Tucker's biting continues…(yes, it's been a long time since I was active here)

Hello everyone…

If you are a breeder, behaviorist or know a behaviorist, please PM me. If not, you can skip this entire email...

I really need some personal advice on a dog who bites unpredictably. I'm looking for some behaviorist input and I'm hoping that some of the breeders here on the forums can help me or perhaps anyone who has information on reputable behaviorists in my area (Virginia). I'm assuming that this person would not want to travel excessively, so I presume names of folks in the MD, DC, VA, WV or PA area would be helpful.

I have posted on Tucker before. For the newer folks here, he's a BRAT adoption for me. He was rehomed 3 times in his first 6 months and during that time his tail was either torn off or cropped. I think it was torn off because of the way the tip of the bone sticks out of the end of it (although hidden by a tuft of fur). He then found a good home with a couple in Chicago. They had Tucker for 3.5 years. Then they moved to Boston and the wife got pregnant. It was at this point that Tucker started biting. He bit the husband once and a teen once so they abandoned Tucker to BRAT in fear of endangering their future child. Being single with no prospects and my own home, I took the challenge even after they told me he had bitten a few people. I think it's pertinant that the previous owner was, I think, not very social with Tucker regarding people or animals.

Now...I find myself married (almost a year now) and a new dog came into the picture along with my wife (a fat Old English Sheepdog who I loathe, but tolerate - they can't all be Basenji's, now can they?). No issues with the dogs, but Tucker has proven in the past 3 years that he is definately a biter. His biting is unpredictable and the count is somewhere between 10 and 30 bites. 10%-20% have broken the skin and bled, most scratch, few puncture - but even that has happened a couple times. Most often it involves a turn of the head and a snap on the wrist. Lightning fast and most often there is little to no warning. I have noticed his eyes change the instant before a biting incident and an evident remorse afterwards (no evidence of aggression following the bite). My wife and I are now considering babies of our own....

I will not have Tucker put down. Tucker and I see eye to eye and he would never bite me or my wife (but has) at this point. However, he will pretty much bite anyone else on the planet. We have no idea why. We do know he was undersocialized, but our fear of lawsuit prevents us from proper socialization with people. He's okay, for the most part, with other dogs as long as he's off the leash. He is not aggressive. I know that doesn't make sense, but to explain - you can come into my house and be 100% safe if you ignore him. It's when he's reached for that he reacts. There is typically no warning at all. However, if you approach his 'space' once he's comfortable, he will growl if he feels you are encroaching, but has never attacked unless provoked (in that situation).

I've thought about submitting my story to Cesar Milan since it's an extreme case, but getting the require video means someone has to get bitten and I find that difficult to stage.

Anyway, I would prefer to discuss this one on one with someone who knows about these things. I'd rather not hear a bunch of 'what ifs' because we've been there...done that trying to figure him out. It's time for professional help. We would even consider a 'whisperer' if we thought it would help.

We are in the process of applying to see Dr. E. Kathry Meyer, V.M.D. with Veterinary Behavior Clinic in Gaithersburg, MD. If anyone knows anything about her before we spend tons of money for nothing, that would also be prudent information. 🙂

Thanks in advance,
Jason

I know Leslie McDevitt is in PA, which was the first name that sprang to mind. There is/was a CU yahoo group that I was on and I know she delt with a blind biting basenji. The yahoo group has ended, but you can still join and access the archieves. I am not familiar with Dr Meyer, but personally I'd avoid taking my dog to CM.

http://controlunleashed.net/consultoptions.html

It's time for a behaviourist definitely. There may be cues that, although you think you don't see them-you may be missing as they be very subtle. Only someone actually seeing the dog in action would be able to observe and confirm this. Without observing the dog, I wouldn't even hazard a guess as to any conclusions, observations, suggestions etc. Hope you find what you need.

I don't know, I'd love to see Ceasar Milan work with a Basenji. Although, if he knows anything about them, he may pass due to the possibility of failure. Can't have failures on a TV show.

That said, however, there are some methods he uses that have been effective on AJ. (Of course, I don't use all of his methods. Not everything he does is appropriate for my dog.) It's too bad I'm not in VA. I'd volunteer for the video for you. 🙂

Yes, you need a behaviorist; personally, I would really steer you away from CM…but I won't get into that.

