Considering a Basenji. Thoughts?

  • Hello, my name is Leigh and I am in North Carolina, USA. I am here because we are seriously considering getting a Basenji puppy in the next two months and I am concerned about some of the things I am reading about the breed. I am hoping our family can meet a local Basenji family and spend some time with the dog and learn more about what owning one will be like. My main concerns are around articles I read that claim that the dog is an escape artist and will run away if given the change, cannot be off lead, and that if we don't keep him or her busy (what does that mean?) it will tear up the house. My husband, who really wants a Basenji, claims that these things are true with most dogs, and that if we are diligent and patient with training we will be fine, but I also read that Basenji's are difficult to train. Any recommendations? (Or should I post this question somewhere else?)

  • Basenjis are a hound, sighthound.... they were bred to hunt, this is in their DNA. What they see they chase. Unless in a secure area Basenjis should always be kept on lead. If they see something they will chase it and do not stop to look for cars.... So it is not that they "run away" they are running to catch something (or trying to). Keeping busy means they need exercise daily both for the body and their minds. Again, Basenjis are a hound, they are a "thinking" dog... positive training is the best method for training. However keep in mind that when asking a Basenji to do something, they will look like they are thinking "What's in it for me"? A tired Basenji is a good Basenji!

  • You should probably read Sally's put off for more information on the breed. Yes, they are dogs and can be trained, but they have a different response than many, think about training a cat (which can also be done) and you will have a better idea of what you are dealing with. That said, it's possible to teach them almost anything, but motivating them to do what you want rather than what they want is the sticking point. Patience is essential. Not all are escape artists and you can usually teach a reliable recall with most if you get the motivation thing right, but it won't be so easy as it is with dogs that want to please you. Basenjis please themselves!

  • Hi Leigh,

    I am no expert by any means but I found myself in that same position this Spring. I wanted a Basenji and my wife was a bit reticent, for two reasons, what she had read and the fact we had never owned a dog before. We had a lot of the issues you described, but over time Zaki and his pack (me and Lois and Matt) worked things out. It only took about a year and two chairs and a couch later. I have learned a great deal but I have to say that I would not trade the process or my dear friend Zaki for anything.

    I too was afraid of letting him off the leash, but we have such a close relationship, that when he does get away, all I have to do is tell him I have some cheese, or I am going to "GO" or turn my back on him (which he hates) and he comes running back. I have gotten him to sit, stand up, we call it "wanna dance", lie down, roll over, touch, he gives me "high fours" and he fetches just about anything you can think of. Yes, it was difficult and there were some VERY long nights working all this out, but I have to say, love goes along way, both ways. And I will tell you, this forum has been a great help, these people have basenji blood running through their veins.

    Patience, love, lots of "good boy's", treats and exercise that's all you need.

  • Hello Leigh,

    Yes, all of those things are true and no they are not like other dog breeds as not as readily trainable. They can be the most lovable pain in the neck and Lots of work for 14 +years. I love them dearly though there were days when I wished I could just have them off leash, less excitable, or not react to certain breeds. Destruction can be very real and while mine never dug out of yards etc, I have seen others on kitchen counters, climbing fences. Exercise is key but you can’t necessarily just go to a dog park with ease. If your still thinking of one, You want a really reputable breeder which means you need to do site visitS even on the ones listed on I know firsthand. Not all are the same in terms of their concern for the mom dogs health etc.

    Don’t necessarily pick the first one you see. Meet mom and dad and see how they interact. Take time to choose wisely and definitely know to go to breeders that do the genetic tests for blindness and Fanconi syndrome which is awful. Make sure that the pups grandparents and all related are free of It.

    There is no rush as puppies/ dogs/ rescues can be found so it is much better to research like you are doing. In any case, I hope you find a dog that fits your lifestyle.


