A red Basenji with white markings
Other names
  • African bush dog
  • African barkless dog
  • Ango angari
  • Congo dog
  • Zande dog
OriginDemocratic Republic of the Congo
Height Males 43 cm (17 in)
Females 40 cm (15+12 in)
Weight Males 11 kg (24 lb)
Females 9.5 kg (21 lb)
Coat short and fine
Life span 14–16 years
Kennel club standards
Fédération Cynologique Internationale standard
Dog (domestic dog)

The Basenji (/bəˈsɛni/) is a breed of hunting dog. It was bred from stock that originated in central Africa. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale places the breed in the Spitz and primitive types. The Basenji produces an unusual yodel-like sound, due to its unusually shaped larynx.[1] This trait also gives the Basenji the nickname the 'barkless dog.'[2]

Basenjis can run up to 30-35 miles per hour and share many distinctive traits with pariah dog types. Basenjis come into estrus only once annually similar to dingoes, New Guinea singing dogs and Tibetan Mastiffs, when compared with other dog breeds which may have two or more breeding seasons each year. They lack a distinctive odor, and are prone to howls, yodels, and other vocalizations over the characteristic bark of modern dog breeds.[3] The breed's original foundation stock came from Congo.


The Azande and Mangbetu people from the northeastern Congo region describe a Basenji, in the local Lingála language, as mbwá na basɛ́nzi, meaning "dog of the savages" or "dog of the villagers". In the Congo, the Basenji is also known as the "dog of the bush".

The dogs are also known to the Azande of South Sudan as ango angari.[4]

The word basɛ́nzi itself is the plural form of mosɛ́nzi.

In Swahili, another Bantu language, from East Africa, mbwa shenzi translates to "savage dog". Another local name is m'bwa m'kube, 'mbwa wa mwitu "wild dog", or "dog that jumps up and down",[5] a reference to their tendency to jump straight up to spot their quarry.


The Basenji has been identified as a basal breed that predates the emergence of the modern breeds in the 19th century.[6] DNA studies based on whole-genome sequences indicate that the basenji and the dingo are both considered to be basal members of the domestic dog clade.[7][8][9]

In 2021, the genome of two basenjis were assembled, which indicated that the basenji fell within the Asian spitz group.[10] The AMY2B gene produces an enzyme, amylase, that helps to digest starch. The wolf, the husky and the dingo possess only two copies of this gene, which provides evidence that they arose before the expansion of agriculture.[9] The genomic study found that similarly, the basenji possesses only two copies of this gene.[10]


A black and white Basenji

The Basenji originated on the continent of Africa.[11] Europeans first described the breed in 1895 in the Congo. These local dogs, which Europeans identified as a distinct breed and called basenji, were prized by locals for their intelligence, courage, speed, and silence.

Several attempts were made to introduce the breed into England, but the earliest imports succumbed to disease. In 1923 six Basenjis were taken from Sudan, but all six died from distemper shots received in quarantine.[12] It was not until the 1930s that foundation stock was successfully established in England, and then in the United States by animal importer Henry Trefflich. It is likely that nearly all the Basenjis in the Western world are descended from these few original imports.[13] The breed was officially accepted into the AKC in 1943. In 1990, the AKC stud book was reopened to 14 new imports at the request of the Basenji Club of America.[14] The stud book was reopened again to selected imported dogs from 1 January 2009 to 31 December 2013.[15] An American-led expedition collected breeding stock in villages in the Basankusu area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2010.[16] Basenjis are also registered with the United Kennel Club.

The popularity of the Basenji in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club, has declined over the past decade, with the breed ranked 71st in 1999, decreasing to 84th in 2006, and to 93rd in 2011.[17]



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Red Basenji with white markings
Two Basenjis; a tricolour male (left) and a red female (right).
A Basenji brindle puppy
Red Basenji
A tricolour Basenji with white markings

Basenjis are small, short-haired dogs with erect ears, tightly curled tails and graceful necks. A Basenji's forehead is wrinkled, even more so when it is young or extremely excited. A Basenji's eyes are typically almond-shaped. Basenjis typically weigh about 9–11 kg (20–24 lb) and stand 41–46 cm (16–18 in) at the shoulder. They are a square breed, which means they are as long as they are tall with males usually larger than females. Basenjis are athletic dogs, and deceptively powerful for their size.

They have a graceful, confident gait like a trotting horse, and skim the ground in a double suspension gallop, with their characteristic curled tail straightened out for greater balance when running at their top speed. Basenjis come in a few different colorations: red, black, tricolor, and brindle, and they all have white feet, chests and tail tips. They can also come in trindle, which is a tricolor with brindle points, a rare combination.

