My Backyard Breeder Experience

In my first post I mentioned my Basenji, Jack.   I rehomed Jack with one of my friends (where he is flourishing & very happy) because he couldn’t get along with my 2 American Bulldogs, & it nearly cost him his life.   It certainly cost him a lot of blood & over 20 stitches. He almost died.

I don’t blame my ABs.   For the most part I blame myself.   But there were qualities in Jack that made him the incompatible one.   Boomer & Madeline were not the aberrant dogs; Jack was.   And I think a lot of it was due to his origins.

Jack was my first dog.   I didn’t know what backyard breeders were, & when I drove out to Makaha I excused the tiny, foul-smelling yard full of barking Basenjis & the fact that the 4-month-old pups had never been in a house before.   The breeder was a very sweet old woman named Dody, & she very proudly told me that she fed her dogs only the best: Pedigree something or other; I’d learned enough about catfood quality to know that certain dogfood brands were not even to be considered, & Pedigree was one of them.

I ignored all this.   I wanted to see the puppies.

Dody made a big deal about how she kept in touch with everyone who bought one of her dogs & how they were like family, etc.   I liked everything she said & I do think that she thought well of herself as a breeder.   In retrospect this woman was just really ignorant.

Jack was 4 months old when I brought him him.   He had lived for 4 months in a crowded, filthy backyard, & he already had a big scar on his nose from where another dog apparently bit him.   He had never been inside a house &, when I think back & compare Jack’s interactions with me to my other dogs’, hadn’t been socialized to people either.   He had fleas & bad dandruff (which went away once he was eating better food).   He food guarded & bit constantly.   And he bit hard.   You wouldn’t expect a puppy to show anger, but Jack did, & from the get go.   When he wasn’t angry, he was sad.   He was the most serious puppy I had ever seen.

It took almost a year to feel that I had bonded with Jack.   It was frustrating.   He didn’t listen; he snarled back when scolded & ran away every chance he had.   I told myself it was because Basenjis aren’t a fully domesticated breed, & they are intelligent, & they require a strong owner, which I was still working at.   I tried to overlook how I’d read that Basenjis were extremely affectionate, because Jack wasn’t.   He didn’t seem to like me at all.   He seemed to only ever be trying to manipulate me.

When Jack & I did finally bond, it was wonderful.   He was affectionate, & he became obedient.   But certain personality issues remained, & they came out when I brought Madeline home.

Because Jack was small, I was never that concerned about his aggression.   I knew he had grown up in what was probably an aggressive canine environment, overcrowded & neglected.   When he began showing hostility to Madeline, I scolded him, but I didn’t step in as much as I should have.

Madeline was a puppy & she wanted to play.   She wrestled with Chie all the time, & would often try to get Jack to wrestle with her.   I noticed a problem one day when I heard her crying, & saw that she was trying to retreat to the porch, her butt completely tucked between her legs so that she could barely walk, & Jack was circling her like a hyena, but he wasn’t laughing; he was snarling.    He darted in & bit her on her butt & she yelped, & rather than let it go he kept doing it.   He would circle some more, glaring & snarling, then dart in again unexpectedly & bite.   She never knew when he would strike.   He was terrorizing her.

I stepped in at that point but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have.   I do remember feeling disturbed that a dog was showing actual hatred to another, & a puppy at that.   I should have done more, but I thought they would outgrow it.

Madeline got bigger.   Their fights began to escalate; I noticed that all Madeline had to do was wag her tail too much or pant too excitedly (for instance, when I got home) & Jack would attack her.   At first she backed off, but after awhile she began attacking back.   It wasn’t long before Jack was getting hurt enough that he needed antibiotics for his wounds to heal.   I watched every Dog Whisperer episode on the National Geographic site & read every article I could find online.   I corrected Jack every time he attacked, but I didn’t feel I was getting through.

I had begun to bring Madeline inside at night because Jack refused to let her sleep with him & Chie.   Whenever Madeline was brought inside to sleep with me, Jack was furious.  He would stand at the screen door & growl in anger.   I’d never known a dog to be so angry.

When I brought Boomer home (that was unplanned; he was a gift), Jack seemed cordial if distant to Boomer, but his fights with Madeline continued to get more vicious.

Boomer, having been heavily socialized at the breeder’s, was a very thoughtful, observant puppy.    He didn’t try to get anyone to play with him; he mostly just watched the other dogs.

And then one day, in a bout of over-excited fence fighting with the neighbor’s dogs, Boomer & Madeline both turned on Jack.   I got Boomer off of him, then had to get Madeline off of him.   If the neighbor hadn’t jumped the fence & carried Jack to safety I might not have been able to save him.

I knew I needed to rehome Jack.   I couldn’t let him get hurt again, & I knew he needed to be in a home where his behavioral issues could be worked out.   He couldn’t be with big dogs.   He needed to be somewhere with other Basenjis, or at least other small dogs.

