Basenji- The Ancient African Dog Breed


by Elizabeth Prater

The Basenji is an interesting dog, said to be one of the most unique breeds in the world. It actually belongs in the category of hound dogs. The Basenji is sometimes called, “the barkless dog from Africa.” Many argue that it is not really a dog, but rather more cat-like. This is because the Basenji is one of the only dog breeds in the world that doesn’t bark. It makes a yodel-like sound. Some say that it’s more like a meow. This is due to a larynx whose shape is different from other dogs. Some Basenjis can’t bark at all, while others have a deep, low growl or even an eerie scream. This dog crows when pleased, either by a surprise or by a familiar face, or just when its happy.

             Another cat-like quality that these dogs have is that they are very calm.  In addition, they make very good show dogs because of their hair. A short, fine coat, is easier to maintain and doesn’t need a ton of grooming like other show breeds. In fact, most Basenjis maticulously groom themselves. They lick themselves clean more than cats do, which makes them basically odorless with minimal bathing needs. As such, they are good for people who have sensitive noses. These dogs also appreciate a tidy house and prefer uncluttered areas. I see why they are thought of more as cats than dogs.

Despite the personification this breed makes, its origin and use is definitely frightening. Basenjis were used in Central Africa 40 centuries ago to hunt lions, using both scent and sight. Among many other qualities, they are super smart and stealthy, which comes from their lineage in Central Africa. They actually lived in the Nile and Zaire area, and mated with several wild dogs. Because of this, they are closely related to a wolf, or a jackal in their metabolism. Today, the pure Basenji breed is only found in a few areas in Africa. Basenjis also hate rain, or other bad weather, so they won’t stay outside for long if you live in a very overcast and wet area. They also don’t stay out at night, a trait that can be traced back to their African lineage.

            It is debated that Basenjis are one of the world’s oldest dogs, found in ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs and art. They were actually brought up the Central Nile from Africa as gifts for the Pharaohs. This is why they are found in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back to 4000 B.C. Some say that the Basenji gave its ears to Anubis which in Egyptian myth, is a dog/god hybrid.     


            This dog had been in high demand for the longest time, and the British even waited for 50 years to get their hands on the Basenji. Finally, in 1937, they started to breed this dog in England. In 1937, they were also introduced to the United States and Canada. However, when the dogs were brought to the US, they were almost wiped out due to a fatal genetic kidney disease. As such, breeders sought out these dogs in the Congo and brought them back to the US to breed with a healthier gene-pool.

            When adopting a Basenji from a breeder, it is highly recommended that you first ask about the lineage. An unhealthy Basenji can result from improper breeding, and the dog’s lifespan can be shortened as a result. Life expectancy for this breed is 10-12 years. However, this breed has a lot of possible health-related issues ranging from thyroid issues, deficiencies, and intestinal issues. Some specific issues include Persistent Pupillary Membrane (PPM), Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), Umbilical Hernia, and Hip Dysplasia. Basenjis are also prone to gum disease, so daily brushing or brushing the dog’s teeth at least 2-3 times a week is recommended to prevent this issue and to prevent tartar from building up over time. They also need their nails trimmed regularly since they grow at a faster pace than most breeds. Long nails can scratch hardwood floors and make incessant clicking noises when the dogs walk or run on a hard surface.

            Basenjis have tightly-coiled tails and wrinkled foreheads. They are also famous for their pointed ears, which is the easiest way to identify the breed in hieroglyphs. They also stand very tall, which made them very good companions for the Egyptian pharaohs. They weigh about 22-24 pounds and are five inches tall at the shoulder and don’t shed a lot.


            Recently, two Basenjis have been trained to understand ASL and communicate to deaf children. This showcases their excellent intelligence. However, despite their high potential, patience is heavily needed for training. Despite their high intelligence, Basenjis are very stubborn and, unlike most dogs, they don’t see a reason to please their owners.

            A bronze statue in the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows the relationship between a Basenji and a man. Like cats, the Basenji will only typically bond with one or two members of the family. This makes it less of a family dog. Basenjis easily live in cities and apartment buildings, which is perfect for couples or for people living by themselves.

            On the other hand, Basenjis do like to explore and tend to run away easily, even from a fenced yard. It is recommended that you keep your eye on the dog when it is roaming free outside because it isn’t guaranteed that the Basenji will come back. That being said, it’s important to keep this breed on-leash at all times. They need early socialization and training to develop good habits and be steered away from common bad habits that are often very inconvenient and annoying.

            Overall, the Basenji can be a good dog as long as standards and rules are firmly established while it is a puppy. The dog can and will behave better than its natural instinct. If you are a person who likes a clean house, and maybe someone who is a little lonely, this dog is the perfect fit for you!



Basenji Club of America

Willamette Valley Basenji Club

Elizabeth Prater is a pet blogger, using her own blog to provide pet reviews and advice to all those who read. Her main platform is on Instagram (@genevieve_the_cute_dog) where she posts photos of Genevieve’s life! You can find occasional videos on their YouTube channel. The dynamic duo has lots of fun off and on camera!