The‌ ‌Bold,‌ ‌Brave,‌ ‌and‌ ‌Beautiful‌ ‌Basenji‌

Known as the African barkless dog or “Congo Dog,” the Basenji is a unique dog breed from Central Africa. Although gaining in popularity, they are often overlooked. 

The Basenji dog is a primitive zande dog breed that has retained its hunting instincts, yet can also be a gentle and playful family member.

Basenji dog standing outside

This beautiful brindle is independent and aloof with strangers but devoted to his family and particularly children. It is a typical bush dog and their hunting skills are perfect for tracking down small game.

Where Did the Basenji Originate?

Basenjis originate from ancient Egypt, Africa. They were first brought to England in 1895 and then to North America in the 1930s.

Basenji dog running

Although they have gained popularity as pets in the United States and Europe, they are usually kept for working purposes in Africa. They are still known to be a typical bush dog in Africa.

African Basenjis are one of the world’s most ancient breeds. The first domesticated dogs strongly resemble the Basenjis of today.

There are cave paintings found in Libya, dated to 6000 B.C., that depict small dogs with tightly curled tails just like the noble Basenjis. These historic animals were so valued they were once gifts for the Egyptian Pharaohs

Basenjis have existed alongside humans for thousands of years. Today they retain their primitive heritage with their independent and mysterious nature. 

Basenjis are part of the hound group. The designated jobs of the hound group could be either as a sighthound or as a scenthound.

Sighthounds, like the famous Greyhound, hunt by sight. The scent hounds, like Bloodhounds, hunt with their nose. 

Basenjis are different; they are a combination of both. They have both remarkable sight and scent abilities. 

The Basenji was recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1944 and the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1948. 

How Do You Identify a Basenji Dog?

If you see a small dog with a wrinkled forehead and a curled tail walk by, you’re looking at a Basenji. Their long, lean legs identify them like a hound. Their pointed ears stand straight up, giving them a lively appearance.

Portrait of Basenji lying
 

This ancient breed has changed little since its origin, so seeing this primitive dog is like looking back in time.

Basenji dogs are majestic animals; their necks are long and elegant. The breed standard describes their head as “proudly carried.”

When they’re alert, with their ears up, you’ll see enchanting wrinkles appear on their forehead. Their distinctive tapered head with its prominent ears may have inspired the God of Anubis.

Basenji’s head color varies most often between deep hazel, and dark brown and is always almond-shaped with large, erect ears. Their eyes are an oblique shape and are farseeing.

The neck is well crested, and their bodies are balanced with a definite waist. The tail is set high and is always bent forward, and is well curled.

Basenji shoulders are laid back, and their forequarters are straight with a fine bone. The hindquarters are strong and muscular, and the feet are small, oval, and compact.

The paws contain thick pads with well-arched toes, and the dewclaws most often get removed.

Basenjis runs with the grace of a gazelle. Their long legs give them a tireless stride. Their movement is effortless, and their topline remains straight as they trot.

You can picture them soaring across African plains in pursuit of their game.

All about the Basenji dog breed:

Basenji Size: How Big Does a Basenji Get?

Small but mighty, the Basenjis size will be between 16 and 17″ at the shoulder and 22 to 24 pounds. They’ll finish growing at around a year old.

Like any hound, they have an extreme desire to chase prey, so they need to be monitored or contained for their safety. 

They often show up on lists of good apartment dogs as you won’t hear the Basenji barking much.

Although they can flourish in an apartment or small space, don’t be fooled into thinking no voice means they’re quiet. The distinctive Basenji noise is like a yodel and is loud. 

Basenjis love company, and they don’t enjoy being left alone in a kennel. They can flourish in an apartment, house, or on a farm, as long as they have lots of interaction with friendly people.

Basenji Coat and Color

The Basenji gets noticed for its distinctive chestnut red coat, but the black Basenjis are also well-loved. You can also find tricolor Basenjis.

All of the varieties have a lot of white coloring on their feet, chest, and tail tip. However, to keep their striking appearance, there should never be more white than color.

Personality: Is a Basenji a Good Family Dog?

Basenjis are a polarizing breed. The specific Basenji traits are why the people who love them adore and appreciate them for who they are.

Their primitive nature will not suit people who want a biddable companion. If your dream dog is a gregarious animal who lives to please and would love to play fetch for hours, this breed is not the right choice for you. 

A Basenji’s temperament is sweet and gentle, with great socialization skills with humans and other dogs. They often get described as “cat-like.”

As in feline fashion, they are independent, curious, and intelligent. At first, they can appear aloof with strangers, they will proceed cautiously with new people, and they prefer to make the first move.

Calm and friendly with those they know, they’re rarely aggressive. They’re devoted to their family and have a particular affinity for children.

They’re both affectionate and alert so that they can be loving yet protective. Delighted Basenji owners have a great sense of humor because their dogs are both mischievous and hilarious.

Basenji waiting for food

They are friendly with other dogs; however, they would need significant training and lifetime management to keep small animals, like cats, safe due to their strong prey drive.

Although some Basenjis will go in the water, they’re not known for being swimmers. With their high energy level, they can be great running partners; their owners are likely to tire before them.

