Basenji

Breed of the Week: The Basenji (Video)

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I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have wished that my dogs would just stop barking. I’ve even written about persistent barking in multi-dog households, in When One Barks, They All Bark. The trouble is, if I’m completely honest, I’m a lot like the accountant who is very good at telling other people what they need to do about their taxes, but who ends up in trouble with the IRS year after year. My dogs bark and I haven’t devoted the time to stopping them.

Anyone who knows me also knows that I would never consider having my dogs’ vocal cords removed to stop them from barking, although I know people who have done just that (they are not friends anymore, in case you were wondering). I had heard, though, about supposedly “barkless” dogs, so I started doing some research, and happened upon the Basenji, which is my “Breed of the Week” this time around.

Are Basenjis really “barkless, though? Not really. They have a larynx that is differently formed than that of most other dogs, so they’re considerably more quiet, but not entirely “barkless.”

Of course, I wasn’t really thinking of replacing my Boxers, who bark when a leaf falls, with another type of dog – I could never replace Janice and Leroy! But I did end up being a bit curious about Basenjis, and I’ll share what I’ve found out with you.

The Basenji originated in Africa. He is small, muscular, and has a curled tail and a wrinkled brow that makes him look curious and maybe just a bit mischievous. Keep reading to learn more about this very appealing dog.

History

The Basenji was originally found in the African Congo, and is believed to have been used for hunting rodents and other small game. He is smart, playful and endearing, but he needs an owner that can understand his desire to dominate. In fact, when it comes to dominance, one of the main issues with the Basenji is that he is not really fully domesticated. There is a little bit of “the wild” left in what is actually a very pleasing dog.

In Africa, Basenjis were mainly used for hunting, and for some reason, attempts to bring the breed into Europe failed – typically, Basenjis would contract various diseases and die shortly after they were imported. It wasn’t until the 1930s that Basenjis were successfully brought into England, and later on into the United States.

In 1943, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Basenji as a breed. The Basenji is still considered to be rare, ranking only 84th among 155 recognized AKC breeds.

Size

The Basenji is a medium-sized dog. Males usually standabout 17 inches at the shoulder, weighing around 24 pounds, and females stand 16 inches and weigh approximately 22 pounds.

Personality

Basenjis are hounds. What that means is that they are alert, independent and intelligent. They are also very affectionate dogs. They are not typically good in households that have other animals, though, because they are likely to see smaller dogs, cats, rabbits and other small animals as prey.

You will also find that a Basenji can be stubborn, and might very well tear up your house if he feels that you are not giving him enough attention. He also might not be overly receptive to strangers, and anyone that he sees outside, to whom he has not been introduced, may be seen as a threat.

Because of this, you have to make sure that you socialize your Basenji very early on. Of course, this is true of most dogs – you should always expose a young dog to different people and situations. With a Basenji, though, it is that much more important. Any living creature, human or animal, that does not seem to belong in your Basenji’s territory, could be seen as a threat that ought to be speedily dispatched.

It’s a good idea to enroll your Basenji in puppy kindergarten, expose him to regular visitors, take him to the dog park and any other places that will welcome your dog. Even a stroll through the neighborhood can help with socialization.

Keep in mind, too, that Basenjis are very sensitive dogs. They shouldn’t be harshly corrected – instead, use positive reinforcement. Basenjis that are harshly corrected are just going to become stubborn, so treat them with kindness and consistency.

Health

Generally speaking, Basenjis are healthy dogs. However, they might be prone to some conditions. This doesn’t mean that your Basenji will necessarily develop any of these disorders, but you do have to keep them in mind if you are considering the breed.

1. Fanconi Syndrome

This is a disease of the kidneys that can affect your Basenji’s ability to process proteins and sugars. Essentially, your dog passes necessary proteins in his urine and doesn’t keep the proteins that he needs in order to live. If your dog has this condition, you will probably notice that he pees a lot and drinks a lot. Usually, the condition manifests in dogs that are 4-7 years old. This disorder is not treatable, but it can be managed. That said, managing the condition might involve giving your dog as many as 30 pills in any given day. Whether you are willing to endure the expense of managing this disorder will, I expect, depend on how much you love your dog.

2. Immunoproliferative Systemic Intestinal Disease

This is something like irritable bowel disease that you would find in humans. Essentially, it is a food allergy, and it results in diarrhea and trouble with putting on weight. It can be treated, but it will probably involve frequent dietary changes. The good news is that although this condition used to be very common in Basenjis, it is less so now.

3. Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency

This is a type of anemia, and unfortunately, it is not treatable or curable. Basenjis that have this disease will not usually live much beyond the age of 2.

