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About the Basenji



The 'Barkless' Dog


The Basenji has one of the most fascinating and mysterious histories of any dogs in the world. The Basenji was already established as a breed, when civilization was in its infancy and has preserved its identity for centuries in Central Africa.


The Basenji is a lightly built, finely boned dog with gazelle like grace, with the appearance of being high on leg compared to its length. It must have a wedge shaped head showing wrinkles with small hooded pricked ears set on top of the head. The head should be carried proudly on a longish well-arched neck with a strong level top line finishing off with a well curled tail set snugly against the hip. They move with a swift, long effortless swinging stride carried straight forward. In the early notes on the breed, it was written that the Basenji moving should resemble a trotting horse in full stride.


Thus they are very agile and fast. The Basenji is known for its remarkable cleanliness and has a very short coat which does not have any odour unless wet. Basic colours are red & white, black & white, tri colour (black, tan & white) and brindle with white markings on chest, feet and tip of tail.


The Basenji does not bark and it is believed that this was a characteristic of the early dogs as their vocal cords do not differ from the normal dog. They can howl like a wolf, scream when in pain and yodel when greeting loved ones. A strong willed breed, that some people say are too intelligent for their own good. This intelligence means it is much harder to train them like a normal dog, so obedience is not as strong a point as in the 'socially acceptable' dog.  They can easily be trained for most of the considered, normal behaviour, of socially accepted commands.  They normally require a fair amount of attention and do not like being on their own. In the family environment they make very loyal and loving pets with a particular affection for young children. Being a pack dog, a pecking order needs to be established early in their life, as some times they will dominate young members of the family.


The Basenji is an ancient breed and has been depicted as early as the period, BC 1080 – 332 in Egypt. The East Berlin Museum has a lime stone statue entitled “A sitting dog” which depicts a perfect Basenji and photos of this statue are used by most Basenji enthusiasts to explain the theory. It would appear that these dogs played an important part in the life of the Ancient Egyptians as they have been included in their memorial tablets and statues. The first engraving is a funerary stele of Sebeh-aa, an inspector of transport, dated 2300 BC, a Basenji seated beside his chair. Another of the same date shows User, son of Meshta, sitting at his table of offerings and his dog, a perfect Basenji, at his feet.



A close-up of an inscription from the Old Kingdom -'Raemkai's hunting basenji'

Photo from When the Pyramids Were Built: Egyptian Art of the Old Kingdom


Another study by Professor Noack on the Central African dogs for the Zoological Society says that the Basenji is the same as the dogs of the ancient breed of Egypt. In the history of Ancient Egypt, the Khufu dogs of the IV Dynasty were described as a Spitz type or of a dingo/pariah type. A skull taken from the tomb in Upper Egypt of the first century BC, was described as one of the pariah type dogs, but appeared to be smaller than would be expected. The characteristics of the skull indicated that it was not a wolf type, but had to be the head of a mature dog and as such it was more likely to be of a Basenji type.



Photo from the British Museum


Whilst the Basenji has been around for a long time, and have been used for centuries by the natives of Africa as a hunting dog, they did not leave their native homeland until about 1895.




The first evidence of the Basenji being imported into England was an article in ‘Our Dogs’ that the Basenji was exhibited at Cruft as the African Bush Dogs or Congo Terriers. Some breeders doubted this, but an extract from the Illustrated Kennel News of 1908 which gives a photo of “Native Dogs of the Congo”. Another example of early notice of the breed, is a photo of a pygmy group complete with Basenji taken in the Belgian Congo in 1912. This picture along with the hunting bell that was around the dogs neck is now on display at the Museum of New York.



Postcard from the Belgian Congo c1920's


The breed was established in England, in 1939 when the first club and standard was drawn up. This inaugural meeting included such famous Basenji breeders as Lady Helen Nutting, Mrs. Olivia Burn (see picture below) and Miss Veronica Tudor-Williams.




 Miss Veronica Tudor Williams (in blue).

Judge at the Basenji Club of NSW Championship Show, 1979


The next few years were rather traumatic for the breed, with the second world war taking a toll on the breed, but for the safe keeping of a few of the breeders. This period also saw many exchanges of ideas on what was the correct standard for the breed. Size was one of the big topics, as it was found that the dogs whelped in the UK were larger than most of the African dogs. It is believed that the diet of these dogs had a lot to do with their size, as the puppies would have received a better quality of food during the growing years. In Africa they were left to their own devices for food, where as breeders feed only the best quality of food.





 From June 1, 1937 AKC Gazette Article by Mrs. Olivia Burn




Miss Veronica Tudor Williams (right) and

Gennelle St. George (then Miss Gennelle McDicken)  presenting awards at the Basenji Club of NSW

Champ Show

**Gennelle is the designer of the Club's much loved logo.


The first standard drawn up gave the height as approximately, for dogs 16in (40.5cm) and bitches 15in (38cm). The height was increased by one inch in the 1942 standard, but the weight remained the same. The current standard has retained the ideal height of 17in for dogs and 16in for bitches together with the same weight range being 24lbs for dogs and 22lbs for bitches.  The original standard gave an inch either way, but our current standard only gives the ideal height. It is a credit to Basenji breeders all over the world that our dogs have remained the same style, size and weight as the original native dog.




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