The Basenji came to the western world from Africa, mainly from the Congo (Zaire) and the Sudan but there are accounts of them in most of the other African areas; although nowadays there are very few pockets of pure bred dogs remaining. In Sierra Leone the Basenji is known as the talking dog because they yodel instead of barking, they are also known as the witch’s dog or familiars; the more powerful the witch doctor the more dogs he owns. Tanzanian natives removed the tails from dogs which were used to hunt. This made it harder for an ape to seize the dog and kill it.
The Basenji's senses of sight and smell are amazing. It is marvellous to see one jump up and down in five feet high elephant grass, he almost seems to hover in the air at the top of his jump whilst he has a quick look around and scents the air. Hence, one of the African names M'bwa M'kube M'bwawamwitu, the jumping up and down dog.
Mostly the Basenji is used as a hunting dog, rounding up the game and circling it thus keeping it penned until the hunter arrives to despatch it. Because of their silence when hunting the dogs very often wear bells around their neck or loin. In England and America they have been used with some success as gun dogs, pointing and flushing game; as they are very fast and agile they can catch and kill hares with ease. With patience they can be taught to retrieve. Some puppies do this naturally, others will have no idea what is required. The greatest problem in training them for the gun is to get them to hunt within range instead of disappearing to circle a wide radius in their natural style. They have a strong tendency to look up into the branches whilst hunting, perhaps from the prevalence of monkeys in their jungle home and this makes them excellent bird dogs.
The history of the Basenji has been traced back to the Stone Age but they are more generally connected with Egypt and the Pharaohs who valued them highly. In the Egyptian tomb engravings dated before 3000BC this breed is shown as the house dog, sitting under the master's chair. One of them even has his name "Xalmes" mentioned. Possibly the Pharaohs were responsible for giving this dog his taste for the good life! Cleopatra and Nefertiti may have used them as bed warmers. Certainly the Basenji loves that job today and resting on the best chairs in the warmest places. Infact, being treated like royalty!
The breed was first known in the modern world as the Congo Terrier. There is a picture, circa 1880, of three dogs named ‘Bosc’, ‘Dibue’ and ‘Mowa’ in the Paris Zoological Gardens with a description very similar to the present day standard. After many disappointments, the breed was finally established in Britain in 1937 by Mrs Burns of the Blean Basenjis. Now they are popular in most countries where pedigree dogs shows are held.
The Basenji is a unique dog of terrier size and come in four colour variations: red & white; black & white; a combination of these colours known as a tri-colour and brindle. All have white feet, tail tip and some white on the chest. They may also have a certain amount of white markings on the face and neck. The Basenji has alert pricked ears with the characteristic puzzled frown and a tail which curls tightly over the hip. He does not bark but is very far from mute making all the usual doggie noises in addition to his own very special yodel when he is excited or happy. He is cat-like in that he hates the wet and cold. If by chance he should get wet or muddy, he will lick himself clean as well as any other dog or human who is in the same state. He uses his front paws a great deal in play and to rub his ears and face; he also has the cat habit of sitting in the best chairs or on the sunny windowsill watching the world go by!
He is, without doubt, a ‘people’ dog, trained by thousand of years around the native’s camp fires to be part of the family. However, the primitive background of the breed means they are not everyone's idea of the ideal breed. They are incurably inquisitive and everything out of the ordinary, or ordinary for that matter, must be inspected and assessed. They are not by nature instantly obedient and see no point in abandoning an interesting ploy the minute they are summoned although it is fair to say that they have been trained to the highest level of obedience work, mostly in America. If you want a dog that is servile and obeys your every command, the Basenji is not for you. On the other hand, if you lean towards a proud, faithful, teasing, playful, talking dog that can outsmart you nine times out of ten, you will never consider any other breed!