In this Dog Breed Corner, we learn all about the Basenji! A paradox of a pooch with an interesting history, the Basenji is not the ideal dog for first-time Owners. Do you require an experienced Dog Minder who proves to be a match for your Basenji? We have veteran Dog Sitters in Townsville, Perth, Ballarat, and all over Oz!
Quick Facts ✔
Height – 38 – 41cm
Weight – 9 – 12kg
Lifespan – 12 – 14 years
Country of origin – Egypt/Libya and later, the Congo
Breed type – Hunting dog
- Experienced Dog Owners
- Active families
- Hypoallergenic households (low shedding)
Basenji Breed History ♜
The Basenji is one of the very few official dog breeds to come out of Africa. As it may just be one of the oldest domesticated dogs in existence, we’re excited to share their fascinating history.
It all started in modern-day Libya, where archeologists found cave paintings of a Basenji-type dog dating back as far back as 6,000 BCE. These drawings, as well as as statues and sculptures, featured the Basenji’s characteristic pointed ears and adorable curled over-the-side tail. The images often portrayed Basenjis in the act of hunting or wearing collars with hunting bells. As such, we know that these doggos were hunters rather than shepherds.
It’s unclear when or why the Basenji made the journey down to Central Africa. Perhaps some groups decided to travel south with their dogs as a result of food shortages. An alternative theory suggests that the Basenji originated in Central Africa and were brought north as gifts for Egyptian Pharaohs.
Whatever the truth, a large portion of the breed ended up in what became the modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo. There, a single family may care for anywhere from 5 to 15 dogs, while an entire community may be home to about 50 dogs. It all depends on how much extra meat can be shared with these helpful pups.
And what has made these doggos such great hunting companions for over 8,000 years? On the one hand, they’re virtually barkless, making them stealthy and silent during the hunt. Hunters even had to add wooden bells to their hunting dogs just to keep track of them. Beyond that, Basenjis are one of the only dogs with a double suspension gallop; in other words, when they run at full capacity, these puppers come off the ground twice for more speed. Most dogs only suspend in the air at one point of their gallop, leaving them in the Basenji’s dust.
These dogs are also great independent thinkers and can accomplish a variety of different tasks, from flushing game; to driving, retrieving, and even warning the hunting group of any nearby dangerous animals. Unlike many of the doggos we talk about in our Breed Corners who excel at a single skill, like tracking or pointing, the Basenji grew into a rounded-out hunting dog with many different skills.
The world outside of the Congo learned about the Basenji when European researchers started to document them during the 1800s. Sadly, when they tried to take Basenji puppies back to Europe, almost all of the dogs died from distemper. In fact, over the next fifty years, breeders importing Basenji from Central Africa would have a hard time keeping these pups healthy. And with the first World War, the idea of trying to establish a Basenji breed almost faded completely.
Finally, the breed started to gain formal recognition through Basenji clubs in the UK, Australia, the United States and Canada. Today, you can still find plenty of Basenjis in their homeland as well as in homes across the world.
Before we move on from Basenji history, there is one myth that we’d like to shed light on about this breed. For a while, canine experts wondered whether the Basenji could be descended from the Jackal. Yet, DNA testing has revealed that this pup is actually from the gray wolf lineage, just like any other domestic doggo. Of course, they’re still special in our book!
Basenji Personality Traits ★
With thousands of years of hunting background, the Basenji is true to its roots. This is a dog with a friendly, assertive personality. They’re often described as aloof and catlike, but it’s simply because this is a dog that knows it can take care of itself in the wild. After all, when there wasn’t enough food to go around, Basenjis were well able to hunt for themselves, giving them confidence and independence that is uncommon in most domestic dogs.
Basenjis are not overly eager for the attention of their Owners, although they will form strong bonds with their favourite humans. If you’re looking for a dog with endless cuddles and affection, the Basenji may not be the dog for you. But they’re engaged and present, always ready to play or cause mischief in the home.
When it comes to strangers, Basenjis are natural watch dogs who will alert the household to any approaching guests. But, they’re not aggressive doggos, choosing instead to keep a safe distance around newcomers. That said, animal aggression can be an issue without early socialisation and prey drive makes the Basenji unsafe around small animals. Some Basenjis resort to pecking-order behaviour – nipping and shoving – which may hark back to their years in a wild pack setting. However, as long as they can be socialised early, they can grow up amicably alongside other dogs and animals.
For many years, intelligence tests have ranked Basenjis very low. But don’t let the bad results fool you! Many of the tests were based on the speed with which a dog could learn new tricks. And the Basenji? They just weren’t too interested in playing along. In fact, this is a highly intelligent dog with great problem-solving skills.
These pups need a whole lot of exercise, so they’re best suited for families with an active lifestyle. The regular ways to tire out a dog – going for a walk, jogging with them, letting them loose at the dog park – may not be enough for a Basenji, but it’s a good starting point.
