The Kenyan Shepherd, AKA Shenzi


There is no breed standard, and they are known by many different slang names, Pamwani Pointer, Roadside Specials, Pavement Specials, Little Brown Dogs, Indigenous Dogs and even the more creative Greater African Bush Dog. They are smart; they score very high in adaptive learning. The definition of which is to use a new behavior to their own advantage, for example, Kamau (my own feral born little brown dog) watched me open doors into the house from my office and decided it would be a skill best utilized to open the pantry door (where the biscuits were stored) Kamau also figured out how to drink from the water cooler in my kitchen. He was born in Karura forest, but after less than a week in my house he casually strolled by the cooler and put his nose on the cool water tap… appearing to think this was quite what dogs do while living in the house!
The dogs are usually medium size, many are exactly in the middle of the medium size range, with a fairly fine bone structure. Most are between 12- 20 kilos although I am starting to see some bigger versions. I suspect with the craze for dog breeding that some of the bigger breeds are getting mixed into the local dogs. In the original local dogs I suspect plenty of Rhodesian Ridgeback due to the coloring and ( many crazy ridge patterns) and a naughty, independent mindset. I also suspect Basenji as they are also an African breed, these dogs have high tails that curl up over their backs, they don’t really bark but yodel and they also have an independent nature and can be escape artists. The Basenji were also used for hunting game. Many of the local dogs can bark, but also have a range of vocalizations that sound like a yodel they make at times. It would be interesting to see if DNA would prove me right!
They can be stubborn; they oftentimes take quite a long time to extinguish a basic negative behavior, such as jumping. They can be mischievously naughty. When they know right from wrong they give you a look right before they choose the “wrong” choice. The looks says it all “ I know this isn’t allowed, but I am going to do it anyway, damn the consequences”
They are usually very watchful and can be good alert dogs if rewarded for barking and then told to be quiet once a person has checked what is triggering the alert or barking . Kamau woke me very insistently in the middle of the night by a bark then putting his paws on my bed and repeatedly poking me with his muzzle until I got up to find my landlords askari being attacked during a home invasion.

They can be resource guarders; oftentimes it takes many months or years of practicing handling the bowl at meal times, trading low value items such as sticks and then working your way up the dogs scale of goodies until you can take a high value item such as a rawhide or new bone. This would have been a survival mechanism as many of these wild born dogs had to protect their food source or they would starve to death!
They are oftentimes not very good at being handled (feet, nail clipping) seem to pose problems for these dogs more often then others. I don’t know if it’s due to lack of socialization and handling at an early age or due to many of these dogs being born feral . This can be overcome with gentle, polite counter conditioning and patience.

Many have low bite inhibition. When puppies nurse with those very sharp milk teeth, they learn to inhibit their bite, meaning not using too much pressure. If they are too rough, their Mothers reprimand them for it until they learn. I suspect many of these puppies are weaned very early because their mothers don’t have enough milk if they don’t have enough to eat. They can be rough with their mouth long past the teenage period, many seem to be easily frustrated and have to be taught to have some patience. Impolite body language by strangers (leaning over them, cornering, surrounding or patting them abruptly over the top of the head) can trigger a bite or a nip.
Having said all these things, they can be the most clever and loyal dogs of all! I would not trade my naughty Kamau for anything. He has been found curled up in bed with me when I have been sad, he makes me laugh on a daily basis while pulling his pranks. He will also groom me if given half a chance. He greets his favorite people with a great yodel. He frequently will hang out with me in the house, then go out for a sniff and a pee. Upon his return (about 7 minutes later) He gives me such a long exuberant yodel that I can’t help but feel flattered and have a good laugh at him.

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