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The Basenji

62966941 - young basenji dog walking in forest, in early autumn time
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The Basenji may not be the most popular breed, but it’s not exactly obscure. For one thing, it’s well-known for its lack of bark, and its playful intelligence. But aside from this, this was once a hunting dog, and has a long and rich history.

Ancient dog of the Pharaohs

The Basenji is generally considered to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, dog breed in the world. As in, 6000 years old, or so. Actually, part of why the Basenji doesn’t bark might be due to this ― people may have wanted a dog that was silent on hunts. This dog is more wolflike than other domesticated breeds, in that if they bark, it’s only once. Otherwise, the noises they make are more like howling or yodeling. Also, like other wild canids, female Basenjis only cycle once a year, unlike other dog breeds who have a twice-a-year cycle. On top of that, the metabolism of a Basenji is not like that of any other domesticated breed. It’s not hard to see why this particular breed is theorized to be only partially domesticated.

The Basenji was a favorite of Egyptian pharaohs, once upon a time. Their likeness has been found in tombs and on artifacts, as well as in ancient Babylonian and Mesopotamian art. This dog was isolated, and thereby preserved, in remote areas of the African continent for thousands of years. That is, until an English explorer brought a breeding pair back home from the Congo region in 1985. Due to disease, however, neither dog survived, and it wasn’t until the mid-1900s that the Basenji truly took hold in the West. As a breed, it was officially recognized by the AKC in 1943.

Size and appearance of the Basenji

The Basenji is on the smaller side, with a light build, and stands 16-17 inches tall. Their trademark expression of curious surprise is largely due to that perpetually wrinkled forehead. Despite their size, this is a strong dog with high endurance, perfectly adapted for long hunts in the African sun. Their coat is short and smooth, and comes in a few different colors and markings. The one most commonly seen it the classic white and chestnut red, but black, tricolor, and brindle can all be found, as well. Regardless of color, a Basenji will always have white feet, chest, and tail tip. Grooming-needs are quite low ― these dogs even clean themselves like a cat, and lack much of the typical dog odor. Just brush regularly, and you’ll be fine.

The half-wild Basenji is a very old breed – maybe even the oldest in the world.

Temperament and personality

Given that the Basenji is generally considered an almost half-wild breed, they’re not for novice dog owners. This is a hound, which means they’re intelligent and resourceful, and can have a strong independent streak. As they hunt by sight, that prey drive also needs to be kept under a watchful eye. All in all, many aren’t really prepared for the unique personality of a Basenji; they’re friendly with those they know, but they’re not people-pleasers. You might have a hard time getting them to do what you want. Honestly, the Basenji is more than smart enough to understand your commands and wishes, but will often simply choose not to accommodate. Not to mention, they need a lot of exercise as well as mental stimulation, and are quite the escape artists. You’ll need a proper fence if you want to keep your pup from running off to explore the world.

Things to consider

The Basenji is fascinating in its own right, and has earned its reputation many times over. This is old breed is a hunter, as well as a friendly, energetic companion ― you simply can’t pick and choose which qualities to keep. A Basenji can definitely be a challenge. But if you have the time, patience, and commitment to provide all that they need, the Basenji might just be right for you.

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