Basenji

Table of Contents

basenji portrait
Meet the Basenji! Often referred to as the "barkless" dog, these pups have a unique yodel-like sound that'll charm your socks off. With their clever minds, elegant physique, and expressive faces, it's no wonder people are head over heels for these African-born beauties.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Basenji is best suited for active, patient, and experienced dog owners who can appreciate their unique traits. They make excellent companions for those who enjoy outdoor adventures and can provide the mental and physical stimulation these energetic pups crave.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEBasenji
OTHER NAMESAfrican Bush Dog, African Barkless Dog, Ango Angari, Congo Dog, Zande Dog
ORIGINCongo
BREED GROUPHound Group
BREED SIZESmall
HEIGHT15-17 inches
WEIGHT20-24 lbs
LIFESPAN13-14 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERModerate
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERLow
GROOMING NEEDSLow
EXERCISE NEEDSHigh
TRAINABILITYModerate
BARKING TENDENCYLow
BITING TENDENCYModerate
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELLow
POPULARITY RANK91st
basenji running on an open field
Photo: alektas/Pixabay

Appearance

The Basenji is a small to medium-sized dog breed boasting an elegant and athletic appearance. Males typically stand between 16 to 17 inches at the shoulder, while females are slightly smaller, measuring 15 to 16 inches. Adult Basenjis usually weigh around 22 to 24 pounds for males and 20 to 22 pounds for females, showcasing their lean and graceful build.

The breed’s body is well-proportioned, with a deep chest that tapers towards the waist, revealing a muscular and agile physique. Their legs are long and straight, allowing them to cover ground efficiently and with ease. One of the most distinctive features of the Basenji is its tightly curled tail, which rests on its back and adds a touch of flair to its poised stance.

The head of a Basenji is another notable characteristic, with a flat skull that widens gradually from the eyes to the ears. Their muzzle is well-defined and tapers towards the nose, giving them a refined and dignified expression. A wrinkle on the forehead, more pronounced when the dog is attentive, further accentuates this captivating look.

Basenjis have almond-shaped, dark brown eyes that convey intelligence and curiosity. Their gaze is both gentle and inquisitive, reflecting their keen awareness of their surroundings. The ears of a Basenji are erect, triangular, and slightly hooded at the tips, adding to their alert and perked-up appearance.

The coat of a Basenji is short, fine, and smooth, lying close to the body and providing a sleek profile. This low-maintenance coat comes in various colors, including red, black, brindle, and tricolor (black and red with white markings). White accents typically appear on the feet, chest, and tail tip, and may also be present as a blaze on the face or a collar around the neck.

One remarkable aspect of the Basenji’s coat is its minimal shedding and low odor, which makes them an excellent choice for those with allergies or who prefer a cleaner home environment.

The overall appearance of the Basenji exudes grace, poise, and agility, perfectly reflecting the breed’s history as a skilled hunter and cherished companion.

basenji's face
Photo: alektas/Pixabay

Temperament

The Basenji is a breed with a unique and intriguing temperament that sets it apart from other dogs. Known for their intelligence, independence, and inquisitive nature, Basenjis possess a distinct personality that can be both endearing and challenging.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Basenji’s temperament is their aloofness, which can sometimes be mistaken for shyness. They are often described as being cat-like in their demeanor, as they tend to be more reserved and selective when it comes to forming bonds.

However, once a Basenji develops a strong connection with its owner, it becomes a loyal and affectionate companion, displaying a deep devotion to its human family.

When it comes to children, Basenjis can be good playmates, especially if they are raised together. Their playful and energetic nature makes them well-suited for older children who can respect their boundaries and understand their independent spirit. However, due to their high prey drive and sometimes nippy behavior, they may not be suitable for families with very young children or toddlers.

Basenjis are generally wary of strangers, but their curiosity often gets the better of them, leading to careful and cautious interactions. Early socialization is essential to help them develop confidence and adaptability in various situations. W

hile they may not be overly friendly towards unfamiliar people, they are not typically aggressive. Instead, they remain vigilant and alert, making them excellent watchdogs that will notify their owners of any unusual activity.

When it comes to other pets, the Basenji’s inherent hunting instincts can pose challenges. Their strong prey drive means they may see smaller animals such as cats, rodents, or birds as potential targets.

