Sunday was an action-packed day. Even though we didn’t drive out to the other dog park where the monthly Basenji meetup happens, we ended up having a spontaneous run-in with two local B’s named Heidi and Jamie.
This was the initial greeting. You can’t tell from the photo, but Heidi’s hackles are up and she’s growling pretty intensely at Bowpi. Bowpi’s hackles go up when meeting new dogs, too, but she never assumes this kind of confrontational stance. Luckily, Bowpi has absolutely no desire to test anyone’s boundaries, and was willing to just trot aside.
Jamie the male also put up a little bit of snark at first, but after a short warmup, started to play bow. He’s much younger (about three years old), and has plenty of energy to burn!
I’m almost certain that we’ve run into one or both of these dogs a long time ago at this same park, some time before we found Bowpi. I vaguely remember their accompanying humans, but what had impressed me about that past encounter was how Bowdu reacted to the Basenjis, and how he actually seemed interested in bounding through the grass with them. He has very specific types of dogs that he gets along with, and most Basenjis seem to possess an energy that agrees with his personality. This is one reason why they were on our shortlist of breeds to consider when we were looking for a second dog.
But does the breed make a difference to the dog himself? Do dogs actually identify other dogs as one of their own?
I’ve met another Basenji owner who claimed that “Basenjis have very strong breed identification [that is, they recognize others of their own kind] — more so than most other breeds.” This same woman responded in the negative when I first saw her pair at the dog park and I approached, asking “Are your B’s good with other B’s?” Her brusque rejection surprised me at first, but she was very clear about it. I let her go off in one direction around the trail, while we walked the other way. After both our packs had some time alone, and we re-encountered each other around the middle of the trail, then she was more receptive to letting her B’s run up to Bowpi. Greetings were exchanged with no problem.
There’s yet another person with a pair of Basenjis (male and female). The first time I saw him, I kind of snuck up behind him to say hi. When he turned around and saw Bowpi, he gasped as if he had seen a dragon, and rushed to scoop up his female. Apparently, she does not do well with other female Basenjis at all, and he wasn’t going to risk even an accidental sniff. As he explained all this, his bitch kept glowering down and snarling at Bowpi from atop her human perch. His male was friendly enough, though!
And one final pair that comes to mind, a male and female pair of BRAT alums who are quite bonded to each other but not always so good with other Basenjis. Their person would only let one of them approach at a time to sniff Bowpi while he held the other one back. After a few rounds when it was apparent that they would all get along (and aided, in part, by Bowpi’s super calming powers!), only then did the man let both of his Basenjis loose to circle at whim. Otherwise, he feared that both of his B’s would feed off one another’s tension and overwhelm Bowpi. “You should be as calm as possible when you’re with a Basenji,” was his mode of operation and piece of advice. It was also why he preferred to avoid Basenji meetups.
All this is to say that I’ve since learned to contain my excitement when encountering other Basenjis, because not all of them care to appreciate the rarity of these sightings! I usually attempt to hail the other Basenji person first, and make sure that it’s okay before advancing. And if the other Basenji snarks, it doesn’t necessarily reflect badly on their temperament, or mean that they’re not suitably trained for the dog park, because they may do so only around other Basenjis, or only around other Basenjis of a specific gender.
And a lot of times, there is no snarking at all!
Nevertheless, this is one reason why breed-specific meetups aren’t for everyone… and that’s just fine. As giddy as it makes us humans to watch the same kind of dogs in the same space doing all the same kind of things, there’s no reason that the dogs themselves should derive any satisfaction from that. I doubt that Bowpi needs to confirm her “Basenji-ness” by gazing at and running about with a mirror equivalent. The thrill she derives from the moments where this does happen probably has more to do with being a dog than with her breed.
We’ve yet to test the waters with a large-scale Shiba meetup, though I think we’d have less fun there due to Bowdu’s intolerance of young, male Shibas (or most puppies, in general). He does seem to recognize other Shiba Inu and respond in kind. But aside from one notable exception in his younger years, the encounter has rarely amounted to much more than a nonchalant acknowledgment of sameness.
There may be thousands of other Shibas in the world, but there is only one Bowdu.