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to become aquainted with Basenjis and what you need to know

Characteristics and Behavior, Communication: the Basenji Language



tesem Africa Dog Tjesem Kongo Terrier Prototype Dog Basenji


The Breeding Dog Basenji (canis lupus familiaris) Standard belongs to the Schensi dogs. The Schensis belong to the oldest species.  The Basenji Homeland is Africa. The Inhabitants of Central Africa referred to the Basenji as  'mbwa shenzi', which means wild dog.


Dogs belong probably to the oldest domestic animals man had

Josef H. Reichholf  


Basenji Personality

Colour of the Basenji


Many years of experience with Basenjis lead me to describe their personality characteristics and behavior, frequently supplemented with useful information and specifics provided by Basenji  friends. training aids


Africa Prototype Dog becomes a worldwide Breeding Dog

The Basenjis have a strong will to survive and will never give up. I am always impressed to know that Basenjis belong to the oldest domestic animals man had; they were useful in hunting and are attached to people. Nevertheless, anyone knowing Basenjis quickly learns that a Basenji does not belong to them. We will never completely understand the being of Basenjis. He remains, as he has for millennia an independent and freedom  loving dog on our side who quickly wins totally our favor, or our repudiation. Both should be cleared up.


What a dog is the Basenji? Answer: A Dog that evokes strong feelings. If your desire is to live together with a Basenji prepare yourself very well and think about your social environment. That has to be taken into account when one wants to live with this dog for a time span 12 - 17 years living together with your Basenji.


The lifespan of some Basenjis can be  longer.   Basenji Age and End of Life  


Because Basenjis are by nature part of a pack they do not want to be left alone. Basenjis could not be alone for many hours. They are inquiring, very active dogs and need a lot of exercise  Basenjis like to play. Playtime

Basenjis are sensitive. If there is a good atmosphere in their environment, they are in a  good mood  as well. The same applies to bad moods.

The Basenji is alert, affectionate and energetic. The instincts of Basenjis are highly developed, necessary for their environment but not for modern civilization . They have excellent sense of smell , hearing and sight, recognizing any opportunity that presents itself, such as an open door, front door or garden gate, to escape. My advice, be consequent in first giving the dog the command sit, put him on the leash and only then the command come; this is important for instance when opening a car door. An open car door will lead to accidents, may be they jumped into their death , as they don’t see the danger of cars, streetcars, or railroads. For them moving objects are prey that should be chased and therefore they must be kept on leash near streets and in a hunting territory. Please use a longline leash.


Please take time for daily long walks, that is very important for Basenjis. Don’t underestimate the power of Basenjis being on lash.

Basenjis need exercise and long daily walks as well mental training. Dogs need a structured everyday life with fixed times for activities because, like many other animals, they live and act habitually.



Give your Basenji a chance to learn being accustomed to our civilization. In our civilized world their inherited curiosity or even boredom can lead to damages  that do not please us or are dangerous (furniture electrical cables ect.). Watch your dogs especially the little pups. Our Basenji Garden 


Do not have to much trust in them if they are on the loose. We recommend that you intensively train them right from the beginning to obey and come back to you up on command, when the dogs have strayed away. A little treat may work wonders. Treats must be given only in exceptional situations because these rascals start begging right away.

The Basenjis are inherently equipped with eyelashes and whiskers as sensors. Eyes should be brown almond-shaped with long Eyelashes. Unfortunately, it has become fashionable to shave off these hairs for dog shows.


Eyelashes and almond-shaped brown eyes




Whiskers are very important for the dogs existence.


Dogs vibrissa  (Tactile Sense)


Whiskers, or vibrissae, are coarse, long, widely spaced sensory hairs located around the muzzle of most animal species. They are very sensitive to touch. For the Basenjis I would be elated if would see at dog shows that Basenji owners let them keep Whiskers these attributes, which are  necessary tactile sense and so typical of these cat-like dogs.



Erect ears and beautiful wrinkle folds


With his ears erect, the Basenji shows very beautiful wrinkle folds which unfortunately are less visible with black-and-white or tricolor species. Their ears are mobile in all directions.


They all have tightly-curled tails with a white tag.   




  Pads should be white. The body can have white marks.

Felicite d'Casa Regina


On his front legs, he has a sixth claw, the so called dewclaw and they have a different pad. The comparison  between a basenji pad and a pad of a normal dog. Please see below illustration.


