About Basenji / I Basenji




“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 respectful distance, probably attracted by occasional handouts, possibly because they felt an affinity to him.

The first dogs, according to paleontologists, were very much like the Basenji, and there are scientific reasons for supposing that the Basenji was this dog of prehistoric times.

Living in long isolation from the outer world for countless thousands of years in the heart of Africa, the Basenji has not been altered by the demands and whims of man. Nothing about him has been changed – neither his size, his shape, the color and texture of his coat, nor his temperament. The Basenji is a well-defined natural breed and is one of Nature’s Masterpieces.

The Basenji made an appearance in civilization at the dawn of history as 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 B.C., the Basenji even lent his ears to the dog-headed god Anubis. He was found in Mesopotamia many centuries later.

The Metropolitan Museum of Arts owns a bronze statue of a man and his Basenji-like dog, including curled tail and wrinkled forehead. This is identified as Babylonian.

Ancient empires, crumbling, disappeared. So did the Basenji – and without a trace. The explorer Merolla, whom Edward C. Ash quotes in “Dogs and Their Development” caught a glimpse of him in the Congo in 1682. “These dogs, notwithstanding their wildness, do little or no damage to the inhabitants. They are red-haired, have small slender bodies and their tails turned upon their backs.”

Only as recently as the latter half of the 19th century were Basenjis re-discovered in their original habitat – the headwaters of both the Nile and the Congo, in the heart of Africa. There, they are the hunting dogs of native tribes, and so highly esteemed are they that they are regarded as having equal rights with their masters.”




The Basenjis are amongst the oldest dogs of the World. The name Basenji means “small wild thing from the bush”, which sounds in the language of the Pygmies like “Basenji”. This indicates already the origin in Central Africa, that stretched from the heart of the Congo Basin to South Sudan.

The Basenjis lived there for thousands of years in a close relationship with the natives e.g. the Pygmy tribes. Normally the dogs lived as an independent pack near to the villages and supported themselves as a rule (dependant on the tribe culture).

Also reproduction took place for thousands of years without any special control from humans.The breed has therefore remained very original.

Basenjis are regarded as belonging to the group known as “Schensi-Dogs”. This describes dogs that have not been domesticated, that remain wild. Other well known members of the Schensi family are the well known Australian dingo or the Canaan dog from Israel.

The origin of the Basenji becomes clear through one thing, that it, like the wolf, comes on heat only once a year and then for a period of 30 days. Also Basenjis cannot bark-caused by their flat larynx. The bark is for humans an appropriate dog characteristic. Also the wolf, as forerunner of the dogs, as well as the original dog breeds does not have this ability.

Although the Basenji lives completely independent from the affiliated native tribe, it is inestimably useful.
In an area where animal egg white is in short supply, the Basenji is still used as a hunting dog. In the course of this, it tracks down marsupials and drives them into a net spread out by the hunters. During the hunt, so that the hunters know at any time the whereabouts of the dogs, they wear a kind of bell around the neck made from hollowed out shells with small bones inside.

One could talk of an intervention in the breeding by humans in the nature of this breed, that in the last five thousand years of its existence so much importance has been attached to its optimal suitability as a hunt driver. A good hunting dog was and is highly compensated, a bad one in many tribes goes perfectly as a delicacy into the cooking pot!
As a result of this “breeding intervention”, the Basenjis have a very strong distinctive hunting urge, an excellent sense of smell and are overall agile and suitable for cross country work. They can compete with greyhounds in speed and direction changing


The “small wild thing” – from the palace of the Pharaoh to Europe

The origin of the breed lies in darkness. The first drawings of the type were found in the tombs of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), built approx. 2700 BC in the IV Dynasty. They show small dogs sitting near the feet of their owners or under the chairs. Amongst other tomb furnishings of rich Egyptians and Pharaohs were statues and illustrations of these dogs, which because of its extremely cat like nature ( it moves silently, is free from dog smells and washes itself like a cat) was highly prized by this civilised nation.

Presumably the first Basenjis reached Egypt as gifts from the Pygmies to the Pharaohs. With the decline of the Egyptian culture, the knowledge about the Basenji also disappeared.

Another presumption is that the Basenjis reached Central Africa as war trophies; Egypt had lost a war against the Sudan and the victors required for their people the at-that-time most valuable things, namely, precious metals, woman and dogs.

Once again around 1870, African explorers discovered a breed of dog that was small, had long legs, a ringed tail and a short silky fur, in short the Basenji.

One of the first Africa explorers, who also described the dwarf Pygmies with strange dogs, was Dr. Schweinfurth. Fascinated, he decided at the end of one of his studies to take a bitch, that appeared to him to be particularly intelligent, back to Europe. The Basenjis urge for freedom came however on the return trip to Europe in Alexandria where she jumped to her death from the second floor of a hotel.

