Photo Essay: A Visit from Mina the Basenji

On Sunday we had a visit from a Basenji named Mina. I couldn’t resist the opportunity of working with a different dog — and an unusual breed of dog — which also afforded me the chance to work on Barnum’s self-control in a novel situation: focusing on me and holding stays when another dog was getting trained inside his house. Despite that I was really too sick — I have been paying the price since — it was an educational experience for all of us, I think. (Mostly for me!)

Mina very helpfully let me know our starting place should be Four-on-the-Floor.  (I’ve noticed that enthusiastic, food-driven dogs, especially small- or medium-sized dogs, tend to jump up with their paws on my lap because I’m sitting instead of standing.)

Sharon in her powerchair in front of glass doors with snowy wonderland behind. Mina, a small brown-and-white Basenji with prick ears and a curly tail, has her front paws on Sharons lap, nosing her hands that hold treats. Barnum is heading for his mat next to Sharons chair.

Beginning session: Barnum needs direction, Mina needs self control.

I started with ignoring her when she was on my lap and clicking/treating when her paws were all on the ground. A couple of times I lured her to get her paws off. I c/t Barnum for staying on his mat and not nosing into my session with Mina. He has a lifetime of clicker experience, whereas Mina was learning the clicker and everything else in a new environment — a big challenge. Barnum had a pretty clear idea of what was being asked of him or of behaviors to try to get treats, whereas Mina was really excited that she was getting all these treats without a clear idea of why at first. I bet she slept well that night!

But positive reinforcement works even before the learner has comprehended the “why,” so we were able to quickly move to having all her feet on the ground even before she’d figured out the clicker.

Mina is now standing on the floor in front of Sharon. Barnum sits next to Sharon on his mat. Sharon is feeding him a treat.

Mina now has four-on-the-floor and Barnum’s sitting on his mat.

Mina sits facing Sharon. Barnum lies on his mat. Both dogs are looking up at Sharons face.

We move on to “sit” for Mina and down-stay for Barnum.

Barnum lies on his mat, watching Sharons face. Mina stands on hind legs, one paw resting on Sharons seat, the other scratching at Sharons closed fist.

Hm, we’re back to paws-on-lap. Can you see what I’m doing wrong to cause this?

Hint: I’m not used to working with little dogs! I’m used to working with a dog for whom my lap is nose height!

Also, see how she’s pawing at my hand, above? That was interesting for me. I’ve taught a few dogs the beginning steps of Zen, and she was the first who tried lots of different strategies — biting, pawing, licking, etc., before finally backing off at all. Very smart and persistent. She’s a problem-solver. Using her paws like that reminded me of a cat.

Barnum lies on his mat, watching Sharon. Sharon is leaning over to hold her closed fist in front of Minas nose. Mina is sniffing Sharons hand intently.

Once I moved my fist down to nose level, Mina kept “four on the floor” to learn Zen.

But this position (above) was not sustainable for me, physically, so I adjusted. . . .

Sharon sits on the floor with her back to the glass door. Barnum on her right is lying on his mat with his chin resting between his paws. Mina stands in front of Sharon, gazing at her first.

I get on the floor to present my fist at nose height for Mina to learn Zen. Barnum chin targets the mat as his duration behavior.

Below is another behavior I’m not used to! Mina decided she’d had enough training and just hopped right onto my powerchair seat. I laughed really hard. A large, more cautious dog like Barnum learned to jump and sit in my powerchair after several shaping sessions. It took a lot of careful balancing for him. Meanwhile, Mina, the little, bold, curious, and nimble thing, just nipped up there herself as if she’d been doing it all her life. She wanted to see what she could see, I think. Or she was pretending to be a spaceship captain. Or both?

Barnum lying on his bed and Sharon sitting on the ground both look up at Mina sitting very erect and poised in Sharon's powerchair, staring out the window at the snowy landscape.

Call me Captain Mina! Full throttle, ready for blastoff!

What a way to start the new year!

– Sharon and Barnum, SD

P.S. Mina was gracious enough to let me back onto my chair once she’d finished training me to give her treats.

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2 Responses to “Photo Essay: A Visit from Mina the Basenji”


  1. 1 Sharon April 16, 2013 at 9:37 am

    I had seen photos from when Mina had visited you but not this blog. I’m still laughing. As Mina’s mom, life with Mina is always interesting and I loved your perspective on it. Thank you for welcoming her to your home.

  2. 2 Sharon Wachsler April 16, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Hi Sharon. Yes, she is quite a trip! We had a really good time. 🙂


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