Basenji Companions

Devoted to Basenjis as Pets

Basenjis and Children

by Betsy Polglase, updated 2013

Most Rescue/Adoption folks are leery of placing adopted dogs in homes with small children. Dogs think that small children are below them in the pecking order. Small children (and sometimes bigger children!) can do some pretty aggressive things to dogs without realizing what they are doing, such as swooping down on them from above, pulling their tails, and just jumping around and making a lot of noise like an out-of-control puppy.


Children and dogs can play together successfully.

As the dog feels that this two-legged “puppy” is below them in the pecking order, he may also feel that he has the right to discipline this child. Dogs don’t have hands, so guess what they use—teeth! You need to supervise dogs and children at all times—not just Basenjis. ALL DOGS! Four things are called for:

Train your child

Train your child not to swoop down on the dog, not to grab the dog’s food or its tail and not to push the dog out of the way when the child wants to be in a spot where the Basenji is—a notorious trouble area with Basenjis. “Let sleeping dogs lie” is a proverb which is based on actual experience!

Whether it simply be the dog’s crate or a hideaway behind a chair or under a bed, the dog must have a “safe” place to go to get away from the child. You must teach your child that they must NEVER touch the dog when he is in this place for any reason!


Teach children to respect the dog, and the relationship will benefit both!

Above all—make GOOD things happen when the children are around. Reward the dogs for being nice to the children and the children for being nice to the dog—and give both of them attention when children are around.

Elevate the child’s status in the eyes of the dog

Have Mom fix the dog’s food and walk with the child and let the child deliver the dish to the dog. This sets the child higher on the totem pole in the dog’s eyes.

Teach the dog to take a treat gently: The adult holds the treat in a fist, just a little opening and lets the dog lick it out of the gradually opening fist. Keep working on that till the dog licks and licks. Let the child try it after the dog is used to taking the treat gently out of an adult’s hand.

Let the dog have a blanket that the child has slept with a lot. The scent seems to make them feel that the child is an important part of the pack.

Under supervision, let the child issue obedience commands with a clicker to the dog. “Sit”-click-treat. Again, this elevates the child on the totem pole in the eyes of the dog and lets the dog know that he has to obey the child as well. (It is also a fun game for the child!)

Three useful games you can play to desensitize the dog from things that children might do to them:

  1. “Gotcha!” for head-shy dogs

For dogs who are a bit head-shy and who shy away or even growl at a frontal approach: Take them for a walk with a pocket of delicious treats. Now and again reach down and gently touch the collar and say, “Gotcha.” Immediately treat. Continue to do this at different times, making a game of it. Always immediately treat. Very gradually make the touch a bit more “grabby” and then vary the touches on different parts of the dog’s body, always immediately rewarding for good behavior. This gets the dog desensitized in a very nice, fun way to people grabbing at him and may save your child from a bite if the child grabs at the dog.

  1. “Gimme your food!”

In this game, feed the dog by holding the bowl in your hand. Now and again say, “Gimme,” take it away and pop something truly delicious in it—a piece of cheese, meat, hot dog, or Pup-Peroni, for example. Give it back and praise. The dog learns that taking his bowl away means that something good will be coming back in it, and he will not be possessive of it when a child might grab it.

When the dog is very good with you holding the food while he eats, sit with him and do the same thing with the bowl on the ground. Always return the bowl with a yummy treat in it.

  1. “Leave it!”

Start this by holding a yummy bit of food in your hand, fist closed, with the back of your hand toward the dog’s nose. Say “Leave it!” and keep your fist closed until the dog quits nosing your hand. Say, “O.K.,” open your hand and let him have the treat, and praise. Further train until this behavior is secure when you say, “Leave it.”

Progress to leaving the treat on the ground a couple of feet in front of the dog. (Have another person hold the leash loosely, if necessary.) Don’t say, “O.K.” until the dog stays quietly not trying to grab the treat. Then say, “O.K., praise, and let him get the treat. You should be able to work up to leaving the treat on his paw when he is lying down, and not having him touch it until you say, “O.K.”

The value of this is for when a child is misbehaving or being a nuisance, and the dog looks like he is going to grab the child. Say, “Leave it!” and praise mightily and treat for following your orders. This command is also useful for keeping the dog from eating the cat, etc. Make sure you praise and treat!

Copyright © 2013 Betsy Polglase
All rights reserved.

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