We adopted Bernie in October 2012. My husband was immediately drawn to Bernie when he saw Bernie be brought into an adoption event in El Paso. Bernie was quiet when all the other dogs barked and became excited when people visited. Bernie remained to himself and just watched as life went on outside his kennel.
From the very beginning, Bernie baffled us. What we thought Bernie to be demur, meek and static behind the eyes because he was slow to respond. Bernie didn’t seem to care to our advancement in play or exercise. Bernie was and continues to be cautious, analytic and independent and these personality characteristics were drastically different from Jack. This was the fundamental mistake Eddie and I made with Bernie. We mistakenly expected two dogs to show the same characteristics and we wondered why Bernie didn’t act the same.
We began exploring the idea of Bernie’s breed heritage. Shortly, after we adopted Bernie while we were out for a walk, a lady stopped us to chat. She asked us what Bernie was and I informed her that the rescue said he was a German Shepherd mix. She then said “he looked like a Basneji”. From this point forward, anyone had their own opinions about what he was from pit bull to jack russell terrier. Eddie and I decided to really explore what breed is dominate in Bernie. The first lady’s input kept coming back to me. Eddie explored Basenji and BLAMMO, the Basenji breed totally fits his personality. Basenji’s in a nutshell are hunting dogs which allow them to be more independent and cautious. As a breed, they are one of the most difficult to train dogs and HIGHLY benefit from positive reinforcement training. Another key, is only to use a Basenji’s name in a positive manner otherwise, they won’t come to you. Bernie fits all of these characteristics. He analyzes situations and decides what and when and for how long he wants to participate. His interest in toys can change on a dime and when his prey drive kicks in, he is locked in to whatever it is. A wonderful friend and fellow dog trainer helped me to understand how to work with more independent dogs. Its up to me as the human leader to make myself more interesting to him, so he’s more inclined to come to me and listen to commands. This is a work in progress and its changed my interpretation on our relationship, in a health and positive way.
Bernie’s taught me to really understand and appreciate breed characteristics while at the same time taking to heart individual dog behavior and personality. These two components are necessary for successful dog training. I’m not saying, end all be all because there are other factors influencing dog behavior such as environment, health, age, diet and exercise, but its a good starting point in which to know how and what a specific dog may be motivated by to help in training. Eddie and my next step is to get a DNA test for him to see if Bernie is what we think he is and to satisfy our curiosity.