The local Basenji club was an immense comfort.   I brought Jack out on one of their walks, & they were impressed with his good manners & obedience (I’d at least trained him to be good with humans).   He was submissive to the other Basenjis.   The Basenji club had another one of Dody’s dogs, who had severe aggression issues as well as heartworms.   They deemed Jack highly adoptable & had some prospects for me; I wanted to find him a home with a female Basenji who would be gentle with him.

That exact home popped up for him 3 months later in one of my girlfriends, who had a female Basenji mix & a dog friendly cat.   Jack & I visited them & they got along well; a month or so later he moved in permanently with them.   He did act up for the first few months, but has since settled in to a happy, peaceful life with them & his new sister.

The last time I visited him he was fat.   But happy.   And when I got ready to leave, it was clear he didn’t want to come home with me.

Smart boy.

Because he came from a breeder who didn’t know or care what she was doing, Jack wasn’t just unsocialized – he was damaged.   He had the capacity to be angry, & he had learned to be aggressive from puppyhood.   He was worse than a feral dog because he had been raised in such cramped space.   I’m sure Dody never took into consideration the temperaments of the dogs she was breeding either.

The other Dody dog the Basenji club had was even worse than Jack, & even after months of rehab with his foster care he was still hostile & disobedient.   He had been picked up as a stray by the Humane Society, who contacted his owner after finding his microchip.   The owner stated that he didn’t want the dog back.   I thought about contacting Dody to let her know what a failure her breeding business was, but there was no point.

I helped to care for Boomer’s litter during their first 8 weeks.   From observing the breeders’ meticulous care of the breeding as well as litter, I could see the vast differences between Boomer’s care & what I could gather of Jack’s.

1. Boomer’s parents were carefully selected. The medical histories of both parents were reviewed for 5 generations up to make sure there was no evidence of hip dysplasia or other genetic problems common to the breed. Both parents were reviewed for good temperament as well as desirable physical conformation & had several days to get to know each other before the actual breeding.
2. Both parents were kept onsite (separated, of course) while caring for the litter. The puppies’ father socialized (very gently; he’s such a good boy!) with the pups, who adored him.
3. All of the dogs’ living areas were cleaned daily.
4. All puppies were played with, constantly. They were played with (paw tickling, etc) from a very early age to stimulate brain development. As they grew they were given problem solving activities & scored.
5. Puppies were sold only to friends of the breeders who were known to be American Bulldog enthusiasts. Boomer was given to me because no suitable owner could be found for him in spite of available buyers, & the breeder knew that Boomer was my favorite.
6. All buyers signed a contract stating that they would contact the breeder if they ever couldn’t keep the dog, & give the breeder first opportunity at rehoming. Timely vet visits were also stipulated.

These 6 items would probably have exploded Dody’s brain.   And this wasn’t even a professional breeder; this was a breed enthusiast, one who carefully engineers a litter with the intent of improving the breed.   And Boomer has really turned out to be a wonderful dog.   And it’s undeniably because of his excellent origins.

Jack’s aggression did leave a mark on Madeline.   Although we seem to have resolved her fear aggression at home (see “Madeline & Boomer“), she still has high anxiety, & gets overwhelmed by too much stimulus.   She gets nervous whenever Boomer or Chie run around too much & often begs to go back inside the house.   She prefers to stay inside my room as much as possible; I have to force her to go out.   However, the change that has occurred in her since Jack’s departure is undeniable.   For the first time since she was a puppy, she’s happy again.   I didn’t know it had been missing until I saw it come back.

I do still miss Jack sometimes.   But every time I think about how much I miss him, I can’t help but feel angry at his breeder.   She gave him all the disadvantages she could.


5 responses to “My Backyard Breeder Experience

  1. The good Basenji breeders out there are really good… they do right by these special dogs and their touchy temperaments. Sadly, there are plenty in all breeds who somehow think that all puppies are blank slates until they end up in their new homes, then uh oh — new owner is responsible for it all. Socialization begins from day one and even before that with the temperaments of the parents, as you point out.

    Poignant story well told. Thanks for sharing. Jack looks like a special devil of a B that is lucky to have found an appreciative, safer environment.

    • Thank you! Reportedly he is still doing very well, although he can’t seem to get along with a neighbor’s shiba inu, believe it or not. I visited your blog; love your pictures! Beautiful dogs. They look very well taken care of. =)

      • Heh, I guess Shibas aren’t known for being easy to get along with either. 😉

        And just a thought for your friend — assuming that the BYB didn’t get any tests done, maybe a Fanconi DNA test is in order.

        It’s $65 for peace of mind knowing whether or not your B has this inherited kidney disease that is prevalent in the breed. We got it done for our B because we had no idea where she came from… luckily she came out clear.

        Anyway, I’m enjoying your writing on your various blogs. Love the name of this one, too!

  2. Do you know of any respectable basenji breeders on Oahu? My basenji died after 14 years and i would like to get another but i cant seem to find any. And how much do they usually cost?

    • Hi Ty – Definitely definitely contact the Basenji Club. They have a whole bunch of Basenjis in foster – all crate/leash/house trained. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to update their web information much but I have some email addresses. If it’s ok with you I’ll forward your email to Karen, who is in charge of Basenji rescue.

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