A small elegant, athletic animal similar in size to the smooth fox terrier, the basenji’s whole demeanor is one of poise and inquiring alertness. An ancient breed, basenjis are described as ‘all-around hounds’ for their innate ability to do many of the hunting duties in their native Zaire: point, retrieve, scent and drive game. Introduced to the United States in the late 30s, early 40s the main function of the basenji today is that of a companion animal. However, basenjis can and do excel in the sport of lure coursing, obedience and agility.
While the basenji does not bark, he does have many other unusual vocalizations. He may yodel (chortle), howl, growl, crow, scream, cry, and whine incessantly depending on his mood. A naturally clean dog, the basenji has been noted to groom himself much like a cat, washing his face with his paws when needed. The short, sleek coat keeps dirt to a minimum and odor is almost non-existent even when wet making him a favorite amongst allergy sufferers. Much like a cat, the basenji tends to take on the smell of the home thus creating familiarity with the owners.
Centuries of working independently in the wilds of Africa, basenjis are by nature extremely fast and hard to catch. Being sight hounds, basenjis are movement oriented and will take off after game, be it a wild rabbit, the neighbor’s cat or a Chevy Blazer, without a second thought of any danger to themselves, thereby making road traffic accidents the number one non-disease killer of the breed. This behavior is not conducive to allowing your basenji to roam off lead anywhere except in a securely fenced area. Even then you must be wary, as some basenjis are veritable escape artists that can scale 6 ft. fences and even trees to get where they want to be.
Basenjis are alert, active, playful and demanding. Highly independent and quite aloof with strangers they do form strong bonds with their chosen people despite their willfulness. Basenjis, not being a forgiving breed by nature, do best with older, more considerate children. Being rather destructive when left alone, owners should accustom their basenji to a crate or secure enclosure early in life to prevent accidental loss of personal belongings. A common saying amongst basenji owners “Oh well, we needed another ____________ (insert couch, shoes, chairs, clothes, etc.) anyway.” Not being a man-made breed, basenjis can also be dog aggressive to members outside of their ‘pack’ – this means early and extensive positive socialization is crucial to producing a well-rounded companion. As with any canine, basenjis should be carefully monitored around other non-canine pets.
While basenjis are not a hyper breed they are very active. Moderate exercise is needed to ideally maintain your basenji’s mental and physical wellbeing. Being a small breed, apartment life works well for the basenji as long as he is sufficiently exercised with daily long walks and playtime. Due to the high maintenance needed to keep a basenji sufficiently stimulated they are not recommended for novice owners.
The average life span of the basenji dog is said to be between 10-12 years of age. Due to major health concerns that plague the breed, some basenjis do not make it to 10 years of age, while others live well into their teens. The basenji gene pool was originally comprised of less than 15 native dogs, making our breed gene pool extremely concentrated. To help dilute, several breeders went to Africa in the late 1980s in search of some ‘new’ blood. These ‘new’ African lines are a bit different than the American lines, naturally conforming less strictly to the American breed standard and exhibiting more wariness temperamentally. They have however, melded well with each other.