  • @italeigha - We have a saying in Basenjis.... a dog like a Lab or Golden if you tell it to sit, will do so forever... LOL, a Basenji will ask "What is in it for me"?. I will still say that unless in a secure area or not near any cars/streets, they should always be kept on lease. We have gates in our hallway and that door is NEVER opened on the 30+ years of raising Basenji unless closed and locked, period... there are critters in the yard (squirrels, bird, other dogs, people, etc including cars on the street)... But that said if they do get loose, Slents is correct, turn your back on them, do not chase... they will "check on you" in 90% of the cases.

  • What is your life situation? How large is your sense of humor? How tolerant would you be of a mischievous monkey? How much of the day would your basenji be alone? Do you have children or do you plan to have kids? Do you have a yard? Is it fenced? Do you expect a basenji to chill on its own. Do you live in a rural or residential area? Do you have things in your house that you value - would you be upset if a basenji destroyed things? Do you plan to walk your basenji every day twice a day? Have you ever owned a dog before? What breed was it? What did you like and dislike about that breed? Are you willing to make adjustments to suit the dog? (if it counter surfs, what will you do? If it attacks kleenex boxes and/or toilet paper, what will you do?) Can the dog sleep in bed with you? Do you have a friend or family member who can pet sit if you need to go out of town unexpectedly?

    My basenji eats the crotches out of any underwear or pants left in his reach. Can you keep clothes and shoes picked up to keep your basenji safe?

    There are SO many questions about you that need to be answered before the answer about whether or not a basenji is the right breed for you can be answered. The basenji has to fit into your home but you have to make concessions too.

    I don't know that I would have picked my home for our first basenji - there were two boys under 8 yrs old - but we had a fenced yard and I was committed to walk her every day. My parents lived across the street and loved her to death. She spent time with them during the day. She was the best basenji ever.

  • I agree with everything that's been said. I often tell people the same things. At the same time I have gotten so much enjoyment from my two Basenjis. By the time I got them I was at a place in my life where I had the time to spend with them. If you're there, you have the time, a secure yard, patience and you love solving puzzles (your Basenji will puzzle you) then by all means... consider one! They're infinitely entertaining, enjoyable, affectionate, and clean to name just a few positive attributes. They make excellent companions too.

    Mine follows me everywhere. I believe he would come back if called while off-leash in the front yard IF nothing else caught his attention. He MIGHT hang with me in the garage IF there were NEVER any distractions. But, there's so many squirrels in the park right in front of my house... I'll never risk him loosing his mind, then his life.

