The Basenji dog breed is not for everybody. Believe me, I know. I’ll get to some general Basenji information after I tell you a few stories about our Sunbeam.
In the months after we got our Basenji puppy, I had my moments of wondering what we had gotten into. Yes, she was barkless–we nicknamed her “Roo” because one of her vocalizations sounded like a rooster–but she was also a wild thing. She grew on me as the years went by.
Basenjis are small dogs, compact and muscular. But if our Sunbeam was true to the breed, and I think she was, they are less tame than all those nice breeds that wonder what they can do for you today. Sunbeam could pull like a tractor. You don’t want to know how many pieces that cute teddy bear in the bed with her was in within an hour of that picture being taken.
You know how most dogs are interested when you come home from the grocery store? Sunbeam was the only dog we’ve ever had who was curious about everything we brought into the house, including stuff from the hardware store. During her entire 10 years on this planet, we could never have a trash can on the floor because she would dig into it, shred the contents, and strew them around the house. Oh yeah, then there was the time she somehow pulled a plastic bag of white flour off the tall kitchen counter, took it into the living room, and shook the heck out of it. The room looked like it had snowed in there, but at least that mess vacuumed up easily!
Smart? You bet. We got her in the early days of the internet, actually before the web itself really existed. I was on a listserv with the motto “Where it takes 100 people to outsmart one Basenji.” Combine high intelligence with a “What’s in it for me?” attitude, and see what happens.
Lest I sound negative, let me say I don’t think I have ever known another dog–or a human–with a greater zest for life. Ah, what fun she had when she got loose while we were away and our housesitters couldn’t catch her for almost an hour. She never let them out of her sight, but they all ran through the woods near our house, playing keepaway. They finally caught her when she ran into a culvert under the street and each of the two humans got at one end. She knew the jig was up and gracefully let herself be leashed.
No, I wasn’t there but I can picture it so easily even though she didn’t get away from us much… We were very careful, after the time she was a puppy and slid away from us near a busy street during rush hour. That day, I had just taught her to come. I called “Sunbeam, COME!” and she did. Whew!
Dog training wasn’t hard with her, but she was more erratic about complying than other dogs we have had. She was the first dog I trained with completely positive methods, and she was a quick learner. In the first days we had her, I held a yummy treat over her head, she sat to keep looking at it, and I gave it to her. I did that about three times and for the rest of her life she had the sit.
Sunbeam has been gone now, for quite a few years, but I can’t write about the breed without laughing and coming close to tears. She died of cancer at 10… I had thought she would go on much longer than that. During the years we had her, I was often exasperated but if a Basenji walked up our driveway today and we couldn’t find its people, it would have a home with us. (But would I go out and choose another one? Umm…)
Basenji Breed Information
This is certainly one dog breed to do your homework on. And a great place to start is the website of the Basenji Club of America. It has lots of information and links. I just now had fun reading the history of the Basenji, an illustrated page that goes from prehistory through Egyptian art and on to the up-to-date present.
At the time we were considering getting Sunbeam, I did some research and read about how the Basenji is a member of the hound family. It is clean (true) and quiet (yes). I also read that it is docile and eager to please… which didn’t turn out to be true with Sunbeam. But another term I came across did fit: “A curious and insistent participant.” Okay, you’ve been warned! Or enticed!
I mentioned that Sunbeam could sound like a rooster. Their vocal cords are different from other dogs. Here is a short video done by Animal Planet that includes an example of the sound.
And here is a quick little slideshow video I made about about Sunbeam outsmarting our Australian Shepherd:
There is no dog like the Basenji!