Basenji Owners Guide

Table of Contents

Back in 1996 when I bred my first litter, I put together a booklet which I distributed to people inquiring about Basenji Puppies, in order to help them make an educated choice about whether the Basenji was indeed the breed for them or not.

Recently I decided to review the initial document, and place the latest revision on my Web Site as a service, to those of you in Cyberspace who may be looking for more detailed information about our unique and delightful breed.

You can use the links in the Table of Contents Section at the top of the page to jump to the section of document you are interested in.

If you have any questions that are not covered by this document, please feel free complete Contact form, or contact your local Basenji Breed club.

General Appearance & Characteristics
The Basenji is a lightly built, finely boned aristocratic looking animal. Featuring pricked ears and appearing high on the leg compared to his length, the Basenji has been likened to a gazelle. Other characteristics of the breed are a curled tail and wrinkled forehead, which gives an almost quizzical expression.

Basenjis come in four different colour combinations: red and white, black and white, tri-colour (black, red and white), and brindle (which consists of black stripes on a red background). All Basenjis should have white feet, chest and tail tip. White on the face and neck are optional.

Despite the fact that they cannot make the traditional "barking" or "woof" sound, Basenjis are certainly not mute. They can produce a variety of sounds, amongst them whines, growls and their own particular noise, which is best described as a mixture of a chortle and a yodel. Basenjis use this unique gift as a form of speech, and as one owner has put it, "they do not bark, they talk".

Their extreme cleanliness, ease of house training and almost total lack of doggy smell makes them hard to beat as a house pet.

Breed History
The Basenji dates back to ancient times, and pictures of them have even been found on the walls of the Egyptian pyramids. In fact, at an exhibition of Egyptian artefacts, held here in Adelaide in 1998, there was a stone tablet depicting two very much Basenji-type dogs. The relic was dated at 2100BC. Today, basenjis can still be found in their native Africa where they are highly valued by the natives for their hunting prowess.

Basenjis were first brought into the western world around the turn of the century. Known then as "Congo Terriers", unfortunately these little dogs contracted distemper and died.

It was not until the early part of the 1930's that they were successfully brought into England, by people who had owned them as pets in the Sudan. They became established as a breed just before World War II.

In 1959, Veronica Tudor-Williams and Michael Hughes-Halls undertook an expedition to the Sudan, looking for new breeding stock. They returned with a young red and white bitch called Fula, who changed the breed dramatically, adding elegance and improving temperaments. A legend in her own time, Fula passed away of old age in 1974.

Basenjis were first brought to Australia in 1946 by Dr Lex Caselberg, who bred them until 1953. Most of these Basenjis went to pet homes, and between 1957 and 1960, there were no Basenjis bred in Australia. They continued being bred in New Zealand, however.

Around 1960 the breed re-appeared in Australia with Beryl Hancock breeding in Sydney, and Lillian Barker breeding in Melbourne and by 1970 Basenjis had well and truly become part of the Australian Show Scene, being bred and shown in almost every state of Australia.

The Basenji made his first appearance in South Australia in 1969, and attracted much media attention, being featured a few times in the Sunday Mail. During the 70's and 80's there were many Basenjis being shown on a regular basis with much success, the most notable dog probably being Aus Ch Bambuti Jungle James, who twice was the Best Exhibit in the Hound Group at the prestigious Royal Adelaide Show. Another local Basenji Aus Ch Balshah Allakazam was exported to America where he too was exhibited with much success, and became the first Australian bred dog of any breed to earn the title of US Field Champion.

For a variety of reasons, during the early 1990's, the number of Basenjis being bred and exhibited in South Australia dropped away, but since 1996 the breed has made a resurgence, and today, South Australian Basenjis regularly compete with success against the best basenji in Australia at the New South Wales and Victorian Specialty Shows.

The Intriguing Character of the Basenji
The Basenji exhibits a wonderful variety of moods - there is never a dull moment with one in the home.

Although naturally aloof, they are also intensely curious, and an open door is a temptation that they cannot resist. Basenjis are also quite mischievous and love to play:- children and Basenjis will happily work at tiring each other out.

But when the mood takes him, the Basenji can also be the most loving of lap dogs, pawing you for attention, or literally crawling on to your lap. Given the opportunity, they will curl up in front of the heater, and readily take to sleeping on (or in!) the bed.

Basenjis do like to chew though - anything can become fair game - furniture, clothing, plants and especially you! They can become particularly destructive if left in a confined space for an extended period of time. But a well-occupied Basenji, with appropriate freedom can share your house with little or no damage, except for "borrowing" the odd article here and there, to attract your attention.

Most Basenjis will avoid water whenever they can. They don't enjoy swimming and will usually refuse an offer of a walk in the rain! Toilet time is certainly over very quickly when it is wet outside!

But perhaps the most intriguing facet of the Basenji's character is the way that he works his way into your heart. After just a few days, he is no longer a dog around the house, but a fascinating, a charming member of the family.

