An Introduction to Basenjis

The African Barkless Dog

HISTORY:

The dogs of the stone age were small foxy fellows, who gathered around the first campfires. As ancient man went from place to place about his business, they followed at a respectable distance… probably attracted by occasional handouts, possibly because they felt an affinity to him. The first dogs, according to paleontologists, were very much like Basenjis, and there are scientific reasons for supposing that the Basenji was this “Canis Palustrus” of prehistoric times.

The Basenji made an appearance in civilization at the dawn of history. Brought down the Nile as tribute by people from Central Africa, he was a palace dog of the pharaohs so long ago that he watched the pyramids being built. Pictured in bas-relief and sculptured in stone as far back as 4000 BC, the Basenji is shown both as a hunter and as a favored house pet laying under the pharaoh’s chair. He was found in Mesopotamia many centuries later. The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a bronze statue of a man and a Basenji-like dog, including curled tail and wrinkled forehead. This is identified as Babylonian, 1500 BC. Ancient empires, crumbling, disappeared along with the Basenji, and without a trace. Only as recently as the latter half of the 19th Century was he rediscovered in his original habitat—the headwaters of both the Nile and the Congo—in the heart of Africa. There, Basenjis are still hunting dogs of native tribes, and so necessary are they to the Pygmies that a wife can be purchased for less than a Basenji.

English nobility rediscovered these little dogs during their hunting expeditions. For fifty years, the British made many attempts to bring Basenjis to England, but they were not successfully acclimated there until 1937. At the same time a pair was brought to America.

APPEARANCE:

Sleek, short coat, pricked ears, and a curly tail are Basenji trademarks. Wrinkles appear on the forehead, giving a questioning look; however, he actually knows all the answers. An elegant, deer-like little fellow, he averages 16-17 inches in height at the shoulders and 21 to 25 pounds in weight. Color-coded red, brindle, black or black with tan trimming, he always has white on the feet, chest and tail tip. Some have more white than others, sometimes with a blaze on the face, full collar, and white legs. His short coat is unique in that it has no doggy odor, and he keeps it immaculate without being bathed for months.

CHARACTERISTICS:

The Basenji does not bark. This unusual characteristic does not seem too unusual when you remember that original canines—wolves, coyotes, and jackals—don’t bark, either. Since the Basenji is silent on the trail, the Congolese, as did the ancients, required him to wear a hunting bell so they could trail him. Though he doesn’t “BOW-WOW-WOW,” the Basenji is not mute, and can make all of the sounds dogs make: growls, whines, yips, and howls. He has, in addition, an unusual sound called a “yodel!” that he uses when he is happy.

The Basenji is happy to fit his mood to those he loves—yet he is a proud dog always, not bowing and scraping. He is a staunch believer in personal and property rights. The silent hunter is also a silent watch dog. A sound outside brings him to the door, to await an intruder. He will give the housebreaker a rough time. Owners will testify to his phenomenal intelligence, his inventiveness, his curiosity, and his clownish sense of humor. He is a quiet, satisfied dog, who also enjoys play in the home or the field. He will roughhouse and race. However, when his owner is ready to call it quits, the little Basenji is content to lie at the feet of his master just as his forebears did thousands of years ago in the courts of ancient Egypt, his wrinkled forehead imparting an anxious expression to his face—the look of one who, having known man from the beginning, is terribly worried about the outcome.

Quality, in the sense of “show quality,” is determined by many factors, including the dog’s health, physical condition, ability to move, and appearance. Breeders, breeding show stock, are trying to produce animals that closely resemble the description of perfection, described in the breed standard. Many people breed their dogs with no concern for the qualitative demands of the breed standard. When this occurs repeatedly over several generations, the animals, while still purebred, can be of extremely low quality. Showing dogs in AKC competition tests the quality of the dogs and works effectively to proof breeding programs. For these reasons, it is our recommendation that you purchase your dog from a breeder who actively participates in the sport.