What are Basenjis like in their native habitat?

I found this article and thought it an EXCELLENT read for those considering to rescue, foster or purchase a Basenji as I know I could most certainly learn from his observed wisdom and advice (this is from the Basenji Rescue and Transport website). There is no date on when this was posted.:

*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 Republic of 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
eric.higgins@vintagetul.com
Exploration Geologist, New Ventures
Tulsa, Oklahoma*

I think the observations made are on point, and for what it's worth, Basenjis are not the only breed that suffers from a lack of appropriate work. Border Collies, generally the most obedient of dogs, are also a poor choice as pets unless they have "a job" that challenges them physically and/or mentally. A bored Border Collie left to its own devices can certainly cause as much havoc as a bored Basenji!

Expectations are another issue. If you have been convinced that your Basenji will never be reliable off leash or loose in the house, your dog will not disappoint you by magically becoming obedient and trustworthy. It takes work and consistency and patience to achieve results! Of the five Basenjis I have owned, all were more or less reliable in the house, two were reliable off leash, and the others probably could have been with a bit more diligence on my part. I have read articles (complete with pictures) that showed Basenjis being used as hunting dogs in the States. Yes, off leash, obedient to commands, and attentive to their handlers. You don't see this much anymore, but it is certainly possible to use the breed for the tasks it does in its native land.....

I have had both reliable Basenji in the house loose... but the house is "dog " prepared... however that said.. I have had a bitch that was 10ys old.. LOL
that for whatever reason decided to eat my shirt on the back of my chair in the bedroom.. forgot to shut the door... I would never trust mine off leash at home...in neighbors that are open to all, too close to roads..... too many things to chase or dogs to chase... and many that I have seen as off leash have shock collars... pass on that

last edited by tanza

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia and surprise adopted my pup from the capitol. By surprise adopt, I meant I found him wandering the streets following strangers around, near the nest he made for himself. I watched him for a few days before deciding to take him back to my tiny village. I know he's 25% basenji because I did a doggy DNA test and he looks like a taller basenji.

He was abused as a puppy and was pretty scared of new situations and people. It took a long time to build his trust and get him comfortable with his new home. But in his natural environment, he was as happy as could be. Our morning routine consisted of me letting him out to wander the village and then return when he was hungry or bored. He would also follow me to the school where I taught or would tag along to whatever errands I had to do for the day. He was pretty well behaved besides some food aggression (only when he had a bone).

I would definitely say that basenjis are very well behaved when they are allowed to sort of do as they please and expend all their energy. Mvdperez did a good job with summarizing some of their behaviors. They are a little stubborn if they don't get their way but they're great dogs!

Thank you for having the courage to rescue your puppy. Rescuing an abused dog takes lots of courage and patience. Our little girl who is a full Basenji was horribly abused when she was surrendered (she was 1/2 her body weight). She still has issues and we have to keep a baby gate up to keep her secluded in one part of the house as she cannot be trusted in other rooms of the house without supervision. NEVER could we let her off of her leash. That would just be catastrophic. CBR - from where we rescued her, warned us never to do that. Peggy told us if she ever ran away (she has gotten out 2X - once by climbing a tree - the clever little girl!), to run away from her as she would think it a game and would come towards you. NOT true but she finally came with lots of coaxing. I have shared my life with a Border Collie before until I became allergic to him. He was abused and the runt of the litter. I raised him from a puppy and he proved to be one of the most amazingly intelligent animals I have ever had the joy of living with. Thank you all so much for sharing your stories - Mamie P.S. My son was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali.

One of the problems with off leash behaviour is that in our society with all its hazards dogs are routinely kept confined and/or on a leash. So being "free" is a novelty, and if a dog suddenly finds itself loose it may be giddy with excitement and the chance to explore unimpeded. OTOH, village dogs that are habitually loose and able to indulge their curiosity will be more inclined to listen since a call from their owner likely signifies something desirable, such as food. If circumstances allow one to safely give a dog freedom on a regular basis it removes the novelty and in my experience the dog becomes much more likely to pay attention and obey familiar commands. A dog that is accustomed to going outside off leash is far less likely to bolt out a door! The tricky bit is finding a safe way to introduce the dog to off leash work. Dragging a long line has worked as an intermediary for me in the past, but I had many acres away from roads in which to practice.

Adding an e-collar as insurance was a step I took with my last Basenji, but I seldom had to use it. That said, I do not recommend them unless the handler has experience or learns from someone who does. Used properly as negative reinforcement it acts as a very mild irritant that can be used at a distance to get the dog's attention. I found I used it mostly for "leave it", and almost never needed it for recall. If I had a "senior moment" and opened the door before putting Perry's collar on, he would return immediately when I called him and happily wait for me to adjust the collar, as it meant we were going for a ramble around the farm, which he enjoyed. Because he was used to going out off leash, I didn't have to worry about him taking off if someone opened a door unexpectedly.

My very first Basenji was absolutely solid on recalls off leash, well before the days of e-collars, and I used to walk her loose in the city (that was before leash laws came into effect, back in the '60s). She knew she was not to cross a road without coming to heel. But as she was my first Basenji, I didn't know you "can't do that with a Basenji", and apparently she never got the memo either! 😉

I drove 20 or so minutes each way to my friend's horse far. Not one day did we miss seeing one or more dead dogs on the roads.

Too many dogs in shelters picked up from being lost; or hit by cars.

While my Rottweilers and first basenji were solid off leash, they only place they got to do it was at my friend's farm. And they weren't just turned out, I was out with them.

In the old days, almost all dogs ran loose. The norm... and if they died or were lost... well, get another one. Many died. I quit talking to people about it. They say "they want to be loose" and I say "so do toddlers and 3 to 5 yr olds... I still don't open the front door and send them on the world. " They get mad, I get mad, nothing accomplished.

We all take risks and avoid others. Unleashed is one of my "no" areas. And rawhide.

Absolutely dogs raised in a village in Africa are not the same as here. I think most dogs don't get enough exercise and mind stimulation. When you do that with an intelligent breed like basenjis, you're going to get unwanted behaviors.

You may want to read up on Dr Jo Thompson's work, as she also lived in Africa with these dogs. What wonderful experiences those of you who go to see where they came from.

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