4. Hypothyroidism

This is a deficiency of the thyroid hormone, and could lead to obesity, infertility and lethargy. The main symptom is that the coat becomes brittle and coarse, and starts to fall out. There is no cure, but the condition can be managed with daily medication.

5. Colomba

This is a term that is used to define a hole in the structure of the dog’s eye. It usually occurs at the bottom of the eye, and the condition can result in mild effects, or severe effects depending on where the hole is located. If your dog has Columba, you should have him neutered, since this is a hereditary condition.

6. PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy)

This was once not all that common in Basenjis, but with more recent breeding, it has become more of a concern. It is, essentially, a deterioration of the retina that can eventually result in night blindness, and finally full blindness. Keep in mind, though, that dogs often adapt very well to limited vision by making better use of their other senses. A dog wit PRA can still have a long and happy life.

7. Hip Dysplasia

I’m just throwing this one out here because almost any dog, of any breed, can be prone to hip dysplasia, and your Basenji is no different. This is a very common condition in which the thighbone does not match up properly with the hip joint. Much of the time, this causes nothing more than mild discomfort. In many cases, there are no symptoms at all. This is, however, one of the conditions that reputable breeders screen their dogs for, so if your Basenji puppy’s parents are certified free of hip dysplasia, chances are that this will not be a problem with your dog.

Again, Basenjis are typically healthy dogs, and you will not likely have to worry about any of these issues.

Care and Exercise

The Basenji is a very active dog, and must be exercised regularly. Some Basenjis do well with a daily walk, while others may require more vigorous forms of play. Basenjis are typically good with kids, though, so if you have children, you might just want to throw them out in the yard with the dog and let all of them work out their energies together.

Supervision

That said, though, you can’t just put your Basenji out in the yard and expect him to amuse himself. Left unattended, the Basenji will usually find a way out of the yard and go on to better, more interesting things. Ideally, you should give your Basenji a couple of half-hour walks every day, and make sure to play with him as well – he wants your company. He wants to play with you.

So, do you need to have a huge tract of land to keep a Basenji happy? No. A securely fenced yard will do – just don’t count on it to keep him in if you’re not there to play with him. The best type of fencing for a Basenji is chain link, and it wouldn’t hurt to string a length of electric wire over the top if you want to be really assured of keeping him inside.

Feeding

Basenjis are very active dogs and will do best on a high-calorie dog food. Of course, all dogs are different, but generally speaking, for your Basenji, you should choose something that is high in protein, moderate in fat, and low in carbs.

Basenjis shouldn’t be allowed to get fat, so your dog might not be well-suited to free-feeding. I free-feed Janice and Leroy, but then they’re not quite as rambunctious as the average Basenji. Give your Basenji a good quality, high protein dog food if you want him to be happy and healthy. Keep in mind, of course, that the amount of food your dog will want to eat will depend on how old he is, how big he is, and how active he is.

Feeding

Coat and Grooming

The Basenji is a short-coated dog who may have markings of black, red and chestnut with white on his legs, and possibly a white blaze on his chest and between his eyes. He will shed minimally, but will still benefit from regular grooming.

As is the case with all dogs, your Basenji will enjoy better oral health if you brush his teeth regularly – if you can do it once a day, that’s best, but if you can’t, at least try to brush his teeth a couple of times a week to get rid of bacteria and tartar.

Your Basenji’s nails should also be clipped regularly. If it sounds as though the nails are “clicking” on hard surfaces, it’s time for a trim.

When grooming your Basenji, you should also check for sores, rashes and infections, particularly in the ears, nose, eyes, mouth, and on the skin. Your dog’s ears should not smell bad, and if they do, that could be sign of infection.

Kids and Other Animals

A friend of mine adopted a Basenji not all that long ago. The dog had to be re-homed because he wasn’t good with kids. This is not usually a problem with Basenjis. They are typically good with kids of any age, although some (like my friend’s dog) do better with teens.

When bringing an adult Basenji into a home with kids, it’s very important to make sure that you train the kids as effectively as you would the dog. In other words, teach the kids respect – no roughhousing, no ear pulling, no loud noises. Some breeds might tolerate a little bit of bad behavior on the part of children, but a Basenji might not.

As to other animals, it’s better to bring a Basenji puppy into a home with other adult animals than it is to try to introduce other animals to a Basenji that is already established in the home.

And again, as I’m always telling you, never, ever leave a child unattended with a dog of any breed.

The Final Word

If you want a dog that is so unique that people will walk up to you and exclaim “I’ve never seen a dog like that before in my life!” then the Basenji can be a great choice – provided that you’re an adult who has a way with dogs. Basenjis are beyond cool, but not always good with other people or other animals, so think about these factors when you consider bringing a Basenji into your home.

Oh, and by the way? Your Basenji will bark. Just not all that loud.

About the Author Ash

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