The Basenji - A Brief Overview

The Basenji is a small, shorthaired hunting dog from the jungles of Africa that hunts by both sight and scent. The head is rather fox-like in appearance with prick ears and a furrowed brow. The Basenji is short backed and lightly built, appearing high on the let compared to its length. They vary a bit in size, depending on the lines that the dog comes from. "The Standard" composed by The Basenji Club of America states, "Ideal height for dogs is 17 inches and bitches 16 inches. Dogs 17 inches and bitches 16 inches from front of chest to point of buttocks. Approximate weight for dogs is 24 pounds, and a bitch is 22 pounds. Lightly built within this height to weight ratio." The neck is well arched and the tail is set high and curled (in a single or double curl). Elegant and graceful, the whole demeanor is one of poise and inquiring alertness. A Basenji can live to be 10-15 years of age, sometimes older with proper care and nutrition. They are delightfully charming and very intelligent.

Basenjis naturally bark less, and can be literally barkless, but they are not mute. Some may whine and "scream" as protest while they are young or being crate trained. There can be a sound to their yawns, very similar to humans, or if you step on their toe, of course. Some are capable of a very endearing vocal expression referred to as a "yodel" or "chortle." This sound can resemble a growl to the untrained ear, but usually blooms into a melodical greeting that most everyone can appreciate. It is a rather private greeting, something that would not be heard by neighbors. Puppies often greet their keepers with the yodel or chortle, but unfortunately, many mature out of this stage. All and all, the Basenji is very quiet compared to other breeds, after they are successfully crate trained. This does not make them inadequate watchdogs! They WATCH well, and will alarm you of the arrival of guests and intruders. They should not be considered to be a guard dog, as one shouldn't expect a Basenji to frighten trespassers.

“Basenjis naturally bark less, and can be literally barkless, but they are not mute.”

Show potential Basenjis must have four white paws and a white tail tip. All other white is optional so long as it does not dominate over the other color/s. Most champions of record do not have perfectly symmetrical markings, nor full white collars. Markings are only frosting on the cake of a well-built Basenji.

The Basenji comes in four "approved" color combinations. All of these color combinations are perfectly acceptable. Some people prefer specific colors much like people prefer certain ice-cream flavors to others. They are all beautiful.:

Basenji fanciers find it difficult to have "just one," as many believe that Basenjis are best kept in pairs of opposite sex (please spay or neuter to assure year-round compatibility.) The interaction between a pair of Basenjis is enchanting. It is not wise, however, to acquire two Basenjis within a year, particularly youngsters. Consider Basenjis to be housedogs. They are particularly attracted to heat and sunshine, and are not happy outdoors in foul weather. They clean themselves fastidiously like cats, cleaning their entire bodies at least once a day. They are virtually shedless, except in heat spells where they will noticeably shed. Many people who are "allergic" to dogs find compatibility with Basenjis; however, Basenjis are not danderless. (If allergies are your primary concern, you may want to also consider the Bichon Frisť or the Poodle.) As an added bonus, Basenjis are virtually odorless, with no apparent body scent. Occasionally, an individual will exhibit bad breath. For these reasons, Basenjis are often a good choice for the allergic personal as well as an owner who prefers a dog that need not go to the groomer.

So Basenjis bark-less, are odorless, shedless, are a nice manageable size and cute. Sound too good to be true? Perhaps so, because Basenjis are not Decorator Pillows. There are several less desirable traits that are not to be overlooked when considering a Basenji:

“At times no dog can be naughtier than a Basenji, but no dog has brought apology to a finer art.” ~ Veronica Tutor Williams, original western world importress
  • They are creative. This trait manifests itself in such actions as escaping, getting into garbage and/or laundry hampers, stealing or destroying your most precious items, and general mischief making. Every Basenji owner can tell you stories about how their Basenji outwitted them on several occasions…and take it in stride with pride.
  • They chase anything that moves: cars, bikes, children, mice, squirrels, etc. Basenji Lore has it that more Basenjis have died of being hit by cars than by natural death. Because they are sighthounds who need their exercise, a fully fenced and secure backyard, or else a dedicated walker/jogger owner is a must.
  • The Basenji has never been bred to serve Man. Therefore, they are not your best specimen for obedience instruction. Many Basenjis have been successfully trained to obedience titles, but it is a tremendous challenge. The Basenji is very quick to pick up on basic housemanners because most compliment their instincts. With other instructions a Basenji thinks, "What's in it for me?"
  • The Basenji requires your extra time and attention as a puppy. It is NEVER too early to start puppy kindergarten or obedience class with a Basenji. The first year is critical to impose pack order in your household, and receptiveness to commands. (This is one of the reasons why getting two Basenji puppies is not a good idea, certainly never littermates as you will not be able to captivate the attention of either one of them long enough to train.)
  • Basenjis should be crate trained, for their own safety and your piece of mind. This is not an easy feat, nor pleasant. You may lose sleep for as long as a month or two at first, but it absolutely worth the effort. The crate trained Basenji is reliable in the house, the best houseguest, welcomed by the breeder, and kenneled without added stress when you are away on vacation. If you purchase a show potential, the breeder may contractually require you to crate train the puppy, so be prepared. As an extreme measure, you may want to invest in earplugs for the entire household. Plan to let your neighbors know that you will be acquiring a puppy, and that while you are crate training them, it is possible that they may hear him/her from time to time. Let them know why it is important to crate train them, and hopefully they will understand and support your efforts.
  • Especially as puppies, Basenjis can be climbers, diggers or chewers. An assortment of various textures of doggie toys is essential to preserve your furniture, carpet, rugs and laundry through the teething stages and beyond.

