Potential Biter

So, I know this subject is nothing new, as I've read many of the posts surrounding my issue.
Long story short, I'm having problems with Denver & the vet.
I had been taking Trinity to a male vet for more than six months & had absolutely no issues, other than she didn't want to sit still for more than 2 seconds. The relationship between them was alright, the vet is kind-of a stiff & I could sense his slight dislike for and/or fear of Trinity's energy. Then along came Denver. I was completely shocked & horrified as I watched him get snarky with the vet when he tried to check his ears - first time I've EVER seen him act like THAT. He growled & even snapped at him - muzzle on for the rest of the exam. Thinking a female may be the way to go, I took him to the new vet today for the first time & it was even worse. I think if the vet didn't back off, Denver's teeth would have made contact with her skin - muzzle on for the rest of the exam & the vet's assistant even had to bear hug him to make him stay still, as he growled, growled, growled. I'm shamefully embarrassed & am feeling worse because within the short amount of time I had to make an impression, I was told to: 1) NOT breed him because his temperament was bad, 2) neuter him to stave off his aggression & I wouldn't be able to show him anyway, 3) put him down after 3 bites. This is my sweet little harmless lazy couch potato!
He does not like to be examined or handled in any such manner - by anyone. I'm slowly wearing him down - I can pick out his eye boogers & touch his ears now without a problem! The only other time he acts this way is when he encounters a stranger he doesn't like - some strangers can approach him & his tail won't stop wagging the whole time.
So, I'm trying to wrap my mind around the idea of socializing your dog if he is unsocial? Are some dogs just doomed to a fate of snarkiness? How in the world am I ever going to show him if he's going to bite the judge?! And why can't I find a vet who knows about breeds other than Rin Tin Tin & Marley?! It's so frustrating!
Quercus (assuming you're going to read this), I've read several posts you've written about Ivy. Does she still bite? Is that the reason why you chose not to show her? I understand training is key, but how does one stop these vicious outbursts? Should I be concerned at this point? He does not get upset when his territory is invaded, when toys are taken from him, when he is awakened by a human &, even though he's obsessed with food, when his food bowl is taken away (with food still in it) or when Trinity steals his treats.
I'm so disappointed over this whole situation. What vet wants to see a biter? And how am I supposed to take him back to the place where he had a bad experience & expect him to not act a mess? Is it really all that common to muzzle a dog during visits? Am I being too sensitive?

Houston

I don't have any answers, but wanted to tell you that I feel your pain. it is horrible to have somebody tell you the things they told you about him…on these very few visits. None of my dogs I have had through my life, terriers, mutts, dachshunds and now B's like going to the vet, they might not snarle and growl, initially, but after a while they all pretty much did. I have had to have a muzzle on one of our mutts, but he didn't even growl it was just standard for them to muzzle larger dogs. I am very curious as to what some of the more experienced guys and gals on here have to say, meanwhile...hang in there..

We had basenjis years ago that the vet gently muzzled for exams and shots, though they only growled and "casually" snapped a couple of times. It was no big deal, and just having the muzzle on calmed the dogs immediately. My current ones have never had to be muzzled, except when Topper hurt his back and was in a lot of pain, which was made worse during the neuro exam!

Of course, my first thought is to find a new vet that they like,and who has the patience to work with a "dog with issues". I would not go back to the woman, he really doesn't like her!

I'm sure the show folks can help more with teaching to be handled! Good luck, better to muzzle for the vet than to have them documented as a biter.

You can help to lessen this reaction in your dog by changing your dog's association with being touched this way. What type of touching causes this reaction? You said he behaves this way even for you?

One way to change the association with this type of touching is to associate with something positive. My obedience instructor told us how she helped her sister work with her dog about having her feet touched. They started only feeding her when someone was touching a foot. At first they just started with laying their hand on a foot while they hand fed her and worked they way to being able to hold the foot while she ate. Over time her association with having her feet touched changed to being positive so much so that when she is unsure about a situation she will offer a paw to be held.

You can do something similar with your boy start by touching somewhere he doesn't mind and then slowly move to touching the area that bother him while feeding him. This is provided he is food motivated.

As for people, one of the things we work on in the socialization classes I have taken with my dogs is greeting behaviors. Again, a lot of it is focused on making a positive association with people. With dogs that are uncomfortable with people approaching like your boy seems like he is we start out by just tossing treats from whatever distance the dog is still relaxed and then work toward decreasing the amount of space the dog needs to still be comfortable. This is where a good positive reinforcement class can really help.

