The Basenji is a primitive or pariah-type dog who originated in as a hunting dog in Africa. He has a short, fine coat, prick ears, a forehead always wrinkled in thought and a tail that curls over his back. His behaviors are often described as catlike, and he is indeed highly curious, intelligent and independent. Consider whether you like cats before you decide to get one. The Basenji has many excellent qualities, but he’s definitely not the right breed for everyone. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering acquiring a Basenji.
Is the Basenji the Right Dog for You?
Not if you hold your possessions dear and don’t have a sense of humor. It’s not unusual for Basenji owners to swap stories about the destruction their dogs have caused. The Basenji is mischievous and energetic with a mind of his own. You had better be smarter or at least sneakier than he is if you want to stay one step ahead of him.
Always on the alert, he is an excellent watchdog. And while he might be known as the African Barkless Dog, the Basenji is by no means silent. He crows, growls, screams, chortles and yodels to communicate. You can hear some of the sounds Basenjis make on the Basenji Club of America website. With his fun-loving nature, the Basenji can be a good choice for families with older children who can handle him appropriately.
It’s often said that a good Basenji is a tired Basenji. Plan to give him plenty of daily exercise such as a long walk on leash or an opportunity to run in a safe, traffic-free area. Dog sports that will provide physical and mental stimulation include agility, lure coursing, obedience, rally and tracking. Without plenty of activity to keep him busy, he will think up his own (potentially destructive) fun.
Confine the Basenji to a securely fenced yard. He’s fond of chasing small furry animals such as squirrels and will hunt moles, mice, rats and other vermin with enthusiasm. Don’t count on an underground electronic fence to keep him contained. He’s much too interested in having his own way for that to serve as a deterrent.
Train the smart but independent Basenji with firmness, patience and consistency. Keep training sessions short and fun, and don’t be surprised if he puts his own spin on commands or outthinks you in other ways. For best results, use positive reinforcement techniques such as praise, play and food rewards.
The Basenji’s odorless coat is easily cared for with brushing once a week to remove dead hair. In addition, trim the nails as needed, brush the teeth, and keep the ears clean and dry to prevent infections.
The Basenji should live indoors. He’s a companion dog and will express his unhappiness in many destructive ways if relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.
5 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Basenji Puppy
- Finding a good breeder is more important than finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will without question have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. To find a list of breeders, visit the website of the Basenji Club of America.
- Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Sometimes health problems aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an adult dog, most of them can be ruled out. Basenjis can live as long as 15 years, so an adult dog will still be a part of your family for a long time to come.
- Puppy or adult, take your Basenji to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
- Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You’re more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.
- Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Health Issues Common to Basenjis
All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons.
Basenjis are generally healthy, but they have some health conditions that can be a concern, especially if you aren’t cautious about whom you buy from. They include Fanconi syndrome; immunoproliferative small intestinal disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease common to Basenjis; hemolytic anemia; autoimmune thyroiditis; luxating patellas; certain eye diseases, including persistent pupillary membrane, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and corneal dystrophy; heart murmurs; and umbilical and inguinal hernias.
The Basenji Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Basenji to achieve CHIC certification, he must have OFA clearances for hips and thyroid, an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation and a DNA test for Fanconi syndrome. Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. You can check CHIC’s website to see if a breeder’s dogs have these certifications.
The BCA recommends that breeding dogs should be cleared by a veterinary ophthalmologist of coloboma, persistent pupillary membrane and PRA; have a recent negative test for Fanconi syndrome; be tested clear of hemolytic anemia; and have OFA certification for hips.
Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing.
Pet Insurance for Basenjis
Pet insurance for Basenjis costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Basenjis are a great deal more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are preexisting) to which Basenjis are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Basenji is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.