The Basenji, while primarily a sight hound, also can be trained to more continually rely on its scenting ability. Few Basenjis if any will become as proficient at using their nose as a scent hound, but they are still often used in traditional sight hound types of events and competitions.
The major concern with competitions with Basenjis is that they are not known as the most obedient dogs in the world. This is not to say they are not highly trainable and intelligent, but rather is a factual statement about the independent natural temperament of the breed. Although a Basenji is a terrific dog in competitions that require agility, speed, intelligence, problem solving and fast thinking, they are not ideally suited to competitions that require a lot of immediate response to an owner's command. This may make the Basenji a less than ideal breed for obedience work, especially in competitions with other breeds that are highly obedient.
However, the Basenji is a great dog for many other types of events. Although agility requires a high level of obedience it also allows the dog a lot of freedom and the higher level thinking of the Basenji is ideally suited to the challenge. A Basenji with a naturally outstanding athletic ability combined with mental acuity is a great agility type of dog. Since they are also competing alone on the course there is little concern with the sometimes dominant nature seen in the breed.
Agility events encourage both mental as well as physical engagement of the dog and the owner. Agility, at least at lower levels, is relatively simple for both the dog and the owner to get a good grasp of the concept before moving on to more advanced levels of competition. The major drawback to the Basenji in these events is their major independence that occasionally kicks in on the course. Using routine praise and food rewards in the initial training is ideal, however the routine and circuit does change at each event, meaning the Basenji has to learn how to respond to owner instructions. Once they start to enjoy the course and the reward for a job well done they can become outstanding competitors at any level. Patience will be required when training the Basenji for agility work, but it will pay off in the end.
The Basenji Club of America, BCOA, sponsors several different types of events for Basenjis on an annual basis. These events are designed to highlight the natural agility and athletic ability of the breed, along with some really fun activities as well. These types of events tend to focus on the running and sight ability of the Basenji and include several different kinds of lure coursing and racing. These events are also held through the American Sighthound Field Association or ASFA.
Lure coursing includes having a group of Basenjis or other sight hounds, usually classed by size, age group and breed, race along a pre-set course chasing a mechanized lure that is typically designed to act like a rabbit would when being chased. This includes changes in direction and speed, with the goal for the dogs to follow the lure rather than attempt to anticipate directional changes and actually head off the lure. All dogs where brightly colored vests that make them easy to identify and cheer on as they race to beat the pack to the lure.
Straight racing on a 200 yard flat track is also an event that the Basenji dogs excel at. In straight line racing the key element is speed as there are no directional changes or speed changes, just a flat out run to the finish line. Basenji dogs with their high intensive focus and their history of being used to drive prey really are outstanding competitors in these types of events. Like lure coursing, dogs are grouped according to breeds or at least sizes, so the Basenji is not competing with the largest of the sight hounds with their lengthy strides.
The National Oval Track Racing Association, also known as NORTRA, was originally established for Whippets but has since expanded to include many of the AKC recognized and non AKC recognized types of sight hounds. This type of event is similar to horse racing with dogs of different breeds running around an oval course chasing a lure. Dogs must stay on the track and they are scored as to the order that the place within the different race heats. Basenji dogs are ideal at this event as well, really seeming to enjoy both the run and the thrill of being able to see and chase the lure.
Surprisingly the Basenji is not a dog that typically enjoys the sports that include any type of fetching or retrieving. They were developed wild dog that was trained and bred as a hunting hound, but not as a dual purpose hunting and retrieving dog. While they are certainly athletic enough to compete in events such as Flyball and even Frisbee types of events, they are rarely seen in these venues. Occasionally a Basenji will be entered and competitive, however this really is the exception and not the rule for the breed.
Also rather unusual for a hound is the Basenji's aversion to water. They don't like rain and wet weather and most are very unwilling to venture out into cold or snowy conditions other than for a short run or walk or a necessary trip outside. They also prefer to avoid having to travel through water and typically detest swimming or having a bath. For this reason Basenjis are rarely used in any type of event or competition that requires working outdoors in poor weather or being in anyway exposed to wet conditions or water.
The Basenji does make a terrific competition dog in the conformation show ring. High levels of socialization are required so the dog doesn't show aggression towards other dogs in the ring or towards the judges. An aloof, independent attitude is a definite requirement for the breed, along with ideal conformation to the Basenji breed standards.