Is a Basenji a Good First Dog? Read Before You Buy

Basenji cuddling with new ownerA Basenji is a delightful dog who is full of energy and is not above clowning around to gain attention. Though not too common, those that have had the pleasure of knowing a Basenji typically become die-hard fans.

Is a Basenji a good first dog? While Basenjis are not usually recommended for first-time dog owners, if the future owner has realistic expectations, is properly prepared to handle the exercise and stimulation needs of the breed, and is well instructed it training techniques, it can work.

Owning a dog, especially one with a reputation of being one of the more difficult breeds to train, is not an undertaking to go into blindly with nothing more than high hopes and big dreams.

Let’s take an honest look at what life with a Basenji is like and how someone with little dog experience can make it work and form a lasting, loving relationship with their new dog (without going insane in the process).

Know What to Expect

Animal shelters are often at capacity due in part to owners who were not well informed prior to getting their dog and suddenly found themselves overwhelmed by an out of control dog whom they no longer want.

Let’s make sure that you know what you’re getting with a Basenji so you and your dog don’t wind up being a statistic. Here’s an honest look at what you can expect from a Basenji.

Basenji Temperament

Basenjis are a breed with many personality quirks that can be shocking to a new, inexperienced dog owner.

Yes, it’s true that Basenjis can be very loving with their families, get along well with children when properly socialized. They have a beguiling and amusing personality, are naturally inquisitive and alert, are quite intelligent, will groom themselves in a cat-like manner, don’t have a doggy odor, and can be high-spirited companion pets.

However, it’s also true that Basenjis:

  • Are independent, free-thinking, sometimes stubborn dogs.
  • Can suffer from separation anxiety.
  • Can be wary of and aloof toward strangers.
  • Have a high prey drive and will chase other animals that aren’t members of their household.
  • May never fully master recall.
  • Should never be trusted off-leash unless in a securely fenced area.
  • Are excellent jumpers and can scale an average fence easily.
  • Won’t think twice about leaping onto counters in search of a snack.
  • Are master escape artists.
  • Do not like rain or baths and may refuse to go outside during downpours.
  • Can cause massive destruction if left to roam freely in the house before being completely trained.

Tip: Many Basenji owners like to give an all-natural calming treat to their dogs before they leave their house for an extended period.

Expect – the unexpected. Basenjis are not your average dog. Dog-proofing your house and yard takes on a whole new meaning with this breed.

Expect some bad behavior as your puppy matures – this is normal. Be prepared to make some significant changes in your housekeeping habits as you learn to keep anything valuable, edible, or dangerous well out of your dog’s reach.

Exercise Requirements

Basenjis are a high energy breed with excellent stamina. Two vigorous exercise periods per day, each at least a half-hour long, will be needed. Brisk walks, jogging, running, hiking, and intense playtime in the well-secured backyard are all acceptable workout options.

For those with a more adventurous nature, it may help to know that sighthounds like Basenjis often excel at certain canine sports such as agility (dogs race to maneuver through a series of obstacles) and lure coursing (dogs chase after a mechanically operated lure in a safe, controlled environment).

Expect – to become more physically fit as you ensure that your Basenji is receiving adequate daily exercise. A tired Basenji is generally a better behaved Basenji. An under-exercised Basenji is likely to cause destruction as he invents his own ways of releasing unused energy.

Mental Stimulation Needs

A Basenji has an active, intelligent, inquisitive mind and can become easily bored and destructive when not often engaged mentally.

These resourceful dogs developed the ability to think for themselves when they were living in a semi-wild state in their native Africa. Puzzling through challenges, outwitting prey, and entertaining themselves were skills that allowed them to thrive and must be given an appropriate outlet when living in a domestic environment.

Expect – a dog who thinks for himself and likes to make his own decisions about everything. Many of the puzzle toys for dogs aren’t tough enough for this breed and will quickly be destroyed. Extra-tough, treat-dispensing toys designed for aggressive chewers may be a better choice. Creative games and activities to encourage your Basenji to utilize his thinking skills will be essential.

Vocalizations

You may have heard that the Basenji is a barkless dog, and indeed, this is true. However, this is not a silent breed – far from it actually.

Basenjis are capable of producing a wide variety of noises such as howls, growls, whines, whimpers, grunts, groans, yodels, and a unique sound commonly described as a “barrooooo.”

Please, have a listen…

Most owners find these unusual vocalizations to be endearing and often comical, but if you’re expecting a relatively quiet dog based on their “barkless” description, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Expect – a Basenji to not be shy about making his opinions known. Like all dogs, a Basenji will attempt to communicate with you not just with body language but with noises as well. This is a good thing, for a dog who’s trying to communicate with you is one who is welcoming you into his inner world, and that is how great friendships and deep bonds are forged.

Training

We won’t try to gloss over the facts here. Basenjis are well known for being hard to train. Their independent nature and intelligence should indeed be appreciated but can lead to some stubbornness at training time.

Basenjis often have a “What’s in it for me” attitude and will quickly become bored with repetitive training drills. If they feel that their way of doing things benefits them more and is far superior to your ideas, guess which one they’ll choose time and time again?

Negotiation and submission are not their strong points.

At each training attempt, one of two things will happen. Either your Basenji will decide that obeying you benefits him and was really his idea to start with, or your Basenji will train you to believe that, “It’s his way or the highway.”

Crate training can make life easier and allow you to leave the house without worrying about mass destruction while you’re gone but is best done with a young puppy. Older Basenjis often never adjust to the crate and will hurt themselves trying to escape, not to mention the racket they’ll produce while doing so.

Expect – to need a great deal of patience, time, and ingenuity when it comes to training this free-thinking breed. Clever training methods and socialization, lots of positive reinforcement, and the ability to ignore bad behavior will all be necessary. Obedience classes or one-on-one training by a professional may be required as well.

Prepare Beforehand

More than likely, a Basenji puppy will not be available right away as the wait-time for a puppy usually averages about a year. Don’t be discouraged. This time gives you the perfect opportunity to thoroughly prepare yourself and your home for life with a Basenji.

Here are some steps to take before your new Basenji comes home.

  • Read all you can about the breed and training techniques that get results.
  • Spend time talking with actual owners of Basenjis either in person or through social media and breed forums.
  • Purchase a roomy, sturdy dog crate and find the ideal location to set it up. For some guidance, check out our article on choosing a crate.
  • Make plans to be at home for at least the first few weeks.
  • Get in the habit now of always picking up behind yourself and teach your family to do the same.
  • Invest in a collar appropriate for Basenjis. Many owners recommend either a sighthound collar or a martingale collar to avoid damaging the neck.
  • Educate your family and regular visitors such as babysitters and in-laws about the specific precautions that must be taken to ensure the dog’s safety (never leave door open, push in chairs, always use a leash, put food away, etc.).
  • If no one will be home for most of the day, start researching potential dog walkers and arrange for them to spend some time with your new dog before they will be expected to handle him on their own.
  • Line up puppy obedience classes well ahead of time as they often fill up quickly.

2 thoughts on “Is a Basenji a Good First Dog? Read Before You Buy”

  1. I am a basenji owner and was involved in showing, lure coursing, showing, and breeding, but now just pets. I would like to tell you that the article is the best I have read (after years of reading on the net),
    There is one thing I did not see though.. Under vocalization, I would add “When unhappy, they SCREAM to let anyone within a half mile radius know just how unhappy they are.. Sometimes, we wish they would just bark!”

    Thank you for writing an honest evaluation of the breed.

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