Origins and History...
The Basenji - commonly referred to as the "barkless dog from Africa" - is one of the oldest pure breeds of dog, and originated in the Congo/Sudan region of Africa.
Basenjis were the palace dogs of the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, and are of such antiquity that they were around when the pyramids were being built. They are depicted on bas-reliefs dating back as far as 4000BC. Today's basenjis are virtually unchanged from those of ancient times.
When the Egyptian civilisation declined and fell, the Basenji lapsed into obscurity. However he was still valued and preserved in his native lands of Central Africa.
The basenji's intelligence and courage are proved in his ability in his native habitat. The natives still use him for pointing, retrieving, driving game into nets and for hunting wounded quarry. Because of his silence when hunting, the native tie a wooden bell around his neck to enable them to follow him on the trail. The native regard basenjis so highly in fact, that they will carry their dogs around their necks, letting them "ride" to where then hunt is to begin. They are also much loved pets, sharing the natives' food and sleeping in their huts.
It was not until 1895 that these little dogs were rediscovered by the outside world. An English explorer brought two of them back to England, but these little native dogs contracted distemper and died.
Apart from that abortive attempt to make the breed known, the basenji did not make another appearance in the western world until 1937, when the breed was successfully introduced into England. At the same time a pair was taken to America.
The breed was first introduced into Australia in 1947.
The Basenji is a small to medium sized dog - their average size being 43cm tall (17") at the wither for dogs and 40cm (16") for bitches.
The first impression one gets of a basenji is that he is a proud little fog, and then one is impressed by his beauty, grace and intelligence. In fact, he is often been compared to a gazelle or little deer.
The colours of a basenji are: red, black, black and tan (tri-colour), or brindle, but always there are white points on his feet, chest and tip of tail. He may also have a white collar or a white blaze on his face. His tightly curled tail lies over his back, to one side, and should lie flat against his flank. He has pricked ears, and beautiful fine wrinkles on his forehead, giving him a quizzical expression. His eyes are almond-shaped and far-seeing.
The coat of the Basenji is one of his most beautiful features. Originating from a tropical climate, the texture is fine and silky and is very short. The red coat shines like burnished copper in the sun. The Basenji is immaculate, grooming his coat as a cat will. He keeps himself so clean that he rarely needs bathing and is practically odourless. He also needs very little grooming to keep his coat gleaming with health. Basenjis make excellent pets for asthma sufferers, as their coats are "non-allergenic". And they only change coat every 12 (and sometimes 24) months.
Character and Temperament..
Although the Basenji does not bark (and some are almost totally silent), he is definitely not mute, and has quite a repertoire of sounds. The yodel, which is an expression of excitement and happiness, is a marvellous sound - somewhat like a cockerel crowing. He normally yodels when he is playing, greeting you when you come home, or when he has been caught doing something he shouldn't - to try to charm you into not scolding him.
Some people think the Basenji would not make a good watchdog because of his lack of bark. This is not necessarily true, as the noise he makes when sensing danger, would strike fear into the bravest soul. They are also very protective of their families - especially children.
The Basenji loves children and will happily join in all their games. He can be boisterous though, and loves a romp with his own kind. The basenji can keep going for hours and, after everyone else is exhausted, he will still be ready for more. Basenjis can get easily bored with doing the same thing (ie fetching a ball) over and over again. Variety is the spice of life, and what a basenji loves.
Basenjis need plenty of exercise and do not take kindly to enclosed places. Many basenjis will literally wreck a room if they are shut in alone; a fully-fenced garden (and preferably with another dog for company) is the best place to leave your basenji when you are out. When the mood takes him however, he will demand your time and happily sit with (or on!) his human companions.
As you can see, basenjis hate the easy life!
Though affectionate and demonstrative, basenjis are not slavish in their devotion; there is too much curiosity in their make-up. Nothing is taken for granted; everything has to be examined and inquired into, which makes them entertaining, but not over-obedient dogs. When training your basenji, you must be firm, yet fair, and above all consistent with what he is and is not allowed to do. Basenjis are too intelligent to be forced, so you must be careful when training, not to break your dog's spirit. Generally they are not the ideal subject for obedience training, although several Basenjis have been successful in this field.
Basenjis are known to climb trees, cry real tears, and hug you like a bear. They are also very cat like in a lot of their behaviours, so they will stalk birds, and clean themselves just like a cat would. Basenjis will interact and share their life with other pets such as cats - especially if they grow up together. Non caged birds however are too big a temptation for their natural hunting instincts, and whilst I known of older an basenji who has been able to integrate and live with free range chickens and ducks - it is the exception to the rule.
Owning a basenji has it's own special needs that you must always be alert to.
These little dogs are natural hunters who hunt by sight, scent and sound. And it's these same characteristics that make them so valuable in their native African homeland, which sadly are their biggest source of risk in a home environment. If they get on the trail of anything that takes their interest, they will become completely tunnel blind to everything else around them (even roads and railway lines), focusing only following the trail. Basenjis have no traffic sense at all, so the need securely fenced yards, and should always be kept on a lead when walking the streets. You should NEVER let a basenji out by himself!
Basenjis are a naturally healthy breed, and often live up to 14 years of age, but 16 or 17 years is not uncommon with proper care and feeding. I know of an extreme case here in South Australia in the 1990's where there was a basenji that lived up to 22 years of age.
It can be seen then, that the Basenji is not for everyone. If you decide that he is the dog for you, then you will be rewarded with an entertaining and fun-loving dog who is inventive in his play and an intelligent and thoughtful companion.
Once you have shared your life with a Basenji, no other dog will ever quite measure up to him.
As someone once said....
"To see a Basenji is to admire him - to know a Basenji is to love him."
Looking for more information??
If you want to learn more about basenjis, please read our Basenji Owners Guide.