Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reconditioning for Timidity

       A little over four months ago we added a little girl to our family. Tessa is about three years old and has lived almost entirely in the kennel where she was born. The kennel complex consists of outdoor runs and an indoor area where all the dogs are crated and fed each night. Tessa shared her run with a litter sister and brother (except during their season) but each had their own private sleep crate. Her sister and brother were occasionaly removed for up to six months at a time to live with families or on the road for dog shows. Tessa however was rarely away from this familiar environment.        We picked Tessa up after the Basenji National Dog Show in Colorado and brought her home for her first taste of 100% family life. She joined Beau, our 18-year-old cat, Reno our 11-year-old Basenji boy, my husband and myself in our home complete with smallish wrought iron fenced yard. The first few weeks we had to really work to get her to accept any contact with us at all. Her second night she forced her way through the wrought iron fence and made a run for it. Thanks to my husband's ability to think like a terrified Basenji, an incredible amount of luck, and the grace of the God who watches over all dogs, we recovered her. For the next several months she was never allowed outside without leash, even in her own backyard. Gradually, as she became more comfortable with us, even a little attached, she was allowed supervised unleashed time in the yard.
       In relatively short order, Tessa found "safe zones" around the house: the far end of the couch, the end of my bed, under the dining table surrounded by chairs, and any available open dog crate. Until just recently she would not eat or drink outside her crate. It took over three months before she would easily accept treats from our hand, and occasionally she still is unable to overcome her, not really fear, but more than just mere timidity, and demand her treats like a normal self-confident Basenji would. She has grown to be relatively confident while walking in our neighborhood on leash. She has developed a mixed bag of a very few confident behaviors mixed in with a liberal amount of timid ones and a few that seem based in stark terror, but amongst all of them she still manages to exhibit some of the most valued temperament characteristics. She never bites, she has never even growled at us. She hates baths, but will do nothing more than try to escape, the same with toenail trims. She will allow us to touch her anywhere, pick her up and carry her around, hold and cuddle her, pet and love her. She allows all ages of kids around with no apparent distress, although she will go to her "safe zones" with them as quickly as she does adults. She would love to chase squirrels anywhere, anytime, but although she is interested in chasing cats outdoors, she doesn't really try to harass our cat in the house.
       Tessa will jump and run at the slightest provocation, a loud noise, sudden movements, etc. She heads for the nearest available "safe zone", often running from one safe zone to another, or, if it is available, the back corner of her crate. We typically work on desensitizing her to anything she reacts strongly to. Success has been limited and often follows the "three steps forward, two steps back" scenario.
       What we most desire is to find a way to help her develop what we have come to treasure in all of our other Basenjis, a sense of self confidence. We've worked on that constantly over the past few months, but I would love some additional suggestions from you all about how to eliminate stresses, encourage confidence and train away timidity without losing her innate sweetness. We fully understand that it will be a long term project and may be years before we see her reach what we believe is her potential.

1 comment:

  1. I have a 13 year old male that sounds similar. We adopted him at 2 years of age from the same situation. You are doing fine. Just keep up what you are doing and she will come around. But be patient. Lance (my Basenji) now greets people at the door. Sits down by his favorite visitors and dances for dinner. He plays with our younger Basenjis as well. She will be great in time. It is all very new to her. Good luck! Lori