Basenji dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

A dog that doesn’t bark? Does that exist? Yes it does and it’s called the Basenji! It is also one of the oldest breeds of domesticated dogs, which is probably the reason why it doesn’t bark. In the past, people preferred quieter dogs while hunting, so they don’t scare the pray away. It is theorized that this breed is not fully domesticated. The facts that support this theory are that this breed only cycles once a year, compared to twice a year in other domesticated dogs and their metabolism is unlike any other domesticated breed.

Breed Characteristics

Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsAbove average

Dog Breed Group:Hound Dogs
Height:1 foot, 4 inches to 1 foot, 5 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight:22 to 24 pounds
Life Span: 10 to 12 years

Graceful, elegant and always alert is the perfect description of this breed. Its high spirit and curiosity portray this neat little guy.

If you don’t pay enough attention to this breed, they become bored and you wouldn’t want that! Boredom results in chewing up things and doing things you as an owner strictly forbade. The Basenji needs to keep busy and you shouldn’t leave it alone and unsupervised in your house or yard. The nosey spirit and the hunting character will take him running too far and you might even lose him. That’s why a Basenji needs to be on a leash, when the area is not fenced and secure.

The distinct characteristic of theirs, what makes them so special is that they don’t bark. Yet they keep you alert of strangers or danger in their own special way. They are far from soundless if you thought of that! They make other noises such as whining, yodeling and growling.

Main Highlights
  • Basenjis don’t bark as other breeds, but you can hear them making other noises like yodels, screams and whines.
  • Hard to train! Since forever, they were independent and now they don’t see a reason to obey humans. It’s as simple as that!
  • Because of their hunting character, they cannot be trusted of leash. They case after everything that moves.
  • Escape artists! Unless the area is very well fenced, they will find a way around it. Jumping, climbing over, digging is not a problem for them.
  • High levels of energy! Be prepared to find a way to spend their energy with various activities unless you don’t want to find your home destroyed.
  • They require a lot of time and attention so don’t leave them in the yard tied up.
  • Not recommended for homes with other small pets, such as hamsters, rabbits or birds.
  • Stubborn breed! Don’t ever try to overcome their stubbornness with force, or you could end up with aggressive Basenji.
Breed History

The first Basenjis were discovered in the Congo region of West Africa but the Westerners discovered them in the 19th century. They were used mostly for hunting activities, like flushing game into nets but they also carried goods, and warned the hunter of the approach of dangerous animals while hunting. Back then, some tribes in Africa valued a good Basenji more than a wife due to its hunting skills and cleverness.

There were attempts to bring the Basenji to Europe, but they failed at first because all the imported dogs died immediately of diseases. However, in the 1930s people managed to import Basenjis in England and then, they spread towards the US.

The Basenji breed was recognized by the AKC for the first time in 1943 and the first Basenji club of America was formed the year before, in 1942. You should know that if you decide to buy a dog of this breed you’ll be on a breeder’s waiting list for a long time, since they are a rare breed. They are ranked 84th among 155 breeds and varieties that are recognized by the AKC.


The size of this breed in males is 17 inches at the shoulder and at females 16 inches. The males weigh 24 pounds and the females 22 pounds

Personality and Character

The first thing you need to know about this breed is that the Basenji is a hound. Intelligent, independent, affectionate and alert are the words that describe its personality.

So, don’t be surprised that a Basenji would chase after everything that moves – cats, rabbits, squirrels! He is a sighthound and everything catches his eye. If you want a dog that will obey commands instantly, this is not the one. Basenjis first think about your command and decide if they really want to do it but they usually do.

If you decide to keep a Basenji, you need to have patience and a good sense of humor, because this little guy will surprise you with his daily actions. Chewing up “important” things from your home will be his hobby and he’ll always find a way to the biscuits jar and the treats storage.

Because of his hound temperament, he can be unfriendly with strangers and he shouldn’t be trusted with small animals such as cats, unless he’s grown up with them. Make sure to raise a puppy Basenji together with all the other pets you have and also your kids, because he needs to recognize them as family. This recognition stops the moment he leaves your home — outside he sees everything as a fair game.

Just like any dog, Basenjis may become timid if they are not socialized when they are young. They need to be trained and exposed to different people, sights and sounds. If you want your Basenji to have good social skills, it is a good idea to enroll your puppy in a kindergarten class.

When you train your Basenji remember to use positive way, such as food rewards and praise. If you treat your dog harshly, it will only become more stubborn and less obedient. Keep your training interesting because they have selective hearing and will not pay attention to you if they hear something more interesting.

Health and Potential Problems

They are known as a generally healthy breed, but just like all the breeds, they also have some diseases that they are prone to. Before you get a puppy of this breed, you should be aware of the potential health problems.

If you decided to buy a puppy, start with your research for a good trustworthy breeder who would give you the health clearances for the puppy’s parents. You should be aware that this breed is rare and you’ll be on a waiting list for a puppy for long time, so start your search as soon as you can.

Health clearances are proof that the dog has been tested and cleared for specific conditions, such as: hip and elbow dysplasia, von Willebrand’s disease and hypothyroidism. Also, thrombopathia and eyes clearances should be asked for.

Some of the potential health problems are the following:

Fanconi Syndrome

This is a disease of the kidneys that affects the normal processing of proteins and sugars. Literally said, the dog urinates the protein that is needed for survival. Some of the signs of this syndrome are excessive urination and thirst, and the levels of glucose in the urine are elevated. The affected dogs show signs at around 4-7 years of age. In the past this Fanconi Syndrome was fatal but today with some new treatments the life expectancy has been increased. It is a fact that there is no cure and also it cannot be determined if a dog is a carrier, there is no such test.

