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This article is about the dog breed. For the musician, see Basenji (producer).
Basenji Profile (loosercrop).jpg
A red Basenji with white markings
Other names African Bush Dog
African Barkless Dog
Ango Angari
Congo Dog
Zande Dog
Country of origin Democratic Republic of the Congo
Patronage Great Britain
Weight Male 11 kg (24 lb)
Female 9.5 kg (21 lb)
Height Male 43 cm (17 in)
Female 40 cm (16 in)
Coat short and fine
Life span 12-14 years
Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

The Basenji is a breed of hunting dog. It was bred from stock that originated in central Africa. Most of the major kennel clubs in the English-speaking world place the breed in the Hound Group—more specifically, in the sighthound type. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale places the breed in group five, spitz and primitive types, and the United Kennel Club (US) places the breed in the Sighthound & Pariah Group.

The Basenji produces an unusual yodel-like sound commonly called a barroo, due to its unusually shaped larynx.[1] This trait also gives the Basenji the nickname "barkless dog."[2]

Basenjis share many unique traits with pariah dog types. Basenjis, like dingoes and some other breeds of dog, come into estrus only once annually—as compared to other dog breeds, which may have two or more breeding seasons every year. Both dingoes and Basenji lack a distinctive odor,[3][4] and are prone to howls, yodels, and other vocalizations over the characteristic bark of modern dog breeds. One theory holds that the latter trait is the result of selecting against dogs that frequently bark—in the traditional Central African context—because barking could lead enemies to humans' forest encampments. While dogs that resemble the Basenji in some respects are commonplace over much of Africa, the breed's original foundation stock came from the old growth forest regions of the Congo Basin, where its structure and type were fixed by adaptation to its habitat, as well as use (primarily net hunting in extremely dense old-growth forest vegetation).



Red Basenji with white markings
Two Basenjis
A Basenji puppy
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 they are young or extremely excited. A Basenji's eyes are typically almond-shaped. Basenjis typically weigh about 9.1–10.9 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 trundle, which is a tricolor with brindle points, a rare combination.


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, like to climb, and can easily get over chain wire 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. However, Basenjis are extremely intelligent and respond to training that is consistent and positive with plenty of treats.[citation needed] Basenjis do not respond well to punishment, such as yelling and hitting, which can cause them to utter a warning growl.


There is apparently only one completed health survey of Basenjis,[5] a 2004 UK Kennel Club survey.[6]

Basenjis are prone to blindness from PRA (progressive retinal atrophy)and Fanconi syndrome. They can also suffer from Hypothyroidism, IPSID (immunoproliferative systemic intestinal disease), and HA (Hemolytic Anemia). Basenjis are also sensitive to environmental and household chemicals, which may cause liver problems.


Basenjis in the 2004 UK Kennel Club survey had a median lifespan of 13.6 years (sample size of 46 deceased dogs),[6] which is 1–2 years longer than the median lifespan of other breeds of similar size.[7] The oldest dog in the survey was 17.5 years. 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%).[6]

Among 78 live dogs in the 2004 UKC survey, the most common health issues noted by owners were dermatologic and urologic[6] (urologic issues in Basenjis can be signs of Fanconi syndrome).

Fanconi Syndrome[edit]

Fanconi syndrome, an inheritable disorder in which the renal (kidney) tubes fail to reabsorb electrolytes and nutrients,[8] is unusually common in Basenjis.[9] 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. Steve Gonto, M.M.Sc., Ph.D., has a 'Fanconi Disease Management Protocol for Veterinarians' that is commonly used by many veterinarians with Fanconi syndrome afflicted dogs.[10][11][12] The current DNA test for Fanconi syndrome may be ordered from[13]

Fanconi DNA Linkage Test[edit]

In July 2007, Dr. Gary Johnson of the University of Missouri released the linked marker DNA test for Fanconi Syndrome in Basenjis. It is the first predictive test available for Fanconi Syndrome.[14] With this test, it is possible to more accurately determine the probability of a dog carrying the gene for Fanconi Syndrome.

