Basenji Temperament: Expect the unexpected



In this blog post, we are genuinely diving deep into the temperament of the Basenji dog. Have you wondered if this dog breed is right for you and your lifestyle? Or you already own a Basenji and would like to learn more about their history and true temperament. Either way, you have sniffed out the correct article in the vastness of the internet.


The Basenji is a truly impressive dog with a mysterious past in the Middle East. Basenjis tend to be ready for everything, and their frowning and quizzical expression uniquely underlines their character. Despite their small size, people should be aware of the hunting abilities of this versatile sighthound.


In the following post, we will examine their rich history, health issues and whether the Basenji Temperament pairs well with your character. By this end, you will be very well equipped, knowing the answer if the Basenji is everything you've been looking for. So, without further ado, let's, dive deep.



Basenji History


Basenji Temperament
The Basenji is a dog from the Congo

Straight out of Africa, the Basenji is a sight-and-scent hound and, therefore, an excellent hunter who fully adapted to the challenging African climate conditions.


Their native country on the African continent would be the Congo, but there were similar sighthounds around for centuries before.


The name Basenji translates into "little thing of the bush". Their native African name means "the jumping up and down dog".


Basenjis are considered a basal dog breed. This is because these breeds have had the highest-percentage influence on breeds and genetics of modern-day dog breeds.


Egyptian paintings from the pharaoh's times depict Basenji-like dogs. The characteristic curly tail and prick ears are all visible. These are all traits that the Basenji is well-known for. This would make them one of the oldest dog breeds in the world. Some sources even argue "the oldest".


Western culture first came in contact with the Basenji around 1868. Dr Schweinfurth travelled the African continent and found a hunting tribe using Basenji as successful hunting dogs. More and more stories and documents emerged proving that the Basenji was an ancient dog breed.


Although the Westerners imported Basenji-like dogs into Europe around 1880, also known as African Bush dogs or Congo dogs, they didn't stand the test of time due to distemper issues.


The first successful import happened around 1936 into England. In 1937 the Basenji was recognised by the UK Kennel Club.


They survived the harsh conditions by being specialised hunters, which increased the survival rate of African tribes. Basenjis spotted prey and flushed out game. They used their scent and sight abilities to be the best at their job.


As they hunted away from their owners, it was early on bred into them to make decisions independently and instinctively. As a result, Basenjis are no pushovers and are fearless in their decision-making process.


The Basenji temperament of today still incorporates this temperament trait. But this fact makes the Basenji a unique dog with loads of loyal followers.


Basenjis are a rare dog breed, so if you're interested in owning one, be prepared for a longer waitlist.


In Q2 2022, 22 Basenji puppies have been registered with the UK Kennel Club, which is more than last year. The Basenji is certainly not a common sight in the UK, but has a steady following.

Q1 2021

Q2 2021

Q3 2021

Q4 2021

Yearly 2021

Q1 2022

Q2 2022

56

3

8

16

83

59

22

Source: UK Kennel Club https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/media/2403/quarterly-breed-stats-hounds.pdf November 2022


Now that we have a rough idea about their breeding history, let's dive into how your life with a Basenji might look.


What is a Basenji's Temperament like?


Basenji Temperament
Basenjis are energetic and love to spend time outside

Expect the unexpected. Basenjis have a truly unique and quirky temperament.

Basenjis love to be part of a pack, meaning your family. They are loving, affectionate and devoted to the close people around them.


Basenjis are very sensitive to environmental changes, so they can make a good watchdog and deter intruders with everything they have. Their smaller size will not make them excellent guard dogs, ultimately. However, they value the closeness of a family and want to protect you.


They are inquisitive and mouthy dogs. They will enjoy picking things apart, chewing and exploring. It's a good idea to provide your Basenji with many chew toys and mental stimulation. A bored Basenji can be a recipe for chewed-up skirting boards and broken remote controls. When Basenji-proofing your house and cupboards, think of a three-year-old child who just learned to open doors.



Basenji Temperament
Basenjis are odour-less and clean dogs. Perfect for a houseproud owner.

Basenjis are often described as having cat-like personalities. For example, they like to climb on furniture and love the comfort of a good sofa. If they smell a snack on the kitchen counter, don't be surprised if your Basenji lunges on the counter to get it.


To describe them as escape artists is an understatement. Their determination to explore is strong, and you need to have a secure, high-fenced yard to leave your dog unsupervised. And even that might ultimately not be enough.


Basenjis are so clever! However, they fall into the harder-to-train category and can be stubborn. It is not a state secret that they're hard to train. However, their independence is embedded in their breeding history, so they're more than happy to engage in training whenever they feel there is something in it for them.



Positive reinforcement is the best training method for this dog breed. The Basenji's intelligence will always make them question your demands and decide if the effort is worth the reward.


Perseverance, a good sense of humour and ingenuity from your side is required to get your Basenji to perform commands.

Basenji Temperament
The frowning expression is the trademark of this dog

Basenjis are hounds and can therefore demonstrate a strong prey drive.


Consequently, we recommend only letting them off-leash in a fenced area until you feel they have mastered a re-call.


Basenjis are known to be playful canine companions and are great family dogs with older children if socialised accordingly. Like Boxers or Airedale Terriers, Basenjis carry their playful side into old age and remain puppylike for a long time.


They're energetic and require around 60-90 mins of exercise a day. You can incorporate activities like agility or lure coursing as your Basenjis likes to run. A tired Basenji is less like to do the unexpected.


