Breeding for temperament back in the day
First Basenji's

I ran into a woman at the dog park the other day who was very excited to see Bowpi. She told me she'd had a Basenji a few decades ago, and it'd been a long time since she'd seen another one. She was shocked by how gentle Bowpi is, because hers was "mean and aggressive until the day he died" at 16 years. According to her, all the B's that she knew were like that, because "they bred them mean back then." (I didn't ask who her breeder was.)

So I told her that I couldn't speak for Bowpi's breeder because I have no idea where she came from, but the breeders that I knew of (on this forum) do take temperament into account. And she seemed glad to hear that, as she insisted that wasn't her experience.

Any responses? Have Basenji breeding practices really changed over time to account more for temperament, or is that a false impression we put together due to selective sampling? 🙂

I'm wondering if she was just being imprecise with her terms… perhaps it wasn't that her B was "aggressive" but that he was acting out as a typical B will sometimes snark when they meet up with other B's.

I also thought that there was plenty of talk of Basenji temperament back in older manuals. Seems to me that Basenjis were always expected to be a little naughty, a little unruly, but not "mean." Or could the "meanness" be something else, like a certain drive or primitive edge that is easily misconstrued as aggression?

There is a whippet owner that comes out to the race meets. She owned a basenji when she was younger. She loved the dog but admits she was quite difficult. Every time she sees me at an event she marvels at how I have 6 basenjis in a ex-pen co-existing without issue. She insists that she has never known a group of basenjis that could do that. I told her that there are many breeders who have chosen to breed for temperament and that I looked for that when making my choice to bring a basenji in my household and later when I started making decisions about breeding. Not everyone is breeding for temperament and not everyone would even agree with what breeding for temperament is but there has definately been a positive improvement in temperament in the breed over the years.

A few decades ago, it was very common for Basenjis to be very sharp tempered, both to humans and other dogs. They had a horrible reputation that sadly persists today in people who remember the early dogs. Thankfully, breeders did put emphasis on temperament and, overall, the breed is considerably more even-tempered today.

Basenji temperaments have improved ten-fold over the past 30 years.
It took dedicated breeders that would cull [via spay/neutering] bad tempered dogs out of their breeding programs… no matter how great they were conformationally or health-wise.
I would trust any dog that I bred with my children 24/7. In fact,
they were left to care for my dogs [5 adult Basenjis, 1 adult IG, 5 8-wk-old Basenji puppies] while I was judging in Australia in March.
They did a fantabulous job and they are well aware of dogs that should never be together… they feed and exercise the dogs with no issues.

If I can't trust my dogs with my children, then as a breeder, I would need to re-think my breeding program.

BTW---OP, my three brothers and I were raised with Basenjis... Mom started with them back in 1965... and I have seen the improvement in temperament over the years... it has been a great transformation!

My brother had a basenji back in the early 80s. Zeke was definitely not the best temperament and had to be watched like a hawk around strangers. He was nothing like the 4 that I have now.

I took Ozzy on a pet walk fundraiser last year and had a couple of people come up to me and tell me stories of basenjis they had years ago and how they would never have been able to have taken their basenji to an event with so many people and dogs because someone would have been bit. Oz got loads of compliments that day for is wonderful temperament.

I meet at least three people per year that have horror stories of Basenjis they knew, or had 30-40 years ago. I think there must have been at least a couple breeders in our area that had particularly sharp temperaments. It also needs to be taken into account that modern training methods are much more compatible with independent minded dogs than older methods.

When I spayed Sayblee, I got a lot of flack from her breeder and several others plus a few handlers. I spayed her because she was utterly over the top dog and animal aggressive. Yes, she had a lovely feminine head. Yes, she finished her championship pretty darn quick. Yes, her pedigree was filled with champions. I acknowledged to those folks who were dissing me that perhaps they were right, I was a noob who didn't comprehend the need in smaller population breeds to ignore some characteristics. But when you have a dog that really should have been in a one dog only family… likely to reproduce at least some like her, I made the choice that she should NEVER have puppies.