In 1894 appeared finally the first report about Basenjis, still not introduced as breed, in Europe. Since about 60 years the BASENJI is recognised as a breed.

The first big breeder of Basenjis was Mrs Olivia Burn, who repeatedly acquired dogs from the Pygmies in the Congo basin. After several failures (the dogs died from distemper) she established the breed. In 1937 she created a sensation at Crufts with the exhibition of her first puppies. Judge and breeder were positively besieged by the crowd and bombarded with questions.

In the fifties, another famous breeder, Veronica Tudor-Williams, successfully acquired further Basenjis from Africa to freshen up the European stock. She discovered the dog “Fula of the Congo” herself on an expedition in the South Sudan on the border with Zaire, and later wrote a book about it.


A Basenji is not suitable for all dog lovers. It is indeed highly intelligent and social, very devoted and extremely clean. It does not bark but this does not mean that it is dumb.

They express their pleasure in meeting again with a joyful howl that is similar to a jodel. They register their displeasure with an impressive growl and possess a diverse form of articulation in their dealings with the other pack members. The natives describe it often as a “talking dog”.

On the other hand, and this puts off many enthusiasts of dogs as companions, the Basenji is very independent. When given an order, that it properly understands, if it is really sensible, and at that moment reasonable, to carry it out, and as a rule it is not.

In addition, led by its extremely strong urge to hunt, one cannot let it off the leash everywhere. Basenjis that runaway are often a short while later run over by a car.

As the dog, although having an outward appearance of elegance, is very strong and has the tendency on a walk to pull on the lead, it cannot be led by small children.




GENERAL APPEARANCE : Lightly built, fine boned aristocratic looking animal, high on leg compared with its length, always poised, alert and intelligent. Wrinkled head, with pricked ears, proudly carried on a well-arched neck. Deep brisket runs up into a definite waist, tail tightly curled presenting a picture of a well-balanced dog of gazelle-like grace.

CHARACTERISTICS : Barkless but not mute, its own special noise of mixture of a chortle and a yodel. Remarkable for its cleanliness in every way.

TEMPERAMENT : An intelligent, independent, but affectionate and alert breed. Can be aloof with strangers.

HEAD and SKULL : Flat, well-chiseled and medium width, tapering towards nose, with a slight stop. Distance from top of head to stop slightly more than from stop to tip of nose. Side lines of skull taper gradually towards mouth, giving a clean-cheeked appearance. Fine and profuse wrinkles appearing forehead when ears pricked, side wrinkles desirable but not exaggerated into dewlap. Wrinkles more noticeable in puppies, but because of lack of shadowing, not as noticeable in tri-colours; black nose desirable.

EYES : Dark, almond-shaped, obliquely set, far-seeing and rather inscrutable in expression.

EARS : Small, pointed, erect and slightly hooded, of fine texture, set well forward on top of head, tip of ear nearer centre of skull than outside base.

MOUTH : Jaws strong, with perfect, regular and complete scissor bite, i.e. the upper teeth closely overlapping the lower teeth and set square to the jaws.

NECK : Strong and of good length, without thickness, well crested and slightly full at base of throat with a graceful curve accentuating crest. Well-set into shoulders giving head a “lofty” carriage.

FOREQUARTERS : Shoulders well laid back, muscular, not loaded. Elbows tucked in against brisket. When viewed from front, elbows in line with ribs and legs should continue in a straight line to ground giving a medium front. Forelegs straight with fine bone and very long fore-arms. Pasterns good length, straight and flexible.

BODY : Balanced with short, level back. Ribs well sprung, deep and oval. Loin short coupled, deep brisket running up into definite waist.

HINDQUARTERS : Strong and muscular, hocks well let down, turned neither in nor out, with long second thighs and moderately bent stifles.

FEET : Small, narrow and compact, with deep pads, well arched toes and short nails.

TAIL : High set, with posterior curve of buttock extending beyond root of tail giving a reachy appearance to hindquarters. Curls tightly over spine and lies closely to thigh with a single or double curl.

GAIT/MOVEMENT : Legs carried straight forward with a swift long tireless swinging stride.

COAT : Short, sleek and close, very fine. Skin very pliant.

COLOUR : Pure black and white: red and white; black tan and white with tan melon pips and black, tan and white. Brindle, red background with black stripes, the more clearly defined the stripes the better. The white should be on feet, chest and tail tips. White legs, blaze and white collar optional.


Ideal Height :

Males 43 cm at withers, 
Bitches 40 cm at withers

Ideal Weight :

Males 12 kg, 
Bitches 9.5 kg

FAULTS : Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree.

NOTE : Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.