Fighting over the kill

What's a Basenji?

The Stahl Basenjis

The dogs pictured above are the Stahl Basenjis, Lena and Dreamer.  That object between them is an unfortunate woodchuck that happened into their backyard. It is virtually impossible to teach this breed not to prey on small furry animals and birds. Being natural hunters, their instincts are too strong. The Basenji hunts by both sight and scent and is often referred to as the barkless dog from Africa. Actually, Basenjis emit a wide variety of sounds and can emulate a dog's bark.  Our female, Lena is capable of a kind of bark.  When the Basenji is happy, it yodels and sometimes makes a low growl.   Our male, Dreamer growls and yodels.  Our neighbors love them because they do not yip and bark all day long.  But put our male, Dreamer, alone without his companion and fearless leader, Lena, and he can make very loud disturbing noises. There are many stories of basenji owners coming home to find police officers or paramedics trying to get into the house, thinking there was a person dying in the house. Nope, merely an upset basenji making it's presence known!

How we became owned by Basenjis!

In 1995 we decided to get a dog.  We looked through a book of different dog breeds and were attracted to the looks of the basenji. It is a small, lightly built, short backed dog, giving the impression of being high on the leg compared to its length. Females (ideal) 16" at the shoulder 22lbs; males 17" at the shoulder 24lbs. Wrinkles should appear on the forehead and cheeks. Basenjis are built for speed.   Elegant and graceful, the whole demeanor is one of poise and inquiring alertness.  Watching a basenji walk is the same as experiencing a thoroughbred race horse at full trot.  Pertaining to racing, they can run with the likes of Greyhounds.  The tail is set on top and curled tightly over to either side. The coat is short and silky with pliant skin. There are four standard colors for Basenjis--chestnut red, black, black and tan, and brindle. All colors must have white feet, chest, and tail tip. white legs, white blaze, and white collar optional.  It's characteristics were described as intelligent and affectionate.  Lena and Dreamer

A veterinarian gave us a list of breeders.  I called the closest one on the list, Susan Coe, who happens to be the author of the book, "The Basenji, Out of Africa".  She described them as having a challenging behavior.  Sort of like living with a teenager.  I decided I didn't want one.   Some time past and again we looked at the alluring picture in the book.  I called another person on the breeder list, Iris Craven.  Iris invited us to come to a "fun match" on the Memorial Day weekend to see them.  There were about 65 Basenjis in attendance that day.  Their was a rather large man sitting next to me who had a cute little red and white female.  She wanted to take a nap.  She assessed her choices.  Her owner's belly filled his lap so that was not an option.  She obviously didn't want to lie on the cold concrete floor, so without warning she jumped into my lap and made herself comfortable. We were hooked. 

Lena and Dreamer asleep We subscribed to "The Basenji" (a monthly newsletter published by Susan Coe) and also purchased several years of back issues.  In the next several months, we read everything we could about Basenjis.  We learned that this dog is an "independent thinker" that will not permit it to be a totally "obedient" dog. If presented with an illogical situation, the Basenji instinctively decides what is best. This extreme independence and fearless attitude is a challenge most owners find difficult to understand. We were told that if we could not deal with total independence, the Basenji breed is not for you. You can expect this breed to be obedient to a point. At will, they may obey you if you have earned their respect.  However, you will alter the temperament of the dog if you try to correct this trait of the breed by any type of cruel physical punishment. There is a fine line between cruel physical punishment and a strict hand and many differing opinions on this subject. Cruel physical punishment will only lead to the dog no longer trusting you. Having this independent thinking ability is just a characteristic of the breed that must be accepted and understood. Expecting complete obedience from an independent thinker is rather absurd. (You could relate this to raising a teenager.)  Knowing this, we still decided we were ready for one.  We wanted a red and white one.

Basenji bitches usually only come in season once a year instead of twice like other breeds.  Most litters are born in the fall and winter.   Finding a spring litter was difficult.  In August we found a 4 month old red and white female available from Bill McCann and Andrew Sawler.  There were several long phone conversations with Andrew, then we made the trip to Boston.  We wanted Lena immediately.  Andrew had pretty much "qualified" us on the phone as responsible people who understood the Basenjis.  There was another family at his home that day who were interested in Lena's tri-colored sister, Jane.  After watching them with Jane and answering their questions, he told the women that she really should have a different breed of dog.  After they left, he told us she really needed a stuffed toy dog, not a real one!  We were impressed that he was not interested in "selling" his pups, but wanted them to go to responsible families where they would have a good home.  Since that time we have had experience with other Basenji breeders and find that they have the same attitude.  In fact, they will "buy back" a dog from the purchaser even if it is a year or more down the road.

At first we crated Lena at night and during the day we brought her to the office with us where she stayed in a confined area.  We took her along to the Performance Racing Industry trade show that fall and smuggled her into the show.  She stayed in a fenced in area in our booth that was hidden from the aisle.   Of course, we got her out frequently and showed her off.  That night in our hotel room she did not want to be in the crate.  So we gave in and let her into our bed.  That is where she has slept ever since.  For those of you who are now turning up your noses, let me say that a Basenji does not smell like a dog.  In fact, a Basenji does not have any odor.  They groom themselves like cats do and I don't understand it but you can put your nose right into their coats and you do not smell them.  Also they shed very very little.     Jere and the kids

The following year we took her to the "fun match".  She was just a year old so qualified to be shown in the puppy class.  A breeder from Maryland, Delores Harmon, helped us to show her.  Delores was also showing her own 5 month old male pup, Dreamer, that day.  While she was showing our female, Lena, I held Dreamer.  He cuddled up in my lap as if he belonged there.  Yep, you guessed it.  We wanted him.  However, Deloras said that he was her next champion and she was not interested in selling him.  We told her if she changed her mind to call us.  Several months later, we got the call.  By the way, Dreamer won Best of Show that day and our Lena won Best of Opposite!

