Basenji

Basenji Facts

  • Breed Type: Purebred
  • Size: Small
  • Lifespan: 12 – 16 years
  • Temperament: Affectionate, Alert, Curious, Energetic, Intelligent, Playful
  • Colors: Black, Black and White, Brindle, Red, Tan, Tri-Color
  • Hypoallergenic: Yes
  • Related Dog Breeds:

Basenji drawing by Dog Breeds List

If you ask your average person to list off the dog breeds they’ve heard of, chances are the Basenji won’t be one of them. Not a lot of people have had the chance to see this adorable breed in person because they aren’t particularly common.

Even so, the Basenji is definitely worth meeting (and even adopting if you’re a good fit for him!).

As one of the oldest breeds out there, the Basenji is pretty unique.

For starters, he’s very cat-like. Not only will he insist on cleaning himself, he’s also independent, curious, and stubborn. But don’t worry, he’s very affectionate towards his owners.

And, fun fact:

Basenjis don’t bark.

So that’s a plus…right?

We’ll talk more about this breed’s barklessness later. But for now, keep reading to find out more about this handsome hound dog!

History

The Basenji is of African descent and was first discovered by Westerners in the Congo region during the 19th century.

At that time, the dogs were used to aid hunters. They chased game into nets, carried supplies, and alerted to dangerous animals.

But the Basenji existed long before Westerners found out about them. In fact, according to paleontologists, the first domesticated dogs looked very much like Basenjis. So we don’t know exactly when they originated, but we know the breed is definitely an old one.

And Basenjis been quite popular throughout time.

They were invaluable to African hunters. A good hunting Basenji was worth more than a wife in some tribes!

And at some point, Basenjis were brought from interior Africa to Egypt as gifts for the pharaohs, where they captured the intrigue of those ancient Egyptian rulers. Sure enough, the sleek, curly-tailed dog can be found depicted in ancient Egyptian artifacts and art.

The Basenji’s trip to Europe and later to the United States was a rough one, as importing a healthy breeding pair proved to be a challenge. But the barkless dog successfully made his way out of Africa by the 1930’s.

The breed was later recognized by the AKC in 1943.

Are Basenjis Good Family Dogs?

Basenjis do okay as family dogs.

They require a good deal of work and attention, so they aren’t very well suited to families with busy schedules. Instead, they would do best in a home where someone can devote a good amount of time to them. 

Basenjis are flexible when it comes to living situation.

They would appreciate a yard (though they should never be outside-only dogs). But the breed can do just as well in an apartment so long as they get their daily exercise.

As for compatibility with children:

The Basenji isn’t particularly fond of little ones.

But the breed makes a good companion for older children, since he has the energy levels to keep up with them.

If you do have younger children and are considering a Basenji, it’s best to start with a puppy.

An adult Basenji that hasn’t been around little ones before likely won’t adapt well. But if raised with kids from the beginning, chances are your Basenji will make a good friend (and partner in crime!) for your children.

Care

While owning this breed can be very rewarding, it’s important for you to understand what caring for a Basenji entails.

As with any dog, your Basenji has a few basic needs that you’ll have to provide for.

These include nutrition, grooming, exercise, training, and health.

Nutrition

Like all dogs, Basenjis need a balanced diet of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy.

Basenjis are prone to weight gain, so make sure to monitor how much they eat. Instead of leaving food out for them all the time, you should feed them twice daily on a schedule.

The amount of food a Basenji needs is determined by activity level, metabolism, age, and overall health. So how much one Basenji should eat may be a little different from how much another Basenji should eat.  

Labels on dog food give an approximation of how much to feed based on your dog’s weight. This is definitely a good place to start, but you should make adjustments depending on your individual dog. Speaking with your veterinarian can give you a good idea of exactly how much your Basenji needs to eat.

As a general rule of thumb, an adult Basenji should eat between ¾ to 1 cup of high-quality dog food, divided into two meals, daily.

Again, several factors affect feeding amounts, but these tips should give you a good starting point.

Keep an eye on your dog to make sure he’s not too thin or too heavy-set. Then adjust as needed.

Grooming

Basenjis are low-maintenance when it comes to grooming.

They are known for being meticulously clean, and they self-groom as a cat would. (So they’ll rarely need a bath!)

This breed is also famous for his lack of “doggy smell”.

Even so, it’s a good idea to brush your Basenji weekly to help distribute skin oils and keep his coat healthy.

Though they do shed, Basenji shedding is minimal. In fact, the Basenji is one of the few hypoallergenic dog breeds that doesn’t have a high-maintenance coat.

