Despite its smaller size, clean behavior and very beautiful looks, the Basenji is not the breed for everyone. Many people assume that with such a low maintenance, non barking dog a more ideal companion pet couldn't be found. For many dog owners this is true; however a great number of Basenji dogs are turned into shelters and rescues each year because their owners didn't really stop to consider the unique temperament issues with the Basenji.
To understand the temperament of the breed it is important to understand that these are a very ancient breed of dog, perhaps one of the oldest of the recognized breeds. They are considered a primitive dog in that they are independent, instinctive and very self-assured, qualities that were and are prized by those that work with the breed. As a primitive dog the Basenji relies on its own instincts and experiences rather than follows the direct commands of the leader, which needs to be the humans in the family.
In general a well socialized Basenji is a moderately friendly dog that gets along well with other dogs once introduced. By nature the Basenji is pack dog but they are much more dominant than many of the hound breeds. Often a Basenji will have difficulty in accepting another dog in the family, especially if it is the same sex as the Basenji. Early spaying or neutering combined with routine socialization can really reduce any problems but intact Basenjis need to be closely monitored with other dogs of the same sex.
Basenjis raised as single dogs are often more likely to develop behavioral problems than Basenjis raised in small groups or at least with another dog. Many people belief that if you are planning on having one Basenji it is wise to adopt another puppy, ideally a Basenji of the opposite gender for the best in socialization and emotional well being for the dogs. Many people have small packs of Basenjis and they do socialize with each other and bond incredibly with the other dogs.
Basenjis that are raised with dominant or assertive types of cats do very well as companion pets. Timid cats or other pets that run or are seen a prey animals by the Basenji are not recommended as the Basenji will eventually chase these animals, causing many problems for the household. In addition most Basenjis clearly know which cats are family pets and which are strays or strange cats and they will chase these other felines with relish and gusto.
The Basenji is an interesting study in different temperaments. Some Basenjis are very affectionate and love to cuddle and snuggle while others are more aloof and less likely to be overtly affectionate with the family. Even the more independent Basenjis typically have a family member they have bonded closely with, although they may treat other members of the family less affectionately. Without everyone in the household being involved in consistent and firm training the Basenji will quickly learn who he or she has to pay attention to and who can be ignored. Consistent training with immediate positive reinforcement is necessary to help these dogs stay tuned in to obedience work.
One major consideration for families with small children, especially kids that are not yet able to clearly understand how to interact with the dog, is whether it is better to wait a few years before introducing a Basenji puppy or dog to the family. While typically very good with older children the Basenji doesn't generally enjoy the attentions of very young children and toddlers. They have a low tolerance for teasing or rough handling, which younger children may not even realize they are doing. The temperament of the dog is such that they will growl, nip or snarl if they feel cornered or threatened or have simply had enough of whatever the child is doing.
Parents that work with their children and provide supervision and training for the kids can help a great love and bond develop between the children and the Basenji. Once the children and dog learn how to play and interact, the relationship will be wonderful. Keep in mind that kids will need to learn how to work with the dog in obedience type activities, especially if they are going to be taking the dog out in public areas. In addition other children visiting the home need to be supervised when interacting with the Basenji, especially if they are not familiar with dogs.
The Basenji is a natural sight hound and has a very high prey drive compared to the vast majority of dogs. This means that they are always on the watch for something to chase, which can include joggers, bicyclists and even vehicles. A great number of Basenjis are killed each year by vehicles either because they ran out after something they were chasing or because they were hit while chasing a vehicle. They need to be always kept on a leash when outside of the fenced yard to prevent this type of tragedy from occurring. The Basenji may be very well trained to heel off leash but the temptation of a bird, squirrel or neighborhood cat on the run is usually much more powerful than the owners command to stay.
Despite all the natural hunting instincts, the Basenji dog is very playful and full of fun. They love to be the center of attention and quickly learn what tricks, sounds and activities really please the owners. They are a wonderful companion dog for many different types of families and their more independent nature means they are often comfortable and content to stay at home while the family is at work or school. Some Basenjis may have separation anxiety problems with changes in routines or schedules, and others may be prone to chewing when left alone. For these types of dogs obedience training, lots of exercise and create training can be very helpful.
Basenji dogs are really a unique breed within the hound group. While they are not the breed for everyone, those that have Basenjis rarely choose to have another breed. Knowing the traits and temperament of the Basenji is important before making the decision if this is the right type of dog for you and your family.