Judy with Lena and Dreamer Dreamer and Lena were buddies right from the start but it is clear that Lena is the alpha.  Lena conforms to the "specs" you read above and weighs in at about 22 pounds.  However, Dreamer is taller and heavier and weighs in at 32 pounds.  He is proportioned properly, he is just big!  But he is so loveable.  He has to be touching his people all of the time.  Lena is more independent.  She will come up on your lap when she wants to (usually close to bedtime) not when you want her to.  Dreamer always wants to be held and touched.  In the picture to the left, Lena perches on the back of the chair like a cat.  Dreamer sits where he can be touched and loved.

Since Dreamer was 7 months old when we got him, we didn't even try to keep him in the crate.  He joined us in our bed at night and started coming to work with us during the day.  The small confined area we had for Lena had long since disappeared and they had run of several offices.  Did we have problems?   Occasionally they would chew up something but we found if we had lots of things available they could chew and play with, they left our things alone.  We purchased stuffed toys at yard sales and if they destroyed them, so what!  What they looked forward to each day was being taken out back of our shop on 20' retractable leases where they could chase bunnies and investigate the many woodchuck holes.  One day they cornered a young woodchuck and with a quick bite to the back of it's neck it was dead.   Since then they have killed other woodchucks at the shop and in our backyard they have caught several rabbits and one woodchuck shown in the picture above.  Their hunting instinct is incredible.  They work as a team when hunting with one dog coming from one side and the other circling around to the other. 

Basenjis in Africa In their native habitat (Zaire/Congo), the African hunter used a hunting style different from what normally is associated with training dogs to hunt. Usually the hunter plays an integral part in the hunt or at least the kill. But the method used by these hunters made the hunt solely the dog's responsibility. The dog hunts and the hunter must make it to the kill before the dog devours it. For the Basenjis to survive in the jungle, they had only their wit to outsmart whatever situation presented itself, usually life or death in the form of a much larger jungle animal.

Some Basenjis have been known to be escape artists and cannot be left unattended even in a fenced yard or any enclosed area. They can climb fences and trees.  However ours have never attempted to climb our  6 foot chain-link fence with privacy strips.  We have a doggy door in the kitchen which allows them to come and go from the house as they wish.  They lie on the bed upstairs and watch out the window into their back yard.  If anything moves, they are off the bed, down the stairs and out that doggie door quicker than you can turn around.   During the spring, summer, and fall, they stay home all day and as long as we are home before 7 p.m. we almost never have any destruction in the house.  Yes there have been times when the trash cans have been emptied or something was too close to the edge of the counter in the kitchen, etc.  But we have Basenji proofed most of those things now.  We tried about 5 different types of kitchen trash cans before we found a Basenji proof one.  It seems to be after 7 p.m. that the boredom sets in and the "Basenji devil" comes out and they hunt ways to get into trouble.  It's almost like they are punishing us for not coming home on time.   When winter comes, we bring them to the office some days just to give them a change of pace.   They are very intelligent and get bored being at home alone.

Our Basenjis are better than having children.  You have a responsibility to train your child for adult life.  Basenjis you can just enjoy.  They start each day with their morning walk (rain or shine), followed by brushing and breakfast.  They end the day with an evening walk.  (We never have to clean up dog doo in our back yard as they always save it for the walks.)   Jere is usually the one who does the walks and credits our Basenjis with forcing him to walk which has improved his own health.  By the way, Basenjis hate getting wet and will hold off going out in the rain for an incredible long period of time.  When it is raining we always have to take them out on leashes with raincoats on or they just won't go off the back porch.  However, they have never (other than the extremely few times as puppies) done anything in our house.

Jere with Lena and Dreamer We had some digestive problems with our female not long after we got her.  She developed mucus & blood in her stools and did not want to eat.  We tried numerous brands of "good" dog food and several vets who gave us bad advice.  We are both health food nuts and decided to treat her as if she were people.  We added digestive enzymes and vitamins to her food and treated her as you would a person with malabsorption and she improved.  We learned of a "natural" diet in a copy of "The Basenji".  We stared her on this diet and saw a big improvement.  We improvised on that diet and came up with one that is to her liking.  Recently we began giving her a few drops of aloe vera in a little water on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.  Again a big big improvement in her appetite.  She now eats the same quantity of food that our male eats.  The recipe is time consuming for us, but nothing is too good for our "Kids."  No matter what kind of dog you own, it will benefit if you feed him this recipe or one close to it.  It allows them to get the LIVE enzymes they need.  If you are interested in the recipe, e-mail us and I will send it to you.

Basenjis are extremely intelligent dogs. A recent book concerning dog intelligence placed the basenji near the bottom of the list. Anyone who knows basenjis, knows that this is false. The listing was based on how easily different breeds can be trained and how well they obey commands. Basenjis can be trained {make that must}, but if they find something of greater interest to them, they may ignore the command and continue on their way. Being that Basenjis are direct descendants of the first dogs, and that dogs of their type are still found in the wild world, it is doubtful that they could survive thousands of years and not be intelligent.  They also tend to question the why of things - most basenjis don't fetch thrown objects, instead they fix the thrower with a gaze that seems to say, "You want it back? You were stupid enough to throw it, you go get it."   Our two will play fetch for about 1 or 2 minutes with a stuffed toy, never a ball.  Then they tire of the game.   Remember, if you purchase a Basenji, you never own them, they own you!

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