come across a pet shop. Little did we know our lives were about to be changed forever.

    Inside that pet store, there just happened to be a cute, cuddly, playful, silly Basenji puppy. We believe this was a brown paper bag Basenji which we now know can be a sign of bad breeding practices. We asked the store employee to get the puppy out so Miranda could sit down with him and interact with him. Something about this silly puppy seemed to soothe and touch Miranda's broken heart. After all, Snowy, our American Eskimo had been with her almost 14 years. After watching her laugh for the first time in weeks, I knew I had to do something. Little did I know what I was getting into.

    Being aware that this puppy was in a pet store, we knew it most likely came from a puppy mill. Since we certainly did not want to support puppy mill breeding, I came home and hit the Internet looking for an alternative source for a Basenji. Of course my first act was to contact Rescue to see if there were any adoptable puppies that were available. If I remember right, I sent emails on two different occasions without receiving a response. So I started to look at other options.

    As I searched the Internet, I looked for rescue organizations in neighboring states. I found one individual posing as a rescue organization, but came to find out that he was really just selling puppies over the web.

    I looked within in our state of Illinois to see if there were any Basenji puppies available for sale. I did find one individual listed who was not to far from our location. I contacted him from the number listed on the web and left a message. I received a call in response in less than two hours.

    After making contact, and showing Miranda pictures of the puppies available we made arrangements to meet the breeder and purchase our puppy. Of course we have learned since that this is really not the best way to do things. We ended up buying from a back yard breeder, but were very fortunate that he was somewhat responsible, but somewhat uninformed. In our breeders defense, I will say he did follow up with us after we got the puppy several times and has always returned our calls. From what I know of him, he even took a Basenji puppy back that he sold that did not work out for another person. This shows at least he has some integrity and character.
    We were very fortunate, and have ended up with a very healthy, Fanconi Clear puppy, with a great temperament.

    Selection of gender and age:

    We also own a Boston Terrier named Bonzo, who is a 5 year old spayed female that we rescued as a puppy. We decided that bringing a young male Basenji into our home would be the best match in this situation because of dominant and territorial issues. We also thought that Bonzo might take up the mother role and bond with the puppy.

    Crate Training method Take 1:

    When we first brought our Roo home, he was still suffering from being separated from his litter and cried and screamed in his crate all night, so of course we did not get any sleep. Of course we were walking him every two hours as well and put his very first toy or kennel buddy which he still loves in his kennel with him.

    Whoever said that Basenji's are very quiet dogs is certainly under a misconception. If they do not get what they want from lower volume whining and crying, they just turn up the volume and get LOUDER! At this point, and after a couple days of this, I started to really wonder if I had made a huge mistake in getting a Basenji puppy!

    From my experience with puppies, I understood that it was natural for Roo to go through some of this but they do eventually quiet down. Since I knew it was important to crate train at a very early age, I ignored the crying as long as possible. I was under the impression that when puppies are little they tire out quickly and sleep a lot. I also understood that dogs of any age will cry and carry on when something is wrong. So I started looking for any issue that might be causing Roo to be upset when locked in his crate/kennel.

    What I found is even though we were walking him on a regular basis, if there is any hint of wetness on the towel we put in his kennel, that it will upset him. This is a good thing because it teaches the dog to let you know that they need to go out before they wet in their crate. This is the very reason that I strongly believe that Crate training is the best method of housebreaking a dog. To help with this, Roo also has a crate that stays in my car and is seat belted in. When he was little, the weather outside was still cool, so I was able to take him with me if I needed to run errands which allowed me to make sure Roo was walked when needed, and also taught Roo that he would be ok for a short time when crated.

    So we started checking his bedding every couple of hours just to be sure that was not a problem. I also knew from my experience that an old-fashioned wind up alarm clock with a rhythmic type ticking simulates the mothers heart beat and will help settle a puppy down. These wind up alarm clocks can be very hard to find these days. After driving to about 6 stores I finally found one at Walgreens. I came home and put this next to the outside back corner of Roo's kennel between the kennel and the wall so the sound would have a slight echo. This along with dry bedding seemed to do the trick.

    The next thing that we were concerned about was Roo's weight. When we got him he was only 4 lbs and we felt that was on the light side for a puppy of his age. We did take him to the vet who examined him and told us not to worry but we did anyway. So we did what we could to encourage him to eat and that included some hand feeding to get him started. Both Miranda and I would sit on the floor with him at different times and hand feed him or throw some pieces on the floor making a game out of it for him. At times we felt he liked to eat better off the floor than in his bowl. We thought it was strange, but we did whatever it took to make sure he ate.

    Shortly after we got Roo, Miranda discovered this Basenji Chat forum. In the beginning, Miranda and I really did not understand why there were people asking us where we got our puppy and who was the breeder. We felt like we were being taken to task about our decisions and choices. We also did not understand why the food we chose to feed our new puppy seemed to come under question. Certainly the purpose behind all of this was to be helpful and we do fully understand now, and would like to thank Tanza, Ivoss, and a host of others for helping us see the light.