I would really recommend finding a good positive reinforcement class. Make sure to ask if it is okay to observe a class. The ones that I have had good experiences with are the ones usually called "manners" classes so the focus isn't so much about having a perfect "fill in the blank" but on having a dog you can live with. I would also look for a vet that is willing to work with me to help my dog and that means one that is open to me coming in just so they can say "Hi" and give my dog a treat so my dog learns the vet is a good place where occassionally not so great things happen. Instead of them learning the vet is a bad place.

Ivoss' suggestions could not be better. Take them. They will help.

I would just like to add that Katie's vet has gone from doing Katie's vet visits in the parking lot, to at the picnic table near the door, to in the lobby, to finally in a room, with no sedation and no muzzle!

It's been nearly 3 years of vet visits, and multiple cookie-visits to get to this. Our vet encouraged us to do cookie-drive-bys, and work up to cookie-visits. He also comes into the room, and just chats while Katie checks him out, every time. It is not uncommon for him to be in the room with us for 20 mins before he touches Katie. She sniffs him, and he totally ignores her while she gets acquainted. At our last vet trip, she took a treat from him for the first time, and he was overjoyed. I love a vet that can appreciate that.

It sounds like you may need to look for a vet like this. My family has been going to this vet since before I was born. (I will be 30 on July 28th). When you find a good vet, stick with him/her, they are a rare gem.

We did T-touch with Katie to help her learn to be handled. She isn't a show dog, so I don't know about a Judge's exam, but it helped us teach Katie to be handled for grooming and tick checks. We went to a seminar, and use the book "Getting in T-touch with your Dog". I think it helped a lot.

It is really hard to hear someone talking about putting your baby down after such a short first impression. If you are truly worried about Denver's potential to become a biter, look into setting up an appointment with a behaviorist. We could not have come as far as we have with Katie without our behaviorist's help. Check IAABC for a consultant in your area http://www.iaabc.org/.
There are no veterinary behavior specialists (ACVB Diplomates) in Ohio, but there are several vets who are members of the AVSAB at http://www.avsabonline.org, who can help with behavior at the vet, and will probably also understand how to approach a dog with issues a bit better than most.

Hope some of this helps.

-Nicole

@nkjvcjs:

It sounds like you may need to look for a vet like this. My family has been going to this vet since before I was born. (I will be 30 on July 28th). When you find a good vet, stick with him/her, they are a rare gem.

This is so true. A good vet is worth their weight in gold but they are hard to come by. Even though there are closer vet offices to me, I still go to my old vet office because they are good with my animals and they listen to me about my animals and trust that I know when something is wrong. It took me several vets to find the one I use.

Houston

Great advice all around.

Nicole, what an amazing human being of a vet to take all those steps and efforts to get dogs comfortable around him..he is truly in it for the animal, not for his wallet..

I agree with everything posted so far. To answer your question, Ivy hasn't bitten anyone in some years now (frantically knocking on wood). And she has always been fairly well behaved at the vet, but I always muzzle her for blood draw, and hold her head during shots. She tends to jump and scream bloody murder when they try to draw blood, so for the tech's comfort I muzzle her right away. She doesn't love it, but it is all done calmly, and we get through it.

Her temperament is one of the reasons why she wasn't bred, and the fact that there was quite a bit of Fanconi around her in her pedigree (this was prior to the test, knew that her mom was a carrier and her dad was at best a carrier, he died by car prior to becoming old enough to develop fanconi).

Her temperament IS why we stopped showing her for the most part. She didn't enjoy showing, and it wasn't that important to us to continue trying to rehab her for show.

So, it might not be horrible advice to have Denver neutered if he really does have issues with strangers, not just vets. But I don't know that it is a necessity…have you talked to his breeder?

And I think it is a little ridiculous to suggest euthing a dog that is loving with his family, because he is terrified of vets. You can definitely work through this. It is a matter of desensitizing him to being touched, and approaching strangers. It will take some work, and he will never be like a lab 😉 but you can definitely work through it. Try the book "Click to Calm" by Emma Parsons.

Like the others suggested try to find a vet that is understanding about dog behavior. And then you work with them to help keep them safe, and they will love you for it 🙂

Hang in there!