The difference between a Basenji and a normal dog paw




Basenjis are afraid of the dark because that meant danger in their early homeland. They have almost no body odor - an inheritance from their life in Africa. There, the absence of smell is protection from predators. Unfortunately, this does not protect Basenjis from attacks by other dogs because they miss the typical dog scent.


They clean themselves intensively. I noticed that my Basenjis will wipe it's muzzle clean after eating. If being stained or wet their first concern is to clean themselves thoroughly, or lick themselves and others dry. In Africa this is an essential strategy. They use their paws like a cat to clean it's eyes and face. The paws are also used pouncing on balls and toys when playing.  Although they are extremely clean, they like to avoid water. They do not like to be given a bath, which they usually do not need anyway. They love to be washed, brushed, and, when they are changing their fur, in Europe in wintertime, to be rubbed with odorless hair lotion for a healthy fur. Their pelt should always be smooth and glossy. When they shed their hair once a year, good brushing helps. Basenjis inhabit two different climate zones in their homeland the savannah and the rain forest.


Savannah                                                      Rainforest



The coat of Basenjis differs according to climate conditions. Some Basenjis develop a thicker fur than those who do not need it. Basenjis that do no grow the protective layer of wool need to be helped by warm coats in wintertime. These differences are gradually disappearing due to indiscriminate breeding. That knowledge disappears with it.

For anatomical reasons, the Basenji cannot bark in the accepted sense, although it is capable of emitting a short sharp sound "Wuff". The Basenji is far from mute, they have a full rate of sounds, the so called basenji language . They warn with a deep growl . They sound alarm when a stranger comes with a short sharp „woof“.  Friends are greeted happily, sometimes with a loud yodel. The owner is greeted enthusiastically and with a prolonged yodel . As long as distance is respected, anybody is allowed to enter. Outdoors they are curious but rather reserved toward strange people and dogs. Basenjis are alert and therefore sometimes  they can be aloof with strangers and other dogs. When they are attacked, they behave like all dogs.

A Basenji owner must take to above traits to heart because they are a consequence of their origins.

This breed go into heat normally once per year, in Europe in the beginning wintertime, therefore the puppies are born in December or January.


 Basenji Behavior

Basenjis are always looking for a place in the sun, or the warmest spot in the house.

Sun worshipper Azande, Cosmo and Angori




To better understand and to interpret their behavior, I started to research their natural expression as well as their special needs. I attempted to interpret their behavior correctly and therefore had to learn the Basenji Language. My advice is a demand to all Basenji companion, please learn the Basenji language  to avoid misunderstanding. That's very helpful in addition to share a species-appropriate life with Basenjis. A better understanding of the dogs leads to a better and more relaxed coexistence. Basenji owners can communicate appropriate to the Basenjis if they use the Basenji language. It furthers cohesion and mutual respect, especially with the distinct pack behavior of Basenjis.

Basenjis are intelligent and independent dogs , which guaranteed their survival in Africa. They obey when it fits to their natural instincts. Basenjis learn very quickly but then do as they like. Take it easy and don’t worry.


Please be considerate of his needs and remember that he is a dog:  the Basenji.

They will use any opportunity to escape and to exercise their freedom because they are freedom  loving. They react resentfully after being unfair punished and will never forget it. Basenjis are hunting dogs and will chase anything as "prey", therefore they use any chance to hunt. Basenjis like to have control about anything in their environment. Please protect anything worth, especially food, because the Basenji seek out nearly every food for immediate consumption. I noticed that Basenjis are always interested in getting food.

For hundreds of years the Basenjis are accustomed to be clever to find enough to eat in their homeland. In his mind is the best place to safe food his stomach. Nothing is ever buried for future use.

They are very active dogs and need a lot of exercise . If they are trained too harshly, they might become disobedient and destructive. But if no demands are made of them, the same problems result i.e. these intelligent dogs need stimulation to learn. Being ignored because of lack of time or our own impatience and frustration can provoke bad attitudes.

They love to to scamper through the house. They love to play even in the snow, but cold rain, hail, strong winds and frost are very unpleasant for almost any Basenji and halts all action.


They love to lie in the sun and in other warm spots, such as near a heater.


Please stay away by sleeping Basenjis. However, they wake up instantly; be careful when they get startled. Therefore do not approach them until they are wide awake. The old adage says: Let sleeping dogs lie.


deep sleep


The older Basenji needs less movement and more sleep. However, he still needs activities and variety.