However, if raised alongside other pets from a young age, they can learn to coexist peacefully. It is essential to monitor their interactions and ensure that they are always under control to prevent any unwanted incidents.

Another unique personality perk of the Basenji is their sense of humor. They are known to be mischievous and can often be found engaging in playful antics that will leave you laughing. Their cleverness and resourcefulness make them adept problem solvers, which means they can sometimes find ways to get into places they shouldn’t or figure out how to escape from enclosures.

Despite their independent streak, Basenjis are sensitive dogs that form strong emotional bonds with their owners. They thrive on human companionship and do not like being left alone for extended periods. Separation anxiety can be a concern for this breed, so it’s crucial to gradually acclimate them to time alone and provide them with plenty of mental stimulation to keep them occupied.

Ideal Environment

The ideal environment for a Basenji is one that caters to their physical and mental needs while providing ample opportunities for socialization, exploration, and companionship. These highly intelligent and energetic dogs require an environment that keeps them engaged and stimulated, preventing boredom and undesirable behaviors.

Physical Environment

A home with a securely fenced yard is optimal for a Basenji, as it allows them the freedom to explore, play, and exercise safely. Their athleticism and agility make them excellent at climbing and jumping, so it’s crucial to ensure that the fence is high enough and escape-proof.

Apartment living can also be suitable for the breed, provided that they receive adequate exercise and mental stimulation through daily walks, interactive toys, and puzzle games.

Climate Adaptability

In terms of climate adaptability, Basenjis have some specific considerations. They originate from Africa and are more suited to warmer climates. Their short coat provides minimal insulation against cold temperatures, making them vulnerable to chills. In colder regions, it’s essential to provide your Basenji with appropriate protection, such as dog sweaters or coats, and limit their exposure to frigid conditions.

Conversely, Basenjis can tolerate heat better than many other breeds but still require precautions during hot weather. Ensure they have access to shade, fresh water, and avoid excessive exercise during the hottest parts of the day to prevent overheating.

Ideal Owner

The ideal pet parent for a Basenji is someone who is experienced, patient, and committed to consistent training and socialization. Basenjis thrive under the guidance of a confident and understanding owner who can appreciate their independent nature and unique traits.

They are best suited for households without very young children or small pets due to their high prey drive and potential for nippiness. However, they can coexist peacefully with other pets if raised together from a young age and properly supervised.

basenji behind tall grass
Photo: Madjuszka/Getty Images

Grooming

One of the many appealing aspects of the Basenji is their relatively low-maintenance grooming requirements. Their short, fine coat and minimal shedding make them an ideal choice for those who prefer a cleaner home environment or struggle with allergies. However, like all dogs, they still require regular grooming to maintain their health and appearance.

Coat Care

The Basenji’s coat is smooth and lies close to the body, which means it doesn’t tend to collect dirt or debris easily. A weekly brushing with a soft-bristle brush, rubber grooming mitt, or a hound glove will help remove any loose hair and distribute the natural oils across their coat, keeping it looking healthy and shiny.

Additionally, this routine grooming session will provide an excellent opportunity to check for any skin issues, lumps, or cuts that may need attention.

Basenjis are naturally clean dogs and have very little odor, so they don’t require frequent bathing. In general, baths can be given every few months or when your dog gets particularly dirty. Always use a gentle, dog-specific shampoo to avoid stripping the coat of its natural oils and maintain its lustrous appearance.

Dental Care

As with all breeds, dental care is crucial for maintaining the overall health of your Basenji. Regular teeth brushing with a pet-safe toothpaste helps prevent plaque buildup, tartar, and gum disease.

Ideally, you should brush your dog’s teeth daily, but if that’s not feasible, aim for at least two to three times per week. Introducing dental hygiene practices early in your Basenji’s life will make them more comfortable and accepting of the process.

In addition to brushing, providing dental chews, toys, and treats can help maintain good oral health and reduce the risk of dental problems. Regular checkups with your veterinarian will also ensure that any dental issues are detected and addressed promptly.

Nail Care

Basenjis, like all dogs, need their nails trimmed regularly to prevent overgrowth, which can cause discomfort and affect their gait. Depending on your dog’s activity level and how quickly their nails grow, trimming may be needed every three to four weeks. You can use a dog-specific nail clipper or grinder to trim their nails, ensuring you don’t cut into the quick, which contains blood vessels and nerves.