One other thought….some dogs get set off just by the lifting onto that slippery stainless exam table. Then they're expected to stand still (so high off the ground:)). Try a little at home conditioning in that area as well.

If your vet allows, a washable non skid surface http://caravanhsv.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/IMG_1166.35131607_std.jpg
placed over the stainless table helps with skittering, nervous feet. I have my own non-skid rug pad I carry with me to the vet. It really helps. Slipping and/or falling is one less thing for them to worry about.

@lvoss:

This is so true. A good vet is worth their weight in gold but they are hard to come by. Even though there are closer vet offices to me, I still go to my old vet office because they are good with my animals and they listen to me about my animals and trust that I know when something is wrong. It took me several vets to find the one I use.

Well said.

My OJ hated our first Vet… he would bite as quick as look at this guy... This Vet anyone could tell did not like the breed (and he had lots in the practice)... and OJ knew this or picked up on it. OJ would start growling a block before we pulled into the parking lot. For a number of reasons, I changed Vets... never had a problem again with OJ... he was calm, happy, laid back at the Vets... never offered a growl or bite.... so in fact there is much to be said for "who" the Vet is.... I have usually always listened to my dogs reactions to people... and used it quite alot when interviewing people as potential puppy buyers... If my Basenjis had issues with people in my home.. chances are there is something going on. Same with the Vet... while I do not expect them to be super happy about going to the Vet... I don't what them so out of control that they make themselves a basket case... So I would look for another Vet.

In regards to the rest of the problems you are having, as suggested, have you talked to the breeder? And I would also agree that if you are getting the same reaction then certainly this is not a dog that you would ever what to breed... some dogs just have bad temperaments regardless of what we try and do in proper socialization... and you have to work 4 times harder to overcome it... some dogs like people will just take an immediate dislike to a person with what seems to be no reason.... I had one like that... yup, for certain neutered... would not bred that pup ever...

:)Thank you for all of your advice & encouragement - I always feel better when I can correspond with people who get it!
I have not yet talked to Denver's breeder - I'm always compelled to come here first - I don't like to bring on worry or disappointment through bad news.
So, Trinity's vet appt is this Saturday - she has some blood cells in her urine. I'm thinking I'll take Denver along to see what happens. Jeez, this lady probably thinks the previous vet ousted us because Denver bites, when actually, I left him!
I thought about how Denver acts everyday & the issues seem to surround people touching him. I believe we can work past this. So, does this still mean his temperament is no good? What constitutes a bad temperament? I think about breeding a litter some year & am sad to hear Denver may be a bad choice. He's so sweet & such a good boy otherwise.
I'll keep searching for the golden vet - at least her prices are lower! I wish I had your vet, nkjvcjs!
@lvoss:

Over time her association with having her feet touched changed to being positive so much so that when she is unsure about a situation she will offer a paw to be held.

:)This is so sweet, it made me smile. I can just picture this in my head.

I'll take any good book suggestions you guys want to throw my way. Denver's breeder lives forever away & I live in a pretty remote area, where major dog, let alone basenji, activity is limited.

Are you planning on showing him?

I want to, and I know I've got lots of work to do. He is VERY food motivated, so I know he'll pick up the routine rather quickly. And he really is quite obedient. I think he could do some damage in the ring - he has such a pristine gait. I'm hoping to soak up a slew of knowledge & experience at the Nationals - can't wait to see everyone there & be surrounded by a zillion basenjis for the first time in my life!

If you don't already have one, I'd suggest getting a grooming table and getting him used to being on it. Then move up to having people come up to him, feed him treats, and eventually touching him. Hopefully that would help some with the vet situation and definitely would with the showing. The "Positive Training for Show Dogs" book has a case study example or two of how a fearful dog was accustomed to being on the table and handled by people.

@RedVelvetLynx:

:)Thank you for all of your advice & encouragement - I always feel better when I can correspond with people who get it!
I have not yet talked to Denver's breeder - I'm always compelled to come here first - I don't like to bring on worry or disappointment through bad news.
So, Trinity's vet appt is this Saturday - she has some blood cells in her urine. I'm thinking I'll take Denver along to see what happens. Jeez, this lady probably thinks the previous vet ousted us because Denver bites, when actually, I left him!
I thought about how Denver acts everyday & the issues seem to surround people touching him. I believe we can work past this. So, does this still mean his temperament is no good? What constitutes a bad temperament? I think about breeding a litter some year & am sad to hear Denver may be a bad choice. He's so sweet & such a good boy otherwise.
I'll keep searching for the golden vet - at least her prices are lower! I wish I had your vet, nkjvcjs!