It may be that you will have to manage the dog knowing that he very well may bite a non-family person. That is what we do with Ivy. She sounds very similar in MO to Tucker; her bites are usually directed towards hands reaching towards her. Her behavior has improved over the years, particularly as we have modified how we work with her (never correcting her physically). She has never bitten any of our kids, but she has always been very carefully monitored with them. Even though she has mellowed seriously over the years, I never give her the opportunity to bite people, because she is so uncomfortable around non-family, that she simply goes in her crate when people visit.

Ohhh...and congrats on the marriage 🙂

Oh, I do so hope you can find someone to work with you on this.
Do let us know…

I never give her the opportunity to bite people, because she is so uncomfortable around non-family, that she simply goes in her crate when people visit.

+100

Our dog will bite anyone under the right conditions and we do the above and avoid situations that push his buttons. We also are much more focused on his warnings he gives us - Growl, Hackles raised, licking his chops repeatedly, ears back, whites of his eyes showing. If he gives any of these signals we take heed and back off.

After several years of doing this, there are less & less incidents, less growling. However, he will bite, so you can't let your guard down. He never bites or attacks without being provoked in some way.

He has been a great dog and we work hard to keep it that way. He is happier as well (mellow).

@TuckerVA:

I really need some personal advice on a dog who bites unpredictably.

No issues with the dogs, but Tucker has proven in the past 3 years that he is definately a biter. His biting is unpredictable and the count is somewhere between 10 and 30 bites. 10%-20% have broken the skin and bled, most scratch, few puncture - but even that has happened a couple times. Most often it involves a turn of the head and a snap on the wrist. Lightning fast and most often there is little to no warning
...
However, he will pretty much bite anyone else on the planet. We have no idea why. We do know he was undersocialized,
...
He is not aggressive. I know that doesn't make sense, but to explain - you can come into my house and be 100% safe if you ignore him. It's when he's reached for that he reacts. There is typically no warning at all. However, if you approach his 'space' once he's comfortable, he will growl if he feels you are encroaching, but has never attacked unless provoked (in that situation).

Hi Jason,

I've quoted portions of your story that I thought most salient. First is the good news:
Your dog has semi-decent ABI. That is acquired bite inhibition, or how hard he bites when he bites. You've got a LOT of history there, which tells you he mostly will not do serious damage.

Your dog appears, according to you, to be VERY predictable with his bites: It happens when you reach for him AND you know why: he's under-socialized.

The bad news: Chances are, he was "trained" not to warn. We see this all the time. Many owners think they are doing a good think when they punish or reprimand dogs for growling. I see this in pet owners and long-time breeders alike. Truth is, they are simply teaching their dogs not to telegraph their discomfort but it does nothing to change the internal workings of the dog. Dogs growl because they are uncomfortable and I want to know this! Sadly, when owners punish growling dogs they are shutting off the warning signal.

Dogs are great discriminators. It would appear that Tucker was "trained" not to growl when being reached for, but it wasn't entirely punished out when he's in his safe zone. Cool. At least he's still free to tell you "Please don't come closer." I hope everyone listens when he says this.

I will say this with extreme emphasis: Do not seek out CM or CM style trainers to treat this problem!

CM is not a behaviorist. He is not schooled in behavior modification and if his show is any indication he does not understand Animal Learning Theory. His methods are those I briefly touched on above. He turns behavior off but he does nothing to address the underlying issue. If you want a dog that just "shuts up and puts up" that's the way to go. If you want Tucker to learn to be comfortable having strangers reach for him, stay far, far away from anyone that uses physical force, flooding, bullying or any other "quick fix". This problem is going to take you a long time to handle and you may always need to step in and be Tucker's advocate.

You need an accredited behaviorist (one with a Phd) or at least a very gentle, positive reinforcement style trainer who will help you first desensitize Tucker to hands and then counter-condition him.

I do not have any personal information to share on Dr.Meyer but she is listed on the AVSAB site so I do feel that it will probably be money well spent. There are many good R+ trainers in MD and I would be happy to point you toward them if you like.

Good luck!

Very good advice, please let us know if it works.

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