Basenji: Are these dogs dangerous to have as pets?

Last Updated on April 14, 2023

Known as the “African Barkless Dog” or “Congo Dog,” the Basenji is a unique primitive zande dog breed (meaning prominent) native to Central Africa.

It’s a bush dog with incredible hunting instincts but can also be a gentle and playful family member.

Basenji dog standing outside

The Basenji Dog might be independent and aloof with strangers, but it’s devoted to its family and loves kids. Read on to learn more about this beautiful brindle-colored dog.

Where did the Basenji originate?

Basenji dog running
A happy Basenji dog running outdoors

Originating from Central Africa’s Congo, Basenjis are believed to have been gifted to the Egyptian royals of old and traded out of ancient Egypt.

Even cave paintings found in Libya dating back to 6,000 BC depict small dogs with tightly curled tails, just like the noble Basenjis.

With that history, African Basenjis are considered one of the world’s most ancient breeds, and they could’ve even provided the blueprint for domesticated dogs.

They were prized for their hunting ability, and in some African tribes, a good Basenji was worth more than a wife.

In 1985, they were brought to England, and by the 1930s, North America. Many attempts were made to import this breed, which resulted in death from distemper. The first survivors who had puppies were named Bois and Congo.

And by 1942, the Basenji Club of America was formed. A year later, they were recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and are now part of their Hound Group.

Even if they gained popularity in Europe and the United States, they’re usually kept for working purposes in Africa, such as hunting small game.

These dogs are an excellent and efficient combination of scent and sighthounds, allowing them to track by sight and smell.

How do you identify a Basenji Dog?

If you see a small dog with a wrinkled forehead and a curled tail, that’s a Basenji. It is believed that the God of Anubis may have inspired their distinctive tapered head with its prominent ears.

Portrait of Basenji lying
A portrait of a serious Basenji log lying on the floor

This basal breed’s appearance changed little, so seeing one is like looking back in time. Its primitive and basic look is enchanting from the bells and whistles we see in many dog breeds today.

Its physical qualities come without controversies, for they’re considered too short to be a sighthound and too skinny to be a scent hound. They were once known as Congo Terriers, but that name didn’t last long.

Majestic is one of the words we can use for this fido. Its head is proudly carried by its long, elegant neck, described on its breed standard. It also has naturally erect ears that give it an alert expression.

The Basenji dog breed has long, lean legs that identify them as a hound, and it makes them run with the grace of a gazelle with a tireless stride. Their movement is effortless, and their topline remains straight as they trot.

You can watch this video of a Basenji to get a better idea of what they look like:

Size: How big does a Basenji get?

The Basenji is a small dog with a height of 16 to 17 inches (41 to 43 cm) and a weight of 22 to 24 pounds (10 to 11 kg), with females on the lower part of the scale.

Basenji puppies reach their full-grown size at around 1 year of age. Now, these fidos often show up on lists as one of the good apartment dogs, but they’re highly active and would require a spacious and safely fenced backyard. 

The iconic Basenji coat and color

The Basenji gets noticed for its distinctive chestnut red coat, but the black ones are also well-loved.

You can also find tricolor Basenjis. Brindle was incorporated into the breed in 1987 when new bloodlines were introduced to help combat specific health problems.

The breed standard says that they must have white on the feet, chest, and tail tip. They may also have white legs, a collar, or a blaze, but that’s it.

Personality: Is a Basenji a good family dog?

Basenji waiting for food
A Basenji dog patiently waiting for food

Fiercely protective and loyal dogs like the Basenji make great family pets! But we’re going to let you in on a secret.

There’s an inside joke between Basenji owners on how this breed keeps their homes spick and span – anything within reach of the dog might end up destroyed or eaten.

So we recommend Basenjis to dog lovers who have a superb sense of humor because they are creative in being destructive. It’s just that life is a big game to them.

They also do best in homes without little kids and small animals. They have a high prey drive that will entice them to chase anything that runs. But they get along well with other dogs.

As with any pet, you probably think that they can be trained. Definitely! Like how early socialization can help your Basenji be less aggressive with the likes of cats and birds by raising them together from an early stage.

But this dog breed is NOT easy to train. They may be eager to please their humans, but they’re clever dogs that are independent, aloof, and willful.

They can even be manipulative, so their handler or owner should be an alpha who’s consistent and firm whether in training or not. If not trained, you might end up with a rowdy or shy canine.

