Six "Commandments" for New Basenji Puppy Owners

By Karla Schreiber, J.D. (copyright 2002)

1.  Thou shalt not be lulled into acquiescence.  There is typically a "honey moon" period of a week or two (maybe longer) after a puppy goes to its new home.  The new home is a strange place. These are new people!  Many Basenji puppies will be on VERY good behavior -- until, that is, they settle in and start to feel at home…  Don't let down your guard and start to think, "Oh, the breeder was mistaken!  OUR puppy is a little angel!"  That is the precise moment when your puppy will prick up its ears, and make a "note on its calendar" to cause some sort of major household disaster. 

2.  Thou shalt not blame your puppy for your own sins.  This is a puppy.  A puppy is a DOG.  A dog is not a human - and does not THINK like one.  Your Basenji puppy may seem as intelligent as a human on occasion, but make no mistake, dogs are not people.  You can train your puppy to understand simple commands (and you should!), but in the last analysis, YOU are responsible for what your puppy does.  If you decide to leave your puppy uncrated, sleeping on the couch, for 20 minutes while you run to the store -- and return to find a puppy standing in a pile of "sofa fluff" who is to blame?  Did you expect your puppy to run to its crate, look up at you and say "Please crate me, Mom and Dad, cuz I'm REALLY not reliable when you're gone and my crate is the safest place for me?"  If you leave your tennis shoes within easy reach, and find one a.m. that your shoes no longer have tongues (ooops!), who is to blame?  Instead of expecting your puppy to resist temptation, PLAY IT SAFE and use a crate when you cannot supervise your puppy!  If and when your pup does something "bad" ask YOURSELF "how could I have prevented this?"  Your puppy cannot ask itself that question - so it really is up to you! 

3.  Thou shalt not underestimate the energy of youth.  Basenji puppies typically have energy to spare.  Please be prepared for this.  Inevitably, at some point during the first few weeks, you will come through your door at night VERY tired, very hungry, perhaps with a stack of papers that need to be reviewed -- and you will be greeted by a puppy who has spent the better part of that day WAITING FOR YOU.   Part of being a good owner is attending to both your dog's physical and emotional needs.  Your puppy will need to burn off steam - and your puppy has no way of knowing that you're tired.  Just like a human baby, your puppy relies on you to meet all of its needs.  The price that will be extracted for failing to heed your puppy's needs for exercise and attention will be an array of destructive and/or neurotic behaviors.  Give your puppy what it needs -- plenty of exercise and plenty of your own time and attention.  You will be repaid with your puppy's unflagging affection - and in time (these things take time with Basenjis since as a breed, they do not typically wear their hearts on their sleeves!) - with its loyalty and devotion. 

4.  Thou shalt not forget to socialize.   Hopefully your breeder has made an effort, during the 8+ weeks prior to your pup's homecoming, to ensure that your pup has been exposed to typical household sights, sounds and smells -- and to a whole host of humans of every shape and size (and maybe even some other household pets).  But when your pup comes through your front door, socialization can't stop.  It is your job to continue to expose your puppy to new humans of all ages, new animals, new environments, etc. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy with respect to Basenjis:  The MORE you do, the better socialized your puppy will be in the long haul.  If you want a Basenji who is at the very least "tolerant" in a wide variety of situations, do not shirk socialization. To some extent, your Basenji's socialization process should never STOP -- even well into its adult years.  The more you do in terms of socialization (exposing your Basenji to new people, places, pets, etc.), the less STRESSED your Basenji will be throughout its lifetime.  Socialization gives your puppy the tools it needs to cope with modern life.  Don't deny your puppy this "gift" -- the "gift" of GOOD experiences with new people, pets and places. 

5.  Thou shalt have compassion, understanding and an excellent sense of humor!  Your puppy is not a human baby - but LIKE a human baby, your puppy will look to you for everything:  food, water, shelter, exercise, socialization, and affection.  Although it is "only human" to become frustrated, or even angry, when a puppy does something you don't like, please remember that YOU are the one with "the big brain" and the ability to reason.  Temper your reactions to stressful situations with compassion.  Look for humor in that situation if you can.  Imagine the fun you will have telling your co-workers how one of your more "unmentionable" articles of clothing made an unexpected appearance (courtesy of your puppy) at your formal Christmas Eve dinner party!  At the time - a bit shocking and unnerving.  In hindsight?  Hilarious!  Try to deescalate conflicts rather than force them.  It is possible to teach without harshness, and to express displeasure without creating fear.  Your puppy will accept fair and just correction from you  - but harsh physical corrections are never the answer.”   If your puppy does something that infuriates you, put the puppy in its crate until you've had time to calm down and assess the situation.  Call your breeder and ask for help - chances are they've "been there and done that" and can give you very good advice!  It is always better to do NOTHING than to act in anger.  Acting in anger will only jeopardize your puppy's ability to trust you -- and may permanently damage your relationship.  Basenjis, as a breed, tend not to forgive and forget when it comes to unjust treatment. 

6.  Thou shalt not be too proud to ask for HELP!   Your breeder should be a critical resource if/when you run into a problem with your puppy -- whether the problem relates to health, training, or behavior.  There are no "stupid" questions.  If an issue is bothering you, it is worth asking about.  Tape your breeder's phone number onto your fridge, or enter it in your speed-dial.  Store your breeder's email address in you address book.  Do not struggle along for days or weeks without help, when help is as close as your telephone or keyboard!  Your breeder can bring many years (hopefully!) of experience to bear on the problem(s) you're having.  If you breeder doesn't know the answer to your question, your breeder should know someone who does…  When you purchase a Basenji puppy from a reputable breeder, one of the many "extras" you receive is the ability to use your breeder as a consultant!  While it is fine to do your own reading and research, don't forget to use those "free consulting services" and seek your breeder's opinion!