The Basenji is a hunting dog originating in Africa, and people there hunt with them to this day. Basenji aficionados describe their dogs as “nature’s masterpiece” because of their striking appearance, hunting prowess, desire for companionship, and relative quietness.
The Basenji’s best-known trait is that she does not bark; early literature on the breed describes her as the “African barkless dog.” She is not, however, without vocal cords. instead of a bark, the Basenji produces a number of distinctive sounds that have been described as yodeling, crowing and chortling. She can also issue a warning growl. Wailing when unhappy is another part of her vocal repertoire.
Although kennel clubs classify the Basenji as a sight hound, she in fact uses both her eyes and ears when hunting.
Paleontologists have scientific reasons to suggest that the Basenji is a descendent of the earliest known dogs. In isolated Africa, she lived and thrived for thousands of years and was not known to Europe until about 1895. As a result, today’s Basenji is, so far, relatively unchanged by the human impulse to cross-breed dogs. Her size, shape, colors, coat texture, and temperament all are much the same as they have been for thousands of years.
Attempts to bring the breed to England failed until around 1937, when successful breeding stock was finally established there. The Basenji arrived in America shortly thereafter. The American Kennel Club formally accepted the breed in 1943.
Male Basenjis stand about 17 inches from the ground to the top of the shoulder. The female is about an inch shorter. Ideal weights are 24 pounds for the male and 22 for the female.
Basenjis have a trim, proud stance, pointed ears, and a tightly curled tail. Color combinations can include golden brown; black and white; red; tri-color (black, tan and white); and brindle. A Basenji’s feet, chest, and belly, as well as the tip of her tail, all are generally white.
Like many breeds, a Basenji develops a protective bond with a person or family. A rehomed adult Basenji will form this same attachment to her new owner or family and become a wonderful companion. She is excellent at alerting her people to intruders or other trouble in or around the home, although her lack of a bark means strangers are unlikely to know there’s a dog in the house.
Although Basenjis don’t rank high on some assessments of dog intelligence, their owners almost universally report that their dogs are scary-smart and even inventive. Obedience training (using positive reinforcement) is a must, as curiosity and mischief are other prominent Basenji traits. Anything you don’t want chewed or stolen, particularly garbage and clothing, should be kept out of your dog’s reach. Provide plenty of balls and other chew toys to keep them amused. Adequate daily exercise is another important means of keeping the thieving impulse under control.
Because of their hunting instincts, high intelligence, and energy level, Basenjis enjoy and do well at lure coursing (chasing a mechanically operated lure) and agility events. Such events are organized regionally; do a web search for opportunities in your area.
Basenjis can be counted on to chase cats and small game. They need to be kept on a leash whenever they’re in an unsecured area.
The Basenji has a greater-than-average tendency to develop certain diseases. Among these are are Fanconi Syndrome, a kidney problem sometimes misdiagnosed as diabetes; progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), a retinal disorder that leads to vision loss; IPSID, a lymphoma of the small intestine; hypothyroidism; and hip dysplasia. A healthy Basenji can live from 12 to 16 years. To learn more about diseases associated with the breed, consult your veterinarian.
The Basenji is positively catlike in her commitment to good grooming. She will regularly lick herself clean and is especially concerned with her feet. This self-grooming tendency means the Basenji requires less frequent bathing than many dogs. She loves a soft daily brushing, and this extra attention makes her coat gleam in the sunlight. An occasional rubdown with a towel will also delight her.
The Basenji Club of America offers to match potential owners with Basenjis who need a new home. Go to their website (https://basenji.org/joomla/) and click on About Basenjis/Rescue Information. Websites are often reorganized, of course, so if this method doesn’t work, click on the Contacts page or link to find the person or page that can help you.