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Honest FAQ for Basenjis

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books


Cat lovers may appreciate the independence of the Basenji. Indeed, they are clean, compact dogs who groom themselves much like a cat. However, Basenjis do not act like the breeds that you're more familiar with: shepherds, retrievers, spaniels. Basenjis are often turned over to Rescue groups because they have such strong "primitive" instincts to run, climb, chase, and chew.

What kind of temperament and personality does the Basenji have?

The most descriptive words that come to my mind regarding Basenji temperament and behavior are:

high-spirited, light-footed, inquisitive, keen senses, vigilant, independent, aloof, destructive, escape artist

I give you my honest opinions about Basenji temperament and personality traits and characteristics – positives AND negatives – in my dog breed review, Basenji Temperament and Personality Traits (What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em).

Where did the name Basenji come from, and how do you pronounce it?

B'SEN-jee. African tribes in the Congo referred to their little hunting dogs mbwa na basenzi,  which translates to "dogs of the villagers" or less charitably, "dogs of the savages."

Another African nickname translates to "dog that jumps up and down", a very apt description of this graceful, bouncy breed. The Africans, however, were referring to the Basenji's hunting technique of leaping vertically into the air to spot prey animals in the African bush/grasslands.

What were Basenjis used for?

Hunting. Driving small animals into the waiting nets of the hunters.

What traits would help Basenjis accomplish their work? That's right... high energy, extremely alert, strong chasing instincts, independent thinking, persistence, speed and agility

How big are Basenjis? Height and weight?

About 16-18 inches at the shoulder, and 20-25 pounds, which puts them in the MIDSIZE category.

What colors do Basenjis come in?

  • The most common color is red, with white markings on their chest, feet, and tail tip.
  • Second most common is tricolor, which is mostly black with the same white markings, plus red trim on their face and legs.
  • Less common is black with white markings, but no reddish trim.
  • Some Basenjis also have brindle markings. Brindle is an overlay of black "tiger stripes" on a Basenji's red body color.
  • Brindle can also occur, on a much more limited basis, on the red trim of a tricolor Basenji. Just on the red trim. Officially this Basenji is tricolor with brindle markings; informally, the nickname for such a color combo is trindle  (tricolor + brindle).

Do Basenjis come in different "types"?

No. Although the Basenjis that we now see in the dog show ring look different from the Basenjis in their native Africa. But this happens with nearly all breeds. Dog show enthusiasts overfocus on appearance and slowly shape it into something they like better than the original. Then they declare their vision to actually BE better than the original.

How much exercise do Basenjis need?

A goodly amount for such a small dog. Remember, these dogs are bred to be energetic runners. Free galloping is essential for the breed's physical and emotional health. So you need a good-sized yard. These scrappy dogs should not be taken to dog parks!

Get your Basenji involved in the AKC sport of lure coursing,  an exciting canine activity that will let your Basenji stretch out and gallop as he was bred to do.

Do Basenjis need a fenced yard?

A thousand times YES! These dogs climb like monkeys, so your fences should be very high and solid – no chain link or wire. Why a fenced yard? and best and worst fences.

Are Basenjis easy to train?

Haha! No. Basenjis are independent thinkers, somewhat like cats. They have little desire to please. You must be a firm owner who can establish a healthy leader-follower relationship with this clever, headstrong, and manipulative breed.

Are Basenjis easy to housebreak?

Very easy. This is an exceptionally clean breed.

Are Basenjis friendly with people?

No. Basenjis are standoffish with strangers. They may even be suspicious, which is okay if all they do is alert you to a stranger's presence. Basenjis have keen senses and make fantastic watchdogs. However, some Basenjis go beyond just "alerting" you – they may actually threaten people. This you cannot allow.

Have you heard that Basenjis are known as The Barkless Dog?  It's mostly true – their vocal cords are shaped such that familiar barking sounds are seldom heard.

However, Basenjis are FAR from being silent dogs! They are, in fact, quite vocal with their other sounds: growls, whines, yodels, even screams. Look up Basenji sounds on YouTube and have a listen before you consider acquiring this breed.

Are Basenjis good with children?

I don't recommend Basenjis for children younger than about age 10. This proud breed can become annoyed and defensive around very young children who pester the dog.

In addition, breeds like the Basenji have strong "primitive" instincts like digging, chewing destructively, climbing, escaping, and being possessive of their food and chew toys. The latter characteristic can be risky around small persistent children.