The Special Intelligence of the Basenji
The intelligence of the Basenji is different to that exhibited by other breeds of dogs. Back in 1996, this received some publicity in the Australian press as a result of the publication of the book The Intelligence of Dogs by Stanley Coren, which placed the Basenji 78th out of a list of 79 breeds on the scale of intelligence.

But in reality, what the book was actually ranking, was the ease with which the various breeds could be trained for tasks such as obedience, etc.

The following extract by Kevin McGrew of Kitchigammi Kennels in the United States, better describes and compares the Basenji's intelligence to that of other dogs:-

"If you take a look at the breeds considered intelligent by most trainers, you will find most of them are dogs bred to work in close contact with humans and take instructions from their trainers. Most are sporting or herding breeds... A look at the breeds further down the list reveals a lot of hounds."

"How does a hound traditionally work? It usually pursues some type of game well out ahead of the hunter and either catches and kills, in the case of a sight hound, or holds the quarry at bay, as in the case of most scent hounds. Now I ask: Are four Basenjis holding a leopard at bay going to wait until the hunter arrives for their next command? Or are they going to do what they have to in order to survive? Hounds need to think independently to survive, especially those not long out of the wilderness, ie the Basenji..."

"I wouldn't take offence at those who say a Basenji isn't as intelligent as a retriever or shepherd. They probably don't understand the breed development or how to rate intelligence. I'd explain that intelligence does not always equal obedience."

The intelligence of the Basenji is closely linked to its independent nature. He will know the commands that you teach him - it is just that he will usually think about it before obeying you.

Housing Requirements
Basenjis can be trained to sleep in virtually any warm, draught free location; outside in a kennel, in a basket in the laundry or garage, in a crate in the corner of the bedroom, or on (or even IN!) bed with his humans.

During the day, a Basenji requires a well-fenced yard, with a large enough area to play in, a sunny spot to lie in, and some things to interest him - trees, bushes, etc.

Basenjis are also natural born escape artists, so fences need to be at least 5 feet tall, with no tree limbs overhanging the fences - for tree climbing is another specialty for some Basenjis. Some Basenjis can also climb chain link fencing!

It is OK to leave a Basenji crated for a short period of time, but a Basenji left alone (and unrestrained) inside the house for an extended period will almost certainly become destructive.

Basenjis are hunters and require a fair amount of activity to keep them out of trouble. Some adults may need to run full out for an hour to be happy, while some may require nothing more than a nice walk.

Finally, and most importantly, please remember that Basenjis have no road sense and must never be allowed off lead near a road. Owners must also be vigilant never to leave a gate open or ajar. Being extremely curious, it would not take long for a nosy Basenji to make his way out of an open gate.

Basenjis are a breed that require only minimal grooming. Regular brushing with a "hound glove" or "curry comb", and a weekly nail clipping is all that is required to keep a Basenji looking his dapper self.

Bathing is only required every 3 to 6 months, if the dog is not being shown.

Health Issues
The Australian Basenji is a very healthy breed, is long living, and suffers from very few congenital health problems, compared to many other breeds, and other Basenjis elsewhere in the World.

Below are listed some of the most common health problems which do occur.

  • Fanconi Syndrome
  • Hip Dysplasia (HD)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Inguinal Hernias
  • Umbilical Hernia
  • Persistent Pupillary Membrane (PPM)
There are other health issues that can be found in the breed, but it needs to be stressed that not all of the known issues have been diagnosed among Basenjis in Australia.

Some excellent information and articles can be found on Davina Hopkins' Kanibaru website.

All of our breeding stock have been DNA Tested Clear/Normal for Fanconi Syndrome, or they are the produce of parents that have both been DNA tested Clear/Normal. For those that have been tested, links to their tests results can be found at the top of their page.

Is a Basenji Right for You?
The Basenji is an attractive and delightful breed - but is it the right breed for you?

Unlike other domestic dog breeds, the Basenji is virtually unchanged from the wild dogs which still roam the African jungle today. As a result, he retains highly developed hunting instincts - sometimes to the detriment of wildlife which happens to stray into the backyard.

The Basenji is also strongly independent, and will not always fulfil the role of obedient lap-dog. On the other hand though, the Basenji will sometimes forego his natural aloofness and demand that you make your lap available for him.

If you are looking for an intimidating guard dog, then perhaps a Basenji is not the dog for you. However a Basenji will certainly let you know if a stranger is lurking outside your house, and the growls that these little dogs can produce would certainly strike fear into the heart of any burglar!

But for someone who desires an intelligent, affectionate companion, and is willing to spend the time to learn about and understand him, then the Basenji certainly fits the bill.

Are you suitable for a Basenji?
A Basenji needs exercise, either in his own safe yard, or by taking walks on a lead. If you have no fences or live in a flat and are not home all day, then you are not suitable for a Basenji.

If you have no time to spend playing with or exercising your dog, then you are unsuitable for a Basenji.

If you think a Basenji can roam the streets all day, just coming home at meal times, then you are definitely unsuitable for a Basenji.

However, if you are an active person, with a securely-fenced yard, who can accept a dog with a mind of his own and have time to spend with him...

then you are suitable for a Basenji!