So while I thing GOOD breeders are pushing temperament, I still know many who are not, who feel the physical characteristics are the only REAL important issue. I also see quite a few at shows who are beyond snarky and whose breeders have admitted they have to keep nearly all their dogs separated. I like the breed's quirks, but am very glad to know most breeders don't consider predatory behaviors toward all other living creatures to be something to retain!

These are the sights that have people coming up to me to say how amazed they are at my basenjis.

Typical Lure Trial

A Day At The Races

I think the quality breeders has done a great job getting our breeds temperment to the good state it is now. I heard one person say, when I started going to dog shows many years ago, that judges often wouldn't touch the dogs on the table, because they would lose a finger.

I just had a co-worker freak out on me when she found out I had a basenji. She shreiked "why on earth would you get one of those little terrors?"
At first I thought she was joking, but she wasn't. She met a basenji about 20 years ago when she was doing the census. She entered this guy's house and the basenji came out of nowhere. The guy told her "don't move. It's a Basenji and they only bite once in their lives and will NEVER let go. You'll be dead in seconds."

…funny, Cricket play bites ALL the time! :rolleyes:
So regardless of the breeder, I hope the calibre of owners has also improved...

@DebraDownSouth:

When I spayed Sayblee, I got a lot of flack from her breeder and several others plus a few handlers. I spayed her because she was utterly over the top dog and animal aggressive. Yes, she had a lovely feminine head. Yes, she finished her championship pretty darn quick. Yes, her pedigree was filled with champions. I acknowledged to those folks who were dissing me that perhaps they were right, I was a noob who didn't comprehend the need in smaller population breeds to ignore some characteristics. But when you have a dog that really should have been in a one dog only family… likely to reproduce at least some like her, I made the choice that she should NEVER have puppies.

So while I thing GOOD breeders are pushing temperament, I still know many who are not, who feel the physical characteristics are the only REAL important issue. I also see quite a few at shows who are beyond snarky and whose breeders have admitted they have to keep nearly all their dogs separated. I like the breed's quirks, but am very glad to know most breeders don't consider predatory behaviors toward all other living creatures to be something to retain!

I do want to add though, that not all behavior problems are due to bad temperament. My young male, Hippo can be snarky at other dogs at shows. It is something we are working through..but it is MY fault because I didn't get him out and socialized enough with non-family dogs as a pup. He comes from lines with OUTSTANDING temperaments.

So, while Basenji temperaments ARE improving..it still takes some work for the owners to make sure their puppies get well socialized, particularly around other dogs. They will never be a push-button breed, and I think most of us like it that way (at least most days!)

Hmmm… I wonder if the idiot Kipawa and I met yesterday had old school thinking about basenjis? Could explain why he was such a jerk.

Temperament was the most important quality we looked for when we got Kipawa. He's incredible. I can give him kisses when he is asleep, and no problem. Same with moving him when he is asleep. We have a little knick-name for him - it's "Happy", because he is always such a sweetie. I can lift him in my arms, with him on his back, and nuzzle his chest. I get nothing but a joyous attitude from him. Hugs to Therese and Kevin for bringing up their dogs like this.

Fran, you will probably never figure that guy out. People behave so strangely about dog behavior….Dogs will be dogs, and people get all bent out of shape and angry about it, and take it personally.

I don't use off lead parks for that very reason...but I can understand the appeal of using them. I am glad everybody is okay after your bad encounter...

@Quercus:

I do want to add though, that not all behavior problems are due to bad temperament. My young male, Hippo can be snarky at other dogs at shows. It is something we are working through..but it is MY fault because I didn't get him out and socialized enough with non-family dogs as a pup. He comes from lines with OUTSTANDING temperaments.

So, while Basenji temperaments ARE improving..it still takes some work for the owners to make sure their puppies get well socialized, particularly around other dogs. They will never be a push-button breed, and I think most of us like it that way (at least most days!)

