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Basenjis: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em

Basenji temperament, personality, training, behavior, pros and cons, advice, and information, by Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Behavioral Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Basenji dog breed

The AKC Standard says, "Elegant and graceful, his whole demeanor is one of poise and inquiring alertness."

High-spirited and endlessly curious, the dapper, light-footed Basenji demands to be in on everything.

Without enough physical and mental activity, he will become bored and then he may chew up your home or scale fences (sometimes trees) in search of a more interesting life.

This dog is too busy and inquisitive to be left loose and unsupervised in your house or yard.

Don't let him off the leash, for he is a swift, agile chaser who is impossible to catch.

You must stay one step ahead of this thinking breed, for he uses his keen intelligence in clever, sometimes manipulative ways that suit his own purposes. Consistent leadership is a must.

Basenjis are intriguing in that they are physically unable to bark. Yet they are still vigilant watchdogs due to their acute senses of sight and hearing, their wariness of strangers, their inherent distrust of anything new or different, and their territorial instincts. They will let you know when something is amiss.

Though unable to make a barking sound, Basenjis are not silent dogs. They whine, growl, chortle, yodel – and scream. Yes. It's a sound that can get old really fast!

If you want a dog who...

  • Is conveniently-sized
  • Combines sturdiness with litheness and elegance
  • Moves with a graceful, light-footed gait
  • Has a soft easy-care coat in striking colors
  • Doesn't shed much
  • Is extremely alert and makes a keen watchdog
  • Very clean breed, easy to housebreak

A Basenji may be right for you.

If you don't want to deal with...

  • High activity level
  • Providing enough exercise and activities to keep him busy
  • Massive destructiveness when bored or left alone too much
  • Suspiciousness toward strangers
  • Aggression toward other animals
  • Escape attempts – master escape artist
  • Running away from you – strong chasing/exploratory instincts
  • Strong-willed mind of his own, requiring a confident owner who can take charge

A Basenji may not be right for you.

Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.

  • You can avoid some negative traits by choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. With an adult dog, you can easily see what you're getting, and plenty of adult Basenjis have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics.
  • If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can't tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up.
  • Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your Basenji to respect you and by following the 11-step care program in my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.

More traits and characteristics of the Basenji

If I was considering a Basenji, I would be most concerned about...

  1. Providing enough exercise and mental stimulation. Basenjis are active go-getters who were bred to hunt. They need regular opportunities to vent their energy and to use their busy minds to do interesting things. Bored Basenjis are famous for chewing through drywall, ripping the stuffing out of sofas, and turning your yard into a moonscape of craters.

    Try to get your Basenji involved in agility classes (an obstacle course for dogs) or in lure coursing (chasing a mechanized lure full-speed in a controlled setting).

  2. Standoffishness. Basenjis need extensive exposure to strangers, else their natural caution can cross the line to suspiciousness. But don't let strangers be pushy! Basenjis like to approach people on their own terms. In addition, they don't like to be grabbed at, or held tightly, so I don't recommend them around young children.
  3. Potential animal aggression. Many Basenjis are dominant and pushy toward other dogs of the same sex. Many have strong instincts to chase and seize smaller creatures such as pet rabbits and rodents, or chickens.
  4. Running away from you. Like all dogs, Basenjis must be taught to come when called. But I would only count on this breed obeying his training in an enclosed area. Basenjis should not be trusted off-leash. These dogs are runners, they are blazing fast, and the risk is too great that they will take off at full speed after anything that runs.
  5. Fence security. Many Basenjis are clever escape artists who will go over or under fences in search of adventure. To keep your Basenji in, you need higher fences than you might imagine for their small size. You may also need to sink wire into the ground along the fence line to thwart digging. Basenjis can also climb, so some owners have to use a wire pen with a covered top!
  6. The strong temperament. Basenjis have an independent mind of their own and are not pushovers to raise and train. They can be manipulative, and many are willful, obstinate, and dominant (they want to be the boss) and will make you prove that you can make them do things.

    To teach your Basenji to listen to you, "Respect Training" is mandatory. My Basenji Training page discusses the program you need.

  7. Potential health problems. Basenjis are vulnerable to health problems such as eye diseases and a deadly kidney disease, mostly confined to Basenjis, called fanconi. Read more about Basenji Health.

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.

To help you train and care for your dog

dog training videos Dog training videos. Sometimes it's easier to train your puppy (or adult dog) when you can see the correct training techniques in action.

The problem is that most dog training videos on the internet are worthless, because they use the wrong training method. I recommend these dog training videos that are based on respect and leadership.

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy. For puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
If your dog is over 18 months, you'll want book coverRespect Training For Adult Dogs: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved dog. Again your dog will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life.
book coverDog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams will help you find a good-tempered, healthy family companion.

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