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Basenji Rescue and Transport, Inc.
Reality Stories

This is one of the most popular pages on our site. This page contains two commentaries about the breed. Click here to skip to stories from individual Basenji owners. If you have your own story, e-mail it to us by clicking here.

The first commentary, written by the late Jenny Taylor, addresses the question, Can I adopt a calm and obedient Basenji? Next, Eric Higgins of Tulsa, Oklahoma who lived for a year in a small village in rural eastern Zaire, in central Africa, in the midst of native Basenjis has interesting things to say.

Can I adopt a calm and obedient Basenji?

By Jenny Taylor

Calm and obedient are not qualities normally associated with Basenjis. A calm manner may be seen in an adult Basenji, but obedience is rarely demonstrated. An indigenous dog of Africa, Basenjis inherently lack the domestic qualities we see in other breeds. They are not motivated to serve man. They think independently and need a reason to pay attention to a human command.

You might ask: If these dogs are so hard to handle and so uncontrollable why do people want them?

Basenji owners make a wide range of comments about their behavior and personality. One person will say, “They are very energetic but not especially destructive,” while another will wail, “He ate his way out of the bathroom!”

While the adoption postings certainly make them sound sweet and loving enough, Basenjis can range from highly destructive and aggressive to perfect angels—like every breed. The closest truth is that Basenjis need positive training. If they are in a household where a heavy hand is used for training, they are more likely be aggressive and mean.

Basenjis are curious, active and self-directed by nature. If they are bored or anxious, they can get into a lot of trouble emptying trash cans, chewing furniture, eating shoes and clothing, exploring the cat box, and destroying a wide variety of things that would absolutely amaze you! Never underestimate the wily nature of a Basenji. These activities give them great pleasure and using force or severe discipline will not change their predisposition to do them. The best strategy is to remove the temptations. Put shoes away and waste baskets out of reach. Close doors and crate or kennel them if they will be unsupervised for any long period of time—at least until they can be trusted.

Basenjis are not easily trainable. They respond well to clicker training and lots of positive reinforcement (hot dog bits don't hurt either) but, generally, they are self-determined and will comply only when they want to. When you get to know your Basenji you can watch him “thinking about” whether to do what you have asked or not. This is not a trait everybody can live with.

In addition, the Basenji is a sighthound with a high prey-drive. (Don't even think about training thousands of years of nature out of them!) They like to hunt anything and everything that moves and will tear after all things that interest them, with complete reckless abandon. Sadly, this is the behavior that gets them killed most often—they will run into the path of cars without being cognizant of what they are doing. Their natural instinct also makes them bolt through open doors. No amount of calling and commanding will bring them back until they have satisfied their curiosity. These are traits shared by all sighthounds, including the Greyhound, Whippet, Borzoi, Saluki and Afghan hounds.

In 30 years of living with Basenjis I have had some that are more compliant than others. Some have been more destructive than others and some more aloof than others. I've not had one that could pass by a tissue without ripping it up. Nor have I had one that would come every time I called—although some were more obedient than others.

So, getting back to the question, “If these dogs are so hard to handle and so uncontrollable why do people want them?” For me it is because when they love you, you know it is completely their idea. There is no blind following or genetic predisposition to respect humans. You have earned their respect and affection. They challenge me and I find myself asking, “How can I outwit this dog?”—and enjoying it!

On a more surface level, they are clean and odor-free and they don't bark. They are a wonderfully portable size but still big enough for a good cuddle. Finally, they are simply magnificent to look at and watch.

The descriptions given with our BRAT listings are accurate. We represent the dogs truthfully and will not accept a dog for re-homing if its temperament is determined to be unsavory. When a Basenji has reportedly bitten, we take a serious look at its temperament. Sometimes, though not always, we discover that a Basenji's bad temperament is due to inappropriate handling.

Basenjis are not for everyone. If blind obedience is a desired quality in a dog, a Basenji should never be considered. But if a wonderful companion is wanted—and a relationship where on-going negotiations are the norm—and you have time to give your Basenji lots of loving attention, then this might be the dog for you.

Jennie Taylor (July 22, 1950-September 16, 2005)
North Carolina

What are Basenjis like in their native habitat?

Eric Higgins of Tulsa, Oklahoma lived for a year in a small village in rural eastern Zaire, in central Africa, in the midst of native Basenjis. Here is a letter he wrote to BRAT:

I happened to visit your website—I was trying to tell a friend at work about the Basenjis—and did a little searching on the Internet. Having lived for a year in a small village in rural eastern Zaire (now Congo again) in central Africa, in the midst of Basenjis, I would like to interject some thoughts concerning the descriptions of the breed and its habits on your site and elsewhere.

The description of Basenjis as African “wild dogs” is totally incorrect. There are wild dogs in Africa, but they are not similar in the least to Basenjis. Basenjis are domestic animals. Although not cared for in the manner we expect for pets here (people there don't often live that well), they do live with families and are fed and housed by them in their homes. They are prized as hunting dogs and protective companions. They also keep the yard free of rats, snakes, etc. The Basongye people that I lived with, and other Congolese people, praised them for their bravery and intelligence. They hand craft various sorts of soft bells for them to wear to keep track of their whereabouts. They feed them from their own meals, although they must supplement their diet with mice and other critters that frequent the property.

Basenjis in the small village I lived in were socialized in the manner of domestic dogs elsewhere. Like all domestic animals there, they are allowed to roam freely, but also know where home is and spend much of their time there, including in the hut/house. They sleep at home. They are bonded and loyal to particular individuals or families of people—not just general village dogs.

I did observe that Basenjis are highly intelligent, curious, and physically coordinated dogs. The people in my village were well aware of their clever and somewhat mischievous nature, but that happens to be a quality that is more tolerated and actually somewhat prized there, among both people and animals. I never once saw or heard of a person bitten or otherwise terrorized by a Basenji, although it was known to happen in the context of a burglary or assault against their owner. I never observed a Basenji damage its owner's property, as seems to be a problem for owners here.

I am suspicious that a fair amount of the problems associated with Basenjis in the U.S. have to do with the manner in which they are being raised, handled and trained. They would certainly suffer in behavior by being “spoiled” (let on the furniture, fed from the table, too much silly attention), being trained too little and too lightly and, especially, by not having enough challenging work and physical activity. These are by nature, highly active, physically tough hunting dogs that need the same sort of mentally and physically demanding work and play that other sporting dogs need. Like other active, sporting breeds, they are bound to cause trouble if they are expected to be couch potatoes, lap dogs, yard dogs, etc. They should live in a home, but get lots of serious brain and muscle work outdoors to match their abilities.

Based on my experience around Basenjis in their native home, and by the sound of the comments I read from owners on your website and other American owners that I've met, I suspect that what the Basenji breed in this country needs is recognition of their fundamental character and the chance to excel as field and working dogs. Attention to this character should be paid by breeders, trainers and owners.

Please consider posting my comments on your site. I hope that they might inspire some thought and discussion.


Eric Higgins
Exploration Geologist, New Ventures
Tulsa, OK 74119

Wait, there's more! CLICK HERE to read the good, bad and ugly stories from individual Basenji owners.

Rev. JK 03/01/12

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