Monday, November 21, 2011

His Highness' Every Wish

I am learning an extreme meaning of "Basenji Slave".

For 13 years, I've practiced positive dog training. In essence, that means that I praise wanted (good) behavior, and mostly ignore unwanted (bad) behavior in my dogs. I am careful to never accidentally reward bad behavior. For example - if a dog jumps on me (unwanted behavior) they do not get the attention they are after. Instead, I use my knee to knock their feet off of me, and they are ignored. They get pets when they stay on the floor and give me eye contact (wanted behavior). This has been a very successful way of maintaining a good relationship with my dogs.

People often say that a rescue dog will spend the rest of their life thanking you. This is true in my house. I have two BRAT rescues - Abe, 7 years old; and Tippy, 6 years old. Abe and Tippy were each rescued from pretty rough situations. Now that they're living the good life, they seem to expect nothing from me. But they clearly appreciate every bowl of food, every dog walk, every treat, and every cuddle.

Then there's Ike. Ike is 13 years old, and not a rescue. In fact, he's hardly known anything unpleasant his whole life. He is the King of the Basenjis in this house. He is a kind and gentle Alpha. He's cool, calm, and aloof.

And recently he's become a demanding monster.

This has been the routine in my home for the last couple of months -

I'm an early riser. I wake up around 6am or so. I wake, yawn, stretch, rub my eyes, etc. In those 30 seconds, Ike starts whining. A high-pitched, long squeaking sound, punctuated by shorter, louder squeaks. It is insanely annoying.

What is so wrong in Ike's life that he cries as soon as he wakes up? I'll tell ya. It's because I'm not filling his food bowl quickly enough. The two minutes I want to myself first thing in the morning is really too much to ask, according to Ike.

Eventually the dogs get their food, and I pour myself a cup of coffee. I open the back door so that the dogs can run outside if they like. As soon as I take my first sip of coffee, Ike starts whining again.

Because he wants his dog walk, and I'm taking too long.

The same thing happens in the afternoon when it's doggie dinnertime. I swear that Ike can tell time. Dinnertime is at 4, and he starts whining at about 3:30. The sound of it is enough to make me want to run away from home.

The dogs were, of course, going to get their meals and their walks without Ike's whining, but that's not how he sees it anymore. I've been accidentally rewarding the unwanted behavior by providing these things *after* he has cried for them. Ike now believes that when he cries, he gets what he wants.

So now it's time to turn things around. I have to make sure that I never reward a whine, but still provide the dogs with food and walks.

Here is my new morning routine. I am a slave to positive behavior modification.

I make sure that I wake up before Ike does. Before he gets a chance to start whining, I walk directly into the kitchen and fill food bowls. Then, while the dogs are eating, I get dressed, get the leashes, grab a few poop bags. Immediately after they eat their last bite of breakfast, the leashes are on and we're out the door.

Everything happens so quickly that Ike has no chance to whine!

This is, of course, no fun for me. I find myself outside within five minutes of waking, wiping sleep from my eyes and trying to get the world into focus. After a half-hour of walking, we get home and the dogs happily go back to sleep for a few hours. And I finally get a cup of coffee to stave off the caffeine-starved headache that I feel creeping in.

The goal here is to rewire Ike's brain so that he no longer associates whining with quickly getting things he wants. My job is to anticipate his every wish, and provide it for him before he has time to realize that he wants it. I really hope this new routine is temporary.

I am a true believer in positive behavior modification. I'm just not sure who's behavior is more modified here.


  1. haha this just makes me love Ike even more! Although I'm glad that our time together was before the whining-era. :P

  2. Reminds me of my own basenji who, while I am getting ready to leave, will yodel very loudly because he knows it is time for an afternoon treat!

  3. Maybe Ike forgot to reset his "clock" when we 'fell back'!

  4. Has Ike had a complete check-up lately? Our 13 year old basenji boy developed behavioral changes before we realized that he had a serious health problem. Hoping that you have a healthy, grumpy, impatient, demanding basenji. Good luck with the training.

  5. I was about to mention what Anonymous did! I wonder if the new behavior is some sort of health issue.

    I do hope it's just that he's being a "brat" lately, and your new routine works! :^)

  6. Ike is such a handsome gentleman. I wish you well with behavior modification.

  7. i also think a complete check up is in order. mine did this and had an absesed tooth. once pulled he became his old self again. best of luck.