Dogs tested using this "linkage test" return one of the following statuses:

  • Probably clear/Normal
Indicates the individual has most likely inherited normal DNA from both parents. It is unlikely that Basenjis that test this way will produce affected puppies, no matter which dog they breed with.
  • Probably Carrier
Indicates the individual has most likely inherited normal DNA from one parent and DNA with the Fanconi syndrome mutation from the other parent.This basenji is unlikely to develop Fanconi syndrome, but could produce puppies that do. To minimize the chances of this happening it is recommended carriers be bred only to those that test as Probably clear/Normal for Fanconi Syndrome.
  • Probably Equivocal/Indeterminate
Indicates the individual's DNA contained features found in both "normal" and "carrier" Basenjis. At present it cannot be predicted whether these Basenjis are carriers or normal; however, it is unlikely that they will develop Fanconi syndrome. The safest strategy would be to treat them as “carriers” and only bred to those Basenjis that test as Probably Clear/Normal for Fanconi Syndrome.
  • Probably Affected
Indicates the individual is likely to develop clinical Fanconi syndrome and is likely to produce puppies with Fanconi Syndrome if bred to Basenjis other than those that test as Probably Clear/Normal for Fanconi Syndrome.

This linkage test is being provided as a tool to assist breeders whilst research continues towards the development of the direct fanconi test.

The direct Fanconi DNA test has now been developed and may be ordered from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals at .

For more information about the linkage test visit: Basenji Health Endowment Fanconi Test FAQ[dead link].

Other Basenji health issues[edit]

Basenjis sometimes carry a simple recessive gene that, when homozygous for the defect, causes genetic Hemolytic Anemia.[15] 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).


A portrait of a black and white Basenji

The Basenji has been identified as a basil breed that predates the emergence of the modern breeds in the 19th Century.

Although the modern Basenji is from central Africa, at some point long ago its ancestor arrived there from eastern Asia, having evolved from either Chinese or southeast Asian wolves.[16] In November 2013, a study analysed the complete and partial mitochondrial genome sequences of 18 fossil canids dating from 1,000 to 36,000 YBP from the Old and New Worlds, and compared these with the complete mitochondrial genome sequences from modern wolves and dogs. The data indicate that 22% of the dogs sampled are sister to modern wolves from Sweden and the Ukraine with a most recent common ancestor 9,200 years ago (else admixture with wolves as dogs were clearly domesticated by this time), and that 78% are sister to one or more ancient canids from Europe. Some 64% of the dogs, including the Basenji, are sister to a 14,500 YBP wolf sequence with a most recent common ancestor 32,100 YBP.[17]:872:Table S2

Originating on the continent of Africa,[18] basenji-like dogs have lived with humans for thousands of years. Dogs resembling modern Basenjis can be seen on stelae in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, sitting at the feet of their masters, looking just as they do today, with pricked ears and tightly curled tails. Dogs of this type were originally kept for hunting small game by tracking and driving the game into nets.[2][19]

Europeans first described the type of dog the Basenji breed derives from in 1895—in the Congo. These local dogs, which Europeans identified as a unique breed and called basenji, were prized by locals for their intelligence, courage, speed, and silence. An article published called The Intelligence of Dogs by Stanley Coren, Ph.D. questions this. It ranks the breed at #78 out of 79, which is the second to lowest rank in intelligence. Some consider this an unreliable list, as it only focuses on ability to listen to a first command. Some consider independent dogs such as Basenjis and Afghan Hounds more intelligent than obedient breeds because of their ability to recognize which actions benefit them, and which simply please another.[20]

Basenjis were assistants to the hunt, chasing wild game into nets for their masters. The Azande and Mangbetu people from the northeastern Congo region describe Basenjis, in the local Lingala language, as mbwá na basɛ́nzi. Translated, this means "dogs of the savages", or "dogs of the villagers". In the Congo, the Basenji is also known as "dog of the bush." The dogs are also known to the Azande of southern Sudan as Ango Angari.[21] The word basɛ́nzi itself is the plural form of mosɛ́nzi. In Swahili, another Bantu language, from East Africa, mbwa shenzi translates to “wild dog”. Another local name is m’bwa m’kube m’bwa wamwitu, or “jumping up and down dog”,[dubious ] a reference to their tendency to jump straight up to spot their quarry.

Several attempts were made to bring the breed to England, but the earliest imports succumbed to disease. In 1923, for example, Lady Helen Nutting brought six Basenjis with her from Sudan, but all six died from distemper shots they received in quarantine.[22] It was not until the 1930s that foundation stock was successfully established in England, and then to the United States by animal importer Henry Trefflich. So it is likely that nearly all the Basenjis in the Western world are descended from these few original imports.[23] 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.[24] The stud book was reopened again to selected imported dogs from 1 January 2009 to 31 December 2013.[25] An American-led expedition collected breeding stock in villages in the Basankusu area of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2010.[26] Basenjis are also registered with the UKC.