At the end of life your Basenji needs a lot of attention. end of life


First of all, it is very important to know that Basenjis do not like to be alone. Start training your dogs as early as possible to be on their own. How long can one leave them unaccompanied without worries? staying alone  Because the freedom loving Basenjis should never be shut in, to confine them in a cage is a bad idea. It is a necessary evil for Basenjis. A cage should be used only in exceptional situations; but the dogs should be trained early on tolerate them. Keep him there as little as possible, because Basenjis are cat like independent dogs.


There are tricks like hiding treats in a cage. The cage only for exceptional sitiations

Angori crate




Never, please never put a Basenji on a chain.

He tries to escape and may be injured.



Life in a Pack

Life in a pack is the natural way of life of Basenjis. It c orresponds to their original life in Africa. It is quite possible to keep more than 1 Basenji together. However, before you decide to do that, visit some basenji companions and observe their pack. They usually tend to seek out one person as major relation and tend to show special attention to him or her. They easily can find and accept their place in the pack, but sometimes they start a ranking fight. Observe them and find out the time of this survival training . The owner is the „leader of the pack“. That should be made clear, but please do not try to train your Basenji to be an obedient „good dog“. That is absolutely not in his nature. Some basenjis are trained to be a good dog, but it always makes me sad to see this.


Basenjis need complete inclusion in the family.

They feel like equal family (pack)members.

  If you understand the yearning for smoothly treatment and pet them gently they pant quietly with pleasure and smack their tongues. Basenjis are intolerant of coddling like cats, but very affectionate on his own initiative. Basenjis can be full  of humor  and make us  laugh with their antics.

Basenjis like to play also with objects, but they are not suited for the usual games like retrieving sticks, etc.  because it quickly bores them. They quietly show with their vocal sounds or by their body language when they want us to pay attention to something; we just have to learn to notice this. If you take time for your Basenjis you will receive much joy from them.

Some Basenjis make an exception from these rules, but that is not in their nature. It may be that they were handled to severely und subjugated to the human dominance.



Basenji Language = Communication


In some African tribes Basenjis are known as " talking dogs ". Other names are "M'bwa Shenzi" or "M'bwa M'Kubwa M'bwa" translated up and down jumping dogs. You may observe your Basenjis in the field.

Owners of more than one Basenji will notice how intensively they communicate with each other, i.e. “talk”. Likewise the Basenjis may also speak to their owners if they feel up to understand the Basenji Language . Vice versa Basenji owners can communicate appropriate to the Basenjis if they use the Basenji Language, first of all to use the body gesture.



Living with Basenjis

Start training based on the  character of Basenjis as early as possible. The Animal Learn Method  is the best for Basenjis; to teach without punishing but consequent enforcement of an order to the dog, corresponds to my view of education.  To be consequent is essential when giving commands to the dog because a Basenji wants impose his own will, but in the pack he has to reliably obey his role. More than 1 Basenji

Please take time for daily long walks, which are vital important for Basenjis.

After observing the young pups, its native or acquired rank in the pack should be considered. The breeder should be able to inform the buyer about it and to recommend the fitting selection.

They must be included in your life, as they consider themselves one of the family. Basenjis differ greatly in their character and are independent like cats in their behavior. They have their inner life as we do, they trick us and give us pleasure with their games. I like that about them.



Love them just like they are, you will have fun with the BASENJIS




Rhodesian Ridgeback The Homeland of the Rhodesian Ridgeback is South Africa. There the Ridgeback were often hold together with Basenjis. The personality of both dogs are very similar.



My hint for a better understanding for the living with Basenjis are these Books and the Dakota Report


" The complete Basenji Mrs. Elspet Ford


Mrs. Elspet Ford, Basenji breeder since 1961, who lived some times in Zambia, wrote in her excellent book  The complete Basenji  "If your desire is for an obedient, servile dog, who will happily spend days alone in a kennel without complaint, a Basenji is definitely not for you. It is a "people" dog, accustomed for generations to live freely around the huts and fires of the tribesman; the results can be devastating if it is shut away from human company. However, if you want a playful, teasing, independent, intelligent and inquisitive companion, who can outsmart you more often than not and has ready answer should you grumble about its conduct, then maybe you and a Basenji are made for each other. There is no middle road with Basenjis, you either love them or loathe them - so be sure that you are in the first category before contemplating sharing your home with one for the next 12 or more years. " 



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