Friday, December 14, 2012

Behavior Question: Help Needed!!

Basenji Community, we need your help!!  As many of us know, basenjis are strong pack animals and often have issues with separation anxiety.  Recently I've been communicating with a family who just got a new basenji puppy, and is having tough time coping with what I think is the pup's extreme separation anxiety.  This family has had 5 basenjis in the past so they know the breed quite well, but they've never seen behavior like this before.  So, we need your help!!  Here's what's going on:

The puppy is now about 16 weeks old, purchased from a responsible breeder.  His new family is trying to crate-train him (as they've done with their 5 previous basenjis), and he loves going in the crate, eating in it, etc. when his humans are around.  However, as soon as the humans leave, the pup gets frantic in his crate and screams incessantly for hours on end, and often the panic continues even for 20-30 minutes after the family returns home.  The family has tried everything that the vet, breeder, and friends have suggested -- putting him in the crate with a blanket on top, giving lots of toys and chewies to make it a positive experience when they leave, etc., but nothing seems to work yet.  Recently they started leaving him out of his crate when gone for just a few hours at a time, and at first he behaved well but now he's begun having potty "accidents" as soon as his owners leave, regardless of whether he just went or not.  My feeling is that the "accidents" are just another symptom of the pup being anxious about his owners leaving, but what would be most helpful is to hear what you think, and any possible solutions. 

The bottom line is that all of these behaviors together are frustrating this little pup's owners to the point where they're just not sure what to do anymore, and they really need some help!!  Any input you could provide (please respond back by commenting at the bottom of this blog post) would be wonderful. 


  1. As a puppy, we had a very similar experience with our soon-to-be 10 year old b-boy. Unfortunately, we were never able to crate train him and to this day he continues to have extreme separation anxiety. Perhaps there are some dogs who will, no matter what, have this "problem". He is the fist in our 27 years of basenji ownership to be this way.

    1. Interesting... so what kind of setup do you use with your anxious b-boy at home when you leave him alone?

    2. I am the coordinator of an 8 year old basenji who has suffered from S/A his whole life. Until he landed in BRAT foster care, he had been an only dog. There is another basenji in the foster home and the S/A is gone. It's like a switch was flipped. He is not trying to claws his way out of the house in search of his people or having accidents because he is stressed at being alone.

      Any possibility you can addopt a canine companion for him?

  2. have you tried leaving the TV or radio on? maybe hearing voices will help to relax him

  3. Sounds corny buy why not try the "thunder jacket"? It does make them feel secure.

  4. 1. Thunder Jacket.

    2. Find the best treat that he loves the most. Give that to him ONLY when leaving.

    3. Gradually increase his alone time. Leave for five minutes. Go back in. Don't make a fuss over your return. Don't fuss if he's pooped or peed. Don't make the return important.

    4. Consider getting him a friend

  5. I saw an episode of Victoria Stilwell's "It's Me or the Dog" where they dealt with extreme separation anxiety. The approach consisted of leaving the dog alone in the house for only 30 seconds the first time and then coming back in. The next time is a minute, then two minutes, etc. They just kept doing this over and over, leaving and then coming back in the house, increasing the time they stayed away, until the dog was much more confident that the owner was going to return and not abandon him. It worked amazingly well for this particular dog...perhaps you could try it with your basenji? Just search "Victoria Stilwell separation anxiety" or similar search terms to find information on this approach.

  6. I'm fostering an 8-y/o boy with crazy separation anxiety - so much so we were looking at euthanasia. He's been helped tremendously by Clomicalm and the fact that he finally made friends with my other 3 basenjis. When he first arrived they weren't his pack and he still freaked out when I left.

    I'm home most of the time but he needed company all the time. He still can't be crated though.

    I'd say get him a companion dog, and give them time to really bond before leaving them alone if you can. Good luck!

  7. I agree about the companion dog. Some dogs just can never be created and can hurt themselves trying to get out. How early was he in his new home? If he is four months old now and was adopted just a few weeks ago he may still be missing his birth pack. Has the breeder been helpful and would they take the pup back for rehoming if nothing else works? Sometimes that is the only solution.