Exactly and Basenjis become "attached" to their dog packs and if you are not careful about introducing them to others and other breeds away from your own (their own) pack, it can lead to serious snarking in different situations. My girls have a pack with all the pups that came and played on play dates (and adults too) since they were 11wks old. However, they don't just off hand accept other dogs/basenjis that are not of their pack. It takes some adjustment and especially if on lead. Just the other week we were up in Or/Wa and stayed with Kevin and Therese (again thanks you two, it was fun) and the girls got to play with one of their older boys and two of the young pups… C-Me who has no problems was great... Franie, took a bit of posture and talking, but then they were off and running. So, it is not only important to socialize as puppies, but continued as adults. And while I do not expect them to love all other dogs or get along, that to me is acceptable also.

Like Andrea, I don't use off leash dog parks, too many uneducated dog owners... for my taste

First Basenji's

I think it's so interesting that so many of you agree that there HAS been a noticeable difference. So I glad I didn't just make this up! :p It's impressive to me that the overall temperament of a breed can change with conscientious breeding. The B's that I know tend to be fairly friendly (though still aloof with strangers), cuddly, etc. I'd be surprised to learn that there's a specific "nice" gene, but I'm convinced that the foundation of a good temperament is genetic.

I did wonder about training methods, too. I suspect some old school, heavy-handed training approaches can backfire with B's and make them lash out more, which would compel their owner to "punish" them more, and it turns into a vicious cycle. As training methods improve for all dogs, maybe some of these breed perceptions get worn down a bit, too.

When we started showing basenjis in the mid 80's we used to show with our breeder and she would send potential puppy buyer over to play with Winston and Tasha as they were great with everyone dog and human. Temperament and health are the most importAnt thing. The dogs I see now nearly 30 years later seem much more relaxed and well socialized than their predecessors.

Very interesting.. I have been wondering about this a lot… Now if we could just breed the chewing out of them...:p

I've always been curious why the temperaments ever like that. From the various presentations on the expeditions to the Congo, I've heard several times that poor temperaments and aggressiveness towards other dogs or people would not have been tolerated as it would not have worked well with how the people lived with the dogs. Granted, that is a significantly different environment and the dogs had a lot a more space and freedom to get away from other dogs they didn't get along with. Plus, I generally hear that the imports brought over in recent years have good temperaments. Was there generally different breeding priorities early on after the initial importations that may have inadvertently led to it?

We got our first basenji about 72, he was a year old when we got him, confined in a back yard his whole life. He was great with us and the female rescue we got a couple of years later, but he sent one small dog to the emergency vet. If he got out and saw another dog, he wasn't playing, he was serious. But he was the smartest and funniest basenji ever, he would play pranks on us! The reputation back then was "untrainable and aggressive". And indeed with the old jerk-and-snatch methods, they WERE untrainable; much better with modern positive reinforcement.
But I do agree, temperaments back then were much 'sharper' than most we see today, thanks to great breeders!

@Nemo:

I've always been curious why the temperaments ever like that. From the various presentations on the expeditions to the Congo, I've heard several times that poor temperaments and aggressiveness towards other dogs or people would not have been tolerated as it would not have worked well with how the people lived with the dogs. Granted, that is a significantly different environment and the dogs had a lot a more space and freedom to get away from other dogs they didn't get along with. Plus, I generally hear that the imports brought over in recent years have good temperaments. Was there generally different breeding priorities early on after the initial importations that may have inadvertently led to it?

I have wondered about that too. All the Africans that I have met have been very easygoing, especially with people. Some have been downright gregarious (Dr. Jo!) I have heard people speculate that possibly, selecting for dogs that were confident and 'showey' for the ring led to a sharper temperament; or maybe it has to do with how breeders raise and socialize puppies now, as opposed to the olden days of keeping dogs in large kennels….it does seem like a good question though...

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