How to Live in Relative Harmony with your Basenji

Reproduced with kind permission from Betsy Polglase

SOCIALIZE YOUR PUPPIES EARLY AND CONTINUOUSLY. Basenjis can be extraordinarily social animals if you pet them and let lots of people handle them from the time they are tiny puppies. The first few weeks are crucial for socializing I kept mine in my studio and handed a puppy to anyone I trusted for routine petting and handling.

ESTABLISH YOUR DOMINANCE EARLY IN LIFE AS THEIR "PACK LEADER". Dogs are pack animals. As such, they develop a "pecking order" as to who is the more dominant and who is the more submissive in the group. If you are firm, they consider you their "pack leader." If you are not firm, they will be more than happy to take over the job!

Basenjis are not as domesticated as some other dog breeds seem to be. Treat them with the respect you would accord a "wild" animal.

Basenjis have a remarkable lack of fear, and most of them simply will not cringe when you say "bad dog!" This may work well with more domesticated dog breeds. Basenjis are more likely to hold their ground and look at you as if to say, "What's the matter with you!"

Hitting any dog and ESPECIALLY a Basenji makes them mean. the last thing you care to have. Use this only as a LAST RESORT FOR VERY SERIOUS INFRACTIONS.

DISCIPLINE WITH DOMINANCE one of the best forms of discipline I have found is to look them in the eye. To best accomplish this grab them by the loose skin on either side of the muzzle or cheeks, pull them up to your nose and glare at them while chewing them out in a loud, low-pitched voice.

I smack them on the nose only for VERY SERIOUS infractions such as biting me or biting electric cords. The message seems to get through if this is done only for REALLY SERIOUS things.

A course in obedience-training is not a bad idea. Search for an instructor that works more with verbal corrections and praise rather than with heavy-handed "jerking". You can "honey" a Basenji into doing anything, but they have memories like elephants for unfair or unjust treatment. A loud, low-pitched "NO!" usually brings them up short enough. Foot-stamping sometimes works also when they don't pay attention to the verbal command.

USE "AVOIDANCE" TECHNIQUES AND CREATIVE TRICKERY A squirt-gun should be placed in every room in a small container (to catch drips). A well-placed squirt of water will catch even the fastest Basenji "in the act". Basenjis HATE water (remember what happens when you try to put them out on rainy days?)

Basenjis go into a "feeding frenzy" over kleenex, toilet paper, shoes, and trash. My kleenex box is simply kept out of sight, and my shoes are in a box on top of my bureau. I removed the toilet paper from its holder on the wall after several incidents of Basenjis "papering" our house with it. The toilet paper is now on the window ledge above the holder with an upwards black arrow drawn on the holder. We put trash on a small, plastic table so that they could not reach. Many people keep trash under the kitchen sink.

A product called "Bitter Apple" is available at shows and in pet-supply catalogs and stores. It is very useful in keeping the dogs from chewing everything you own. It comes in spray and tube, and you simply spray or smear it on anything you don't want them to chew. It smells bad to them so they don't enjoy chewing on the item.

We put carboard boxes on our chairs when we are not in them to keep them from stealing things on top of the table. You can also keep the chairs pushed under the table if they will go under all the way. The Basenjis' credo is"What's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine, too."

There are several types of "kiddie gates" that keep all but your best jumpers out of rooms that you don't wany them in. A more permanent solution involves the bottom half of dutch doors.

Basenjis are fastidious and HATE RAIN! I walk them or send them out individually on rainy days. If I don't, they all crowd together in the one dog house or huddle pitifully by the back door (without relieving themselves). For some reason, they will give in and relieve themselves if I send them out one at a time. Don't ask me why! I also put a newspaper down inside in case all else fails. They were paper-trained first as pups.

Train them to "come" for a "tidbit." Basenjis were bred for independence and will do something only if they perceive that it is in their own best interest. I use bits of cheese and chicken hot dogs as training-aids. For a long time I prefaced all my commands to my puppies by "chicken weiners," as in "chicken-weiners come!" or "chicken-weiners in!" amazing how fast five fat little bodies would come or would fly into a crate. Thsi is still my "emergency command," and I always follow through by giving them something.

SUPERVISE THEM AS MUCH AS YOU ARE ABLE I am fortunate that I am a professional studio photographer and that my studio is in my home. I simply put my five dogs in crates in the studio when I am working and tell my people clients that my dogs are the "welcoming committee." People invariably love to see them. If I am photographing animal clients, they go in the back room crates!

It is imperative that you put them in crates when you are not around to supervise them. Basenjis will "trash" your place if you let them. They get bored and lonesome when you leave, and they frequently chew everything in sight because they are bored and/or anxious. Tragedy would ensue if they chewed wiring or got in to poisonous things, so for their safety and your sanity, crate them! They get quite used to it and go to sleep when crated.

Basenjis dearly love to see what is going on around them and get a bit anxious when they can't. For that reason I use wire crates instead of closed airline crates. I have been known to leave the radio or TV on for them to listen to. The latter may be slightly ridiculous, but I know that I enjoy having some noise when I am alone in the house, and they seem quieter when I do.

Get a fenced-in yard if you can possibly afford it. Basenjis are fond of running and need to be let out several times a day to relieve themselves and to exercise. I have a 7-foot high chain link fence buried six inches in the ground around a large portion of my back yard. If you can't let them run loose in a fenced-in yard, the next best thing is to put them in as large a "Run" as you can afford. The next choice is to walk them several times a day.

They can be put out on a long chain or wire, but the won't much like it. They like to run around more to be social.

Basenjis are not good at paying attention to yard-boundaries, and they are not often terrific at coming when running free. It is definitely NOT A GOOD IDEA TO LET THEM RUN LOOSE if you don't have a fenced-in yard. It is a good way to get your friendly, fearless Basenji run over by a car.

CONCLUSION In a nutshell: Give your Basenjis lots of love and supervision and let them know firmly that you are running the house. Discipline them with fairness and love as they are in tune with "fairness" and adore being loved.

Basenjis are some of the most loving animals I have ever dealt with. Most of them adore "pressing the flesh" and like to be near you, to be petted, and to be talked to. They are companionable and "nosey" and like to be where you are and like to see what is going on.

If you want a very obedient dog that just breathes and "takes up space," Basenjis are probably not for you. If you want a loving, clean companion; and respect and enjoy watching and living with a pet of high intelligence, extraordinary beauty and grace, and a lively spirit, raising Basenjis is a wonderful and fascinating experience. They will grab your heart-strings and you will never again be bored.