Basenji: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Basenji

 

Madjuszka / Getty Images

The Basenji is among the most distinct of all dog breeds, particularly since it's been identified via DNA to have descended from the gray wolf. This small, elegant dog is probably best known for its lack of barking. However, the breed will sometimes whine and make noises that resemble yodeling.

The Basenji, which was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1943, is a muscular dog but is also very lean and agile. This breed is quite intelligent, with a proud manner and curious nature, but can be hard to train to respond to commands. Many people consider the Basenji to be a cat-like dog.

Breed Overview

Group: Hound

Height: 16 to 17 inches

Weight: 20 to 25 pounds

Coat and Colors: Smooth, short coat in chestnut red, black, brindle, or tri-color (black and red); all have white feet, chest and tail tip; may have white legs, blaze, and collar.

Life Expectancy: 13 to 14 years


Characteristics of the Basenji

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

History of the Basenji

The Basenji has been identified by DNA studies to be one of the basal breeds of domestic dogs and a genetically divergent subspecies of the gray wolf. Basenjis were known in ancient Egypt, where likenesses of dogs with all of the traits of the Basenji are carved into stone on the tombs of the pharaohs. The breed was further developed as a highly skilled hunting dog in central Africa, where it became known as the Congo dog. The name of Basenji comes from languages of the Congo and means "village dog."

During the early-to-mid-20th century, Basenjis were brought to Europe and the United States where they were further developed and refined. To this day, the Basenji remains a skilled hunter and worker with an affectionate and loyal demeanor.

Basenjis show some differences from modern dog breeds, one of which is that females go into heat only once per year.

Basenji Care

The Basenji's smooth, short coat requires very little grooming. This breed actually cleans itself, kind of like a cat, but you can assist with brushing once a week. They rarely need a bath. The typical "dog odor" is not usually present in this breed and the fine hair isn't very noticeable when it is shed.

Additionally, the Basenji may be considered hypoallergenic, as it barely sheds at all. However, allergens are present in a dog's dander and saliva, so your reaction will depend on how sensitive you are.

You should trim the dog's nails to prevent breakage every week or two and maintain good oral health by brushing its teeth regularly to prevent problems with the gums and teeth.

Basenjis are known to be very loyal, affectionate, alert and active. They are best suited to homes where they can get adequate exercise, plenty of attention, and proper obedience training. The Basenji has an independent personality and sometimes has a mischievous nature and/or rebellious streak. Opinions on their intelligence differ as they may perfectly well understand commands, but choose not to follow them.

Basenjis are sighthounds and so they will pursue anything they see moving. This presents a challenge for keeping them in a yard, as they are adept at climbing over fences (no matter how tall) and escaping. You can bet that an underground electronic fence won't stop them. As a watchdog, they will alert you to any passersby although they will do it with their own forms of vocalization rather than bark.

This breed is known for chewing on anything they find loose around the house. They want to find out what things are and giving them a good mouthing is a common tactic. They are, however, easy to housebreak. The American Kennel Club says crate training is the best way to keep your house safe from your dog and to provide a haven.

Socialization is a must, especially if the dog is to be around children or other pets (particularly the smaller ones). They will usually be good around other dogs, but they will chase cats and small rodents that they don't recognize as part of their family.

Basenjis are usually reserved around new people, but they can warm up to repeat visitors. They are best for families with older children who can interact with them appropriately rather than young children who may not know the right way to treat a high-energy dog.

Training basenji
Photographs by Maria itina / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

  • Fanconi Syndrome: A disorder in which the kidney doesn't properly reabsorb electrolytes and nutrients.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): A group of degenerative diseases that affect the photoreceptor cells in the eyes, causing vision loss.
  • Hip Dysplasia: A condition in which the hip sockets form abnormally.

Diet and Nutrition

You should feed a Basenji two meals a day of up to a half a cup of dry dog food for each meal. The dog's needs will depend on its size, activity level, age, and other factors. It's good to provide two measured meals rather than having food out all day for free feeding. Monitor the dog's weight to ensure it isn't packing on any extra pounds as that will shorten its lifespan and predispose other conditions. Discuss nutritional needs with your veterinarian to get advice on feeding.

Pros

  • Loyal, affectionate, alert, and active
  • Doesn't bark
  • Barely sheds (hypoallergenic) and self-grooms

Cons

  • Heavy chewer
  • Being a sighthound will pursue anything it sees moving (may jump a fence to chase, won't be deterred by an electronic fence)
  • Not great for younger children who may not know how to interact with a high-energy dog

Where to Adopt or Buy a Basenji

The Basenji Club of America is the best place to start your search for a pup. The breeder referral section of their website lists breeders throughout the U.S. and Canada. The club's volunteer rescue coordinators may be able to help connect potential adopters to adoptable dogs, but you can also pursue local affiliated clubs to find rescues.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Because the Basenji is unique, it may or may not be the right fit for your home. Try to locate Basenji breeders and owners in your area so you can spend some time with the breed first. Also, consider using a Basenji rescue group to adopt one.

If you are interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons:

There is a wide variety of dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.