Basenjis: An Athlete’s Best Friend

Basenjis might be pint-sized but make no mistake; these little guys need a lot of exercise! Learn about this breed’s activity needs here.

Dec 9, 2023By Michael C., BA Fisheries and Wildlife
basenjis athletes best friend

The Basenji is known for being a bundle of energy, stemming from their roots as a hunting dog. As this breed still sports its innate traits, Basenji owners need to accommodate those needs. Read on to learn about a few great ways to exercise your Basenjis!

Basenjis Are Ancient, Active Dog Breeds

basenji running through a field
Image credit: Alektas/Pixabay

The Basenji hails from the savannas and rainforests of Central Africa, where this breed was developed thousands of years ago. In fact, it is perhaps the oldest surviving dog breed on the planet, with only the dingo being even older. Basenjis were mainly used to assist in pursuing game, such as gazelles and wild pigs. Though not the fastest breed, Basenjis have a lot of endurance, with their stamina being above average for a dog. The dogs would chase the animals into nets, which the hunters would then capture and kill the prey right afterward. In Kenya, they were even used to lure out lions.

The high energy and nature of these dogs are a holdback trait from their days as hunting dogs in Africa (though they’re still used today by a few Indigenous tribes). As a responsible Basenji owner, it is of the utmost importance that this breed gets around two to three hours of exercise a day.

red and white basenji jpg
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

If not allowed to burn off all their energy, a bored Basenji will be highly prone to all sorts of common behavioral problems, ranging from mischief to destructive behaviors. It is also important to know that Basenjis have a high prey drive, also a trait of a hunting dog.

Lure Coursing: a Basenji’s Favorite Activity

basenji chasing a lure
Image credit: Basenji Club of Northern California

As Basenjis are hunting dogs by nature, they’ll often instinctively go after anything that runs. To allow them to channel this behavior out in a healthy way, lure coursing (and other breed-specific dog sports) is a great activity for many Basenjis to partake in. A dog chases a mechanized plastic lure around a large course. It stimulates the inner chase and pursuit of live prey, which is excellent for sighthounds such as Basenjis.

This activity can be competitive in that various dogs compete in trials. Judges will score the dogs in categories such as speed, agility, and endurance. In these competitions, most sighthound breeds are eligible to participate, including the Basenji. For those who prefer less competition, test runs are also available for owners who simply want to give their dogs an outlet to exercise and have fun.

basenji at dog show jpg
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

There are usually age restrictions for lure coursing. Dogs must be at least one year to participate, as younger individuals can be prone to injuring their developing joints due to sharp twists and turns. While some dog breeds may need some prior training or enticement to chase a lure, a Basenji’s natural instincts should overcome this need. After all, it’s in their nature!

Basenjis Love Agility Training

basenji leaping hurdle
Image credit: The Basenji Club of Southeastern Wisconsin

Another great activity your Basenji can partake in is agility training. In this fun sport, a dog will run through an obstacle course with your guidance and direction. The participating dog will run through a series of obstacles that range from tunnels and hurdles to weave poles and seesaws. This is perfect for a high-energy dog, especially the Basenji.

Dogs can compete in competitions, and some organizations or programs even have specific trials based on breed. For those who just want to participate in agility training for fun, trials are also available for dogs and their owners to practice without competing with others.

To start agility training with your dog, it is important to establish a proper training routine. Beginner courses exist for aspiring participants, which will focus on the basics of agility training. Both dogs and owners must familiarize themselves with the procedures, rules, and practice for competing in agility contests.

Practicing at home is also very important. Some obstacles used can be purchased for at-home training, along with treats and praise. Just spending 15-20 minutes practicing skills taught at home daily is crucial to success.

Take Your Basenji on Daily Walks

two basenjis walking on a leash
Image credit: fugzu/Flickr

Of course, there’s always walking your Basenji on a leash. After all, most dogs would enjoy a walk around the block. Walking allows your dog to exercise and explore its surroundings. The various sights and scents are enriching, and for an explorative breed like a Basenji, it’s more than just a walk. It is important to know that walking a Basenji has a few important notes to consider.

As mentioned earlier, the Basenji sports a strong, instinctual prey drive that must be considered. NEVER walk a Basenji off-leash, as even the most well-behaved Basenjis will not hesitate in fulfilling the urge to chase any object moving at high speed. This could be a nearby squirrel, a child, or even a speeding car.

A walking harness from a trusted brand is highly recommended, as Basenjis will chase after anything that moves. One popular product is the Easy Walk harness, created by PetSafe. Some owners also use martingale collars on their Basenjis. Whichever method you use, it is extremely important to ensure that harnesses or collars are properly worn and used to prevent injuries or escapes. Leash training is also a must, and this should be started early at puppyhood.

Basenjis Are Active, Agile Pups

basenji standing outside
Image credit: Niko Herlin/Wikimedia Commons

As mentioned earlier, the Basenji is an athletic, high-energy dog who would flourish and thrive happily in athletic environments. This dog is not for beginners, and it certainly isn’t for someone who’s a couch potato. This breed requires at least a few hours of routine exercise a day.

Before partaking in the sampler of activities mentioned, it is always important to ensure that your dog is in peak health. Even though the Basenji is a fairly hardy breed, it only takes a simple injury (like a cruciate ligament injury) to permanently impair your dog physically. Always consult a veterinarian regularly, and remember to give your companion breaks to not overexert them!

Michael C.
By Michael C.BA Fisheries and Wildlife

Michael holds a BS degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from Michigan State University. He formerly worked at a pet store as an animal care associate and is the former president of the MSU Herpetological Society. Michael currently owns three snakes (a corn snake, a Kenyan sand boa, and a checkered garter snake) and a leopard gecko. Interests include almost anything animal-related. Michael enjoys drawing, gaming, and having fun in his free time.