Barkless but not silent, the mischievous Basenji is a con artist of the highest order and will challenge your intelligence and sense of humor.
Mischievous, smart, lively and by no means silent, the “barkless” Basenji is a hilarious handful. You must have a sense of humor to live with him. He’s catlike in his cleanliness and independence, and his wrinkled forehead makes him look worried, but what he’s really thinking about is how he can rearrange your home décor.
Out of Africa, the Basenji dog breed was originally found in the Congo. He uses both scent and sight to hunt and was originally used to flush small game into a hunter’s nets and to control village rodent populations. Clever and endearing, he’s a good companion for the person or family who can stay a step ahead of him.
The basenji is square-proportioned and high on leg. It is far more slightly built and longer-legged than most other primitive breeds, giving it a good amount of speed and the ability to perform the double-suspension gallop. Its erect ears help it locate prey in thick bush and may act as heat dissipaters. Its short coat also aids in dealing with the hot climate of Africa.
Some consider the basenji to have terrier-like mannerisms because it is feisty for a hound. More often it is considered catlike in mannerisms: clever, inquisitive, stubborn, independent and reserved. Its hunting roots are very evident, as it loves to chase and trail. It needs regular mental and physical stimulation, lest it become frustrated and destructive. Basenjis may be barkless, but they are not mute. They do make a sort of yodel, howl and shriek — and occasionally bark, but just one or two “fox barks” at a time.
AKC group: Hound
UKC group: Sighthound and Pariah
Average lifespan: 12-16 years
Coat appearance: Short, fine
Coloration: Chestnut red
Other identifiers: Medium build; muscular; self-grooming and odorless coat; coiled tail; wrinkled forehead; large pointed ears
Possible alterations: Can also be seen in pure black, tri-color or brindle.
- Basenjis normally do not bark, but they can be very noisy, making sounds that include yodels, whines, and screams.
- They are hard to train. Basenjis survived for thousand of years by being independent thinkers. They see no need to obey humans. Positive training can work to an extent, but they will pick and choose when to obey.
- Basenjis have a strong prey drive and cannot be trusted off leash unless in a well-fenced area.
- Basenjis are escape artists. They will use a chain link fence as a ladder, jump up and climb over a wood fence, or bolt out open doors.
- Basenjis have a great deal of energy. If not provided with outlets for this they will become destructive or find other ways to burn off energy. Crating is recommended when not supervised.
- Basenjis consider themselves family. They cannot be left in a yard with food and water. They require a great deal of time and attention.
- They do not do well in homes with other small pets, as their instinct to chase may take over. If raised with cats they can do well but they’re not recommended for homes with hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, guinea pigs, birds, or ferrets.
- Basenjis are stubborn, and you could end up with a confused and aggressive Basenji if you try to overcome his stubbornness with force.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
This is yet another of those breeds that supposedly dates to the Pharaohs, with no evidence supporting such a claim. The breeds that are said to be depicted on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs range from Dachshunds to Pharaoh Hounds. Dogs that superficially resembled the modern-day Basenji may certainly have existed for thousands of years, but the breed as we know it today has been around for just a little more than a century.
What is known is that Europeans found small, shorthaired hunting dogs in the remote forests of Central Africa—the Congo, as it was known then—as well as in Sudan and Zaire. Their job was to find prey and flush it so that it ran into cunningly laid nets. Edward C. Ash in his book Dogs:Their History and Development, quotes a priest, Father Jerom Merolla da Sorrento, who saw the dogs in the Congo in 1682: “These dogs, notwithstanding their wildness, do little or no damage to the inhabitants. They are red-haired, have small slender bodies and their tails turned upon their backs.”
Basenjis are generally healthy, but conditions that have been seen in the breed include Fanconi syndrome; immunoproliferative small intestinal disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease common to Basenjis; pyruvate kinase deficiency leading to hemolytic anemia; autoimmune thyroiditis; certain eye diseases, including persistent pupillary membrane, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and coloboma; and umbilical hernias. The Basenji Club of America, which is the American Kennel Club parent organization for the breed in the United States, recommends that breeding dogs should be cleared by a veterinary ophthalmologist of coloboma, persistent pupillary membrane and PRA; have a recent negative test for Fanconi syndrome; be tested clear for pyruvate kinase deficiency; and have OFA certification for hips.
Always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s eating or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
- The title character of the 1954 novel Good-bye, My Lady, by James H. Street, is a basenji. The book was made into a movie of the same name in 1956, with a cast that included Brandon deWilde, Walter Brennan, and Sidney Poitier.
- Veronica Anne Starbuck’s 2000 novel Heart of the Savannah features a basenji named Savannah. Savannah narrates this story about her adventures as an African-bred dog brought to America. Starbuck also wrote a sequel titled August Magic.
- Simon Cleveland wrote a novel titled The Basenji Revelation, published by Lulu Press in 2004, in which a government agent suffers amnesia and undergoes a change in personality after inheriting a basenji from his late mother.
- The true story of a basenji was featured in the episode The Cat Came Back on the radio program This American Life.
- According to the webcomic Achewood, if Jesus Christ were a dog, he’d be a basenji.
- Basenjis are featured in an episode of the animated television series The Wild Thornberrys In episode 3.04 “Tyler Tucker, I Presume?“. Nigel Thornberry encounters a group of tribesmen along with their Congolese hunting dogs. The series’ director, Mark Risley owns several basenjis, and his dogs provided the recorded “voices” for their animated counterparts.
- An episode of Pound Puppies, “The Pups Who Loved Me“, revolves around a basenji secret agent character by the name of Bondo. The dog is drawn with an appropriate likeness, but appears to bark, which is uncharacteristic of the breed.