Basenji: Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Basenji standing in tall grass

 

Madjuszka / Getty Images

The basenji is a small hound dog breed from central Africa with a short, smooth coat that notoriously doesn’t shed or smell much. These dogs sport upright ears, almond-shaped eyes, a wrinkled forehead, and a tail that curls over their back. Overall, they have a square, athletic build. 

Basenjis are nicknamed the “barkless dog.” Instead of a typical canine bark, they make a yodel-like sound—among other vocalizations—due to the shape of their vocal cords. But even though they’re relatively quiet, they still require lots of exercise and mental stimulation. They do best with active owners. 

Breed Overview

Group: Hound

Height: 16 inches (female), 17 inches (male)

Weight: 22 pounds (female), 24 pounds (male)

Coat: Short, smooth

Coat Color: Black and white; black, tan, and white; brindle and white; or red and white with/without brindle markings

Life Span: 13 to 14 years

Temperament: Independent, intelligent, quiet

Hypoallergenic: Yes

Origin: Democratic Republic of the Congo

Characteristics of the Basenji

Basenjis are said to have a catlike personality. They can be fairly independent and aloof, especially around strangers, and tend to pick out favorite family members. They also will groom themselves like a cat. High energy and intelligence shape their personality, and they can become bored quickly.

Affection Level Medium
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level High
Trainability Low
Intelligence Medium
Tendency to Bark Low
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Basenji

The basenji is an ancient dog breed. In fact, some of the first domesticated dogs resembled the basenji. Its likeness appears on ancient Egyptian artifacts, as well as Babylonian and Mesopotamian artwork. 

These ancestors of the modern basenji survived as semi-feral dogs in remote locations of Africa for centuries. And thus the breed remained largely unchanged due to the lack of crossbreeding. People in and around what’s now the Democratic Republic of the Congo trained basenjis to be their hunting dogs. They prized these canines for their acute eyesight and sense of smell, intelligence, fearlessness, and athleticism. 

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that basenjis arrived in the United States, and breeding programs took off slowly. The American Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1944, but it still isn't common to see in North America.

Basenji Care

Fortunately, the basenji's grooming needs are minimal. But early and consistent training and socialization are important for a well-mannered dog. Plan to spend considerable time each day exercising your basenji.

Exercise

Basenjis should get at least a couple hours of exercise per day. When they don’t burn their high levels of mental and physical energy, they might engage in destructive behavior, such as unwanted chewing. Long walks, running, hiking, and exuberant play sessions all are ideal ways to exercise a basenji. Plus, they can excel in dog sports, including agility and tracking.

Always keep a basenji on a leash or in a securely fenced area when outside. These dogs have a high prey drive and can quickly run off chasing small animals and other perceived prey when given the chance. They also are adept at climbing fences—especially fencing in which they can get a foothold, such as chain link. So make sure your fence is high and solid enough to contain them.

Grooming

Brush your basenji’s coat weekly using a soft-bristle brush or grooming mitt to remove loose fur and distribute skin oils. This will help to keep the coat fairly clean. Basenjis generally don’t need frequent baths unless they become dirty. But check your dog’s ears at least weekly for dirt, wax buildup, and other abnormalities. In addition, check its nails monthly to see whether they need a trim. And aim to brush its teeth daily.

Training

Even though they are highly intelligent, basenjis can be stubborn when it comes to training. This is largely due to their independent personality and sometimes mischievous nature. They might perfectly understand commands but simply choose not to follow them.

Start training from an early age to help give your dog a well-mannered foundation and prevent bad habits from forming. Always use positive-reinforcement training, and be consistent in your commands; don’t let bad behavior slide. Also, keep training sessions short and varied, so your dog doesn’t lose interest. 

Furthermore, begin socializing your basenji from a young age. These dogs are usually reserved around strangers, but they can warm up with lots of positive experiences around people. They are moderately good with other dogs but might perceive any smaller household pets, including cats, as prey.

basenji high-fiving person

Maria Itina / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Overall, this is a healthy dog breed. But basenjis are still prone to some hereditary health issues, including:

basenjis as pets illustration

The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

Make sure fresh water is available to your dog at all times. Feed your basenji a quality canine diet with balanced nutrition. It’s typical to feed two measured meals per day, but always discuss both the type of food and the amount with your veterinarian. Your dog’s individual needs might vary depending on its age, size, activity level, and other factors. 

Where to Adopt or Buy a Basenji

Basenjis aren’t a very common breed, but it’s still worth checking animal shelters and rescue groups for a dog in need of a home. See whether you can get your name on a breed wait list if possible. For a puppy from a reputable breeder, expect to pay around $800 to $2,500.

For further information to help connect you with a basenji, check out:

Basenji Overview

Pros
  • Quiet

  • Low shedder

  • Good for active owners

Cons
  • High prey drive

  • Can be stubborn about training

  • Becomes bored and potentially destructive easily

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before bringing home a basenji, make sure to do thorough research to ensure that the breed is right for your lifestyle. Talk to basenji owners, rescue groups, veterinary professionals, and reputable breeders to learn more. Spend some time around basenjis, too, if possible.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are basenjis good family dogs?

    Well-trained and socialized basenjis are moderately good with kids. They are best for a household with respectful older children, as they might be too energetic and independent for young kids.

  • Are basenjis aggressive?

    Basenjis can be aloof around strangers. But as long as they have proper training and socialization, that doesn't typically translate into aggression.

  • Are basenjis good apartment dogs?

    The basenji's quiet nature and small size make it a good candidate for apartment living. However, it's essential that this dog gets out for enough exercise every day. And it's ideal for it to have access to a securely fenced area where it can run freely.

Watch Now: 12 Tiny Dogs That Make for Great Travel Buddies

Article Sources
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  1. Basenji. American Kennel Club.

  2. Basenji Puppies and Dogs. Adopt a Pet.