People who have owned basenjis are either diehard fans or refuse to ever share space with one again. The fact is, this isn’t a dog for everyone. The basenji is highly intelligent, yet responds to training only if they’re in the mood. They don’t bark, though they’re far from quiet. But if you’re looking for a dog with a mischievous, independent nature that treats each day as an exciting, new adventure, you’ll love the basenji breed.
The basenji is a member of the pariah dog family, which is a group of medium-sized dogs with pricked ears, a long tail that curls over the back, and a wedge-shaped head. Pariahs are typically feral dogs from Africa, India, or southeastern Asia. While the basenji is now a recognized breed in the United States, it originates from Africa, where it served as a hunting companion for local tribespeople. Some historians say it was once a companion dog for the pharaohs.
People who love cats will no doubt have an immediate connection with this breed. Aloof and curious, the basenji is also a fantastic vertical climber, able to scale a fence or a tree in a few seconds. They are affectionate with their humans but don’t expect them to follow you around the house all day. The basenji keeps itself much too busy with its explorations to care about what you’re doing.
These medium-sized canines top out at less than 25 pounds as adults and grow to around 17 inches at the shoulder. The American Kennel Club lists them in the hound group, along with beagles, bloodhounds, and greyhounds. Like other hounds, the basenji is a natural hunter, with highly developed eyesight, acute scent abilities, energetic speed, and astonishing agility.
Like cats, basenjis constantly groom themselves, so their owner doesn't have to worry much about their upkeep. They also shed very little and only require a wipe down of their sleek coat once a week to remove any loose hair and a regular check of their ears and nails. These dogs don’t have an unpleasant or strong “doggy” smell, either. Because they’re pretty much odorless, they seldom need a bath.
If you’re seeking a quiet dog and think a basenji might fit the bill, you’re “barking” up the wrong tree. The basenji is an extremely vocal dog that growls, whines, and whimpers like other canines. They don’t yap or woof, but owners say they do make unusual sounds called “barooing” — sort of a cross between a yodel and a chortle. These endearing sounds, in combination with their irresistibly cute, human-like facial expressions and comical antics are top reasons why people become fans of the breed.
When you first see a basenji, you can’t help but notice its elegant and graceful build. They’re muscular dogs, with a short, fine-but-shiny coat that comes in an array of colors. You’ll find black, cream, red, mahogany, or sable coats with white markings, brindle, or tricolors with blue, cream, and white or black, brindle, and white. The basenji tail is a unique, identifying trait that bends forward over the back and curls to either side.
Experienced owners learn early on that a bored basenji is a destructive one. The secret to deterring these negative behaviors is exercise. They need long walks or the freedom of a daily energetic run in a fenced, open space. Because basenjis tend to do as they please, always leash them while out and about, even if they’ve had obedience training. Basenjis love chasing squirrels, rabbits, and other fast-moving critters.
The basenji is a vibrant, healthy breed except for two conditions. Fanconi syndrome is an inheritable kidney disorder that prevents the tubules from reabsorbing the electrolytes, nutrients, and water. The condition leads to muscle loss, acidosis, and overall poor health. If a vet detects it early, it is curable. Owners should screen all basenjis for progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and hip dysplasia. Purchasing from a reputable breeder is important for avoiding these issues.
Training a basenji can be an exhausting experience for both you and your pet. Begin socialization training and obedience by the age of 10 to 12 weeks when possible. However, if you’ve brought home a rescued basenji, it’s never too late to start a training program. Brace yourself for some setbacks and refusals to obey commands. These are headstrong canines that require lots of patience and consistency.
Some basenjis are excellent watchdogs. Others, not so much. These are great family dogs that love children, but don’t be surprised if they latch on to one person in the household. They’ll safely cohabitate with other pets, including feline housemates. Keep in mind that at their core, the basenji is a hunting dog. They’ll chase any neighborhood cats that happen to wander into their yard.
Get your paws on the latest animal news and information