What Are The Characteristics Of A Basenji Dog?

The Basenji is a unique and relatively rare canine breed that needs a tolerant, high-energy person who can deal with his many quirks and unusual behavior traits.

He is a proud and confident fellow, stubborn by nature, and loaded with an independent and intelligent approach to life. The challenge for his owner is to always stay one step ahead of this unusual dog.


The Basenji’s history goes all the way back to the Egyptians and then on to the Congo in Western Africa. In the Congo region, they were used for hunting, specifically to flush game directly into nets, perform as goods carriers, and warn of any dangerous animals ahead on the trail.

The Basenji was only recently discovered by Westerners. They were first introduced to the United States in the 1930s, and the Basenji Club of America was formed in 1942.

Basenji Appearance

The Basenji has a distinct appearance with his large, erect ears, head held high, long legs, short back, and corkscrew-curled tail. His head is wedge-shaped and his forehead wrinkles when he is alert, which makes him appear to be deep in thought, quizzical, or even mischievous.

Basenjis also come in a variety of colors, including red, black, black, and tan or brindle. Somewhere on their body, there are always some white markings. Because they are fastidious self-groomers, their coat is odorless.

Their physical characteristics are representative of the primitive pariah dog which originated in Egypt. Another primitive characteristic of the breed is that, unlike other canine breeds, the females only go into heat once a year. Their litters are commonly born between October and December.

Basenji Unique Traits

Unlike most other canine breeds, the Basenji can be aloof as well as not at all interested in responding to commands. In other words, he can be hard to train. However, this doesn’t mean he lacks intelligence. The Basenji is indeed an intelligent and independent breed, traits that arise from his hound heritage.

Does his reputation as a barkless dog hold true? It is true that barking is not a big thing for the Basenji, but if you’re hoping for a completely quiet creature, you’re out of luck.  As is the case for any dog, the Basenji will delight you (or not) with his whines, yodels, growls, whimpers, and screams.

Basenji Breed Highlights

The following chart highlights some of Basenji’s characteristics.

Very affectionate with familyAloof with strangers
Fiercely protective of familyMakes an exceptional watchdog
Not particularly fond of young childrenWill do well with older children
Possesses exceptional degrees of high energyNeeds daily vigorous exercise
Escape artistWill climb fences, chains and take off; needs supervision when outside
Not easy to trainNeeds patient, creative training to make them their best selves
Catlike behaviors Keeps themselves clean with frequent licking and grooming

Abounding Energy

There’s no doubt that your Basenji will keep you hopping. Besides his daily exercise needs, he is also an outstanding candidate for agility training and lures coursing, which is a game of hunting by sight and chasing an object.

This game exercises the Basenji’s strong prey drive in a healthy, constructive way. You should always stay outside with your Basenji to prevent his natural intelligence and curiosity from urging him to explore the world away from his designated home territory.

If a Basenji does not have a sufficient outlet for his high energy drive, he is likely to become destructive. Anything in reach – such as shoes, clothing, or anything else left scattered on the floor, or elsewhere,  – is fair game for chewing, tearing, and eviscerating.

It is highly recommended he be crated when left alone or unsupervised. It is also highly recommended that if you are to become a Basenji owner, that you have a good sense of humor.

Besides not doing well with small children, small pets, such as hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, guinea pigs, birds, and ferrets should be avoided in a home either with or considering, a Basenji. The reason is that their prey drive may kick in, resulting in an unfortunate end for the small pet.

Basenji Training

Long, drawn-out training sessions simply won’t cut it with this hyper and intelligent dog. Call it boredom, but when his mind starts to wander, you should quickly end that session.

Training must be patient, firm, and consistent, and sessions are short and interesting. Reinforcement must always be positive. If you get your Basenji as a puppy, training needs to begin the day you bring him home. A puppy training class will be an investment worth its weight in gold.

Pet Behaviors

If you own a Basenji, you will be delighted by his playful and gentle nature.  He is affectionate, but he won’t follow you everywhere you go. You want to be sure and socialize him early to accept people you welcome into the home. The same holds true for other dogs or cats that reside with you.

Finding One

If you’ve decided this is the breed for you, you need to find a reputable breeder. Here is what to look for in a breeder:

  • Has screened out potentially inheritable health issues
  • Welcomes your questions about temperament, health, and home life
  • Asks you questions about what you’re looking for and what kind of home you can provide
  • Expresses interest in staying in touch and answering any future questions or concerns
  • Shows real interest in finding the “right” puppy for you

What to Avoid in a Breeder:

  • Puppies are always available, and several litters are onsite
  • Seeks to quickly sell the puppy and send you on your way
  • Puppies “with papers” sold at a higher price than those “without papers”
  • Pushes selling just onsite even if close by

Basenji Health Issues

These dogs are mostly hearty, healthy creatures. However, like any breed, there are some health issues that can arise, including:

  • Fanconi Syndrome: kidney disease that causes excessive thirst, frequent urination, and elevated glucose levels.
  • Malabsorption: like human irritable bowel syndrome
  • Hemolytic Anemia: genetic disorder where a dog rarely lives beyond 2 years
  • Hypothyroidism: causes infertility, obesity, lethargy, coarse coat
  • Coloboma: Gap or hole in eye
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Eye disease that causes gradual deterioration of the retina
  • Hip Dysplasia: Condition where the thigh bone does not fit well into the hip point; an inherited affliction.

If you do indeed decide to welcome a Basenji into your life, you are in for a wild ride filled with fun, joy, and excitement. In short – your life will not be boring!

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