PetMD Editorial
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PetMD Editorial
Published: May 14, 2009

The Basenji is a lighly-built, elegant hunting dog from Africa. It has a wrinkled head and a high, curled tail. The Basenji is commonly known as the "barkless dog" because it doesn’t bark, but when excited, it makes a noise that sounds like a yodel.

Physical Characteristics

The Basenji differs from other primitive dogs, in that it has a sturdy build. Its longer legs help it to run fast, performing a sort of double-suspension gallop. The Basenji also has a short black, red, brindle, or tricolor coat, which is effective in coping with the hot African climate, while its erect ears are excellent for dissipating heat and locating game in dense bushes.

Personality and Temperament

The Basenji is reputed to get along well with other dogs, but does not mingle with members of its own breed. As it is a feisty hound, many feel that this dog resembles the terrier in its nature and mannerisms. The Basenji has also been described as cat-like: reserved, clever, inquisitive, independent, and stubborn.

Although the dog does not bark much, it makes a howling and shrieking sound and occasionally makes a coughing sound like a fox.


The Basenji requires minimal coat care: it is sufficient to brush the coat once in a while to get rid of dead hair. Being a very active breed, the Basenji should be given daily physical as well as mental exercise, for fear that it might become aggressive and/or frustrated. A long walk, free running, and energetic games in an enclosed area are also suggested. The dog functions well as an indoor dog.


The Basenji, which has an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years, suffers from health problems such as canine hip dysplasia (CHD), corneal dystrophy, and patellar luxation. Some of the major diseases affecting the breed include progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), Fanconi syndrome, and Basenji enteropathy, while the minor concerns include umbilical hernia, persistent pupillary membranes (PPM), Pyruvate kinase (PK) deficiency, and hypothyroidism. To identify some of these issues, a veterinarian may conduct urine, thyroid, eye, and DNA exams on the dog.

History and Background

The Basenji, or "Barkless Dog," is an ancient breed that draws its lineage to Egypt. It later became the premier pack hunter for the native tribes and Pygmies of the African Congo region, sometimes referred to as the Congo terrier or Zande Dog.

Attempts were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to bring the Basenji to England, but sadly the efforts were unsuccessful. It wasn't until 1937 that the Basenji (roughly translated to "bush thing") was introduced to England.

The Basenji, meanwhile, became a popular breed in the United States for show dog and pet owners, further gaining acclaim when the 1954 novel Good-bye, My Lady (later made into an eponoymous film) featured a Basenji.

There were two controversial but significant events associated with the Basenji in the 1980s. Firstly, numerous dogs were imported from Africa to reduce some common hereditary health problems in the breed, producing a brindle color for the first time. Secondly, the American Sighthound Field Association recognized the Basenji as a sighthound, allowing the dog to participate in lure-coursing tests. Earlier, the hunting style and the body structure of the Basenji had been regarded as inappropriate for a sighthound. To date, this dog breed retains many of its primitive traits, such as a yearly estrus cycle and no barking.

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