The Basenji is a dog of a medium size and light build, with a short sleek coat.
Its been said that a Basenji is 1/4 dog, 1/4 cat, 1/4 monkey and 1/4 human. They’re known for being smart, curious, alert, loving, proud and independent, all at the same time.
These qualities are needed to survive as a hunting dog, which the Basenji is. They are very smart, with the ability to learn quickly, but will not always choose to do what you ask of them. A typical bored Basenji will become destructive if left to their own devises and they can prove to become a challenge, even for the most experienced of dog owners.
The Basenji is a lightly built, small, short-haired hunting dog that is taller than it is long. It has a short back, which makes it appear high on the leg. The wrinkled head is made of flat, well-chiseled skull which tapers towards the eyes with a slight stop. It has almond-shaped eyes that are dark in colour, obliquely set and far-seeing. It has a black nose and small erect ears set well on top of the head. When the ears are erect, fine, profuse wrinkles will appear on the forehead giving a curious or sometimes roguish look. The neck is of good length, slightly full at the throat base which gives the head a high carriage. A muscular shoulder, firmly-tucked elbows, straight legs with fine bone structure and flexible pasterns makes up the forequarters profile. The short and level topline ends with a strong and muscular hindquarters and a highly set tail which bends forward and set on a single or double curl over to either side close to the thigh. All legs are cushioned by oval, compact feet with thick pads. The coat is short and fine and comes in chestnut red, pure black, tricolour, and brindle with white markings on the feet, chest and tip of the tail.
An adult male Basenji has an ideal height of 43 cm while a female stands at 40 cm. Ideal weight is between 9.5 kg and 11 kg with dogs on the heavier side of the scale.
The Basenji is a small dog and one of the ancient breeds. The modern day breed originated in the Zaire region of Africa and is used as a hunting dog but its genetic ancestors were the free-ranging dogs that were abundant in the Saharan Africa during the Holocene era. These dogs came from eastern Asia which evolved from either Chinese or southeast Asian wolves. Although the modern Basenji hails from central Africa, a recent study that analyzed the DNA of ancient dogs showed that the Basenji has a lineage of a 14,500 BC wolf DNA sequence. These ancient basenji-like dogs have been known to accompany humans for millennia. Cave frescoes in the Tassili N’Ajjer Mountains of Algeria dating back 6,000 years or more depicts domesticated dogs similar to the Basenji ancestors – pointed ears, long legs and curled tail. Egyptian monuments and tomb decorations also depict pariah dogs similar to the modern-day Basenji with pricked ears and tightly curled tails. The first European descriptions of Basenji ancestors were in 1895 in Congo. These were prized companions by the locals because of their intelligence, courage and speed in tracking and luring game into nets. The Basenjis were first exhibited in England in 1895 and were known as “Lagos Bush Dogs” but these early imports unfortunately died after contracting distemper. Then in 1923, six Basenjis were brought to Great Britain from Khartoum, Sudan by Lady Helen Nutting but they too also died from the after-effects of distemper shots. The actual foundation stock of modern-day Basenjis were imported to Great Britain in 1936 by Mrs. Olivia Burns.
The Basenji is alert, energetic and curious. It is a loyal breed and has a tendency to be emotionally attached to its owner. It is typically aloof with strangers but is not an innately aggressive breed. It does not get along very well in wet weather conditions owing to the fact that it was originally bred in the dry sub-Saharan region. It is an agile dog that likes to climb and can easily get over fences. It is highly intelligent but is quite stubborn and likes to chew on things. It does not bark, hence the nickname “barkless dog” but it does give out a range of sounds from a delightful yodel to whines and screams. It makes a good watchdog.
The Basenji, although highly intelligent, is one of the toughest dog breeds to train. It is a wonderful pet to have but training can be challenging. It is an independent thinker and will often decide whether to obey a command or not. In their normal environment, the Basenji hunt by sight and will chase anything that runs. This trait makes it an excellent breed at the sport of lure coursing. It is not a breed for first-time pet owners as it needs someone who can appreciate its attitude and intelligence.
The Basenji has a short, soft coat with no doggy odour and sheds very little. It does not require any trimming or complicated grooming. It is also a fairly clean dog with almost feline grooming habits.
The average lifespan of the Basenji is between 12 to 14 years. It is prone to progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and Fanconi syndrome which affects the kidney. There are also some cases of hypothyroidism, immunoproliferative systemic intestinal disease or malabsorption which is similar to irritable bowel syndrome in humans, and hemolytic anemia which is a genetically acquired disease. Exposure to household chemicals can cause liver problems so it’s best to keep Basenjis away from these chemicals.
The Basenji is an active breed with a high energy level which requires high amounts of exercise. A Basenji who does not get a fair amount of physical and mental stimulation on a daily basis can become destructive or will channel its energy in other ways. Long daily walks or running on-leash alongside a bike or roller skates are good exercises for this feisty breed. It must not be left unattended even in a fenced backyard.
The Basenji has a strong prey drive that loves to chase small animals and may not get along well with non-canine pets, but if socialized early with cats and other small pets, it will be a good addition to the family. However, it is not recommended for homes with hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and other similar animals. It is a family-oriented dog that loves attention and can be good with older children who know how to properly handle dogs.