In addition to regular brushing, your Basenji will need the basic care required by all dog breeds:

  • Brush his teeth at least once a week (though more frequently is better!) to keep your dog healthy.
  • Check his ears for signs of irritation or infection.
  • And trim his nails as needed.

Exercise

The Basenji is a very energetic breed, and without sufficient exercise, he will become destructive.

Thankfully, he’s on the small side, so meeting his activity needs is not too difficult.

Your Basenji will need at least 40 minutes of exercise a day. For some, a daily walk will suffice. If you have a particularly energetic Basenji, though, he could require a bit more exercise.

In addition to physical activity, your Basenji needs mental stimulation to keep him happy.

Getting out and about can help fulfill that need. But you may also consider some thinking games or puzzles.

For example, you could put a treat under a cup and let your Basenji figure out how to get it. Or even play a game of hide and seek with him by hiding yourself or his favorite toy.  

If you’re interested in canine sports, your Basenji would be thrilled to participate.

The breed enjoys agility work and running lure courses. So that’s something else to keep in mind as well.

There are all sorts of fun ways to help your Basenji stay busy and active, so get creative and have a good time with it!

Training

Basenjis are not easy to train.

They’re smart, but they don’t always like to listen. So if you’re looking for a dog that will comply the moment you give a command, the Basenji probably isn’t for you.

Instead, this is a dog that has to think about what you’ve told him before he chooses whether or not he’ll obey.

Never treat your Basenji harshly, as doing so will make him aggressive and more stubborn. Instead, create a rewarding environment and use positive reinforcement techniques. With patience, treats, and praise, the Basenji can learn readily.

When training, keep sessions short.

Like, really short.

Any longer than 5 or 10 minutes and your Basenji will start losing interest and become unfocused.

Socialization is also important.

Make sure to expose your Basenji to lots of different people, places, and dogs. Otherwise, you’ll have a timid, skittish, or aggressive pup.

Basenji Health Issues

Basenjis are generally healthy. They have an average lifespan of 12 to 16 years.

However, some individuals can suffer from various health problems and/or diseases. The most common ailments this breed experiences includes the following:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Corneal dystrophy
  • Patellar luxation
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
  • Fanconi syndrome
  • Malabsorption
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Persistent pupillary membrane
  • Coloboma
  • Umbilical hernia

Living With a Basenji

1. Barkless, But Not Silent

The Basenji may be barkless, but don’t take that to mean he’s completely silent.

Because he’s not.

This little dog has his own special way of making himself heard, and it’s called the Basenji yodel.

Sure, it’s hilarious and adorable now, but imagine hearing that high-pitch howl all the time.

Think you can handle that?

If so, read on!

2. The Feline Canine

I’ve already mentioned that the Basenji is cat-like in his grooming habits. But the truth is, this breed is a feline at heart in more ways than one.

We just saw that he doesn’t bark, but rather yowls like an angry cat might. He’s also an independent soul that prefers doing his own thing over heeding your every command.

And finally, Basenjis hate rain.

So if you live somewhere wet, be prepared.

Like most dogs, your Basenji will still need his daily exercise, no matter the weather. But if you take him out when it’s raining, don’t expect him to be all chipper about it. In fact, he’s probably going to be a bit grumpy.  

3. Possibly Good with Cats

This canine may be cat-like, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to make friends with every feline on the block.

In fact, the Basenji shouldn’t be trusted around cats unless he’s been raised with them.

Furthermore, just because he’s good with the family cat doesn’t mean he’ll be accepting of any old feline.

For him, a neighborhood cat that shows up outside is fair game to chase.  

4. But Definitely Not With Small Pets

While cats are a maybe, small critters like rabbits, hamsters or birds are definitely a no-go.

Because of their hunting instincts, Basenjis should never be trusted or left alone with smaller pets.

This especially goes for any little critters you see outside.

The Basenji will be all over them (and not in a good way) in seconds if you let him.

5. Mostly Canine-Friendly  

Basenjis generally do well with other dogs.

Again, this is especially true if they’ve been raised with one or at least have been well socialized from a young age.

A Basenji in a multi-Basenji household, however, can sometimes be argumentative.

At the very least, you’ll probably end up with a Basenji yodeling ensemble, which can be fun or annoying depending on how you feel about the yowling.

Another thing to consider:

Basenjis typically do best with dogs of the opposite sex.

If you have a dog of the same sex, your Basenji will likely be pushy and dominating towards the other dog.    

6. A Member of the Family

If you’re looking for an outdoor-only dog, then a Basenji is not for you.

These little dogs demand to be part of the family. And if left alone in a yard all the time, the Basenji will likely escape to find someone else to love him.