Temperament and behavior

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The Basenji is alert, energetic, curious and reserved with strangers. The Basenji tends to become emotionally attached to a single human. Basenjis may not get along with non-canine pets. Basenjis dislike wet weather, much like cats, and will often refuse to go outside in any sort of damp conditions. They like to climb, and can easily scale chain wire/link fences.

Basenjis often stand on their hind legs, somewhat like a meerkat, by themselves or leaning on something; this behavior is often observed when the dog is curious about something. Basenjis have a strong prey drive. According to the book The Intelligence of Dogs, they are the second least trainable dog, when required to do human commands (behind only the Afghan Hound).[full citation needed] Their real intelligence manifests when they are required to actually solve problems for the sake of the dogs' own goals (such as food, or freedom).

Basenjis are highly prey driven and will go after cats and other small animals.


There is only one completed health survey of dog breeds, including the Basenji, that was conducted by the UK Kennel Club in 2004. The survey indicated the prevalence of diseases in Basenjis with dermatitis (9% of responses), incontinence and bladder infection (5%), hypothyroidism (4%), pyometra and infertility (4%).[18]


Basenjis in the 2004 UK Kennel Club survey had a median lifespan of 13.6 years (sample size of 46 deceased dogs),[18] which is 1–2 years longer than the median lifespan of other breeds of similar size. The oldest dog in the survey was 17.5 years. The most common causes of death were old age (30%), urologic (incontinence, Fanconi syndrome, chronic kidney failure 13%), behavior ("unspecified" and aggression 9%), and cancer (9%).[18]

Fanconi syndrome

Fanconi syndrome, an inheritable disorder in which the renal (kidney) tubes fail to reabsorb electrolytes and nutrients,[19] is unusually common in Basenjis.[20] Symptoms include excessive drinking, excessive urination, and glucose in the urine, which may lead to a misdiagnosis of diabetes. Fanconi syndrome usually presents between 4 and 8 years of age, but sometimes as early as 3 years or as late as 10 years. Fanconi syndrome is treatable and organ damage is reduced if treatment begins early. Basenji owners are advised to test their dog's urine for glucose once a month beginning at the age of 3 years. Glucose testing strips designed for human diabetics are inexpensive and available at most pharmacies. A Fanconi disease management protocol has been developed that can be used by veterinarians to treat Fanconi-afflicted dogs.[21]

Other Basenji health issues

Basenjis sometimes carry a simple recessive gene that, when homozygous for the defect, causes genetic hemolytic anemia.[22] Most 21st-century Basenjis are descended from ancestors that have tested clean. When lineage from a fully tested line (set of ancestors) cannot be completely verified, the dog should be tested before breeding. As this is a non-invasive DNA test, a Basenji can be tested for HA at any time.

Basenjis sometimes suffer from hip dysplasia, resulting in loss of mobility and arthritis-like symptoms. All dogs should be tested by either OFA or PennHIP prior to breeding.

Malabsorption, or immunoproliferative enteropathy, is an autoimmune intestinal disease that leads to anorexia, chronic diarrhea, and even death. A special diet can improve the quality of life for afflicted dogs.

The breed can also fall victim to progressive retinal atrophy (a degeneration of the retina causing blindness) and several less serious hereditary eye problems such as coloboma (a hole in the eye structure), and persistent pupillary membrane (tiny threads across the pupil).