When are Basenji Puppies Available?
Basenji bitches only come into season once a year, normally in the Autumn for Winter puppies. Occasionally they may have a second season, especially if they live with bitches of other breeds, but this is still somewhat of a rarity.

Thus in Australia, most Basenjis are born in either June or July. If you are interested in purchasing a puppy, it is a good idea to contact breeders from as early as March onwards. Most breeders will gladly take orders for puppies, and occasionally all of the puppies of a given litter may be "spoken for" before they are actually born.

What to look for in a Basenji Puppy
Given the age at which most new owners select their puppies, it can be difficult to know what the puppy will look like when it grows up. Even experienced breeders can have trouble determining what a puppy will look like when it gets older.

If you are looking for a show puppy, then become familiar with your Country's current Basenji Breed Standard. Then make sure that the puppy you are considering has four white feet, a white chest and a white tip on the tail. If you have already told the breeder that you are looking for a show puppy, then he should only be offering you puppies with the correct markings anyway. The puppy should also have a short, level back and long neck, and plenty of wrinkle. The ears and tail should be high-set, although these will sometimes droop whilst the puppy is teething.

Whether you are looking for Show quality pup or a pet, look for a puppy that appears healthy and lively. In general, it is also a good idea to avoid both the most aggressive and the shyest puppy in the litter. If you can, try to meet both of the puppy's parents, as they will give you the best indication of the likely temperament and character of the adult dog.

Show or Pet?
Breeders classify their pups as either "show potential" or "pet quality", and often charge different prices for the two categories.

"Show potential" means that, at the time of sale, they are puppies which could be shown and have no disqualifying faults. In the breeder's eyes, these pups comply with the standard as closely as possible.

A "pet quality" puppy is one which, in the breeder's opinion, does not comply with the standard as closely as he would desire. Therefore it is not suitable for breeding or showing. These puppies though, are no less healthy than their "show potential" littermates in any way - they just have some "cosmetic" flaws which do not make them any less of a wonderful and loving Basenji.

You should inform the breeder as to whether you plan to show or breed from your puppy, or whether it is be kept just as a pet. If you purchase a "pet quality" pup, you cannot expect the breeder to supply you with the Registration Papers (which are necessary for showing or breeding). Dogs without Registration Papers, however can still compete in Obedience and Agility trials.

Also, if your final choice of a pet is a puppy of show potential, you will probably have to pay show price, because the quality of the pup has not changed.

Will a girl or boy Basenji make a better pet?
Both males and females make equally good pets. However, there are a couple of things that you may wish to keep in mind:

  • Basenji bitches can be very assertive to other Basenji bitches;
  • Males can sometimes be aggressive with other dogs
If you wish to keep more than one Basenji, then it might be a good idea to get them both as pups, or to mix your sexes.

Bitches also to tend to be dominant as far as people are concerned. Thus, the solo Basenji owner might find a male more suitable, whereas the owner with other dogs (excluding female Basenjis) might consider a female.

Remember that this is purely a generalization, and of course that there are always exceptions to every rule!

Purchasing a Puppy from Mzalia
Once you have decided to share your life with a Basenji, why should you decide to purchase one from Mzalia Basenjis?

Individualised Attention
Each Basenji is a very special and unique individual. And the early weeks are very important for the puppy's future well being. Therefore we strongly believe in giving each puppy bred by us individualised attention to meet its particular needs. The puppies are raised as part of our family, loved, cared for, and socialised from an early age.

All of our puppies are wormed, vaccinated and have their dew claws removed before they leave our care.

Making the "New Parents" Feel Welcome
The decision to purchase a puppy is a big one. You will be adding a new member to your family for which you will be responsible for the next 12 years or so. We want to make your decision as easy for you as possible, so that you feel comfortable with your decision. That is part of the reasoning behind the production of this booklet - to give you as much information as possible so as to help you decide if a Basenji is the right dog for you. We do not want to force you into buying a puppy from us. We are here to help you make an educated decision.

As a prospective owner, we encourage you to visit us, to meet the puppy's parents (where practical), and to visit the puppy as it grows up. Puppies grow up and change so quickly, and we like prospective owners to feel like they are a part of the puppy's development as well.

And when it comes time to take your new family member home you will be given some food to give your puppy for his first few days in his new home, and another booklet similar to this, but with more specific information about things such as Feeding and Diet, Worming and Vaccination Information, some Basic First Aid hints, and an assortment of various other hints and tips, to help you and your Basenji to settle into your new life together. In short, it's a collection of information about all the sorts of things that we would have loved to have had to refer to when we brought our first Basenji home.

Continued Support
The service that we provide does not end the day that you take the puppy home. You are more than welcome to contact us at any time with any questions you may have related to the puppy - it's diet, health, anything - even if it is only to have a chat and to let us know how junior is going.

They may leave our home, but we will never stop caring about them.

The Last Word
A Basenji is just like any other member of the family - it needs and craves for your love and attention. The more that you put into your relationship with your Basenji, the more you will receive in return.
And one thing to remember should you decide to share your life with a Basenji....

Enjoy and treasure each other - you are both special individuals

Last Modified
26 May 2009