With that said, it’s mandatory to have a Basenji undergo respect training. And make sure to teach your pooch not to eat anything that isn’t in their bowl.

Despite excelling as hunting dogs, we can’t count on a Basenji to be a service dog because of its dominant nature.

Do Basenji dogs bark?

If you’re looking for an apartment dog that’s relatively quiet to avoid noise complaints from neighbors, you might be thinking… this is it!

But before you get excited, the Basenji is called the “barkless dog” because this breed expresses itself by yodeling, screaming, and growling, which are all useful and makes it an excellent watchdog.

Here are all the funny sounds Basenjis are fond of making:

How to care for your Basenji

With proper Basenji training, exercise, and mental stimulation, you can trust them alone for short periods. Because of their fastidious nature, they’re easy to house train and will keep your home clean.

But just by looking at this doggo, would you believe they’re high-maintenance? Here’s a guide on caring for this fido if you’re planning to get one.

Two Basenji dogs playing
Two Basenji dogs chasing and playing together in the snow

Do Basenjis need a lot of exercise?

This dog breed has high energy levels that will require you to get off the couch and bed. But since they’re small dogs, they’ll be happy with at least 1 hour of daily exercise.

So extra walks and time for play will be greatly appreciated.

And they’re smart, so don’t forget to keep them mentally stimulated. Dog sports, like agility and lure coursing, are excellent outlets to satisfy these highly active canines. Remember: “A tired dog is a happy dog.”

Ensuring they don’t have any pent-up energy can also keep them from being destructive or mischievous.

While we’re on the topic of outdoor activities, never leave your African barkless dog unattended. They can potentially escape.

We recommend getting a secured electrical fence because, despite their size, their pain tolerance is unnaturally high. If they get fixated on something, they’ll do everything to get or do it.

If you want to take your fido swimming, Basenjis aren’t known for being swimmers. Many of them dislike water. They make great running partners, though.

Grooming: Do they smell?

Besides their personality, Basenji dogs have cat-like traits when it comes to hygiene, too. So you can expect them not to have the typical doggy smell.

Aid their self-cleaning habits by running a damp cloth over their coat daily to minimize bathing. They only require a bath when they’re extremely dirty or muddy.

Loving how they have low-maintenance grooming needs? Basenjis are also low shedders and are considered hypoallergenic. They have a fine, short coat that you’ll barely notice any shedding.

Weekly brushing with a soft bristle brush, a rubber curry brush, or any hound mitt can help keep their coat in top condition.

Those erect ears aren’t prone to infection because they’re well-ventilated, but checking and cleaning them once a week will keep it that way.

For dental hygiene, it’s always best to brush them daily, but 2 to 3 days a week is okay, too.

And active dogs usually wear their nails down naturally. If your Basenji doesn’t, you can clip them every month or so.

We mentioned how short their hair is, so they’re designed for hot temperatures. If you live in a place where it always gets cold, your pooch may need special equipment to tolerate the chilly weather. 

Feeding Your Basenji 

The breed does not have unique nutritional needs, so just go for high-quality dog food that’s appropriate for your fur baby’s size, weight, activity level, and health.

And that applies to the amount you feed your pet, too. But the general daily recommendation for this breed is 1 to 2 cups of food divided into two meals.

Basenjis should remain trim and fit. Their elegant legs are not designed to carry extra weight, so you wouldn’t want to get too fat, which can lead to obesity. Steer clear of free-feeding and table scraps for your fur buddy.

Health: What is the lifespan of a Basenji dog?

Senior Basenji dog
Close-up portrait of old basenji dog posing outdoors

The average life expectancy of a Basenji is between 13 and 14 years, but some can live as long as 17 years. While they’re a pretty hardy breed, they’re predisposed to a few health conditions.

Two significant diseases are Fanconi Syndrome and Immunoproliferative Small Intestinal Disease. Both problems can be debilitating, and in some cases, fatal.

Excessive urination, thirst, weight loss, and weakness can all be symptoms of the inherited renal disorder.

Caught early, dogs with Fanconi Syndrome can live a full life but left untreated, and it can only end in death due to the inability to absorb electrolytes and essential nutrients.

Canine Hip Dysplasia is a problem that hounds many different breeds. It’s a painful disorder that affects the dog’s hip joints. It can be passed down and exacerbated by improper diet and exercise.