The Basenji is the perfect dog for you if you are a houseproud person. They don't shed too much as they don't have an undercoat like a German Shepherd or a Border Collie. Instead, the Basenji is known to have the cleanliness of a cat and often like to lick themselves clean. In addition, they're known for being an odour-free dog breed.


Let's now have a look at some common Basenji questions.


Basenji Temperament
Basenjis are better suited to older children. Good socialisation can improve chance with smaller children.

Are Basenjis good with kids?

Basenjis are good with kids, but they require socialisation to endure the attention of smaller children. In addition, their over-excitement and agility can lead to them knocking smaller children off their feet if they jump on them.


All this behaviour needs to be trained out of them. If you socialise your Basenji from a puppy age, they can learn to adapt their behaviour to the person they're around.


Once a Basenji has mastered this, they're great for children with their curious and playful temperaments. But, of course, it helps if the child is a bit older. Alternatively, the best way is for a Basenji puppy to grow up with a smaller child, as they can adapt as they grow.

We wouldn't recommend letting your children hold their leash, though. Basenjis are sighthounds and chase after small animals like squirrels or rabbits. Therefore, they can take off without warning and injure your child.


Teach your children how to approach a dog early and where your dog's "time-out" area is. No child should be left unsupervised with any dog and should be taught to respect boundaries. Painful interaction will not be accepted by any dog breed.


Can Basenji dogs bark?

One of the most intriguing non-ability of the Basenji is that they can't produce what we would consider a "normal-sounding dog bark".


Whilst this is shrouded in mystery, some researchers believe it has to do with the Basenjis throat structure. The ventricle of the larynx, which is responsible for producing the barking sound in dogs, is more shallow in Basenjis than in other dogs. As a result, the vibrations are not enough to create a typical barking sound.


Some people believe that the barking has been bred out selectively in their native home of Africa. For example, African hunters needed a soundless companion dog who didn't attract predators by barking at night.


But this doesn't mean Basenjis are quiet.


Instead, the Basenji uses a howl, a shriek, a whimper, a whine or a yodel. Or something in between. We challenge you to go through youtube and find the most ear-piercing Basenji sound! They produce the weirdest sounds and must be heard to be believed.


However, it is possible to find a Basenji that can bark. Or to come across a Basenji that is completely quiet.




Can Basenjis live in an apartment?

Yes, Basenjis can thrive in an apartment! They’re considered a small dog breed and can, therefore, perfectly adjust to apartment living if they get outside to exercise. Basenjis can also adapt perfectly to city life by getting walks in woodlands or spacious dog parks. In addition, their pocket size is perfect for taking them with you on weekend adventures and holidays.

Basenji Temperament
The Basenjis attentiveness makes for a good watchdog

Basenji Temperament in a nutshell

  • People-orientated, loyal and loving temperament

  • Early socialisation is crucial when owning a Basenji

  • Training is tough and requires patience, perseverance and ingenuity

  • Energetic and positive

  • Odour-free, clean and don't shed much


Potential health issues in the Basenji breed

The Basenji can live to a ripe age. Their average lifespan is about 14-16 years which is a lot for a hound breed.


Basenjis are considered a healthy breed. However, there are certain health conditions that a prospective owner should be aware of. It is a good idea to budget for potential vet bills and the time required to care for your Basenji if they develop a particular condition.


That said, not all Basenjis will experience the below hereditary diseases. It's essential to be aware of them to spot problems early on so you can follow up with immediate treatment.


The below list does not replace a vet visit. In general, always look for a vet, if your dog displays any sort of symptoms and internet research doesn't replace a vet visit.

Fanconi Syndrome: a kidney disease that the Basenji should be tested for from the age of three.


Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Prevalent eye disease in Basenjis. This can lead to clouding and blindness.


Immuno Proliferative Small Intestinal Disease (IPSID): can be inherited. It’s a type of bowel disease which results in problems absorbing nutrients from food.


Hemolytic Anemia: Is very rare these days in Basenjis as the inherited version has been mainly bred out


Hypothyroidism: As with many sighthound breeds, thyroxine levels are physiologically low. To confirm hypothyroidism in a sighthound, you must do a full thyroid blood panel and support results with significant symptoms. Sighthounds can be prone to it but speak to your vet for an appropriate diagnosis.


On top of different thyroxine levels, sighthounds have different haematology values to other breeds - they can have high red blood cells (RBC), lower white blood cells (WBC), and low platelets (PLT), and increased haemoglobin concentration. Those changes are also absolutely normal within the breed. It underlines again to look for a vet with special knowledge of Sighthounds.


Bones and joint problems can also be genetically predisposed (Hip and elbow dysplasia). Observe your dog thoroughly and speak with your vet if they change how they walk or lay down more than usual.




Basenji fun fact


Basenji Temperament
The Basenji doesn't shed much and could be a go-to choice for people with allergies (but it's not guaranteed)

Some famous Basenji lovers are the royal family of Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died in 2016, was a lover and supporter of the breed. He had a Basenji called Khun Thong Daeng, who passed away just one year before him.


According to her official royal biography, Thong Daeng was born to a stray dog in Bangkok in November 1998. She was later adopted by Rama IX Medical Center and given as a gift to the King when he visited the facility.


His dog was a constant companion and even appeared on the King's greeting cards.

In 2019, the King's son gave the green light to continue to the bloodline of his father's favourite furry friend. As a result, eight healthy puppies were born using artificial insemination with the frozen semen from two of Khun Thong Daeng's sons.