Basenji Dog: Discovering the Unique Traits of this African Hunting Breed

Unlocking the characteristics of this fascinating primitive dog breed

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By Alex

The Basenji, originating from Central Africa, is a distinctive hunting dog breed. Renowned for its small stature, short coat, curled tail, and peculiar yodel-like bark instead of a conventional one, the Basenji possesses unique characteristics. Notably independent, with grooming habits reminiscent of cats, these dogs exhibit intelligence and curiosity, although they may display aloofness towards unfamiliar individuals.

This dog breed, as its second name suggests, originates from the Congo and is still one of the most widespread breeds in Africa today, where it is bred as a hunting or guard dog.

It’s not a very well-known breed worldwide, and its distribution outside the original area is truly limited. It is classified within the spitz and primitive dog types; let’s get to know its origins and all its characteristics better.

History of Basenji dog

The history of the Basenji dates back in time. Legend has it that this dog was actually used by the Pygmies in Africa to fight against lions, which is quite improbable. More often, it was employed as a sort of amulet to ward off evil spirits in the house.

It seems that the Egyptians fell in love with it, and indeed, they began to consider it a sacred animal, a protector on the long journey to the afterlife. It’s no coincidence that the tombs of the pharaohs are rich in hieroglyphs depicting its image.

It was the English who retrieved this breed in the 1800s in the areas between Sudan and Congo; here, it was mostly used as a hunting dog, being very skilled at tracking prey. It arrived in Europe very late, only in 1937.

Credit goes to an English breeder, Veronica Tudor Williams. The breed is now among the purest existing, having been for many years in regions entirely isolated.

Basenji: Appearance and Size

The Basenji is a small-sized dog: they are lightweight, weighing approximately 10-12 kg / 22-26 pounds (even less in females) and are no taller than 40-43 cm / 16-17 inches. Around the eyes, which are dark in color, there are very prominent wrinkles, a distinctive trait of the breed.

The ears are small and always erect, while the muzzle is pointed with a black nose. The tail is curled over its back. The coat is reddish, blond, or black and presents extensive white markings.

Since 2000, the brindle coat variation has also been introduced. The fur is short and rough to the touch. The Basenji is a dog that does not shed much.

Basenji dog
A Basenji dog with its typical curled tail

Basenji Dog: Temperament

Basenjis love company very much, they can live well indoors and with children. However, they do not tolerate loneliness and could retaliate if left alone for too long.

This is a dog that needs to keep everything under control, which leads it to always choose high chairs and armchairs from which it can observe the entire context. It takes every opportunity to play and move.

It requires continuous stimuli and reacts poorly to boredom. Our first book on dogs, many years ago, described life with the Basenji as “life with a perpetual two-year-old, with a high IQ”.

It’s also quite courageous, often pushing beyond its limits and not considering its real capabilities. Its proud and confident demeanor makes it a good guard dog. Be careful not to be too permissive with it, as it could take over and stop obeying. In fact, it’s one of the most stubborn and obstinate dog breeds.

Basenji Dog: The Barkless Dog

It’s really rare to hear this breed of dogs bark; instead, they are known to emit unique whines and high-pitched sounds.

This is the most distinctive characteristic of the Basenji that stands out the most. It derives from some particular physiological traits, a conformation more unique than rare among dogs of the laryngeal ventricle.

EXPLORE: Which dogs don’t bark?

Other Distinctive Features

Another distinctive feature of the Basenji breed, tying it to primitive dog breeds, is its annual heat cycle, contrasting with the typical biannual cycle of most dog breeds.

basenji puppies
Adorable Basenji puppies with two different coat colors

Basenji breeding and care

A Basenji requires minimal care and attention, as it grooms itself and its coat independently, akin to cats. It has an adaptable diet and, when well-maintained, can live for 10-12 years, although it may be prone to diseases associated with inbreeding.

The main precaution is to provide ample space for the Basenji to exercise and play. It dislikes rainy weather and may need suitable shelter if kept outdoors in a garden, as it cannot tolerate cold temperatures due to its African heritage.

When selecting a Basenji, ensure the breeder adheres to standards and possesses the necessary certifications. Confirm the dog’s pedigree, health records including vaccinations, and microchip. Puppies should be at least 2 months old.

The price of acquiring a Basenji is notably high, between 2,000 and 3,000 dollars, reflecting their rarity, which elevates their value.

Basenji Dog in Summary

Renowned for their short coat, curled tail, and distinctive wrinkles, Basenjis are highly intelligent and independent dogs. They are notable for their unique vocalizations, emitting whines and high-pitched sounds instead of barking, making them a “barkless” breed.

Basenjis also have an annual heat cycle, unlike most other dog breeds. With minimal grooming needs and an adaptable diet, they thrive on companionship but may display aloofness towards strangers. Basenjis require ample space for exercise and dislike cold weather and rain due to their African heritage.

Here is a recap table:

Trait Description
Origin Central Africa, Congo
Size Small-sized: 10-12 kg / 22-26 pounds, 40-43 cm / 16-17 inches
Appearance Short coat, curled tail, prominent wrinkles around eyes
Temperament Independent, intelligent, curious, may display aloofness; loves company, dislikes loneliness
Vocalization Barkless breed, emits whines and high-pitched sounds
Heat Cycle Annual cycle, unlike typical biannual cycle of most dog breeds
Care Minimal grooming, adaptable diet, requires ample space for exercise, dislikes rainy weather and cold temperatures
Exercise needs Requires daily exercise
Lifespan Average lifespan of 12 to 13 years with proper care
Price High cost: between 2,000 and 3,000 dollars


Are there similar dogs?

Basenjis are frankly unique for their distinctive behavior and ability not to bark, but there are other dog breeds that have some similarities in terms of size, physical appearance, or temperament.

Here are some:

  • Shiba Inu: Originating from Japan, it is often compared to the Basenji for its independence and compact size. Both have a similar appearance with erect ears and a curved tail.
  • Pharaoh Hound: an ancient breed with a similar appearance. They are known for their large ears and slender figure.
  • Ibizan Hound: This Spanish breed shares with them erect ears and an elegant appearance. They are energetic and agile dogs, similar in temperament.
  • Thai Ridgeback: This breed is popular for the distinctive ridge on its back and its independent behavior, which can resemble that of the Basenji.
  • Whippet: Although it’s a greyhound and has a different temperament, it shares with them the average size and elegant appearance.
  • Manchester Terrier: it has a lively temperament and a slender body. Although it is a terrier, its size and shape are vaguely similar.
  • Norwegian Lundehund: it has a unique appearance and particular physical characteristics like six toes on each foot. It is independent and may have a similar temperament.
  • Podenco Canario: this dog from the Canary Islands has a similar appearance and temperament, although they are distinct dogs with a different history.
  • Rat Terrier: these dogs are active and agile with a strong hunting instinct and may have a temperament reminiscent of the Basenji.
  • Canaan Dog: a breed with a very ancient history

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