If you’re unsure about trimming your dog’s nails yourself, consider seeking the assistance of a professional groomer or veterinarian. Regular walks on pavement or concrete surfaces can also help to naturally wear down their nails.

Ear Care

To prevent infections and maintain good ear health, it’s essential to check and clean your Basenji’s ears regularly. Use a gentle ear-cleaning solution specifically designed for dogs and a cotton ball or soft cloth to wipe the outer part of the ear canal. Avoid using cotton swabs, as they can push debris further down the ear or damage the delicate inner structures.

basenji on a park
Photo: Ryhor Bruyeu/Getty Images Pro

Exercise

Basenjis are an energetic and athletic breed, requiring regular exercise to keep them physically fit and mentally stimulated. Meeting their exercise needs is essential for maintaining their overall health and preventing boredom-related behavioral issues.

Exercise Amount & Types

As a general guideline, Basenjis should receive at least 45 minutes to 1 hour of daily exercise. This can include brisk walks, jogs, or play sessions in a securely fenced area where they can run and explore off-leash. Keep in mind that Basenjis have a strong prey drive, so it’s crucial to ensure they are in a safe and enclosed environment when off-leash, as they may be inclined to chase after smaller animals.

In addition to daily exercise, engaging your Basenji in various activities can provide mental stimulation and help strengthen the bond between you and your dog. Interactive games such as fetch, hide-and-seek with toys, or scent-tracking exercises can tap into their natural instincts and keep their minds sharp.

Puzzle toys and treat-dispensing toys can also be used to challenge their problem-solving skills and alleviate boredom when indoors.

Dog Sports

Basenjis excel in various dog sports and competitions, which can offer additional outlets for their energy and intelligence. Activities such as lure coursing, agility, rally obedience, and nose work can showcase their speed, agility, and keen senses while providing a fun and rewarding experience for both you and your dog.

Participating in these activities can also help improve their socialization and adaptability to different environments and situations.

Exercise Precautions

When exercising your Basenji, always be mindful of weather conditions, as they are more sensitive to cold temperatures due to their short coat. During colder months, provide appropriate protection such as a dog sweater or coat, and limit their exposure to extreme cold.

In hot weather, avoid strenuous exercise during the warmest parts of the day and ensure they have access to shade and fresh water to prevent overheating.

Training

Training a Basenji can be both rewarding and challenging, as they are highly intelligent dogs with an independent streak. While they are certainly capable of learning, their strong-willed nature requires patience, consistency, and understanding from their owner.

Basenjis respond best to positive reinforcement training methods, which involve rewarding desired behaviors with treats, praise, or playtime. This approach not only strengthens the bond between you and your dog but also helps maintain their motivation and interest in learning.

Harsh training methods or punishment can damage the trust between you and your Basenji, leading to resistance and fear-based behaviors.

Early socialization is essential for Basenjis to ensure they develop into well-rounded and adaptable dogs. Exposing them to various environments, people, and other animals from a young age will help build their confidence and reduce the likelihood of fearful or aggressive behaviors later in life.

When it comes to obedience training, consistency is key. Due to their independent nature, Basenjis may not always follow commands immediately, so it’s crucial to be persistent and patient. Short, frequent training sessions will help keep their attention and prevent boredom. Incorporating training into daily routines and playtime can also make the process more enjoyable and engaging for your dog.

One specific challenge in training Basenjis is their strong prey drive, which can make them easily distracted by small animals or interesting scents. To manage this, work on developing a reliable recall command and impulse control exercises. Always ensure that your Basenji is in a secure and enclosed area when off-leash to avoid any potential mishaps.

Another aspect to consider is their tendency to be vocal, despite being known as the “barkless” dog. While they don’t bark in the traditional sense, Basenjis can produce a unique yodel-like sound called a “baroo.” Teaching a “quiet” command can help manage their vocalizations when necessary.

basenji's face close up
Photo: Aleksandr/Getty Images

Diet & Nutrition 

A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for maintaining the overall health and well-being of your Basenji. When selecting a suitable food for your dog, it’s important to choose a high-quality product that meets the nutritional guidelines established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). These guidelines ensure that the food contains the appropriate nutrients and proportions necessary for your dog’s optimal health.

