Devoted to Basenjis as Pets
Betsy Polglase, Massachusetts
The more experienced I get with Basenjis, the less I feel the need of ever using force or aversive training. I think the tricks to getting along well with Basenjis include:
Don’t Set the Dog up in the First Place
Avoid “setup” situations where you know the dog will react badly. For instance: don’t suddenly grab a sleeping Basenji, don’t corner a Basenji and then reach for him, don’t forcefully try to put him on his back, don’t leave him loose at your feet during mealtimes to fight for “begging rights,” don’t let a child-phobic Basenji loose in a group of small children, etc.
Don’t Ask Them To Do Anything You Can’t Reinforce
For example, if you want a growly Basenji to get off a bed, talk him up, do something interesting elsewhere and call him, or let him drag a six-foot leash when you can supervise him. With the leash, you can simply call him and gently pull. Voila! He’s off. (Dragging the leash works for cat-chasing, too- “No chase!” followed by stepping on the leash.)
Use Bribery and Creative Trickery
Basenjis are suckers for positive, lure-reward and clicker training methods. Most often, if you put a cookie in front of their nose, they’ll do most anything for you. Use force, or mean methods on them, and some may get truculent, if not downright nasty.
Learn to Read, and Pay Attention, to Your Dog’s Signals
Most Basenjis will give you marvelous signals about when they are anxious, happy, sad, nervous, fearful, or angry. If you see any of the negative warning signals, find some face-saving way of lowering the intensity of the situation. Usually that involves distraction, and coming at the problem with a different approach (preferably positive).
Distract, Command, Praise
If your dog is growling, or is doing something he or she shouldn’t, distract the dog (mention “squirrels,” “car,” “walkies,” etc.), give the dog an obedience command like “Sit!” and then praise lavishly for doing what you asked. (By the way-follow through with the distraction, or they’ll never believe you again.) Basenjis have the attention span of a gnat, so distraction usually works like a charm to diffuse situations.
Kindly Alpha Training
The best way to convince your dog that you are “Alpha” is to do a lot of obedience work-practical stuff at odd times during the day. Have the dog “come, ” “sit,” “down,” “heel,” or “stay,” and lavishly praise when they do. You have commanded (you’re above them in rank), and they have obeyed (they are below you in rank). It is then a WIN, WIN situation, and not only have you very kindly demonstrated your “alpha-ness,” but you can benevolently praise them for doing what you asked them to do. Everybody feels good.
Praise, Pet and Love Your Dogs
It’s “money in the bank” for when you have to ask them to do something they don’t like. I differ with old-style folks in that I think it is cruel to not give attention and loving to a dog who asks for it. My dogs do that all the time, and I am constantly praising and petting someone. If I don’t have the time or can’t do it right at the moment, I don’t, but most of the time if they want some lovin’ and “ask” for it, I give it-same way as you would with one of your kids. I like to think of myself as a benevolent alpha.
I also let them sleep with both me and my husband. If someone starts to think they own the bed, they can be temporarily assigned to a bed on the floor and then invited back up with a six-foot leach attached. None of my dogs have ever given us guff on the bed.
Basically, treat your dog with love, kindness and respect, and they will return it in kind. My dogs all “pet” me back with their tongues. (Sometimes I feel like I’m about to lose all my hide after six dogs get through “petting” me…).
Copyright © 2001 by Betsy Polglase All rights reserved.