  • Lots of very good information for you italeigha. My 2nd basenji tried to climb my fence in the backyard. Not a privacy fence, it was wire....strong wire, and it had just enough give in the tension that when Dannii got 2 feet off the ground, the fence would sway. He didn't like that one bit. No door's are to be opened, unless the dog is already on a leash. They do and will bolt, unless you get them very young and teach them to "sit and stay" when the door is opened. I couldn't do that with my Dannii as he was already 1 1/2 when I got him. He was an escape artist extraordinaire. Where there was an inch, he would try to find a way out. We couldn't leave the dog park, until "he" was ready to go; which could last a good 3 hours of him non stop running, chasing, playing. Then he crashed in the car and at home. The saying "a tired basenji is a good basenji" is the motto for this breed. When they are tired, they can't get into trouble. I rescued a 4 month old basenji pup and I thought for sure my son was going to kill the dog within the first few months. Zak chewed out the butt of some very expensive jeans that my son had, and carelessly left on the floor (son's fault), son was ticked off and called Zak all kinds of names and such. I just told son that if he treasured anything, anything at all, to pick it up off the floor and put it behind closed doors. Dannii, passed from cancer, Zak was 7 when Mr.T (tri boy) came to me through a rehome. His owners got transferred to Brazil for their job and couldn't take the dog with them. I had just paid off (what I thought was leather and found out it wasn't) a sofa. Mr.T promptly chewed up the arm's, backs and what have you of that sofa! Its the dog couch now and have plans to get rid of it soon. Zak just turned 16 on Nov. 30th. and Mr.T will be 9 on the 23rd of this month. Zak has slight Canine Cognitive Dysfuntion (doggie Alzheimer's). It can get really bad, but so far he's holding his own. Dog's, no matter what breed they are; is a life long commitment. If you can"t commit to the dog's entire life, don't get a dog or any animal. Dog's, cat's. birds, I don't care what it is, you don't take it to the pound just because its too old now to play anymore. Zak is semi deaf, he startles easily (has beginnings of cataracts). He will be with me until the day he dies. Yes, I get upset with him as he has a tendency to walk right in front of me, and can't get out of the way fast enough. I'm not going to get rid of him just because of that. Do lots of research on the breed. If you have a yard, NEVER use the invisible fence. They see something across the street or where ever, they will "take the hit" to go after what ever it was that they decided to chase, then they can't get back into the yard. Those fences do not keep other animals (dog, coyotes, and such) out of your yard, and you dog will be a sitting (running duck) for them to chase and kill. Pawla asked some very good questions. You and your husband should sit down and talk them all out before you commit to any dog, but especially a basenji. They are NOT what most people expect, and so alot of those dogs end up in BRAT or at shelters through no fault of their own. My Dannii was my heart dog and I loved that dog like there was no tomorrow. He was the first dog EVER in my entire life (I'm 74) that has ever come down with cancer. Broke my heart. He could be a pain in the *aa, a houdini, a goofball, a cuddler, a bed and body warmer. He could infuriate me to no end. But I wouldn't have traded him or any of my basenji's for all the money in the world! Do your research. These dogs are not for the faint of heart, and in my opinion only, not a good first time dog (if you've never had a dog before). They are not out to please you, YOU need to please them, and that's why we all become "slaves" as our basenji's train us very well!

  • I agree with 99% of the foregoing posts - just not the theory they can't be trained to run free. Mine (and I lost count how many over the years, for a long time the pack numbered eight) have all been trained to return to my whistle.

    In the right place, and with the right training, off-leash is perfectly possible and unless you teach recall, you will never have the joy of seeing a Basenji racing, flat out through the forest, with the grace of a gazelle and the speed of a much larger animal !

    I discount lure-coursing - this is a dedicated sport where the dog is focused on a specific target for the duration of the course. This is totally different to the sight of a Basenji on - say - a squirrel hunt. A sharp dash here, a longer sprint there. Final frustration as the prey shins up a tree !

    I was speculating with a fellow off-leasher only last night via WhatsApp - how few Basenji owners actually get to witness the beauty and the sheer marvel of one of these hunting hounds at speed. They are missing so much. . .

  • None of my five were door dashers, although we were seldom careless around the door. Occasionally someone would get out, and at the farm the usual action was to run to the barn to snack on horse turds! Basenjis are all individuals, and some will be easier than others, but if you raise them from pups you can influence their behaviour a great deal. Getting a mature dog leaves you with the good or bad habits they have already acquired, and it can be difficult to erase the really objectionable ones, but it can be a huge bonus if the person before you has instilled good manners, e.g. my Perry was the only Basenji I have had that I didn't have to hide used tissues from, he never bothered my garbage cans, never chewed inedible objects, and the only damage he ever did in the house was to my blinds when they obscured his view, and one lamp shade which I suspect had a fly buzzing inside it. OTOH, none of the ones I raised destroyed furniture, or anything important, although a couple of table legs got gnawed on when Tamu was a puppy, but eating the crotch out of underwear, oh yes.....