What to Feed & How Much

There are various types of dog food available, such as dry kibble, wet food, or raw food diets. Each option has its advantages and drawbacks, so it’s essential to consult with your veterinarian to determine the best choice for your Basenji’s specific needs, taking into account factors like age, weight, activity level, and any existing health conditions.

The amount of food your Basenji requires will depend on their life stage, size, and activity level. As a general guideline, adult Basenjis typically need around 1 to 1.5 cups of high-quality dry food per day, divided into two meals.

Puppies will require smaller, more frequent meals (three to four times a day) to support their growth and development. As your dog ages or experiences changes in activity levels, you may need to adjust their food intake accordingly.

It’s essential to monitor your Basenji’s weight and body condition to ensure they are receiving the right amount of food. Regular checkups with your veterinarian can help identify any potential weight-related issues and make adjustments to their diet as needed.

Treats & Water

When it comes to treats, opt for healthy options that are low in calories and fat, such as small pieces of fresh fruit or vegetables, lean meats, or specially formulated dog treats. Treats should be given in moderation and never exceed 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake, as overfeeding can lead to obesity and related health problems.

Fresh water should always be readily available for your Basenji to stay hydrated. Ensure their water bowl is clean and filled with fresh water daily, placing it in an easily accessible location.

Health

The Basenji is generally a healthy and robust breed, with a life expectancy of 13 to 14 years. However, like all breeds, they are prone to certain health issues that prospective owners should be aware of. Ensuring a healthy diet, regular veterinary checkups, and staying up-to-date on vaccinations can help maintain their overall health and well-being.

Here are common health issues associated with the Basenji:

Fanconi Syndrome: This genetic disorder affects the kidneys and can lead to excessive urination, increased thirst, and potential kidney failure if left untreated. Early diagnosis and management with a specialized diet and medication can help improve the quality of life for affected dogs.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is an inherited eye condition that causes gradual vision loss, eventually leading to blindness. There is currently no cure for PRA, but early detection can help manage the condition and prepare for lifestyle adjustments as the dog’s vision declines.

Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition where the hip joint doesn’t fit correctly within the socket, which can cause pain, inflammation, and eventually arthritis. Maintaining a healthy weight, providing appropriate exercise, and early intervention can help manage the condition and prevent further deterioration.

Hypothyroidism: This hormonal disorder occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, which can result in weight gain, lethargy, and skin issues. Hypothyroidism can be managed with daily medication and regular monitoring by your veterinarian.

Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (PKD): PKD is a genetic metabolic disorder that causes a deficiency in red blood cells, leading to anemia and reduced oxygen-carrying capacity. Affected dogs may experience fatigue, weakness, and an enlarged spleen. While there is no cure for PKD, supportive care can help manage the symptoms and improve the dog’s quality of life.

To keep your Basenji healthy, provide a balanced and nutritious diet tailored to their specific needs, taking into account their age, weight, and activity level. Regular veterinary checkups and vaccinations will help detect and address any health issues early on, ensuring your dog remains in optimal health throughout their life.

In addition to regular care, it is crucial to work with reputable breeders who screen for genetic disorders and prioritize the health of their breeding dogs. Obtaining your Basenji from a responsible breeder can significantly reduce the risk of inheriting health issues and contribute to a long, happy life for your canine companion.

basenji relaxing on a couch
Photo: undefined undefined/Getty Images

History

The Basenji is an ancient breed with a fascinating history that can be traced back thousands of years. They are believed to have originated in Central Africa, primarily in the regions of Congo and Sudan.

Archaeological evidence, including Egyptian tomb paintings and artifacts dating back as far as 4000 BC, depict dogs resembling the modern Basenji, suggesting that they were highly valued by ancient civilizations.

The breed’s name, Basenji, is derived from the word “mbwá na basɛ́nzi,” which means “dogs of the savages” or “dogs of the villagers” in the Lingala language spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Basenji was primarily used by native tribes for hunting small game, owing to their keen senses, agility, and speed. Their unique, tightly curled tail and erect ears enabled them to move effortlessly through dense undergrowth while tracking prey.

European explorers first encountered the breed in the 19th century during their expeditions in Africa. However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that attempts were made to bring the Basenji to Europe.

These initial efforts were met with challenges, as the dogs often succumbed to diseases such as distemper before they could establish a breeding population. In 1937, a successful breeding pair was finally imported to England by Mrs. Olivia Burn, marking the beginning of the breed’s establishment in the Western world.

