The Barkless African Basenji: More Human Than Humans

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As an owner, I found the Basenji a smart, neat, intelligent, companion, medium in size, with short hair. They come in 3 varieties; tan and white, tri-colored, and brindle. I have had many dogs but none were as unique as Lefty and Yoko. They both thought “outside the bowl”.

I am proud to say I survived two basenjis, lived to talk about it, and feel I have come away with a different view of life. They trained me well and I learned a lot from my dogs.

The Egyptians kept these dogs as pets (or vice versa) and attributed them with godlike powers. The breed appears in hieroglyphics inside the pyramids but I’m not sure if the inscription is a picture of the dog chasing a car or driving one. Boasting a staggering IQ in the upper 30’s, make no mistake, with the brain power equal to 50 turtles, a basenji will outsmart the best of us. Ask any Pharaoh. They’re clever, cunning, and they cheat. The trick is to not take this personally, get over it and move on. If you dismiss the past or future and concentrate on the here and now, you’ll get along fine.

Don’t underestimate this clever hound and try to forget most of what you’ve learned about dogs in the past. This is a horse of a different color. As a puppy, I had to hold Lefty up so our noses were nearly touching and then stare him down. Daily, you have to stare, glare even, until your basenji averts his or her eyes and knows who the boss is. This is very important and you can wind up on the wrong end of the leash if you don’t take heed.

Basenjis have jackal in their family tree which can give them a cunning you won’t find in a Beagle or a Lab. Like wolves, they mate once a year, and like elephants, they never forget. There’s never any need to go beyond a stern reprimanding when you find the dog standing on the kitchen table as if it’s a sunny day in May because once the rules are known it’s unlikely this will happen again. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Most people say they’re as clean as cats but after owning two Basenjis and a cat, I have to insist they’re actually cleaner than cats. Your hands will have no odor after you’ve been playing with a Basenji. They shed briefly during the spring as warm weather arrives but this is usually just a two-day annual event.

Although they do have vocal cords, as evidenced when a tail might get caught in the door, they choose to remain silent. Coming from Africa, their silence may have something to do with their survival because in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion doesn’t really sleep at night.

They have a few quirks, one of which is their intolerance to cold. A Basenji will automatically gravitate to the warmest part of the house which can be a basket of warm folded laundry or the hollow of your neck. My Basenjis were very affectionate pets who seemingly did not require air once they settled under the covers with me.

Truth be known, they make lousy watchdogs and might even hold the flashlight for the burglar if there’s something in it for them. I found them to be exemplary hunters, however, and any squirrel or rabbit that wanders into the yard is fair game. They’re the fastest dog in the world and have the gait of a horse. In fact, they can turn off the light and jump in bed before the room gets dark.

Lefty was a man of few words but Yoko had a lot to say. Just because they’re barkless doesn’t mean they’re mute. Yoko’s ear-piercing yodel could stop traffic when the wind was right.

They do bolt when given the chance, unfortunately. Catching one would be like jumping in the ocean and catching a bluefish with your bare hands. Go back inside and get something tastey. Personally, I wouldn’t consider getting a another Basenji unless I had a fenced in yard and a good butterfly net.

Although easy to housebreak, they become bored with routine tricks so unless you bribe them with chicken or something equally tempting, they avoid such things as “sit”, “rollover” or “fetch”, although Lefty did deign to jump through a hoop.

In most cases, the female dog is more sedate than the male, but this is reversed with the Basenji. They both have a sense of humor and live by the philosophy, ‘finders keepers, losers, weepers’.

Once you find a suitable dog food, stick with it, as Basenjis are finicky self-feeders who get diarrhea if you deviate from their normal diet. Feeding a Basenji popcorn can cause projectile diarrhea so unless you want to create an international event, I’d discourage this practice.

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