:)This is so sweet, it made me smile. I can just picture this in my head.

I'll take any good book suggestions you guys want to throw my way. Denver's breeder lives forever away & I live in a pretty remote area, where major dog, let alone basenji, activity is limited.

I think you need to think long and hard before breeding him… What does he really have to offer the breed?... and any flaw in the temperment needs to be moved to the top of the list for consideration. My Jamari and Crystal were/are great examples of the breed in conformation and have lots of titles... but... both are a bit way to strong in temperament... enough so that I really had to think long and hard about breeding and then came to the conclusion that because of temperament alone, the rest was not enough to over ride and breed either of them (they are litter brother and sister). To me it sounds like he is a "snap" decision maker... that will never totally change and while you may overcome some of it... he will never really be totally trusting... IMO.... sounds much like my Jamari... and the biggest reason that I decided there are better ways to go breeding then to take a chance on him throwing that temperament. It is a really hard decision and not to be taken lightly... but I know it was the right thing to do for the breed.....

@tanza:

I think you need to think long and hard before breeding him… What does he really have to offer the breed?... and any flaw in the temperment needs to be moved to the top of the list for consideration. My Jamari and Crystal were/are great examples of the breed in conformation and have lots of titles... but... both are a bit way to strong in temperament... enough so that I really had to think long and hard about breeding and then came to the conclusion that because of temperament alone, the rest was not enough to over ride and breed either of them (they are litter brother and sister). To me it sounds like he is a "snap" decision maker... that will never totally change and while you may overcome some of it... he will never really be totally trusting... IMO.... sounds much like my Jamari... and the biggest reason that I decided there are better ways to go breeding then to take a chance on him throwing that temperament. It is a really hard decision and not to be taken lightly... but I know it was the right thing to do for the breed.....

I don't know yet what he may be able to offer - I've just received his Fanconi test kit in the mail & his personality is really starting to blossom. Besides, his breeder included some tough breeding stipulations in her contract. And I do understand there are very serious things to consider. I simply can't explain how I fell in love with basenjis when I don't even really like dogs. I more or less consider breeding to have my own family of Bs, not necessarily to contribute to the gene pool, although I'd never not share something great if I ever had it! That's why I say "some year" - Denver may not even be an option when that time may come. I would never carelessly pass along something which shouldn't be. I've a lot to learn & I appreciate any and all guidance given to me.

Temperament is a difficult trait to evaluate fully because it is made up of nature and nurture. So you have to look at both of those things but in the end you also have to ask is this a temperament that a pet person can live with because you can't keep every puppy.

Just a thought. I went back and read my introduction thread and you had commented on my vet, Dr. Tracy Leonard, in Beavercreek, Ohio. She really does know her basenjis and so does her staff. Maybe, at least, a phone call, or perhaps a consult? Maybe she knows a vet closer than 4 hours who can help you out or at least help them work with you if they're willing to work with her, phone, fax, e-mail, IM being what they are today.

I really think you need to talk to his breeder. Tell her your concerns…find out what she expects of you as far as showing, and breeding, and evaluation of his potential. If you can't get him turned around for showing, which you may not, since he is fearful/dislikes strangers touching him, she may say he is not to be bred. Don't be afraid to talk to her, she will want to know what is going on with him; ESPECIALLY since she either co-owns him, or sold him of a full registration.

We all need to keep in mind that he ISN'T biting at this point. Right? That means he has GOOD bite inhibition. And he is giving a clear warning when he is uncomfortable. This is a good sign, and I wouldn't say that it is necessarily a dog with a BAD temperament for a Basenji. That is what we want in dogs, rather than surpressing their warning signs, and the 'unexpectedly' biting and doing lots of damage.

As has been pointed out in other discussions, it is really hard to diagnose a situation like this online, or/and on the phone. Holly, you will have a chance to meet and talk to a bunch of people at the National, and hopefully we can help you have more insight into what direction to take with him. But, really, your breeder needs to have a large amount of input into your decision, because only she knows how important he might be to her breeding program. But the ultimate decision should come down to you and what you can live with, keeping in mind that he would most likely show fewer signs of aggression if he was neutered.

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