Basenji Companions

Devoted to Basenjis as Pets

What’s a Basenji?

Betsy Polglase, Massachusetts

Disposition

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.

They Are Clean

Naturally clean, with no “doggie odor” and very little shedding, they are sometimes better for people with allergies than the longer-haired breeds.

They Don’t Bark

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:

History

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 In 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.

Looks

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.

Adaptability

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.

Other Dogs

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.

Obedience and Discipline

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.

Train Them Differently From Other Dogs

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.”

Don’t Trust Them Off Leash

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

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.

Working And Crates

“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.

Conclusion

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.
All rights reserved.
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Copyright retained by their individual creators.

22 comments on “What’s a Basenji?

  1. Mandy Hazen
    October 9, 2012

    Excellent article. Perfect description.

  2. Mia Conrad
    November 18, 2012

    That’s very true and I love this breed so much, I have one and he’s our second dog, the first one lived for about 17 years.

    • jefry
      August 14, 2013

      is it good for apartment because of howling?

  3. Ulrike Brammer
    November 20, 2012

    Dear Mrs.Polglase,

    wonderful new site. Perfect Information.
    I lived 30 years with my beloved Basenjis,
    but I’m still interested.

    Kindly regards
    Ulrike Brammer
    Muenchen Germany

  4. Stephen Schroeder
    February 6, 2013

    Everyone should own a basenji it’s the perfect breed.

    • Troy
      March 13, 2013

      Completely disagree Stephen, everyone should not own a basenji they are a difficult breed to understand and many people can’t give them the exercise they need.

      • asdf
        August 19, 2014

        agree 100%. It is cruel to this breed for an individual to have a basenji if they will not commit to the excercise and social needs of this animal.

  5. Christy
    March 21, 2013

    Hey guys I have a 10 month old Basenji mix, she looks almost exactly like a Basenji except she has one blue eye and her tail doesnt curl. She stands on her back legs and jumps on everything. She is stubborn sometimes but overall a really happy loving dog. I love her so much. Basenjis are great fun if you like to explore and hike (which I do). This site has helped me a lot.

  6. Eliza
    April 6, 2013

    Does anyone have a young female needing a loving home? Note Ai have a very goofy German shepherd and two cat; a largw fenced yard with pool and lawn. Also we know and my dog loves the Basenjis at the dogpark. Thank you!

  7. becky
    May 10, 2013

    I have just lost my basenji I had for 13 and a half years she went over the rainbow bridge in my arm I loved my basenji with all my heart the house isn’t the same without her she saw me through three surgeries she loved to sleep with us I have long hair she use to sleep on it . she know when I was happy which is most of the time. now that we have lost her my husband and I are lost. she was our second basenji our first was an older dog she lived to be 15 years.thank you for the chance to express our selves once a basenji is in the house their no other dogs as far as we are concerned .

  8. Pat
    June 9, 2013

    I have a basenji mix we got from a rescue in Houston,Tx area..We had a Basenji, “Captain” who lived to be 20 yrs 10mo old. “Ricky” looks like a Basenji in markings, face but his tail has a curl on the end..he is 5 yrs old now..he does bark..He is very,very hyper..we have tried the thunder shirt, a vibrating bark collar..of which neither worked…yes, he went to “school”..but well he was the only dog there….Any ideas are appreciated..the hissing noise of a air charged can, a spray water bottle, and a can with pennies inside to shake…don’t seem to bother him..yes he hears very well…thank you..

    • Diana
      July 31, 2013

      Pat,
      Chad Mackin in the Chicago area uses wonderful leash-work to “de-adrenalate” dogs. Some dogs can become “adrenaline junkies” (his words) and he is an expert at teaching them to calm themselves. Perhaps there is a trainer in your area who knows how to apply his methods. Try contacting Chad (google Pack to Basics) to find someone close to you.
      Also, I wondered if you’d tried any positive-based measures to help stop the barking? Any trainer Chad recommends would be able to help you with that.