They’re known for an impressive ability to leap up and down when they’re excited. They’re playful, but again on their terms. 

Basenjis are very trainable and can be great at sport. Albeit intelligent, their independent nature makes them a generally poor fit for a service dog. 

Although you won’t hear your Basenji bark, they’re far from mute. They tend to be generally quiet overall; however, they can growl and make noises described as a chortle or a Basenji yodel

With proper Basenji training, exercise, and mental stimulation, they can be left alone. They are intelligent by nature, which means they can get bored quickly, and a dog with nothing to do can get into trouble.

Although not prone to separation anxiety, they are social animals, so they will not thrive with long stretches alone.

Basenjis have a reputation as difficult to train, but they will learn if they are motivated.

Like many intelligent dogs, they tire of repetition. As such, learning sessions should be short and frequent.

Like other primitive breeds, they’re not the type to listen just because you’ve asked them to; keep in mind that treats can be a great motivator.

Because of their fastidious nature, they’re easy to house train. They want to keep their living space clean.

Confining them to a kennel when you’re out or unable to supervise will help. They will do their best to wait to eliminate until you let them out.

You will have to deal with your Basenji shedding, so they’re not considered a hypoallergenic dog. However, with their tight, short coat, this issue is manageable. Many people with allergies find they can tolerate them.

How to Care For Your Basenji

Exercising Your Basenji Dog

Basenjis are high energy and require regular daily exercise. They’re also smart and need a mental outlet, or they will find something to entertain themselves. They can be destructive when bored. 

Two Basenji dogs playing

With patient training, they can do well at sports like agility. They tend to excel at hunting simulation sports like lure coursing and Fast CAT as a genuine hunter.

Grooming your Basenji

Basenjis are clean animals, grooming themselves much like cats, so they rarely need to be bathed. They have little or no doggy odor.

Their short coat is easy to keep in top shape; a quick brush will keep them looking healthy and shiny once a week.

Their erect ears are not prone to infection, unlike many drop-eared dogs. Their arched feet will be uncomfortable if their claws are left long; weekly nail trims will keep them in good condition.

Basenjis are designed for hot temperatures. They may need a coat and boots to tolerate cold, snowy weather. Their adventurous spirit means they’ll still be eager for walks, even when it’s miserable out.

Feeding Your Basenji 

Basenjis should remain trim and fit. Their elegant legs are not designed to carry extra weight.

The breed does not have unique nutritional needs, a high-quality kibble will be appropriate, and they enjoy wet or canned food. Limit table food both for your pup’s health and to discourage begging.

Basenji Dog’s Health

Basenjis are considered to be healthier than other dogs. The average Basenji life-span is 13 to 14 years if you take good care of their health conditions.

Senior Basenji dog portrait
Senior Basenji dog with a gray muzzle

They are known for excessive urination, and you don’t need to be concerned about it as a potential health threat.

Two significant diseases and several other health problems are present in the breed, including eye problems. The two most common are Fanconi Syndrome and Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA).

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

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

  • Hip Evaluation (to check for hip dysplasia)
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation (to assess for a coloboma)
  • PRA-BJ1 DNA Test (to test for the gene responsible for PRA)
  • Fanconi Syndrome DNA Test (to test for the gene responsible for Fanconi Syndrome)
  • Thyroid Evaluation (to test for autoimmune thyroiditis

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is an abnormal development of the hips. The word “dysplasia” means abnormal growth. In the hip joint, the round, ball-like femoral head connects the femur to the pelvis’s socket. 

A dysplastic dog has a poor fit of the ball and socket. The socket in the pelvis is flattened, and the ball of the femur is not held tightly in place.

Dogs with hip dysplasia have unstable joints – their bodies’ efforts to stabilize them create arthritis. An affected dog can be diagnosed through x-ray evaluation.

An undiagnosed dog may not show any symptoms until they are older and suffer from arthritis pain.

Coloboma

Coloboma is an area of the iris that does not form properly. Affected dogs are born with the condition, which is inherited.

The impact a coloboma has on a dog’s vision ranges from very minor to extreme. Severity depends on the size and location of the defect.

Approximately 0.6% of Basenjis who got tested in America were diagnosed with a coloboma.

PRA

Progressive Retinal Atrophy, or PRA, is an inherited degenerative disorder. The retina has photoreceptors that convert light into electrical nerve signals.

PRA causes the photoreceptors to die prematurely. There is no treatment or cure at this stage.

PRA always leads to blindness. The disease progresses slowly, and dogs adjust as they lose their vision. The first symptom may be difficulty seeing at night. PRA can show up in puppies; as early as 12 weeks.

Fanconi Syndrome

Fanconi Syndrome is an inherited renal disorder. Affected dogs’ kidneys do not reabsorb nutrients and electrolytes. Instead, these spill into the urine.

Left untreated, a dog will die from the disorder. Caught early and treated, Basenjis with Fanconi Syndrome have the same life-expectancy as those unaffected.

The community of reputable Basenji breeders is striving to eradicate Fanconi Syndrome by testing their prospective mating dogs. When making matching decisions, they avoid pairing two carriers of the gene together.