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.[27]

Further study is needed to determine whether they belong to the subspecies Canis lupus familiaris, as is the case with most dogs, or rather into the subspecies Canis lupus dingo, like the Australian Dingo.[28]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The true story of a Basenji was featured in the episode The Cat Came Back[30] on the radio program This American Life.
  • Basenjis are featured in an episode of the animated television series The Wild Thornberrys In episode 3.04 "Tyler Tucker, I Presume?". Nigel Thornberry encounters a group of tribesmen along with their Congolese hunting dogs. The series' director, Mark Risley owns several Basenjis, and his dogs provided the recorded "voices" for their animated counterparts.
  • An episode of Pound Puppies, "The Pups Who Loved Me", revolves around a Basenji secret agent character by the name of Bondo. The dog is drawn with an appropriate likeness, but appears to bark, which is uncharacteristic of the breed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Adapted from the book Why Pandas Do Handstands, 2006, by Augustus Brown.
  2. ^ a b "BCOA African Stock Project - 1945 Letter from Africa". 
  3. ^ AKC Meet the Breeds: Basenji. AKC. Retrieved 2009-09-14
  4. ^ "Dingo - The Dingo as a pet - 300". RightPet. 
  5. ^ Dog Longevity Web Site, Breed Data page. Compiled by K. M. Cassidy. Retrieved 8 July 2007
  6. ^ a b c d Kennel Club/British Small Animal Veterinary Association Scientific Committee. 2004. Purebred Dog Health Survey. Retrieved 5 July 2007
  7. ^ Dog Longevity Web Site, Weight and Longevity page. Compiled by K. M. Cassidy. Retrieved 5 July 2007
  8. ^ Easley; Breitschwerdt (1976). J Am Vet Med Assoc. 168 (10): 938–943.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ Noonan,CHB, Kay JM 1990. Prevalence and Geographic-distribution of Fanconi Syndrome in Basenjis in the United-States Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association197(3)345–349
  10. ^ Gonto, Steve, PhD. "Fanconi Renal Disease Management Protocol for Veterinarians" (PDF). Basenji Club of America. Retrieved 2015-08-09. 
  11. ^ The latest revised Fanconi Renal Disease Management Protocol for vets was released in June 2015 by Dr. Steve Gonto, M.M.Sc., Ph.D. at the annual Basenji Rescue and Transport (BRAT) convention.
  12. ^ Gonto, Steve. "Fanconi Renal Disease Protocol for Veterinarians" (PDF). Basenji Club of America. Retrieved 9 August 2015. 
  13. ^ "Orthopedic Foundation for Animals". 
  14. ^ "Basenji Health Endowment: Fanconi Linkage Test FAQ". Archived from the original on 1 December 2007. Retrieved 1 December 2007. [dead link]
  15. ^ "Basenji Health Issues". 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Thalmann, O.; Shapiro, B.; Cui, P.; Schuenemann, V. J.; Sawyer, S. K.; Greenfield, D. L.; Germonpré, M. B.; Sablin, M. V.; López-Giráldez, F.; Domingo-Roura, X.; Napierala, H.; Uerpmann, H-P.; Loponte, D. M.; Acosta, A. A.; Giemsch, L.; Schmitz, R. W.; Worthington, B.; Buikstra, J. E.; Druzhkova, A.; Graphodatsky, A. S.; Ovodov, N. D.; Wahlberg, N.; Freedman, A. H.; Schweizer, R. M.; Koepfli, K.-.P.; Leonard, J. A.; Meyer, M.; Krause, J.; Pääbo, S.; Green, R. E.; Wayne, R. K. (2013). "Complete Mitochondrial Genomes of Ancient Canids Suggest a European Origin of Domestic Dogs". Science 342 (6160): 871–74. doi:10.1126/science.1243650. 
  18. ^ Basenji Club Of America Introduction to Basenjis
  19. ^ Dollman, Guy., 1937 The Basenji Dog Journal of the Royal African Society Vol 36, No. 143 pp. 148–149
  20. ^ Basenji Club Of America Understanding Basenjis
  21. ^ "BCOA African Stock Project - My Journey into the Home of the Basenji". 
  22. ^ "BCOA African Stock Project - Lady Helen Nutting". 
  23. ^ "BCOA African Stock Project - History of the Breed Presented to the AKC". 
  24. ^
  25. ^ [1][dead link]
  26. ^ "Dibu Basenjis - Congo Trip 2010". 
  27. ^ "AKC Dog Registration Statistics". American Kennel Club. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012. Retrieved 3 June 2012. 
  28. ^ p.223 Archived February 17, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  29. ^ Robert D. Ruplenas (12 May 1956). "Good-bye, My Lady (1956)". IMDb. 
  30. ^ "The Cat Came Back - This American Life". This American Life. 
  31. ^ "Achewood". 

External links[edit]