  8. Our first Basenji had the exact same issues. He could even escape a plastic crate and break his teath on the metal crates. After trying all the solutions known to man we got another dog, a poodle.
    He still would not go in a crate but his destructive anxiety went away. Instead of a poodle I wish we would have gotten him a female B.(call me crazy) The poodle could not keep up with Basenji play. Bill Newton

  9. Poor little guy! I would be bananas, too, if I came from being used to my litter mates and mom, to being home alone during the day in a crate or loose. Can you get another basenji so he'll have companionship all the time? Would you be willing to foster or adopt a crate-trained basenji (very inexpensive, of course, compared to a second pup from a breeder)? Or if you're not ready for a permanent adoption commitment, could you foster a crate-trained basenji? In recent years, I have adopted 3 basenjis from (and fostered). I'm a member/volunteer of BRAT (the acronym, LOL) and think it is an absolutely wonderful, caring, supportive and dedicated group of people, 100% non-paid, 100% of donations go to the dogs. Also, you could look into natural calming products for dogs that go into the air, placed above or near their crates where they can't eat them, and a Thundershirt which works on most dogs.

    When I adopted my first rescued basenji puppy many years ago straight from his litter pack, he went crazy in the crate. So I left him home during the day in the kitchen which had a sliding glass door so he could look out and gates to keep him out of adjoining rooms. He was so miserable that he chewed and then jumped the gates and made a mess in the house and chewed on the bottom of the dining room table, chairs, a recliner and a couch. Next I let him have more of the first floor which didn't work either. So I got another rescued puppy (puppies are hard to come by, I know, but I would have gotten an older basenji if the puppy hadn't already been available. Problem solved!

    Susan in MD

    PS I you'd like to be in contact with each other about this, I'd be happy to help by email (and phone). Just give your email to Kristen and she can give it to me.

  10. How much time to you spend exercising the pup? Getting the pup out as much as possible to help it learn to overcome it's insecurities, will help it a lot. It's hard to believe, but basenjis are very insecure dogs and need us to help them overcome this. All of the suggestions are great and should be tried. My BRAT dog was crate trained by a window and it actually worked like a tv and kept her occupied. However it didn't work with my 3yr old (then) who already had bad crate habits when I got him.
    I would like to stress what someone else has said. DO NOT make a big deal when leaving or coming back. NO matter how much attention is being begged for, ignore, ignore, ignore. When the pup has calmed down to where he's basically forgotten, then give the attention. NO attention when you leave!!! My dogs actually want me to leave so they can have their treats. They will whine until I go. Have you tried squirting the water bottle while the pup acts up in crate? Not as a punishment. Stop immediately when the pup stops. And sometimes the old hot water bottle trick will work. Not sure where you live, but can the pup live in an outdoor covered kennel while you are gone? Preferably with a cement floor (can be patio bricks). And yes, another dog will help.
    I've often wondered about the thunder shirt, great idea. worth a try. Many of the B's I've fostered used attention getting or fussing as a way of controling, so be very careful how you respond to this. has any one suggested prayer. IF you don't believe in prayer than......just plain old Good luck

  11. I think another dog that is a bit older with no separation anxiety whatsoever could be a calming influence on the puppy. And casual calmness when leaving and completely ignoring the puppy for 10 or 15 minutes when arriving, sounds heartless I know, but there is no treat or snuggle reward for the puppy to anticipate. Thundershirts sometimes work and are worth trying. What about doggie daycare or a petsitter (that is educated about basenji ways, door bolting, no off leash etc) Sometimes they just need to grow up a bit and mentally mature as well, it is pretty scary for a youngster to suddenly be all alone and a petsitter may help for the first few years. I was lucky and was able to go on graveyard shifts at work while my husband stayed on dayshifts so our B-boy was never alone. Good luck.