For other considerations about whether or not a Basenji is right for you, take my quiz.

Health Issues:

As with any other breed, Basenjis have their share of health concerns, the most widespread and unique to the breed are:

What to remember to ask:

If you are looking into acquiring a Basenji from a breeder, you can ask to see their glucose test performed either at home, or at the vet. Also you can ask to see the CERF and OFA paperwork on the sire and dam of the litter. Some breeders take their litters to a board certified canine opthamologist at a very young age to view for PPM (persistent pupillary membranes), cataracts, and juvenile colobomas. Do ask to see the original records. Your should ask to have a photocopy of each of these tests to take home with your puppy and keep them safely filed away.

Basenjis from puppy mills and pet shops are bad news. Consider acquiring a Basenji only from either a reputable breeder or else through an established rescue organization. Always ask for the entire story about the known history of the Basenji you are considering. Basenjis who are not properly socialized from infancy rarely mature to be loving housepets.

Having previously owned a dog may actually be a handicap to the new Basenji owner, because the Basenji is not your average dog. Most assuredly, you will need to rely on the expertise of the breeder to assist you through difficult times with your Basenji, if you want to shape your Basenji's behavior to be a socially acceptable, safe companion. Do not consider a Basenji something you just buy, and do-it-yourself. You will need help at some point. They do experience the canine equivalent of The Terrible Twos, and exhibit strange behaviors when approaching sexual maturity if/when still intact. If you don't handle it correctly, you may suffer a set-back in the establishment of the pack order. Remember that this is a primitive breed that was never developed to serve Man. Like so many other commodities, "you get what you pay for" most of the time. Reputable breeders will offer you much more than just the dog itself, as they are prepared to offer you a continuing education also.

Reputable breeders are pleased to go through pedigrees and explain the health concerns in the ancestry of their stock. They will share health documentation and provide you with photocopies for you to take home. Testing is very expensive and you should be prepared to pay a premium to the breeder who does test eyes, hips, and glucose regularly. Ask a candidate breeder to share with you their breeding philosophy and exactly WHY they bred this particular bitch to that particular dog. You should have an opportunity to meet the dam of the litter, but often the stud dog will not be present. Don't be alarmed by this. Many of today's breeders ship their bitches to be bred to interstate dogs, or are inseminated at the breeder's local vet with frozen semen collected from a foreign dog - or perhaps even from a dog who passed on and was genetically "preserved" via a deposit in a sperm bank years ago!

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish which breeders are “reputable” and knowledgable, and which ones are simply imitating those who are. Dig deep. Ask for references, and contact them. When you call the references, ask them not only if they are pleased with the Basenji, but also ask if the breeder was “there” for them when they needed help. Take a look at the article which addresses this contrast, The Backyard Breeder vs. The “Responsible” Hobby Breeder.

Above and beyond all of this, make sure that you feel comfortable with the breeder. You are literally “buying into” a family. Be certain that you approve of the canines and humans involved.

Basenji Affiliations:

The Basenji Club of America is open for membership to Basenji breeders and fanciers all over the world. There is also 20 affiliated local clubs in the U.S.A. dedicated to the preservation of the Basenji. There is also in the United Kingdom: the Basenji Owners and Breeders Association and the Basenji Club of Great Britain; the Northern Basenji Society and The Breed Council (made up from the 3 U.K. Breed clubs). In Australia, there is the Basenji Club of Victoria, and the Basenji Club of New South Wales. There is a Basenji club on nearly every continent.

This article was written by request for the Microsoft Corporation. Originally published in 1996, it is updated annually. For more information about Basenjis, consider contacting the author of this article.

The author is an active member in good standing with the following reputable dog clubs and organizations:

Katie Campbell - Taji Basenjis - P.O. Box 16065 - Seattle, WA 98116-0065 - © 2000 & 2001 - all rights reserved