Devoted to Basenjis as Pets
Betsy Polglase, Massachusetts
Typically, Basenjis adore people. Occasionally, one can appear to be aloof upon first meeting. Most Basenjis love to be petted, to be hugged, and to be with you. They are wonderful companions and love to be loved. If raised with them, they will follow children anywhere. (Like children, however, Basenjis can also be very demanding of your time and attention.) They are comical, quizzical, highly intelligent and full of energy. It is hard to be depressed around a Basenji—-they have such zest for life. They seem to feel that each new day brings a new challenge, something new to see and explore (even if they have seen and explored it yesterday…) If Basenjis were Irish, they’d probably be leprechauns. Basenjis smell your breath and your clothes every time you come in for clues as to what you’ve been eating, where you have been, and what you have been up to. Every time you come in the door they greet you with great joy as if they hadn’t seen you for months.
Naturally clean, with no “doggie odor” and very little shedding, they are sometimes better for people with allergies than the longer-haired breeds.
Known as “the barkless dog from Africa,” they are silent most of the time. Although they do not bark, they have a large vocabulary of squeaks, cries, and a loud yawn. Some yodel or give a sound that is like a rooster beginning to crow when they are happy or want to get your attention. Basenjis can also give a one-syllable “woof” when startled and shriek loudly when in pain. When lonesome they can have a long, drawn-out eerie howl to “call the pack” to say, “Where areeeeeeee youu”. An example:
An ancient breed, Basenjis were probably first discovered in Egypt, where some researchers feel they were depicted in hieroglyphics. They appeared next in the Congo basin (later Zaire) in Central Africa, where a few pockets of pure Basenjis still remain today and hunt with their masters. They were imported into the U.S. in 1937 from descendants of English imports from Africa.
Basenjis hunt both by sight and scent. In their native Africa, they drive some game up trees (monkeys and civet cats). They also chase prey into hunting nets or out into the open where it can be shot with a gun or a bow and arrow (antelope, dik dik, dikers and other smaller game). Because Basenjis are silent, natives frequently tie gourd-rattles around their necks or loins to let their masters know where they are. In some areas of Zaire (now the Republic of Congo) a good hunting Basenji is more prized by natives than a wife, as he is the one that helps put food on the table in a desperately poor country where food is at a premium. Native Basenjis reportedly have been bred to wild jackals in some areas, hoping to increase their speed and leg-length. (An interesting side note: Basenjis have the metabolism of a wild canine such as a fox, coyote, wolf, jackal, etc. rather than that of a domesticated dog.)
Basenjis are not naturally fearful. Noted for their courage, African Basenjis have on rare occasions found it necessary to attack leopards or other animals in defense of their young. Alert wariness, but not fear, is their usual response to a perceived threat.
They are beautiful to look at and have a gazelle-like grace when running. They have a long, swinging stride that they can keep up for hours.
Basenjis are adaptable—they can run like the wind or lie quietly beside you. They can live in the country just as easily as in the inner city. If raised with them, they can put up with most other living creatures in the household.
Adult Basenjis have a bit of a terrier disposition around unknown dogs—especially unfamiliar Basenjis of the same sex–they were once called Congo Terriers. Primarily interested in rank status, they may growl first and ask questions later. (You probably will never be attacked or have your house robbed by a strange dog—certainly not by a strange Basenji!) Basenjis can learn to get along with other dogs—one male and one female dog to a household is best.
Being very bright and independent, they are not above trying to run the household. It is important that you be very positive, firm and consistent with them. When they understand that you intend to be the “pack leader” and are in charge, things proceed more smoothly.
One of the kindliest ways of dominance/discipline is to issue an obedience command such as, “Sit!” This gets both of you into a “win-win” situation where you have proved your dominance by making them do something, and you can simultaneously praise and treat them for having done what you asked.
If Basenjis are doing something that they shouldn’t, it is much more prudent and productive to “change the subject” in this manner than to hit the problem head on. “Chewing out” a Basenji usually just convinces him that he’d better be sneakier next time, and hitting him makes him think that maybe you are the enemy. Obedience commands followed by praise and treats are the way to go.
A domesticated dog knows that his food and safety come from learning how to please his master. Wild dogs provide food and safety for themselves and are not dependent on their master’s opinion of them. Basenjis have been around for 4,000 years and have much of the wild dog mentality. You need to train them as you would a cat–make it worth their while to do what you want. Food, treats, petting, loving and bribery work like a charm with these fellows.
Leash-jerking and punitive methods not only don’t work well with Basenjis, they can make your Basenji wary and occasionally hostile toward you. Good, loving, and trusting feelings nurtured with your Basenji from puppyhood on are “money in the bank” for later successful training. These dogs will work wonderfully as your “friend,” but very poorly as your “slave.”
Because of their inbred independence, you don’t want to trust Basenjis off-leash. There will come a time when they spot a squirrel or something very interesting and go “selectively deaf.” Your dog is likely to be killed if he is anywhere near a roadway, as he is a very dedicated hunter and tends to ignore danger bearing down upon him.
Basenjis chew a lot, even as adults. Give them lots of things to chew such as Nylabones, sterilized bones and large beef leg bones cooked 1/2 hour water and trimmed of all fat. (You can smear the insides of bones with a bit of cream cheese or stick a small piece of cheese in the middle to make them more interesting.) Train them early with the “leave it!” command, so that unapproved chewing can be controlled.
“Basenji-proof” your house, and crate them when you can’t supervise them–at least when they are in puppyhood. Basenjis do well with another dog in the household for companionship (preferably of the opposite sex). If you work a very long day, you might want to come home at lunch or get a dog-walker to break up the day for them. Doggie day-care centers are another option to keep your pet from being lonely during working hours. Basenjis must be let out of the crate as soon as you get home, and letting the clean, little, snuggly dogs sleep with you is another way to increase their out-of-crate time.
Owners who appreciate high intelligence and creativity, a loving and friendly disposition, gazelle-like beauty, and who also possess the patience and stamina to deal with a lively, smart, trying,and very determined dog will do the best with Basenjis. People simply wanting a subservient, obedient, “watchdog” or a quiet lapdog will probably not do as well with this breed.
Article copyright © 2012 by Betsy Polglase.
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