Despite their independent nature, Basenjis are affectionate with their family. Their facial expressions are awesome and they even like to have in-depth conversations with their people:

They will want to be with you all the time. And these are dogs that will become very destructive if not given enough attention.

So make sure you’ve got lots of time to give!

But don’t let that scare you off. There are lots of easy ways to include your Basenji in daily activities:

  • If your kids have a sports game, bring your Basenji along to watch. It’ll get him out of the house and seeing new people.
  • Or, if you’re picking kids up from school or giving rides, bring your dog along! He’ll love peeping out the car window at all the sights. (Just make sure never to leave your dog alone in the car, though, as doing so is deadly in warm weather.)

7. Wary of Strangers

Though loving with family members, the Basenji can be aloof with strangers.

This is why it is important to socialize him. You don’t want a dog that will be wary of everyone and everything new he may come across.

On the plus side, this wariness of new people does make the Basenji an excellent watchdog.

The breed will not fail to alert you to visitors.

Their movable ears will prick to tell you when something’s up. And they’ll probably go for a full on howl, just to make sure you’re aware.  

8. The Adorable Monster

The Basenji is adorable, I know. He’s got those cute little head wrinkles and a curly tail…how could you not love him?

But if you are considering a Basenji, you need to know exactly what you’re getting into because this isn’t a breed for the faint of heart.

So here goes…

Imagine living with a toddler for roughly 13 years. Imagine a small blur of fluff suddenly bursting out with energy and bolting around your house at random. And not just around the floor, but on furniture, counters, and tables. Imagine almost all your possessions chewed up: shoes, cords, toys, rugs, you name it. Imagine that a visitor comes over and you look away for one second, only to find your Basenji bolting away, already halfway down the street. Imagine finding your trash can dumped all over the house. Now imagine thinking you’re so clever because you learned to put your trash can in a closet. Only to discover that your Basenji has learned how to open the closet door!

And that’s a Basenji, folks!

To be fair, a proper amount of exercise and lots of training will go a long way with helping some of these issues.

But remember that Basenjis are hard to train.

You’re going to have to dedicate a lot of time and probably even invest in a professional trainer.

But even then, you never want to leave a Basenji to his own devices. And that leads us into our next section.

9. Crate Training Basenjis is a MUST

Crate training is beneficial for all dog breeds, but for a Basenji, it is crucial.

And don’t think you can use the crate for potty training and then get rid of it. (Well, you can do that, but I definitely don’t recommend it!)

You and your home would be better off keeping that crate and using it when you leave the house. Since Basenjis can be so destructive, it’s in your best interest to crate your Basenji when nobody is home to supervise.

Just make sure to make crate training a positive experience. Teach your dog to go in there on command, and never use the crate as punishment. You want your Basenji to see it as a safe place and not a scary one. That way he can rest easy inside it while you’re not home.  

10. Escape Artist

The Basenji is infamous for being able to escape from just about anything.

He can scale fences as if they were ladders.

He can even climb trees like a cat.

He can dig his way out under things, and he can jump high.

It’s really quite impossible to contain him.

Even though the odds are in his favor, you still need to try to Basenji-proof your yard:

  • Have a five to six foot fence that goes down into the ground at least a foot.
  • Or line your above-ground fence with bricks.
  • And be sure to teach everyone in the household to always close and lock the gates.   

These precautions can make escape at least a little more difficult for your Basenji. But the best thing to do is simply to never leave your Basenji out in the yard unattended.  

11. Not Great Off-Leash

You may be able to guess from the high-security fort needed to keep your Basenji from getting out of your yard. But I should still state the obvious:

Basenjis are not good dogs to let off-leash.

If you’re ever outside of a fenced-in area, your Basenji needs to be tied to you at all times.

Always hold his leash firmly, and never let him off it no matter how well-behaved he seems.

Should something interesting get his attention, he will be gone in a flash, so don’t take any chances.  

12. What Are My Basenji Color Options?

Basenjis come in a variety of colors. While the chestnut red coloring is the most common, you actually have quite a few choices when it comes to choosing one.

Basenji color options include:

  • Chestnut red
  • Pure black
  • Tricolor
  • Brindle

All of these (including chestnut) are always combined with white feet, chest, and tail tip. The AKC recognizes all these color combinations.

Is a Basenji Right for Me?

You should now have more information to decide if a Basenji would be your perfect match.

They may act like crazy toddlers, but like little kids, they are also sweet, adorable, and affectionate.

A Basenji is by no means right for everyone.

But if you think you have what it takes, then you’re in for a very special canine companion.