The Basenji dog may be the world’s oldest dog breed with evidence of their existence in 300BC and earlier. The breed has been depicted through ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, and Mesopotamian art, and paleontologists believe the dogs were given as gifts for Egyptian pharaohs as they were transported along the Nile from central Africa. Given the sharp eyesight, speed, jumping ability, and sense of smell, these dogs were used as hunters for early African tribes. The Basenji breed was brought to the western world in the late 1800s where British breeding attempts were unsuccessful, but a breeder out of Boston found success in breeding the dogs in the mid-1900s, resulting in the introduction of the breed to the United States. Today, the breed is often referred to as the “barkless African dog” and is known for its intelligence, high energy, and catlike characteristics.
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Characteristics of the Basenji
Next, we’ll talk about the appearance and temperament of the Basenji.
Basenjis tend to be on the smaller side, averaging around 16-17” in height and 22-24lbs in weight. The breed has a short but muscular body with long legs and a long neck, making them agile and quick. They have a high set tail that curls, and their foreheads often wrinkle around their large, pointed ears. The almond-shaped eyes of a Basenji are kind and expressive of emotion, and their snout is gently tapered. Basenji dogs have short, fine fur that is typically chestnut or black colored, and they commonly have white chests, legs, stomachs, and may have other white spots.
The Basenji dog is a breed within the hound category meaning they are intelligent and alert, however they are more commonly compared to cats due to their mannerisms. Basenjis are inquisitive, stubborn, and independent, and they are unlikely to go out of their way to please their owner. These dogs are very well connected with their hound nature and hunting roots and therefor will chase anything that moves. Because of this, Basenjis are not recommended in households that have cats, dogs, or young children unless they are socialized and trained as a puppy. Being so independent, these dogs are also uninterested in strangers unless they are raised with frequent visitors and attention. Additionally, it is best to keep them away from small animals such as hamsters, guinea pigs, birds, ferrets, or rabbits.
Basenjis are considered the “barkless dog” because they yodel or whine instead of bark. These dogs are high energy so they need frequent walks and play sessions throughout the day, but they would be fine in a small apartment as long as they received enough exercise. These dogs are known to be destructive when they get bored, and they are masters of escaping yards by jumping fences and climbing ladders. Basenjis always need to be kept on a leash and have consistent mental and physical stimulation. With the proper care and training, these dogs can be fun and loving companions to their families for their 13-14 years of life.
Caring for Basenji Tips
Given the high-energy temperament of the Basenji, it is important to fully understand how to train and care for these dogs. Here we will talk about what a Basenji needs to stay in their best physical and mental health.
As with all dogs, feeding needs to be monitored based on the dog’s size, weight, and level of activity. In general, Basenjis should be fed a high-quality dry food twice a day, and have constant access to clean, fresh water. Treats can be used as a positive reinforcer during training but should be given sparingly. Basenjis are slim dogs with long, slender legs that are not suited to support any extra weight. Because of this, it is important that Basenjis are not overfed, exercised frequently, and their weight is monitored based on veterinary recommendation.
It has been mentioned that Basenjis are high energy dogs who need a lot of stimulation. These dogs should take multiple walks per day in order to expend their energy. In addition to walks, they should be let outside throughout the day so they can run and get a change in their surroundings, although they should not be left outside unattended or for a prolonged period due to their tendency to escape. Basenjis are shy of water and tend to get grumpy when they have to go outside in the rain, so a raincoat is suggested for these times. Frequent play is also important for Basenjis to receive mental and physical stimulation. For this, you may consider an interactive dog toy or a puzzle toy to stimulate their brain, or an automatic fetch machine to help the dog connect with its chasing instinct.
Basenji dogs can be difficult or resistant to training due to their long history of independence. Because of this, training and socialization needs to begin at a very young age. Young Basenjis should be enrolled in a puppy daycare or group training class to help the dog socialize with other humans and dogs. It may also be a good idea to have frequent visitors to help socialize the puppy. Basenjis will greatly benefit from changes in scenery to help stimulate their minds and prevent them from becoming timid. For this, it is recommended that you take your Basenji to the park, stores that allow dogs, and to take walks in new locations. Basenjis need to have consistency in their training and respond best to positive reinforcement and interesting training. Given their catlike disposition, Basenjis are likely to lose interest quickly and find something more fun to do, and they will get more stubborn when punished.
Overall, Basenjis are healthy dogs who don’t need too much additional care. Since they have a fine coat, they shed very little and are easy to keep clean. Another catlike feature of the Basenji is how they groom themselves, meaning they very rarely need baths. When purchasing a Basenji, it is important to find a reputable breeder that is open about the health clearances for their dogs, and to avoid breeders that claim their dogs are 100% healthy or don’t offer health guarantees. Basenjis are mainly faced with:
- Fanconi Syndrome- a kidney disease where the dogs cannot retain the protein needed to survive.
- Immunoproliferative Systemic Intestinal Disease- a dog equivalent to irritable bowel disease in humans, probiotics or sensitive dog food may help alleviate symptoms .
- Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency- a genetic condition that causes rapid loss of red blood cells.
- Hyperthyroidism- a deficiency in the thyroid hormone that can be managed through medication.
- Persistent Pupillary Membrane- when strands of tissue that remain in the eyes of a puppy. They typically break down on their own by 8 weeks, otherwise eye drops can be prescribed.
- Coloboma- a gap or hole in the eye structure.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy- the gradual deterioration in the retina of the eye which can lead to partial or total vision loss.
- Hip Dysplasia- when the thighbone and hip joint do not fit tightly together which can cause lameness, arthritis, and pain. Dog joint supplements can help slow the progression, but it is also important to find a breeder who tests for hip dysplasia to help avoid the issue.