In popular culture

See also


  1. ^ Adapted from the book Why Pandas Do Handstands, 2006, by Augustus Brown.
  2. ^ "BCOA African Stock Project – 1945 Letter from Africa".
  3. ^ "Basenji Dog Breed Information". American Kennel Club. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  4. ^ "BCOA African Stock Project: My Journey into the Home of the Basenji".
  5. ^ de Lavigne, Guillaume (2015). Free Ranging Dogs: Stray, Feral or Wild?. Lulu Press. ISBN 978-1-326-21952-9.[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ Larson, G (2012). "Rethinking dog domestication by integrating genetics, archeology, and biogeography". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 109 (23): 8878–8883. Bibcode:2012PNAS..109.8878L. doi:10.1073/pnas.1203005109. PMC 3384140. PMID 22615366.
  7. ^ Fan, Zhenxin; Silva, Pedro; Gronau, Ilan; Wang, Shuoguo; Armero, Aitor Serres; Schweizer, Rena M.; Ramirez, Oscar; Pollinger, John; Galaverni, Marco; Ortega Del-Vecchyo, Diego; Du, Lianming; Zhang, Wenping; Zhang, Zhihe; Xing, Jinchuan; Vilà, Carles; Marques-Bonet, Tomas; Godinho, Raquel; Yue, Bisong; Wayne, Robert K. (2016). "Worldwide patterns of genomic variation and admixture in gray wolves" (PDF). Genome Research. 26 (2): 163–73. doi:10.1101/gr.197517.115. PMC 4728369. PMID 26680994. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022.
  8. ^ Koepfli, K.-P.; Pollinger, J.; Godinho, R.; Robinson, J.; Lea, A.; Hendricks, S.; Schweizer, R. M.; Thalmann, O.; Silva, P.; Fan, Z.; Yurchenko, A. A.; Dobrynin, P.; Makunin, A.; Cahill, J. A.; Shapiro, B.; Álvares, F.; Brito, J. C.; Geffen, E.; Leonard, J. A.; Helgen, K. M.; Johnson, W. E.; O’Brien, S. J.; Van Valkenburgh, B.; Wayne, R. K. (17 August 2015). "Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species". Current Biology. 25 (16): 2158–65. Bibcode:2015CBio...25.2158K. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.060. PMID 26234211.
  9. ^ a b Freedman, Adam H.; Gronau, Ilan; Schweizer, Rena M.; Ortega-Del Vecchyo, Diego; Han, Eunjung; Silva, Pedro M.; Galaverni, Marco; Fan, Zhenxin; Marx, Peter; Lorente-Galdos, Belen; Beale, Holly; Ramirez, Oscar; Hormozdiari, Farhad; Alkan, Can; Vilà, Carles; Squire, Kevin; Geffen, Eli; Kusak, Josip; Boyko, Adam R.; Parker, Heidi G.; Lee, Clarence; Tadigotla, Vasisht; Siepel, Adam; Bustamante, Carlos D.; Harkins, Timothy T.; Nelson, Stanley F.; Ostrander, Elaine A.; Marques-Bonet, Tomas; Wayne, Robert K.; et al. (2014). "Genome Sequencing Highlights the Dynamic Early History of Dogs". PLOS Genetics. 10 (1): e1004016. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1004016. PMC 3894170. PMID 24453982.
  10. ^ a b Edwards, Richard J.; Field, Matt A.; Ferguson, James M.; Dudchenko, Olga; Keilwagen, Jens; Rosen, Benjamin D.; Johnson, Gary S.; Rice, Edward S.; Hillier, La Deanna; Hammond, Jillian M.; Towarnicki, Samuel G.; Omer, Arina; Khan, Ruqayya; Skvortsova, Ksenia; Bogdanovic, Ozren; Zammit, Robert A.; Aiden, Erez Lieberman; Warren, Wesley C.; Ballard, J. William O. (2021). "Chromosome-length genome assembly and structural variations of the primal Basenji dog (Canis lupus familiaris) genome". BMC Genomics. 22 (1): 188. doi:10.1186/s12864-021-07493-6. PMC 7962210. PMID 33726677.
  11. ^ Dollman, Guy (April 1937). "The Basenji Dog". Journal of the Royal African Society. 36 (143): 148–149. JSTOR 717626.
  12. ^ "BCOA African Stock Project: Lady Helen Nutting".
  13. ^ Jones, Shirley (August 1989). "BCOA African Stock Project: History of the Breed Presented to the AKC".
  14. ^ Geoffroy, Pamela. "Letter to AKC Board of Directors" (PDF). Letter to AKC Board of Directors. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  15. ^ [1][dead link]
  16. ^ "Dibu Basenjis: Congo Trip 2010". Retrieved 25 January 2020.
  17. ^ "AKC Dog Registration Statistics". American Kennel Club. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012. Retrieved 3 June 2012.
  18. ^ a b c Kennel Club/British Small Animal Veterinary Association Scientific Committee. 2004. Purebred Dog Health Survey Archived 13 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 5 July 2007
  19. ^ "Health Issues". Doglime. 28 February 2019.
  20. ^ Noonan, C. H. B.; Kay, J. M. (1990). "Prevalence and Geographic-distribution of Fanconi syndrome in Basenjis in the United States". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 197 (3): 345–349. doi:10.2460/javma.1990.197.03.345. PMID 2391269.
  21. ^ Gonto, Steve (12 February 2016). "Fanconi Renal Disease Management Protocol for Veterinarians" (PDF). Basenji Club of America. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022. Retrieved 22 February 2018 – via Basenji Companions website.
  22. ^ "Basenji Health Issues". Archived from the original on 20 August 2008. Retrieved 22 July 2008.
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  26. ^ Blumberg, Alex; Glass, Ira (18 August 2006). "The Cat Came Back". This American Life. Archived from the original on 11 October 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2006.
  27. ^ Adulyadej, King of Thailand, Bhumibol (2002). Phrarātchaniphon Phrabāt Somdēt Phrachaoyūhūa Phūmiphon ʻAdunlayadēt rư̄ang Thō̜ngdǣng/ His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej biography of a pet dog, the story of Tongdaeng. Krung Thēp: Amarin Printing & Publishing Company Limited. ISBN 978-9742726263. OCLC 51802777.