The Basenji needs a person with a lot of empathy, patience and experience, who can find the golden mean between the needs and consistent rules for the dog. There should be clarity in the domestic hierarchy, as the Basenji still retains much of the primeval behavior from his African homeland. Recognition and trust are the keys to winning the wild heart of this extraordinary breed.
The exact origin of the Basenjis is largely unknown. It is believed that he came with the immigration of Asian nomads upstream across the Nile Delta into the interior of Africa and stayed with the people when they settled with their herds of cattle in Central Africa. Due to their isolated habitat and the harsh conditions, there was hardly any mixing with other races, so that it still corresponds to the archetype.
Later, from the first half of the year 3000 BC, from the fourth and fifth ancient Egyptian dynasties, tall canids with erect ears and curled tails are depicted on grave inscriptions, known as the so-called pharaoh dogs, Tesem – this is how one finds on the well-known pyramid of Cheops corresponding images. Pariah dogs lived all over central Africa in the vicinity of settlements, where they lived on the waste of the villagers, they were hardly fed. If so, the intention was usually to breed the dogs in order to enrich the menu. The Basenji probably descends from the domesticated Shensi, who, unlike the pariah dogs, had a master. But the Ethiopian wolf could also have played its part. There are early rock carvings in North Africa, for example in the area of the Libyan wadi Teshouinat. The direct ancestors of the Basenji lived mainly in the Ituri rainforest in what is now the Congo.
In the language of the pygmies from the Congo rainforest, the breed is called Basenji, pronounced Basenschi = little bush thing. But there are other terms and variations in other languages. “Ba” = thing, “Senji” = wild, it is called in Kiswahili, with the Egyptians “Khufu-Dog” and “King Suphis race”. In the neighboring countries one spoke of the “Zande-Dog”, “Nyam-Nyam”, “Ubangi” or “Bongo”. In addition, numerous synonyms such as the Congo Terrier, African Bush Dog or The Urhund from Africa were added during the colonization. The history of the naming goes back to the Bantu tribes who took over the Arabic-Persian language in the course of Islamization in the 7th century AD. The word part “senji” is important. It is derived from the Arabic root “shenzi” and means “uncivilized”. The Swahili apparently confused this with the Persian “zenji”, they thought it was called “dog” (Persian and Arabic are similar to German and Dutch). The correct Arabic translation would be “shenji” = folds. The Arabic character looks like the dog’s head “Khafre”, which means the protector, one who defeats all others. “Khufu-Dog” is another variation that associates “knowledge” and “silence”.
The German Africa explorer Dr. Georg Schweinfurth discovered Basenjis in the area of the Congo / North Sudan on his 3rd expedition, who were used as hunting helpers by the Azande tribe (Zande dog), also known as Niam-Niam. His report is the first description of the breed, so to speak, and he adds that the hunters attached a wooden bell to their dog’s collar so that they could spot the location in the thicket. Schweinfurth was so impressed with the dogs that he wanted to take one with him to Europe. The return trip ended tragically, because the dog, perhaps out of panic, tried to escape from a hotel window in Alexandria and fell to her death. This event aroused the curiosity of Europeans about the unknown race. In 1882 the Briton Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston found similar dogs in the Congo, in 1894 the first description was published in Europe, but not yet as a separate breed. The following year, the first Basenjis can be seen in London and later in other European zoological gardens. A stuffed Basenji was exhibited in the New York Natural History Museum in 1912. Breeding began with great difficulty in Great Britain in the 1930s, in 1937 Mrs. Olivia Burns imported and established the Basenji breed and in 1939 the first British Basenji Club was founded. The first standard was set and recognition as a breed followed. In Germany, Mrs. Berta Burkert founded the first German club in Munich on July 7th, 1997 and started breeding.
The Basenji does not bark as you know it from dogs, but it is by no means mute! He communicates with conspecifics and people in a variety of vocalizations, accompanied by clear body language. His “yodelling” is unique, as he learns in a pack and uses it for various requests, attention, as a game request or as a greeting. With varying yodelling sounds he shows joy, satisfaction or when he is grumpy or unhappy. If there is a bitch in heat nearby, the yodelling is particularly loud and persistent, not always to the delight of the neighbors. With young dogs you often hear a short woof when they are frightened, a throaty growl has the same meaning as with all dogs: alarm, caution, fear – especially with the hair on the back, he wants to be left alone. If the growling continues longer, or if it even snaps shut, the dog may be sick and in pain.