Autoimmune Thyroiditis

When a dog’s thyroid gland does not make enough of the hormone thyroxine, they are hypothyroid. This disease can cause a wide range of symptoms.

The most frequent symptoms are difficulty maintaining a healthy weight and skin and coat problems.

Autoimmune thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in dogs. The disease often manifests between two and five years of age.

There is a genetic marker for autoimmune thyroiditis, thyroglobulin autoantibody formation. Reputable Basenji breeders test for this marker before deciding to mate these dogs.

Immunoproliferative Systemic Intestinal Disease 

Also known as Basenji Enteropathy and IPEB, Immunoproliferative Systemic Intestinal Disease is a severe and progressive form of inflammatory bowel disease.

The disease is present in approximately 3% of Basenjis, with many more suspected asymptomatic carriers.

Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency

A deficiency of the pyruvate kinase enzyme results in easily damaged red blood cells. Basenjis have a unique version of this, an inherited metabolic disease. Affected dogs usually present with anemia. 

The disease is most often diagnosed between four months and two years of age. Affected dogs can live with the condition for some time.

They will usually die from either severe anemia or associated liver failure by the time they are five.

Persistent Pupillary Membrane

Persistent Pupillary Membrane (PPM) is a condition of the eye involving remnants of a fetal membrane. The pupillary membrane exists in the fetus as a source of blood supply for the lens.

PPM can impact any dog but is an inherited condition in Basenjis. There are no clinical problems or symptoms due to this condition, and no treatment is required.

Umbilical Hernia

An umbilical hernia is an opening of the muscle wall at the umbilicus or belly button’s location. Basenjis have a breed predisposition to developing these. 

Umbilical hernias are either diagnosed as complicated or uncomplicated. The former will have abdominal cavity contents, like a loop of intestine, entrapped in the muscle wall’s opening.

The latter is soft swellings at the umbilical area.

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.

Smaller ones may not need to go through this; if larger, they should be operated on to remove the risk of complications.

Obesity

The high energy, active, hunting dog Basenji should be kept lean and fit. Their frame is not designed to carry any extra weight, so their body condition should be monitored to ensure they stay toned.

Their meals should be measured and controlled to keep them in ideal condition.

How Much Does a Basenji Puppy Cost?

Bored Basenji puppy
When looking for a Basenji dog for sale, you won’t see as many ads as you will for Labs or Golden Retrievers.

However, they are not as hard to find as a rare Azawakh puppy. Basenjis rank right in the middle of AKC recognized breeds for popularity. They are number 87 out of 196.

Most female dogs go into season twice a year, around every six months. A nod to their primitive side, Basenji females come into season only once a year. An average litter will have four to six puppies. 

Prices for well-bred Basenji puppies will range between different areas of the country.

An average cost for a puppy from a reputable breeder who is doing all the recommended health testing would be between $1,500 and $2,500. The Basenji puppy price range would be similar.

Choosing a Breeder 

One of the most important decisions you will make as you plan for your new family member is choosing a breeder.

Seeking out someone reputable will give you the best chance of getting a happy, healthy, well-adjusted puppy and a lifetime of support.

When looking for your new Basenji, avoid any pet stores and puppy mills. A great place to start your search is the Basenji Club of America. They have a registry of Basenji breeders.

With the right match, your new furry friend will share your life with you for the next ten years or more. Take the time to ensure you are working with someone responsible and trustworthy.

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

Basenji’s medical results get recorded with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. You can go to their website and review the results of the tests yourself. 

Basenji Rescue/For Adoption

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. 

You may be able to find a Basenji mix in need at a rescue or shelter. A popular mix you may come across is a Basenji chihuahua mix or a Basenji lab mix

The Petfinder website allows you to search by breed. Basenji Rescue and Transport is one group that will help match dogs in need with their perfect owner. 

Who Should Get a Basenji Dog?

The ideal home for a Basenji would be one that values their comical nature and prefers entertainment over obedience. This active breed would thrive with a family who wants a running and hiking companion. 

The low-maintenance coat is an excellent fit for an owner interested in trying out shows but doesn’t feel equipped to manage a complicated grooming job.

Their sweet nature and dedication to their people make them a wonderful family dog.

Is a Basenji a Good First Time Dog?

A Basenji could be a tremendous first-time dog. Prospective owners need to understand their unique personality.

Basenji puppy dog
Image source

Proper containment is necessary for an animal who has an insatiable desire to hunt and is known to be an escape artist. Obedience training is a must with this smart but independent breed.

Pros

  • Low shedding, clean
  • Relatively quiet
  • Gentle and loving with children
  • Moderate size
  • Healthier than other breeds

Cons

  • When they yodel, they are loud
  • Escape artists who long to run and hunt need to be contained
  • Bright but easily bored, need to be entertained and exercised

Similar Breeds to a Basenji

If a Basenji intrigues you, some other dogs might also catch your eye. A Shiba Inu is a similar size and is also a primitive breed.

A Beagle is much more of a scenthound than a sighthound but has some similar Basenji characteristics in size and desire to hunt.

A larger dog, the Pharaoh Hound, shares some similar pariah attributes and the same extreme grace when running.

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