Basenji: The Yodeling Curly-Tailed Sighthound


Known as the barkless dog of Africa, the basenji is best known for its strange variety of vocalizations that do not include a bark! Still used as a hunting dog in Africa today, the basenji relies on its sharp vision and sleek muscular build to excel in the chase. This dog is also known as the Congo dog, Congo terrier, African bush dog, African barkless dog, Ango Angari, and the Zande dog.

Highlights

  • A dog known for its yodeling ability
  • A fast moving sighthound
  • An African breed dating back to ancient Egypt
  • A dog with a high prey drive and desire to roam
  • A medium size, but rather energetic breed

The History of the Basenji

The first archaeological evidence of the basenji breed dates back to the early days of ancient Egypt. In fact, many recognize the profile of the basenji in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. It is important, however, not to confuse the basenji with the pharaoh hound which is also depicted in hieroglyphic storylines.

A highly stubborn but exceptionally talented sighthound, the basenji was originally developed as a hunting dog. The short coat, slender body, and heat tolerance of this breed help promote its success at flushing game in to hunter’s waiting nets and chasing down small game.

While it is an excellent and independent hunter in the field, the basenji has also held a place in nobility throughout history. The first basenji dogs were gifted to the pharaoh’s of ancient Egypt and it seems that these slightly aloof dogs never forgot their time on the throne.

Although the small and slender basenji has a long established history in Egypt, it wasn’t until 1937 that the first specimens of the breed were brought to the United States. It then took six years for the American Kennel Club to recognize the breed.

Appearance and Vital Stats

Breed Group

The basenji is a sighthound breed. Sighthounds are dogs that have been bred to hunt based on their keen eye and incredible speed. Dogs in this category are all slender and muscular breeds, but their height can range dramatically.

Native to Africa, the basenji excels at chasing larger prey in to the nets of native huntsmen. The eagle eyes of this breed also enable this breed to chase down rodents and smaller game, however, making it a dog with worldwide appeal.

Size

The basenji stands between 1 feet and 3 inches and 1 foot and 5 inches at the shoulder with males generally being the taller of the breed. Quite a small dog, the basenji weighs in at between 20 to 26 pounds and again, the male of the breed is usually heavier than the female.

basenji puppy

Lifespan

Despite being a smaller breed, the basenji does not have a particularly long lifespan, living between just 10 to 12 years.

Coat Colors

The short and shiny coat of the basenji is quite fine and is designed for the hotter temperatures of the African continent. Due to the fine quality of the basenji coat, this is not a dog that is tolerant of colder temperatures and it requires clothing to keep it warm.

Coat colors that are standard to the basenji include black and white, black and tan and white, brindle and white, and red and white. Colors that are often seen but are not standard for the breed include black brindle and white, blue and cream and white, cream and white, mahogany and white, and sable and white.

The only coat markings that are standard to the basenji are brindle markings. Markings that are often seen but that are not standard for the basenji breed include a black mask, black saddle, and cap markings.

Tail

The basenji tail is not unique to dogs, but it is quite unique for a sighthound. The rather fluffy tail is curled completely over (much like that of the pug) and is held to one side, usually over the hip of the basenji.

Ears

Another particularly well-recognized physical trait of the basenji in addition to the curled tail, are the small pointed ears. Always perked up and pointed forward, the erect ears of the basenji sit forward on the head.

Personality

The basenji is a sometimes aloof, but generally a friendly breed. These dogs do not make great companions for younger family members, however, due to their energy level and smaller size. When it comes to other animals, the basenji must be well socialized in order to get along well with dogs, but should never be trusted with smaller animals due to their desire to hunt.

The strong prey drive that makes this dog a poor choice for families with small children and animals, also tends to make this dog rather stubborn and hard to train. This stubbornness should not be confused with stupidity, because the basenji is an exceptionally intelligent breed.

Despite being stubborn and difficult to train, the basenji is often sought after as a pet due to its rather unique barkless quality. As an ancestor of wild dogs, the basenji does not bark in the traditional sense, rather it is known to whine and yip, and even yodel. What does it mean to yodel? The basenji yodel is more like a “baroo” type sound.

Another appealing characteristic of the basenji to pet-seekers, is the cat-like habit of this breed to regularly groom and clean themselves. Unlike other hound breeds that sometimes carry a “hound” scent, this is something of an odorless hound.

While the barkless and odorless qualities of this breed may make it appealing to the newcomer to dog ownership, this is in no way an ideal breed for the novice dog owner. The basenji is difficult to train, he requires perseverance and consistency and when given an inch, he will take a mile.

An exceptionally expressive dog, the basenji displays his emotions on his forehead – literally! The deep wrinkles on this dog’s large forehead are a sure sign that this hunting breed is paying attention. It’s important for this dog to receive the full attention of his master however, because the smallest distraction can catch this eagle eyed dog’s attention.

The sharp sight and playfulness of this breed make him the ideal candidate for lure course sports, but any owner willing to offer this dog regular exertion will have a loyal friend for life.

This focused and independent hunter isn’t the right breed for everyone, but given the proper outlet for their energy, this standoffish dog will be right at home.

Apartment Living

While this small breed can adjust to apartment life, it’s high energy level demands regular exercise in order to avoid destructive behavior indoors. Even if this dog is given a life with a large backyard, it is never a dog that should be allowed to play unsupervised because it will find a way to escape. This is a fence-scaling, hole digging Houdini dog.

