The Basenji is a breed of hunting dog that was bred from stock originating in central Africa. Most of the major kennel clubs in the English-speaking world place the breed in the Hound Group; more specifically, it may be classified as belonging to the sight hound type. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale places the breed in Group 5, 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, due to its unusually shaped larynx. This trait also gives the Basenji the nickname "Barkless Dog". In behavior and temperament they have some traits in common with cats.

Basenjis share many unique traits with Pariah dog types. Basenjis, like dingos 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 dingos and Basenjis lack a distinctive odor, and both are considered relatively silent, more prone to howls, yodels, and other undulated vocalizations over the characteristic bark of modern dog breeds. 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).

Basenji Appearance

Basenji are small, elegant-looking, short-haired dogs with erect ears, a tightly curled tail, and a graceful neck. Some people consider their appearance similar to that of a miniature deer. A basenji's forehead is wrinkled, especially when the animal is young. Basenji eyes are typically almond shaped, which gives the dog the appearance of squinting seriously.

Dogs typically weigh 24 pounds (11 kg) and stand 16 inches (40.6 cm) at the withers. They are typically a square breed, which means that they are as long as they are tall. The basenji is an athletic dog and is deceptively powerful for its 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 flat-out at their top speed.

The basenji is recognized in the following standard coloration: red, black, tricolor (black with tan in the traditional pattern), and brindle (black stripes on a background of red), all with white, by the FCI, KC, AKC, and UKC. There are additional variations, such as the "trindle", which is a tricolor with brindle points, and several other colorations exist in the Congo such as liver, shaded reds and(sables), "capped" tricolors (creeping tan).

Basenji Temperament

The Basenji is alert, affectionate, energetic, and curious and reserved with strangers. The Basenji is somewhat aloof, but can also form strong bonds with people. Basenjis may not get along with non-canine pets. It is usually patient, but does best with older considerate handlers. Basenjis dislike wet weather, like to climb, can easily get over chain wire fences, and are very clever at getting their own way. The Basenji has the unique properties of not barking (it makes a low, liquid ululation instead) and cleaning itself like a cat. It can be described as speedy, frisky, tireless at play, and teasing the owner into play. Most Basenji problems usually involve a mismatch between owner and pet. 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 reveal their animal-of-prey nature by chasing after fast moving objects that cross their paths. They have a high rate of fatalities related to chasing after car fenders and should not be allowed off leash near open traffic unless they are well trained.


Basenjis in the 2004 UK Kennel Club survey had a median longevity of 13.6 years (sample size of 46 deceased dogs), which is 1–2 years longer than the median longevity of other breeds of similar size. 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%).


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

Fanconi Syndrome

Fanconi syndrome, an inheritable disorder in which the kidneys fail to reabsorb electrolytes and nutrients, is unusually common in basenjis. 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.

Fanconi DNA Linkage Test

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. 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" will 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 which test this way will produce affected puppies no matter which dog they are bred to.
  • 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. Although this basenji is unlikely to develop Fanconi syndrome, it could produce puppies that will develop Fanconi syndrome. 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/Indeterminant
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.

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