Basenji Breed: Everything You Need to Know About This Dog

If you like your pooch minus the bark, you’ll probably like the Basenji. In fact, one of the Basenji’s many nicknames is “African barkless dog.”

Instead of the “ruff, ruff” you hear from other dogs, Basenjis make a yodeling “baroo” due to its unusually shaped larynx or voice box.

Its bark — or rather, the lack thereof — isn’t the only unique thing about the Basenji. Compared to most canine breeds, Basenjis have a more independent, aloof and almost catlike personality.

This makes it a great choice for people who can’t decide if they want a cat, a dog, or both — but don’t want to shell out extra for an extra furry friend.

Like cats, Basenjis aren’t keen on being trained by their human owners. If you’re not willing to go the extra mile to teach your Basenji to do his “business” outside — rather than all over your carpet — you’re better off looking at other dog breeds.

On the other hand, if you feel strongly about having a Basenji as a lifelong canine companion, here’s what you need to know about this remarkable breed.

The Basenji Breed At a Glance

As mentioned earlier, the “African barkless dog” isn’t the only nickname for the Basenji. You’ll also hear people referring to the Basenji as the “African bush dog,” “Congo dog,” “Congo terrier,” “Ango Angari” and “Zande dog.”

The Basenji was bred as a sighthound or gazehound, meaning that it relies on sight rather than scent to track down prey. It has short hair, erect ears, a distinctive wrinkled forehead and a curled, white-tipped tail.

Basenji dog puppy at 3 months old

Usually, Basenjis are red, black, tricolor, brindle or trindle. No matter the color combo, all variations of the breed have white chests and feet.

On average, the Basenji can live for twelve to fourteen years. It’s not exactly what you’d call an imposing breed, with the males reaching only 43 cm (17 inches) in height, and the females 40 cm (16 inches).


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The Basenjis is also known as a square breed, or a dog that is as long as it is tall.

Don’t let their size fool you, though. The Basenji’s powerful, compact body — combined with strong legs — means that the breed can run for speeds around 30 to 35 mph.

All these qualities make for a fine hunting dog, especially considering where they come from.

History of the Basenji

The Basenji is one of the world’s oldest dog breeds — if not the oldest dog breed.

As early as 6,000 B.C., there have been cave paintings in Libya depicting dogs with the Basenji’s curly tail.

Hieroglyphs of Basenji-like dogs have also been found near the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, where they stand guard over their masters with their distinctive erect ears and looped tails.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Basenjis were brought to Egypt as gifts from Central Africa. There, the Basenji was bred to hunt and drive small prey into traps, which would explain its proportionately small size.

It would also explain why the dog doesn’t bark. Some theorize that, because people in Central Africa needed to be on the lookout for enemies at all times, the last thing they wanted was a dog that was noisy enough to give away their hidden encampments.

The Basenji didn’t come to the Western world until the late 19th century when Europeans first described the breed in 1895. They tried to bring it back to the continent several times, but the imported dogs easily succumbed to disease.

Eventually, in the 1930s, a man named Henry Trefflich was able to import a successful foundation stock of Basenjis from Europe into the United States. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Basenji Personality

The Basenji’s personality can be summed up as “cat in a dog’s body.” They’re playful, curious and independent, not unlike most felines. Basenjis are also extremely intelligent.

Your Basenji will be a big bundle of energy. If you want to keep them from being bored — and from taking out that boredom on your furniture — make sure you give them some much-needed exercise for at least 30 to 45 minutes every day.

Like cats, Basenjis are pretty picky about the humans they choose to bond with. This can be a dealbreaker for huge families.

But if there are only a few of you in the household, you shouldn’t worry too much about a Basenji nipping anyone’s heels.

Don’t expect them to play security guard, though. Although Basenjis are quick to notice if anything’s amiss in the house, they’re not inclined to be protective either.

Caring for a Basenji

The Basenji is a relatively low-maintenance breed. Because its hair is so short, wiping it down with a hound glove or mitt is enough to keep it nice and tidy.

Even if you’re not in the mood to clean your Basenji, no worries. Like its feline counterpart, the Basenji is perfectly capable of cleaning itself whenever it wants.

However, the Basenji is prone to a number of health issues. Watch out for symptoms of Fanconi Syndrome, where the dog’s kidneys fail and lead to other, potentially life-threatening conditions.

The easiest way to tell whether a Basenji has Fanconi Syndrome is through a DNA test kit specifically designed to detect the disease.

Of course, make sure to let your vet in on the tests too, so s/he can help you plot the best course of action for your beloved pet.

Basenji Breed

Training a Basenji

If you’re new to owning pets, you may want to stay away from Basenjis.

Their high energy, combined with their cat-like temperament, can be overwhelming and frustrating. Even experienced pet owners will have to spend a lot of time and energy just to teach a Basenji to heel.

Still, if you’re willing to take the risk, training a Basenji can be its own reward. Basenjis thrive in urban areas (except those with New England winters), and love owners who are as adventurous, athletic and quick-witted as they are.

When training a Basenji, remember to keep it light and fun. Give them an outlet for their endless fountains of energy, and don’t forget to give them tasty treats for a job well done.

How Much Does a Basenji Cost?

On average, one Basenji can cost $1,275 — assuming the dog has papers. A dog that doesn’t have papers will cost much less, though buying these types of pets is not recommended.

If you have your sights on a dog with a higher pedigree, expect to fork out anywhere between $1,600 to $4,400. The price can be even higher for a Basenji whose pedigree is considered exceptional.

As for food, grooming, healthcare and the like, it’s safe to set aside about $500 to $1,000 every year for a Basenji. So before you bring this pooch into your home, make sure you’re ready to take on the financial responsibilities that come with it.

Overall, the Basenji is a great dog to have. It’s fun, independent and very easy to groom. But it’s also challenging to train, and has a number of health issues that can cost you big over the long run.

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