Sunday, July 19, 2009

Basenji Behavior

I am a very active foster home and have fostering "recycled" Basenjis for a good 10-years now. I'm also the home that will take the "last chance" Basenjis and try to rehabilitate them. These are my special projects that can stay in my care for long periods of time, or forever. Needless to say, my older children and I have come across some pretty amazing bad behavior that could have been prevented by their original owner.

I remember back in 2001 or 2002, I was walking in my local PetSmart on a weekend. I was surprised (and thrilled!) when I saw a Basenji puppy walking with his owners through the aisles. Of course I had to stop and visit this boy because he was such a cute pup (and I need an occasional B-puppy fix!). He was a r/w, about 4 months old, petite, and already demonstrating behavior that his owners should not be allowing. As we were talking, this boy (don't remember his name) decided to lay down and take a nap. When I reached down to stroke his head he woke up in flying teeth mode. As most of us know, flying teeth is a BAD thing and can't be allowed. Any Basenji that has this behavior would not only be dangerous and difficult to deal with as an adult, but would pay the ultimate price for it later - either losing their home, or being put down. Since I was the object of his teeth and was prepared for this reaction, I immediately prevented him from following through on his bite. However, I was floored when his owners thought what he did was cute. Cute! Can you imagine a Basenji puppy, with flying teeth coming at you, as cute?

I promptly told them that this behavior was unacceptable, wasn't cute, and they needed to get control over it now because he would get worse as an adult. I further told them that quite frankly, there are more than enough Basenjis in rescue to deal with in foster care, and these dogs were there because they had owners like them (who couldn't train their dog). I gave them some pretty solid advice about how to work with and train this boy so he wouldn't have such a strong reaction to being disturbed and other helpful training tips.

Since behavior is one of the main reasons why Basenjis end up in rescue, I invite anyone that has something they want to talk about to post a comment. You're not alone, so don't worry about asking for help.

Of course if you have any "trick" that works in positively training your Basenji, we would love to hear from you as well!



  1. I totally agree that it is an owner problem but what about us owners that just don't know the right way to deal with an issue. We don't think Bella is a purebred Basenji but she has many of the characteristics. My main problem right now that I need to know how to handle is that she gets really excited when adults come in our house. She jumps, she runs, she goes and gets a toy for them to throw and at times she barks. We have had people ignore her (kind of hard when she is jumping on someone), walking straight into her with no eye contact, having her on a leash, trying to get her to sit or lay down, putting her in her crate, or downstairs behind a baby gate. I am going to be having relatives stay with me for Thanksgiving and I need to get this worked out. I want her to have success. Any advice would be much appreciated. I realize that by doing the wrong thing is also actually training her. Oh, and she has started whinning about everything.

  2. Correcting behavior like this takes MONTHS of repetition over and over and over ad nausea.

  3. I have an issue, my Basenji is four months old and she growels when I try to pick her up after she has been sleeping. Like when its time to go to bed for the night. I give her a heads up by telling her "come on lets go", but she still does it. And this isnt just a little growel, she opens her mouth and growels. I have been trying to establish the dominance with her by telling her "NO" and looking her in the eyes when she does that but its like it doesn't even faze her. She just gets this panicked look that says "if you try any thing I will bit you".

  4. In general, this is a pretty strong basenji breed trait, that they don't like to be moved while sleeping. That said, there are ways you can work with her to get her to WANT to get off the couch when you ask her to:

    DO: Lure her off the couch with a treat. Start out by getting the treat out, showing it to her, and ask her to come to you. She should want to come right away, and you can then give her the treat. After you've been doing that for a while and she seems to understand and anticipate how it works, change the game by telling her to come without showing her the treat, THEN after she comes to you you can get the treat out and give it to her. This gets her used to just "trusting" that you have a reward in store for her good behavior, without actually having to see it first. Gradually you can then work it down to where you just give her verbal praise for coming when you call her, and no treat.

    DON'T: Look her in the eyes and try to dominate her. Your instinct is right; she might try and bite you. And if you start down that road where she feels she has to bite you to keep you away and she doesn't see a problem with it, that biting behavior might carry over into other things, too. Clearly, that's not where we want to take this. Basenjis don't do well with being "dominated" like some other breeds, because they're so independent and you can't really dominate or train that independence out of them. It's just in their nature. You can, however, become the dominant person in the house without confrontation with your dog.

    The best way to become the dominant leader in a basenji household is by making them WANT to do your bidding because they want to get a reward (either a treat or a really effusive show of love from you). If you show them what you DO want and you reward them for it, they'll do it willingly and you become the leader, because they see that doing your bidding gets them good things. If you try to dominate or punish them into doing something (or not doing something bad), they will rebel every single time. And usually with basenjis rebellion means biting, growling, and destructive behavior. So, best to reward them into doing what you want instead of forcing it.

    Hope that helps!!