BY CHEY MILLER
Basenjis do some very peculiar things that may seem unremarkable at first blush, especially if you have had some experience with other sighthounds. When you see all these quirks together in one dog, however, you discover the uniquely lovable personality of the Basenji!
They lean. If they were human children, their school teacher would continually holler at them to straighten up and stop slouching! They lean against furniture, and they lean particularly hard against their humans. It is a very endearing quality if you don't mind 22 pounds pushing against some part of your anatomy. It's rather like supporting a little drunk so he won't fall down again. And the ears back? That can be a Basenji saying, I'm not happy about something. Would you please figure it out and fix it?
They often sit way back on their tail with their hind feet in the air. It looks much like the classic position dogs assume when they "scoot" due to anal gland problems, but Basenjis, I am convinced, sit like this just to amuse their humans. This is a variation of "the lean". Basenjis are very casual creatures, you see.
They try to rotate their head 360°. It saves them having to change the position of their feet when they want to see behind themselves. One Basenji breeder I know calls it "the Exorcist routine". If you saw the movie, you know what I'm talking about. It's Linda Blair without the green stuff and bad language.
They have regular fits of extreme excitability. This is known by Basenji owners as the B-500. The dog may be leaning against you (rotating his head, perhaps) when he gets a sudden urge to run like hell. He launches himself as if there's a bottle rocket in his little butt, and flies through the house with wild eyes and a crazy grin on his face. When he returns to the starting point, he body-slams into the back of the couch, propels himself onto a chair and then begins the circuit anew. The B500 is most thrilling if there's another Basenji to race with, but the cat will do in a pinch.
Basenjis are inveterate thieves. Why? We don't know. Maybe Basenjis hoard purloined objects against a time of scarcity; similar psychological tendencies in humans have been blamed on the Great Depression, so why not in dogs? More likely, they just don't understand the concept of Yours and Mine. All I know is that when something comes up missing, there's a good chance I'll find it in Ruby's crate. Incidentally, my first introduction to Ruby's sire culminated in his stealing my glasses from my purse when no one was looking.
Basenjis sport a "Mohawk" or "ridgie". This is a strip of fur that runs down the back and is presumably raised to make the animal appear more imposing—though that 1-inch bristle is far less intimidating to me than those 3/4-inch teeth! It is not necessarily a sign of aggression, however. Basenjis put up their 'hawks whenever they encounter something new, and sometimes even in play. Of course it also comes up when meeting a potentially lethal dog for the first time. Think of it as "high alert" or "we're in danger". (It always makes me think of Mr. T from the 80s TV show. A gold necklace and black leather vest would complete the image.)
Basenjis do not like to get wet. If it's raining outside, the Basenji can "hold it" until the cows come home! Ever wonder about 40 days on the Biblical ark? No problem for that pair of Basenjis! The only time this caution is discarded is if there's a possibility of chasing the evil squirrels in the back yard, and then a monsoon wouldn't matter.
Basenjis insist on licking objects until they are dry. Another mystery: Is this a throw-back to periodic droughts in their ancestral homeland, or are they perennially thirsty? Whatever the cause, if you make the mistake of letting a Basenji in the bathroom when you shower, you will be relentlessly licked when you step out of the tub. Ruby even dries the cat when he comes in from the rain!
They love fruits and vegetables. Every Basenji is different, of course, and not all Basenjis are hearty eaters. As a general rule, though, Basenjis are apt to raid the vegetable garden if they have access. Kids will be delighted to discover that the dog just happens to like all the things they do NOT, including yucky cauliflower and broccoli! Ruby is especially fond of sliced beets (see picture at right) and green beans. She also favors peaches. Actually, there are very few foods that she does not like: olives, lettuce, celery, apples and bananas, for example. She is an inveterate little beggar. We thought we were safe snacking on peanuts, until - yep! - she decided she likes them, too!
They are compulsive sky watchers. Basenjis are unusually interested in what is happening above their heads. They notice birds, bees, butterflies and airplanes. Do they have a dim genetic memory of the Jurassic Period when their evolutionary ancestors had wings? Do they dream of flying? No, they dream of chasing. Remember the Basenji motto: Semper captare! (Ghandi, 6 months old, observes some blackbirds overhead. He lives with Tim Miejan in Woodbury, Minnesota.)
Basenjis like to sleep with the pack. It seems somewhat contradictory, given their reputation as an "independent" breed. Be that as it may, when it's bedtime, they want to be with you, their pack...as "with you" as they can be...not even a hair's breadth away from you! It's as though some hot, furry, malleable substance has oozed against the contours of your body and stuck there all night. Or, as Karen, slave of True, of Woodstock, NY puts it, "It's almost as if you are by yourself, except that you feel all warm and fuzzy. Especially in shedding season." As if that isn't charming enough, they also sleep as though in a state of rigor mortis, with their stiff little legs stuck straight out...into your partner's back or front...or yours, if the bugger is sleeping against your partner...and oh, but those nails can be cruel! I guess the bigger question is not "Why do they?", but "Why do WE allow it?"! Would any alienists care to speculate?
A Basenji washes its face in a cat-like manner. They are fastidious groomers. An especially messy treat, or a Bones and Raw Food diet, might warrant immediate wiping of the lips on the couch or carpet, but eventually there will be a more thorough clean-up with washcloth paws. It can usually wait until after a nap, however.
Basenjis dig furniture. Literally! A sure sign of a Basenji household is covers on the couch and chairs to hide the holes. Why do they dig? Compassion for humanity, my friend. They aren't intent on destuffing the couch and strewing foam "guts" all over the room, no, no, no! they are trying to liberate the poor souls in Communist China! Hey, it's not THEIR fault they have to dig through a stupid couch to get there!
Finally, Basenjis do a thing where they'll dig at your furniture and/or bed sheets—and I mean frantically—while at the same time doing a Basenji headstand spin. It's the strangest thing to watch. It's like the same burst of energy you see when they decide to do the Basenji-500 all over your house. (And we thought the Three Stooges were so inventive! I wonder . . . did Curly have a Basenji? (What are you, a wise guy?!)