  • I am a first timer with an almost one year old male. He has been a challenge and a GREAT reward. He does not train like a lab or traditional puppy. He does not love like one either. He is totally UNIQUE in all areas and for me definitely worth it. It took me 10 months to realize this...I had to learn to train and deal with him on his terms and with his breed in mind and handle him in that way to have success and it definitely is worth it. He is not a cuddle puppy in my arms, however, multiple times during the day, he will come with on my sofa and sit so close to me, nothing can come between us...did you catch that...nothing can come between us...and that that tells me everything. He will usually rest his head on my thigh and we will sit like this for a long time, until he is done I never leave him off leash because I think of a greyhound that will bolt, but we have a fenced yard that has plenty of room for play. Our breeder told me he would run away, not because he doesn't love me, but because that is his breed. Stubborn, strong-willed, determined, thy name is matter what you read, it does not fully prepare you for the Basenji experience. It us like none other. They bond with their human for life at THEIR choice and this is remarkable. Like no other experience. It is very humbling and exciting at the same time. I am his...he is mine. We are joined at the heart. If you are destined to be a Basenji parent, you are truly blessed.

  • I have a 6 month old so not very experienced yet, but therefore have recent experience of difficulty adjusting! I haven't owned a dog as an adult and grew up with labradors, so was used to dopey and eager to please.

    I found the first few months very hard, partly because I hadn't owned a dog for a long time (it's like being given a baby and a toddler at the same time) and partly because of the unique and tricky Basenji traits.
    It was hard seeing other puppies so eager to please their owners and not growling when they were picked up or refusing to wee in the rain!

    Over time I have adjusted my expectations, worked out how to get to to do what I need her to do (she is very food driven fortunately) and have bonded with her which I think has been the key to adjusting.

    Our lives have changed permanently and she hates being left alone so for the time being we take her everywhere or someone stays home. I can't imagine going on holiday and feeling happy leaving her with anyone else. I have to constantly watch my children's (and other people's children) interactions with her to make sure they are not over handling her but they are learning.

    As others have said there is a lot of character and fun that is given back in exchange for the stress, but you do need to make sure you have enough time and energy for a dog and specifically a Basenji in your life. There will be a period of adjustment with possible fleeting feelings of regret but with time and patience that should pass if you thought it through in the first place like you are now

  • @slents Thanks for this. Did you get him as a puppy?

  • @adina Thanks so much for this. The breeders we are looking at seem to have all those boxes checked and we found them through AKC. We are hoping this is surely a trusted source...

  • @tanza suppose it is running, on lead of course, with my husband and it sees a squirrel. Will it try to run after it or will it be ok to continue on course? We live on a greenway with plenty of wildlife.

  • @pawla I appreciate these questions and while I am sure you asked them for my own benefit to think through, I will go ahead and answer: Our children are 11 and 14. The 11 year old desperately wants a dog and has studied about them endlessly as well as doing a good bit of dog-sitting for neighbors. While we wanted to find a rescue, we need a hypoallergenic and have not been successful finding one thus far. Of course we are all home right now, but I do not work outside the house (I run a non-profit but do that from home and only on part-time hours). My husband plans for the dog to run with him daily, and I and the girls are happy to walk it daily, too. We shouldn't have any trouble exercising it. We have a fenced backyard (8 foot privacy) not huge and it does have a non-enclosed vegetable garden I am worried about but it does back to a greenway (that leads to a dog park) with many walkers, bikers and leashed dogs going by. We don't mind the dog sleeping with any of us (I'd really rather not crate it at night) but I definitely have things in the house I don't want destroyed. We are on the minimalist side and buy little, but what we do purchase are quality brands that take great consideration of the environment, fair trade, etc (ie, our furniture is not cheap and I would not want it chewed on). We have plenty of friends/family who tell us the will pet-sit, but we would hope to be able to take it with us on family visits or week-long vacations to the beach or mountains. I already have two kids that don't listen to me half the time, lol, not sure how I feel about adding a dog that has no intention of listening to me either!

  • @basenjimom2 Very helpful and honest; thank you.

  • @zande So lovely. We hope to have a large property in Colorado one day. Letting the dog run sounds in a place like that sounds beautiful.

  • @eeeefarm That is encouraging. I find myself wondering what is the best way to train when you are a family of four. Should one member of the family take the lead? Or should we all share it equally? I need to look into this. We do intend to do doggie school and just researching that.

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