Are Basenjis good with other dogs?

Basenjis tend to prefer their own breed, but they're usually fine with other dogs in their own family. Basenjis typically dislike dogs they don't know, and might act dominant and pushy toward them.

Are Basenjis good with cats?

Basenjis can be okay with cats in their own family, if the cat is tough and doesn't run. But this breed has excitable chasing instincts, so certainly don't keep one with pet rodents or rabbits. Some Basenjis will even stalk birds.

How much do Basenjis shed?

Basenjis are light to average shedders. Their fine coat sheds moderately in the spring and fall, and occasionally a tiny bit of hair the rest of the year.

Are Basenjis hypoallergenic? Good for people with allergies?

If you're allergic to canine saliva, no. If you're allergic to dog dander, probably not. Basenjis are not hypoallergenic dogs. Having said that, I do know someone whose (mild) dander allergies weren't badly affected by the Basenjis's fine coat. However, there are other breeds who are MUCH more likely to be good for dander allergies and also MUCH easier to live with.

How much grooming do Basenjis need?

Just an occasional quick brush to sweep the dirt, dander, and loose hair off your dog's skin.

What's a good training schedule for training Basenji puppies?

Here's the puppy training schedule I use for Basenjis: Puppy Training Schedule.

What behavior problems do Basenjis tend to have?

Oh gosh... so many. I've already mentioned their "primitive" instincts like independent thinking, digging holes, chewing destructively, climbing, opening doors and gates, escaping to go exploring, stealing food, and being possessive of food and chew toys. I also see excitable chasing of anything that runs, pugnaciousness toward strange dogs, and suspiciousness toward strangers.

During the critical puppy and adolescent periods, you must teach calmness, establish the right leader/follower relationship, and respond properly to behavior problems.

What health problems might Basenjis have?

Itchy skin, several inherited eye diseases, a severe form of digestive colitis, and a very serious inherited kidney disease called fanconi.

Also, unless your fences are high and totally secure, the agile Basenji can escape, chase something, and end up hit by a car.

What breeds are similar to the Basenji?

Hmm, that's a tough question, as it's a unique breed. I might single out the Shiba Inu. Both breeds are about the same size, with similar independent temperaments, similar cat-like behaviors, and most pointedly, similar "primitive" behavior problems. Neither of these breeds are suitable for the average family or casual owner.

Where can I buy a Basenji puppy?

From a show breeder is best. Read my article.

Where can I adopt an older Basenji?

Rescue group or humane society/shelter? Read my article.

I just got a new Basenji. Which pages should I read first?

  • Basenji Health, which includes my advice on feeding, vaccinations, and daily health care. These pages are very important, because if you start your Basenji puppy off on the wrong foot, he will probably experience health problems later on. Starting off right is essential.
  • Training Basenjis, which includes my advice on respect training, housebreaking, and socialization. Again, you must start your Basenji puppy off on the right foot by teaching him what he needs to know, and you must avoid doing the wrong things with him so that he doesn't develop bad habits that will be much harder to fix later on.

Do male dogs or female dogs make better pets?

Ah, let the debate begin! Honestly, male Basenjis have pros and cons, and female Basenjis have pros and cons. Visit Male Dogs versus Female Dogs

There's an adorable Basenji puppy at the pet shop. The store manager assures me they only buy from responsible breeders. Could this be true?

No responsible Basenji breeder would ever place one of their Basenji puppies in a pet shop for resale. To find out more about pet shop puppies, visit Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store.

How do I pick the best Basenji puppy from a litter?

You can do puppy personality tests. Visit How To Choose a Good Puppy.

What's the best dog food for Basenjis?

3 Best Ways To Feed Your Dog Healthy Food.

I have to take my Basenji to the vet soon for shots. Which vaccinations does he really need?

The schedule of vaccinations that dogs really need has changed dramatically – but unfortunately most vets are not telling you this, because a good chunk of their income depends on frequent vaccinations. Please don't get any more shots for your Basenji until you've read my article on Puppy Shots and Dog Vaccinations.

What are the pros and cons of spaying and neutering my Basenji, and when should it be done?

Spaying and neutering are often recommended too early, which can lead to health problems later in life. Visit Spaying Your Female Dog or Neutering Your Male Dog for the straight scoop on the safest (and riskiest) times to spay or neuter.

I have a question about Basenjis that I don't see answered on your web site.

It's probably answered in one of my free online books.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

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