  12. We have had great success with using xanax (generic name alprazolam) in our two "mature" b-mix girls for random anxiety issues that have come up in the last year or so. Our oldest had separation anxiety when we got her as a 9-month old, and we did get her to accept the crate, but the anxiety never really disappeared until we got a second dog. (Perhaps an idea for this situation is to foster a second dog while the puppy matures a bit.) However, my main suggestion would be to ask the vet for an alprazolam prescription and start using it first by giving it to the pup whenever he is crated while the family is at home, so he associates the calm feeling with being in the crate but isn't also trying to overcome the anxiety about people leaving as well. When he has come to view the crate as a place where he feels really chilled out, then put him in it when leaving the house. That may actually take only a few days to implement. When we crate-trained our first dog after she had extreme anxiety attacks without the crate, we actually went through a few days when there was always someone present with her in the house. It did involve cancelling and changing some plans in order to accomplish the training and lessen her anxiety.

  13. They need to do one of two things:

    1. Get him used to his crate. He's a puppy, and it is possible. Start giving him a special treat only in his crate when they are home. Let him out when he's finished. We take a nylabone, and dip it in peanut butter. Pretty soon, he'll be going in his crate just to get a treat.

    2. If that doesn't work, they should definitely adopt him a girlfriend. Two basenjis are easier than one!


  14. Our first Basenji, who is now almost 12, did this, but he would also get stress diarrhea when we would crate him. This meant the puppy and the crate were getting several baths a day. He never did get over it and we did the same thing and left him loose in the house. He did have some accidents when he was out but I believe in his case it was due more to potty training than stress, but I could be wrong. To this day we don't crate him but he does better when I take him to the vet and they have to put him in one. I think it comes with age. He was crated as a puppy but was always crated with a littermate so never had any issues. They should consider getting him a buddy. With mine it was more about crate anxiety than separation anxiety.

    We did have to crate train him for an international move. We're military and received orders for Germany. He was 7 years old at this point and hadn't been in a crate since he was a puppy. I started out by putting his water bowl in the back of the crate with the door off and left it that way for several weeks. At first he wouldn't even go all the way in to drink...he would leave his back legs out and lean in. After a while he became more comfortable. I put the door back on and left it open and start throwing random treats in there just so he would get excited to go in and check. After a couple more weeks I started feeding him in there with the door open, still throwing random treats in there during the day. After a few weeks of feeding him in the crate I started closing but not latching the door so he could come out at any time. After a few weeks of this I started latching the door but always sat right there where he could see me. After a while of this I started giving him longer lasting treats in the crate, like Greenies, with the door closed and progressed to leaving him alone, in the room, in the crate, with the door closed. After a while I started leaving him in the crate to run down the mailbox and run to the corner store. This all took 9 months and he still had diarrhea when we left him crated in the hotel room just before our flight. I put a baby diaper on him for the flight to catch any accidents (who wants to bathe their dog in the airport bathroom??) and gave him Benadryl and he came through it like a champ.

    This might be something he grows out of once he becomes more comfortable with his surroundings and as he gets older. Good luck!

  15. We recently discovered these large stuffed toys that are basically big pillows. Our Basenjis can sleep between the toys legs easily. Our pup nurses on it and cuddles with it all the time. It has what looks like polyfill stuffing like the normal dog toys but it has plastic eyes that I suggest removing before leaving the baby unattended.

    Good luck. I feel this is about the hardest behavior to deal with.

  16. Thank you to everyone who has chimed in with such wonderful and helpful advice on this most difficult behavior situation. I have happy news to report: I just got an email back from our family who was having a tough time with their new pup, and they report that things are starting to turn around nicely. They've stuck with the new routine that they have established for him, and it seems that that in itself has started to relieve some of the pup's anxiety about his humans leaving the house. The family reports that it's been 3 weeks since the pup has had an accident, and they've been rewarding him with treats when he paws at the back door to go out while they are home. They leave him with the crate door open and treats inside when they go out, and it seems to be working well now that he knows what to expect when they leave and can count on the fact that they will return. So, many many thanks to all of you who gave wonderful advice, and hopefully this post and your comments will also help anyone in the future who may face this most difficult (but not that uncommon) basenji behavior issue.