Autoimmune thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It commonly manifests between two and five years of age.

Due to a lack of the hormone thyroxine, your dog’s coat might look poorly, and they will have trouble maintaining a healthy weight.

This breed also has a unique inherited metabolic disease. A deficiency of the pyruvate kinase enzyme results in weak red blood cells, and affected dogs usually present with anemia.

Basenjis are predisposed to be born with umbilical hernias, an opening of the muscle wall at the umbilicus or belly button’s location.

It can be rather complicated and contain abdominal cavity contents, like a loop of intestine, entrapped in the opening of the muscle wall.

Treatment often includes surgical correction of the opening. Some hernias will close on their own, usually by the time the puppy is six months old.

The breed is also prone to Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and other eye problems such as Persistent Pupillary Membrane and Coloboma. All of which can be easily avoided with proper screening.

Reputable breeders utilize testing to decrease the risk of producing puppies prone to these or any medical condition. Keep shots, and vet visits up to date to protect your Basenji from diseases such as distemper.

The Basenji Club of America recommends that potential breeding dogs undergo the following screenings to evaluate their health and risk of disease:

  • Hip Evaluation
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation
  • PRA-BJ1 DNA Test
  • Fanconi Syndrome DNA Test
  • Thyroid Evaluation

How much does a Basenji puppy cost?

Bored Basenji puppy
A cute Basenji puppy waiting for attention

Basenji puppies have a price range of $800 to $1,500, but some can exceed $2,000 if they come from champion bloodlines. Another factor that will come into play with the cost of this breed is the availability of pups.

Basenji females come into season only once a year, and their litter size usually consists of 4 to 6 puppies.

This breed isn’t that rare, though. There are a few places where you can buy or adopt Basenjis.

Choosing a Basenji breeder

One of the most important decisions you make when adding a canine companion to your family is finding a reputable breeder.

This will ensure that you’re getting a puppy that doesn’t only match your lifestyle but also a healthy one.

Confirm that your breeder is doing all the recommended health testing. Your prospective puppy’s parents should have been awarded a Canine Health Information Center number.

Do not purchase from anyone who cannot show you their CHIC certification.

You can find the medical results for hip scores on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Go to their website and review the results of the tests yourself.

Bear in mind that vet checks are not the same as having certified documents. Breeders should screen their dogs for genetic problems, and while this cannot ensure 100% problem-free puppies, it dramatically reduces the risk.

The Basenji Club of America has a breeders directory where you can purchase Basenji puppies for sale. And, of course, the AKC Marketplace.

Where to find a Basenji For Adoption

Unfortunately, many who do not research or get to know the Basenji breed often end up overwhelmed about how vocal, independent, or highly energetic they are.

This leads to plenty of dogs ending up in shelters. If you’re into adopting or rescuing an adult Basenji dog, these sites are worth checking out:

  1. Basenji Rescue and Transport (Germantown, TN)
  2. Colorado Basenji Rescue (Denver, CO)
  3. Americas Basenji & Shiba Inu Rescue (Indianapolis, IN)

The Basenji Club of America also has a list of Rescue Contacts that you can try.

Reputably bred Basenjis are unlikely to end up in a shelter or rescue. All responsible breeders have a contract to ensure dogs return to them if their owners can’t keep them.

As such, you might come across breeders with adult dogs up for adoption.

Many of these dogs might be retired from breeding or the show ring. You may be able to find a Basenji mix in need of a home at a rescue or shelter.

A popular crossbreed you may come across is a Basenji Chihuahua mix or a Basenji Lab mix.

We also suggest going to your local shelter to see if they have any dogs in need of a good home.

Who should get a Basenji dog?

2 months old Basenji puppy
A 2 months old Basenji puppy out for a walk – Image source

Basenjis are best suited for people who would value their comical nature and prefer entertainment over obedience. This active breed would thrive with a family that wants a running and hiking companion.

Their sweet nature and dedication to their people make them excellent family dogs, but they can be as moody as a teenager some days. And their yodel-like sound is definitely a unique trait.

If you have other pets, consider a different canine because Basenjis have a strong prey drive. Other than that, they’re a low-shedding, energetic, and loyal fur buddy!

Any thoughts about the Basenji dog breed? Share it all with us by commenting below.

Further reading: Similar Breeds to a Basenji


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