One of the best ways to reach their high exercise limits is to give them the space to run at full speed. This may be alongside a bike or in an open space where they can fetch and race other Basenjis or fast breeds like Greyhounds or Whippets. This should only be done after they’ve undergone the necessary training that will prevent them from wandering off.
Here are a few other ideas for how to exercise a highly active dog like the Basenji.
If you’ll be away from home for much of the day, calling in a professional Dog Walker is a good idea. When a Basenji feels bored, they can become quite destructive.
Trainability and Training Tips
Training a Basenji takes patience and creativity. They’re independent thinkers, so it’s important to figure out a way to convince a Basenji that training is in their best interest. Handlers with strict or forceful training styles will fail miserably with a Basenji, while positive reinforcement training tends to have a higher success rate.
Along with basic commands, socialisation and exposure to other animals and people should be central to your training goals. These dogs can develop aggression towards other dogs and especially smaller animals, so don’t forgo socialisation training.
Now, how about basic commands? Unfortunately, even once you’ve established a good relationship with a Basenji, training can be tough. They need patience and repetition, as well as constant incentivising. Always give clear instructions and be ready to repeat them exactly the same way multiple times. Eventually, the Basenji will come around.
Most Basenji Owners are content with teaching their pup the necessary commands to come when called, sit, stay, and let go. Training can go beyond that, but this will probably never be a show ring performer. Instead, it is much more worthwhile for you and your Basenji to tailor your training sessions around their hunting skills. Setting up hunting-like games in which they can seek out toys and treats is a great way to keep them mentally stimulated.
This dog has a tendency to run off, and they’re incredibly fast, so make sure that your early training sessions are held in an enclosed area.
Because the Basenji is a relatively small dog, it’s easy to assume that they’ll be content with a small apartment. While that may be true, a Basenji is much more preoccupied with exercise and getting outside than the size of the house itself. As long as they’re getting enough playtime and exercise, they’ll be happy in any living situation.
At the same time, you may have to Basenji-proof your home. When bored, they’re talented tricksters and escape artists. Basenjis should be monitored anytime that they’re in the backyard, and you will want to make sure that your fencing is dog-proof.
Interestingly, some Basenji Owners have noticed that their cat-like dog enjoys the opportunity to climb on top of things for a better view of their surroundings. You might provide them with an elevated doggie bed or perch to keep them happy.
Basenji Grooming ✄
One of the easiest things about owning a Basenji is grooming. These dogs naturally keep themselves clean and you can often find them grooming themselves like a cat. They shed little and require little extra help from their Owners. A quick brush or wipe down once a week is enough to keep them clean and healthy.
In addition to coat-care, you will want to make sure to brush their teeth, check their ears and trim their nails. Overall, a very low-maintenance breed.
Basenji Health +
Basenjis are one of the only dog breeds at risk for Fanconi Syndrome, which is a serious kidney disease. With this disease, the kidneys are unable to properly reabsorb water, nutrients and electrolytes, leading to deficiencies in glucose, amino acids, potassium, sodium, and more.
At least one study of Fanconi Syndrome found that Basenjis accounted for about 75% of all reported cases, with 10 to 30% of Basenjis in North America suffering from the condition. Basenji Owners should be on the lookout for the following symptoms:
- Abnormal weight loss
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Trouble maintaining exercise levels
Sadly, Fanconi Syndrome cannot be reversed, but vets may be able to create a treatment plan to limit the damage of the disease. Symptoms may not manifest until a dog is between 4 and 7 years old.
Aside from Fanconi Syndrome, Basenjis are pretty healthy. Like many other breeds, these dogs may suffer from Progressive Retinal Atrophy or Hip Dysplasia. It’s important to feed them nutritious foods without overfeeding to prevent obesity.
Fun Fact ♥
The Basenji is known for being one of the only barkless doggos, but this dog is far from quiet. In fact, the larynx of a Basenji is a different shape than other domestic dogs. So, they absolutely can still push air through those vocal cords, but the sound that comes out is more of a yodel, whimper or howl. Some Owners call it a Baroo.
Still, when the hunt is on and your pup is focused, the noises will stop and your Basenji will become a stealthy hunting dog just like their ancestors.
Final Thoughts on the Basenji
The Basenji is a unique pup. With a domestication tale that is drastically different from most other dogs, Basenjis will never cease to surprise you. They can be aloof, independent, and wilful. And, they can be the most loyal companion you can find. They’ve been called some of the least-intelligent dogs in the world, but spend five minutes with them and you’ll see they’re extremely clever and aware. The Basenji, in other words, is full of contradictions that will keep you on your toes.
Many Owners love the fact that they don’t have to groom them, but there are still a few health concerns to be aware of.
This is a dog with high energy needs and training challenges. For this reason, they’re not the ideal first dog and they should be in a family with plenty of time for training and exercise. Having a dedicated Dog Walker is a great relief for anyone with a Basenji.
If you’re looking for a dog with an interesting personality, regal presence, and boundless energy, you’re going to love this ancient breed. Spend a little time with a Basenji and you’ll realise why this dog breed has been a welcome companion to humans for thousands of years.