Treatment is a bit expensive but not as much as it is time-consuming. A good breeder should tell you if some of his dogs have produced dogs with this syndrome and tell you which ones.

Immunoproliferative Systemic Intestinal Disease

Aka malabsorption, it is a similar condition to the one humans have — also known as irritable bowel disease. This disease in dogs is like having a permanent allergic reaction to the food dogs eat. Some of the symptoms include chronic loose stools and difficulty to gain weight.

This disease can be treated by minimizing stress, use of antihistamine drugs and change of diet.

Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency (Hemolytic Anemia)

It is a genetic condition which affects the production of healthy red blood cells. Basenjis with this disease don’t live longer than 2 years.


The cause of this is deficiency of thyroid hormone. The signs include infertility, mental dullness, obesity, lack of energy. In addition, the fur becomes brittle and coarse and can fall out; also the skin is dark and tough.

It can be treated with thyroid hormone pill a day, throughout the whole life.

Persistent Pupillary Membrane (PPM)

PPM or simply said leftovers of the fetal membrane that protected the lenses of the eyes before parturition. It is normal for the strands of tissue to disappear until 4-5 weeks of age in puppies however, it happens that they persist. If the strands don’t break down by 8 weeks of age, they can cause cataracts or corneal opacities.

Treatment includes eye drops that help in breaking them down.


It is thought to be an inherited condition and the puppies that have this must be spayed or neutered so they don’t pass on the problem. It represents a gap or a hole in the eye structure and it can occur anywhere in the eye.

Care Features

Just like every hunting dog, the Basenji needs daily exercise. Some individuals can pass the day just with a walk but most of them require more challenging forms of exercise. It is good to raise a Basenji with children because of their mutual play requirements; at the end of the day you will see them both worn out! However, you shouldn’t leave the dog unsupervised in the backyard. They will start to chase after a squirrel or something similar and end up missing.

Provide your pet with couple of longer walks a day and few play sessions and it will be able to live in an apartment.

Keeping the Basenji on a leash is always a good idea, unless it is a fenced area that cannot be escaped. Even then, this breed can find a way to catch that rabbit it spotted and jump the fence.

A typical characteristic of a Basenji is that they don’t like the rain. They dislike walks in the rain and would rather stay in. Only on a hot day you can see a Basenji enjoy getting wet!

Feeding Schedule

When you decide with what kind of food you want to feed your puppy, read the instructions and follow them. The daily amount of food for an adult dog should be divided into 2 meals.

The daily amount of food depends on its size, metabolism, build, and activity level. Also, the quality of the food you buy makes a difference; the better the quality the less the amount you need to give to your dog.

Because of its build and temperament, a Basenji shouldn’t be let to gain extra weight and this is also uncommon. It needs more food than a small breed does, because of its active personality. However, don’t overdo it; measure its food and feed it twice a day, instead of leaving the food out at all times.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Basenji has short, fine coat that can be in few colors. It can be chestnut red, all black, tricolor (chestnut and black), brindle (chestnut background with black stripes). By the AKC standard, it should have white feet, chest and tail tip. White legs, blaze and collar are optional. His markings never look muddy and there is always more of the primary color than white.

This shiny little fellow keeps himself clean as a cat. The Basenji doesn’t need a bath very often, once in 1-2 months is recommendable. This breed is one of the shedding ones however, the hair is short and fine and is not as noticeable as some other shedding fur.

Basenjis need their teeth brushed 2-3 times a week to avoid tartar build up and to remove bacteria. If you have the time for daily brushing it’s even better!

Nails need to be trimmed regularly but in many cases Basenjis are so active that they wear them down themselves while walking or running. If you don’t want to be scratched when your dog plays with you and jumps on you, take care of the nails.

If you want all of the grooming to be easy for you and your adult Basenji, you need to begin accustoming it since it’s just a little puppy. Their paws need to be handled frequently because dogs are very touchy about them. Ears and mouth also need to be regularly checked and cleaned. You need to make the grooming experience for your dog a positive one and he would gladly do it every time.

When you groom your pet always check for sores, rashes or some signs of infection, like redness, inflammation or tenderness. The mucosal membranes, mouth, eyes, also the ears and the nose should be examined too. The ears should smell good, and they shouldn’t have a lot of wax inside or some other particles. If you discover something out of the ordinary, please contact your vet.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Basenjis are known for their high energy level and can be very good companions of older children. However, they are not very fond of young kids because they don’t want to be bothered a lot. It is best if you raise your Basenji to be around kids from puppyhood. If an adult Basenji is not familiar with kids, it will probably not be very well suited for a home with children.

Just like with any other breed, children need to be thought how to touch and approach dogs. A Basenji should never be left unsupervised with a young child that doesn’t know how to interact with dogs. In addition, always teach your children not to annoy the dog while it’s eating or to take its food away. This may end up in tears for either party.

If you have other small animals as pets, such as cats, rabbits, squirrels, don’t trust your Basenji with them. They shouldn’t be left alone and unsupervised because to the basenji they are a fair game.

If you want a small dog with a big character, this is the one for you! The no barking Basenji will capture your heart with its affection towards you. A bit stubborn and self-minded, will try to manipulate you, so you will need to show some leadership abilities. Your life will be far more energetic and interesting with this breed! Are you up for it?

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.