Children and Other Pets

The basenji is an energetic dog that can be stubborn at times which doesn’t make them great candidates for homes with younger children. If raised from puppyhood with children who understand how to handle dogs, however, the basenji can make a good family dog. They are not tolerant of being manhandled, though and will seek isolation if they feel overwhelmed.

When it comes to other dogs, the basenji is picky and tends to be aggressive with dogs of the same sex unless very well socialized from an early age. Other pets are off the table for the basenji, though, due to this breeds incredibly high prey drive. In addition to a ban on rodents, cats, and other pets, basenji owners also need to be watchful of wildlife when walking. Even a brief glimpse of a moving target and the poorly controlled basenji can become a dot on the horizon.

basenji muzzle

The basenji is also particularly reserved with strangers and without proper socialization from an early age this can lead to trouble. Exercising an unsocialized basenji as well as having visitors in your home can become very difficult due to the instinctive suspicion in this breed.

Care

Feeding

Extra care should be taken not to overfeed the basenji due to its petite and slender frame. The quality and amount of food that should be fed to the basenji is determined by the individual dog. Factors that play in to the food that a basenji should be fed and how much a dog should eat include health conditions, sports played, activity level, age, and size. For example, any working breed will require a food that is higher in calories and higher in protein, where an older dog that is less active will require lower calorie food.

Grooming

The short slick coat of the basenji is easy to care for and requires brushing at a maximum of once a week. This once a week brushing is more to cut down on shedding within the house as well as to afford the opportunity to check for sores, lumps, bumps, and parasites on the dog’s skin.

As with any other breed, regular tooth brushing, nail clipping, and ear cleaning are important to the basenji’s health. The ears of the basenji tend not to be prone to infection due to being upright, however, ticks may become a problem for active or hunting dogs.

Exercise

Although a small breed, the basenji is an athletic dog that requires plenty of activity to maintain its athletic figure. Exercise is also just as important in maintaining mental health for the basenji. Although exercise requirements will vary from dog to dog, it is crucial that this breed get at least two walks daily and multiple play or training sessions per week.

While doggy daycare is an option for many physically active dogs, this is not generally a good idea for the basenji because of aggression concerns with other dogs.

A basenji that does not receive enough physical or mental exercise will become a problem for any dog owner. A lack of physical activity will result in a boisterous dog that may cause accidents within the home by being overly active. Not receiving enough exercise may also cause the basenji to become overly excited when taken out for walks and pull in an attempt to burn off more energy. A basenji that does not receive enough mental stimulation will quickly seek out ways to entertain themselves including escape attempts, excessive chewing, and general destruction.

Health

Although quite a healthy breed, the basenji does have a few significant health concerns that can be avoided by selecting a well-reputed breeder.

Fanconi Syndrome

An autosomal recessive trait, Fanconi syndrome can be fatal and occurs when the kidneys are unable to reabsorb nutrients and electrolytes so they are excreted in urine. Early treatment of Fanconi syndrome is imperative and can lead to only a slightly reduced lifespan. If left untreated, however, Fanconi syndrome will progress slowly and result in muscle wasting, poor body condition, and ultimately death via kidney failure. Symptoms of Fanconi syndrome include excessive drinking which leads to excessive urination, lack of coordination, and glucose in the urine. The vast majority of cases of Fanconi syndrome in basenjis are inherited and parent dogs can be screened for the syndrome before being bred. Dogs can be both carriers and exhibitors of this syndrome and both can contribute the faulty gene to their offspring.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Found in quite a few breeds, this is a disease in which the retina of the eye progressively deteriorates. This deterioration can lead to night blindness and later, partial or complete loss of all sight. PRA is an autosomal recessive trait, however, there are multiple forms of PRA so while the one existing test for PRA can determine if a parent dog is a carrier, it can only rule out one type. Parent dogs can be carriers and exhibitors of this disease and both can contribute the faulty gene to their offspring. There is currently no cure for PRA but symptoms can be treated and dogs can be supplemented to slow its progression.

Hip dysplasia

A disease usually seen in larger breed dogs, hip dysplasia is becoming increasingly common in the basenji. Dogs with hip dysplasia have hip sockets that do not accommodate the head of the femur well. This causes a number of symptoms including pain, the head of the femur slipping out of the socket, increased arthritis, and lameness. Hip dysplasia is a genetically linked deformity and parent dogs can be screened for hip health and dogs with poor hip health should not be bred.

Hemolytic Anemia (HA)

A fatal genetic disease, hemolytic anemia is an autosomal recessive trait. Although seen in the 1960’s in the basenji population, genetic testing has almost eliminated this disease in modern dog populations. Dogs that do inherit this disease do not live beyond age 2 for the most part. Hemolytic anemia occurs when the body produces red blood cells, but they are destroyed at an incredible pace. This type of anemia exhibits a number of symptoms including easily tiring, very pale gums and mucous membranes, increased heartrate and increased respiration rate. Dogs showing these symptoms should receive medical attention immediately. Parent dogs can be both carriers and exhibitors of this disease and both can give the defective gene to their offspring.

Similar Breeds

The basenji is frequently confused with the pharaoh hound. Although both of these dogs have a similar silhouette and both have been depicted in ancient Egyptian history, the pharaoh hound is a much larger dog. The pharaoh hound stands a minimum of six inches taller, weighs at least 25 lbs. heavier. The pharaoh hound also has a much longer, slenderer muzzle. Additionally, the pharaoh hound is always a version of tan or red/rust in coloration where the basenji has many more color variations.


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