    • becky
      April 2, 2014

      sounds like my basenji take his face in youre hand very gentely tell him what you want you will be surprised it works for mine always talk to them they have the brain of a 4 year old child

  9. Terri
    September 19, 2013

    We are the proud parents of a 5-month old Chihuahua mix … our vet suggested the “mix” was Basenji and the more I read, the more I am convinced that is correct. She is Basenji in every way except physical size. She looks like a miniature Basenji, in fact! I am reading everything I can on this breed. She is a wonderfully exuberant dog and extremely smart and runs for the sheer joy of running. We take her to day care once a week and we socialize her with other dogs and people constantly. I am hoping she will not be quite so hyperactive once she is no longer a puppy. We do not crate her during the day, but I think she is starting to get bored – we are coming home to more things moved, etc. So far, chewing isn’t an issue. Do you know of any Basenji groups that might have on-line newsletters, etc.

    • Terri
      September 19, 2013

      Sorry – I meant groups in the Washington (state) area?

  10. Heather
    May 13, 2014

    I wish I knew if my baby was pure basenji or what mix is in him
    He is mostly basenji for sure.
    How long are there legs Suppose to be?
    I love my basenji, he found his forever home with me.

    • Jean Haig
      July 20, 2014

      If you really want to know what breeds are in the mix of your mixed breed dog, there are now Doggie DNA tests available they can range in price anywhere from $59-$125 depending on the criteria of the individual sensitivity limitations of each DNA screening panel. There are many variables to consider.

      http://thebark.com/content/dna-testing

      This web site has an easy to understand article that explains the different variations of the DNA process, from sample collection, turn around time to your results, and the number of breeds that the lab uses as their comparison sample base. The larger the sample base, the more accurate your genetic coding map of your dog’s lineage. I also believe that PetSmart, Amazon.com, Drs Foster & Smith, and even the AKC offer DNA screening kits for sale.

  11. Elaine Henzler
    June 16, 2014

    We have a besenji beagle mix. We were her third home in less than two years. She was abused terrible. We have had her now ten years. We had never heard of a besenji – she has (Sandy) so many traits of the breed, such as her very graceful gait, her speed at running, her ability to do tricks (Sandy, the circus dog)!!, her “watch me” training (she will “watch me” for well over five minutes or more and never blink an eye, so very smart she is), went to obedience school and won awards for her hard work, i.e. canine good citizen, she has curly tail and is so darn cute! She has the besenji yodel and the beagle bark. She just loves my husband and will not let him out of her sight. The bad thing is I think she thinks she is the alpha female – when hubby not home, she will not even look at me. I was the one who took her to school, and I also feed her and she will come in only for me (when outside-we live in the country) – but she is so attached to hubby, I sometimes wonder maybe I should get a cat!!

    • Heather
      June 19, 2014

      My basenji cross chiauwa too had 6 homes , abused in the first and handed down and fostered in all the rest
      Curly taile white and beige huge ears
      I rescued him, feed him, bathe him , comes to work with me however adores the men in my life too, husband, boss , friend , what’s with that, he’s my dog. Husband does majority of walking tho
      Very loving dogs, guiet, must greet everyone in house.
      Love him sooo much.

  12. Colette
    August 14, 2014

    I truly enjoyed your website .My miniature pinscher escaped the collar and was bred by a Basenji any helpful advice.they were born on June 26 I have attached photos of these incredible dogs.the stipulations of my adoption for these puppies will be that they are spayed and neuteredand any advice you could give me would be very helpful and I will appreciate.
    Thank you,
    Colette

    • basenjicompanions
      November 4, 2014

      You can share them if you join our Facebook group. Just search for Basenji companions.

  13. Lauren
    October 20, 2014

    We have had our Basenji mix for 7 months and we cannot get her trained. She has accidents in the house, bites me, chews everything even through the laundry basket and now has started clawing the carpet up. We are her second home and i refuse to give up on her. She is so sweet when she is calm. We run her 3 miles a day. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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