    Our Setup:

    I thought it might be important to share with others the setup we have for Roo. We have a bathroom with a ceramic floor connected to our master bedroom. In that bathroom we have Roo's crate and a water and feeding dish. Across the door of the bathroom, we have an Evenflo baby gate which we purchased at our local Walmart. This allows us to contain Roo in the bathroom when necessary without having to lock him in his crate. Of course we also try to keep Roo's toys in the bathroom as well, but as his current age of 7 months, daily he has free roam of the house when supervised and drags them all over. Picking them up is a never ending process but that is better than chewed furniture.

    Teething and Chewing:

    We kept a never ending supply of new and interesting toys coming for the first 6 months. This included bully sticks. We were already in the habit of keeping the toilet paper high because Snowy lived to tear up TP. I also keep a stack of computer and photography reprimands and some bitter apple, he has learned to leave them alone. So far, he does not bother or chew on my computer cords either, but he does stand up and put his paw on my arm and will paw at my keyboard when he wants something. He has proven to be very non destructive.

    It is our opinion that you really have to take a firm hand with Basenjis at a young age to prevent bad habits. If you stop the problem before it becomes a problem then you can stay ahead of the game. Providing rope toys, Nylabones, Bully Sticks, AKC type animal toys, etc…. that your Basenji can chew on until their adult teeth come in, is essential to controlling this habit. Even after the adult teeth are in, your Basenji needs to know that they have something they can chew on without getting in trouble. Not to mention all the fun you have shopping for these items.

    Training,Exercise,and Conditioning:

    Ok, so little puppies like to sleep, but they also like to play and need exercise while they are growing. Keep in mind, its very important not to over tire or over exercise your dog. As they are growing, the growth plates are open until they are about 8 months to a 1 year old. You certainly do not want to damage the growth plates, so consult your vet to make sure you are not exercising your dog excessively.

    Just before we got Roo, the Doctor told me that I had Type II diabetes. It was suggested to me that I lose 10% or more of my body weight, change my eating habits, and exercise daily.

    Roo has now become my exercise buddy and part of my equipment. All you need is a Basenji, shoes, a strong regular type leash(not a retractable), Cherrios, motivation (basenji provided), and a nice park or place to walk. Roo and I started by walking 1 1/2 miles per day. This was shortly after we got Roo and he was about 9 weeks old. We even took Bonzo with us on our walks. Roo got stronger and developed good muscle and started sleeping through the night. Bonzo and I both started losing weight. Roo would eat and sleep as soon as we got back from the park, wake up a few hours later to go out and potty, come inside to play, and then go to sleep until morning. Finally, we able to get some sleep.

    Note: There are people who claim that Basenjis will not retrieve or play fetch. To this I say BS! Roo will actually initiate fetch by bringing a toy to us when he is in a playful mood. This behavior probably stems from the stimulation and play we have done with him since we brought him home.

    Roo, Bonzo, and I have walked in all sorts of weather except for snow, but that is coming. We have been out in downpours, even though none of us liked it, we did it. When the heat of the summer came, I started leaving Bonzo at home. Roo and I have slowly built up to walking 6 miles per day. 3 miles in the morning, and 3 miles in the evening. I do not mean letting the dog pull you around and do as they please. I am talking about teaching the dog to heel without pulling. Trust me when they get bigger they do get stronger.

    So far, I have lost 23 lbs and kept it off. I have set another goal of weight loss for myself that I hope Roo can help me reach before it begins to snow in my area. I can tell you that walking with your dog is one of the best things you can do to help them bond, teach them you are the pack leader, teach them not to pull, and some socialization skills.

    After our walks in the park, I would treat each dog with Cheerio's. This is the time, when they are somewhat tired, to teach them to sit, stay, and come. While repetition is very necessary, I do not train/teach more than 15 mins per day. I feel that training is an on going process that will go on throughout a dogs life in one way or another. You will either be teaching your dog something new, or reinforcing and practicing what they have learned. It is very important to treat them and praise them after each and every execution of command. Roo has been sitting, coming, staying, and learning to heel since he was 3 months old. Roo now will sit most of the time before his leash is put on him. He will also sit at the front door and has to stay seated until the door is opened and he is invited out. We repeat the same process before entry into the house. The procedure is that he has sit, we tell him to stay, we open the door, and then tell him ok. When inside he has to sit before we will take his leash off. When necessary, repeat all commands in a calm voice and wait until your dog executes it before you move to the next step. If they get up after you told them to stay then go back a step and make them wait. If they do not sit at the door, give them the command again and wait. Repeat if necessary but keep your cool and eventually your dog will execute by themselves or it will become second nature to them after the command is given. Always use your dog's name when giving them a command.

    Continued in part 2

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