The head shape is rather flat, at the same time well formed with a weak stop. Ears that are set quite high and carried upright are made of fine leather and the shell is slightly domed in the shape of a hood. The tips of the ears are slightly offset towards the center of the head and the characteristic diamond-shaped forehead wrinkles are formed when the very mobile ears are set up. The dark, slanted, almond-shaped eyes look unfathomably into the distance, it seems. The narrow cheeks, the strong jaw and the muzzle taper towards the nose, which is as black as possible. The teeth form a complete scissor bite. Of good length, strong and curved, the neck carries the head in a high, proud posture. The building is balanced with a short, straight back. Well-arched, oval ribs with a deep sternum and the tucked-up belly on the lower profile line form a distinct waist. The high-set tail is rolled up and carried flat on the side of one thigh, either single or double. This creates the impression of a particularly expansive hindquarters. The forehand is straight and fine-boned, with the forearm being very long. The hindquarters are strong and muscular, the hocks are set low and the dewclaw is missing. The paws are small and compact, as a special feature of the Basenji, the two middle toes have grown together in the ball. The short coat is very fine, dense and shiny. The standard provides for the following color variants: red and white, pure black and white, tan and white, brindle with a red base color and clearly separated black stripes. The tip of the tail, chest and paws must be white. A blaze, white neck ring or white barrels are allowed.
As dogs, Basenjis are independent, very vigilant and self-sufficient to stubborn predisposed, just as it ensured their survival in their homeland. Today, this characteristic is reflected in a great urge for freedom, so that garden owners should not assume that a hunter fence would be a sufficient limit. The breed is very active, intelligent and likes to hunt: the owners must be particularly careful here, as approaching cars are also seen as prey. In the case of boredom in the home posture, a certain underchallenge in the gnawing of furniture or power cables can be expressed, so the puppy should be taught what he is allowed to do and what is not. You should always keep an eye on your dog when you go for a walk so that he does not eat everything he finds by the wayside – this is also a legacy of his ancestors. Everything is taken in immediately, he doesn’t know burying bones. Agility is the right thing to do or romping around on the dog meadow, where he can reduce his urge to move. The Basenji rather steers clear of water, even cold and wet weather, strong wind and frost are perceived as very unpleasant. He likes to lie in sunny places, also in front of the heater, and clean himself up extensively. Basenjis are very clean and have no typical dog odor. They are suitable for housing, where they feel safe. Fear of the dark is deep in the Basenji’s genes, as this period of time was associated with the greatest danger in Africa.
Among the hereditary diseases, the Fanconi syndrome has been observed in Basenji. This is a disorder of the kidneys that can be treated with a diet rich in protein and phosphate. The second hereditary disease is progressive retina atrophy, in which the retina slowly dies and ultimately leads to blindness. Other diseases such as hip dysplasia HD can be detected early through tests. Other health problems often originate from diet. For example, Basenjis tend to be overweight, which in turn can lead to movement and metabolic disorders.
The Basenji at a glance
Origin: Central Africa Patronage: Great Britain FCI Standard No. 43, Group 5 Spitz and Primordial Dogs, Section 6: Primitive TypeAlternative Names: Congo TerrierWithers Height: male approx. 43 cm, bitch approx. 40 cmWeight: approx. 11 kg, bitch approx. 9.5 kgHair coat: very fine, dense, short-haired Coat color: pure white and black, red-white, tricolor black-white-red, black with tan-colored markings, brindle, chest, tip of the tail, paws must be white.Eyes: almond-shaped, sloping, darkEars: Carried upright, fine leather, the tips are more towards the middle of the headBody structure: tall, square building, gracefully well-proportionedUsage: hunting dog, companion dogCharacter: alert, independent, clean, does not bark like other dogsHealth risks: Fanconi syndrome, progressive retina atrophyLife expectancy: 12 – 16 years
Image: © Depositphotos.com / TatyanaBelka