My cousin had 35 yrs teaching experience with special ed students and 5 yrs as a school counselor plus a private practice. We lived in a solid glass front house where she did private consults with autism students being her speciality. In one appointment, the child became highly upset and was headed toward the 8 ft high glass windows that were on the second floor. The Basenji got between the windows and the child and started vocalizing to the child. The child calmed down immediately and was intrigued with the dog and sat down watching the dog intently for almost 5 minutes. My cousin died shortly thereafter but was interested in therapy dogs her entire career and had plans to explore getting formal training for the dog. This was in the early 2000s when therapy dogs were less prominent.
The right Basenji has great potential for a special needs child. My Bunmi came to me as a "vicious dog" through BRAT. The facts were that she was defending child. She developed a strong bond with my special needs Bonus Son and my Grandson. Bunmi is nearly 16 now, has several health issues and is blind, but she still dearly loves children. BTW...Bunmi (her original AKC name) is Swahili for Gift from God.
I recommend communicating with reputable breeders and with BRAT www.basenjirescue.org. Not all rescue dogs are damaged, the are often just in the wrong situation.
I’m curious - did the doctor recommend a basenji specifically or just a dog in general?
It’s just that Basenjis are so high-energy, high-strung, independent and mischievous. My instinct is to say that this breed is not predisposed to therapy or support work, though of course there are always exceptions and appropriate training will play a big part in making this situation work (though obviously that would go for any breed).
I’d recommend getting a puppy from a reliable breeder who knows your situation and can make the best possible match, so the puppy can be socialized within this particular dynamic from the get-go.
That said, would there be any opposition to looking for a more therapy-inclined breed? There are just going to be way fewer unknown variables with, say, a lab or poodle, who already have an established history as successful companions to kids with special needs.
Basenjis can make very good PAT dogs, properly trained but I agree they can be a little flaky when young.
They definitely bond very closely with young children and seem to have an innate ability to detect when things go wrong but I am mildly surprised the doctor would recommend a Basenji over other breeds unless he has personal experience of them ?
Thanks for checking with basenji people regarding suitability of basenjis as therapy dogs! While I have known of a couple who were used as therapy dogs, as a rescue volunteer, I've also taken in basenjis from families relinquishing them out of fear for the safety of their special needs children. Either seek an adult (over two years old) with the right personality or a carefully bred pup whose parents have the right personality. For the pup, correct early training is very important. Through my volunteer activities, I have had many opportunities to see the results of less than ideal early training.
I hope they are successful in finding the right dog for their family.