The Basenji’s unique appearance and characteristics quickly gained popularity, and the breed was officially recognized by the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom in 1943. Around the same time, the breed was introduced to the United States, with the first Basenjis being imported by animal importer Henry Trefflich.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Basenji as an official breed in 1944, and the Basenji Club of America was formed shortly thereafter in 1945.

In popular culture, the Basenji has made several appearances in films, television shows, and literature. One of the most well-known portrayals of the breed is “Good-Bye, My Lady,” a novel by James Street that was later adapted into a film in 1956. The story features a young boy who befriends a Basenji named Lady, highlighting the breed’s unique traits and captivating charm.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Basenji in the United States is the Basenji Club of America (BCOA). Founded in 1945, the club is dedicated to preserving and promoting the Basenji breed, providing resources and support to Basenji owners, and fostering responsible breeding practices.

You can visit BCOA’s website here to learn more about the breed and the club’s activities, events, and resources.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities.

Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

You can check the Basenji’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

basenji sitting
Photo: undefined undefined/Getty Images

Acquiring

When considering acquiring a Basenji, it’s essential to do thorough research and preparation. Start by learning about the breed’s unique characteristics, exercise needs, and potential health issues. Prepare your home by creating a safe and comfortable space for your new companion, including a crate, bed, toys, and other essential supplies.

Rescuing a Basenji from a shelter or rescue organization is a wonderful way to give a deserving dog a loving home. The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Basenji Club of America (BCOA) can help you find reputable rescue organizations dedicated to the breed. These groups often have Basenjis available for adoption, providing a second chance for dogs in need of loving homes.

Whether adopting or purchasing from a responsible breeder, ensure you’re committed to providing a lifetime of care, love, and companionship to your new Basenji friend.

FAQs

Is it true that Basenjis don’t bark?

Yes, it is true that Basenjis are often called “barkless” dogs. Instead of barking, they produce a unique yodel-like sound called a “baroo.” However, they can still be vocal and express themselves through whines, growls, and other noises.

Are Basenjis good family dogs?

Basenjis can make excellent family pets for households that understand and appreciate their unique traits. They are intelligent, affectionate, and playful. However, their independent nature and strong prey drive may not suit all families, especially those with very young children or small pets.

Are Basenjis expensive?

The cost of a Basenji can vary depending on factors such as the breeder’s reputation, the dog’s lineage, and geographical location. Prices for a Basenji puppy from a reputable breeder typically range between $800 and $2,000. Keep in mind that owning a dog also involves ongoing costs such as food, veterinary care, and supplies.

How rare are Basenjis?

While Basenjis are not among the most common dog breeds, they have a dedicated following and are well-established in the United States and other countries. The breed’s popularity has grown over the years, but they remain relatively uncommon compared to more ubiquitous breeds like Golden Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers.

Do Basenjis require a lot of exercise?

Basenjis are an active and energetic breed that requires 45 minutes to 1 hour of regular physical and mental stimulation. They enjoy daily walks, playtime, and engaging activities like agility or scent work. Providing adequate exercise will help keep your Basenji healthy and prevent boredom-related behavior issues.

Are Basenjis hypoallergenic?

No dog breed is truly hypoallergenic, but Basenjis are considered to be a low-allergen breed due to their short coat and minimal shedding. They may be a suitable option for individuals with mild pet allergies, but it’s essential to spend time around Basenjis before committing to ensure compatibility with your allergy sensitivities.

How easy is it to train a Basenji?

Training a Basenji can be challenging due to their intelligence and independent nature. They require patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement techniques. Early socialization and ongoing training throughout their life will help ensure a well-behaved and well-adjusted Basenji.

Fun Facts

  • One of the most unique traits about Basenjis is that they don’t bark like other dogs. Instead, they make a variety of sounds ranging from yodels to howls, often referred to as “baroos”. This distinctive vocalization adds a special touch to their personality and makes them stand out in the canine crowd.
  • Basenjis are often compared to cats due to their grooming habits. They clean themselves regularly and can be seen licking their paws and fur, much like a feline. Additionally, they’re known for their curiosity and independence, further enhancing their cat-like reputation.
  • Unlike most dog breeds, Basenjis typically only breed once a year. Females usually go into heat only once a year, similar to wild dogs and wolves. This is another trait that sets them apart from most domesticated dog breeds.

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