In the vast world of dog breeds, some in particular stand out more than others, not just for their unique appearance but also for their intriguing history and remarkable traits. Meet the Basenji, a breed often referred to as the “barkless dog” due to its unique vocalization patterns.
Barkless dogs are a rare and intriguing phenomenon in the dog world. Among these enigmatic breeds, the Basenji stands out as a remarkable example, captivating the curiosity of dog enthusiasts.
Originating from the heart of Africa, this silent wonder has fascinated people with its unique traits and fascinating history. Let’s find out why they are often referred to as the “barkless dogs.”
Meet the Barkless Breeds
For dog lovers, barkless dogs are often fascinating because, unlike their noisy counterparts, these breeds possess a unique trait that sets them apart – they don’t have a typical bark. While there are several other species of dogs known for their more quiet demeanor, like the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Borzoi, the Shiba Inu, and the Basque Shepard, in this comprehensive guide, we’ll focus on one of the most interesting breeds: the Basenji.
Basenjis: The Fascinating Barkless Dog Breed
What is a Basenji dog? A contender for the title “Oldest Breed of Dog,” according to the American Kennel Club, it is possible that the Basenji (or its close ancestor) was the first domesticated dog breed.
Basenji dogs are a lovely sight, recognized by their glistening coats, curled tails, and expressive eyes that convey a variety of emotions. More impressive, though, is when they’re in action, running and showing off their smooth, impressively long strides for their tiny stature, like a mini racehorse.
While it's also true that the Basenji dog doesn't bark, they are still highly expressive, making a distinct and odd sound referred to as a yodel. More popular than they once were, Basenjis are still considered relatively rare compared to other breeds, ranking 85th most common, according to AKC.
Silent and Remarkable
Unlike other dogs that bark, Basenjis communicate through various sounds like yodeling, growling, and other vocalizations. This unique trait has made them a subject of interest for dog enthusiasts worldwide.
While the Basenji does not have a traditional-sounding bark by nature, they are expressive and capable of producing an unusual yodeling sound due to the atypical shape of the larynx. This is the reason for their distinctive characteristic as the “barkless dog.”
Basenji Puppies: Early Life and Development
Understanding the early stages of a Basenji’s life is a crucial part of appreciating their barkless nature. Basenji puppies display distinctive communication styles from a young age, like their adult counterparts. Observing their growth as puppies provides valuable insights into their silent yet expressive behavior.
The Enigmatic History of Barkless Dogs
What breed is known as the only barkless dog? The history of barkless dogs can be traced back to ancient Africa, where they were selectively bred primarily for hunting purposes. These dogs were prized for their unique ability to remain silent while on the hunt, making them invaluable assets to hunters in densely forested areas.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, in 2021, the genomes of two Basenjis were studied, and it was discovered that they fell within the Asian Spitz gene. The wolf, husky, and dingo only have two copies of this gene, which provides evidence that the Basenji arose before the expansion of agriculture, making them one of the oldest known dog breeds.
In the 1930s, the foundation stock of Basenjis was established in England and then in the United States, and it is thought that all Basenjis in the Western world originate from those few small imports.
The breed was officially adopted by the American Kennel Club in 1943.
Though no one is sure exactly which animal inspired the conception of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the afterlife, the Basenji may be behind the inspiration due to their distinctive characteristics like pricked ears and long, slender snout.
From Ancient Origins to Modern Basenji
The small hound’s lineage originates back to Egypt, the Congo, and Sudan. Bred for hunting, their history is a living testament to the rich tapestry of canine history.
Their silence was a coveted trait, enabling hunters to pursue game without giving away their position. This ancient lineage has bestowed upon Basenjis a unique set of characteristics that make them a breed apart.
According to PetMD, cave paintings in Libya, dated between 6000 BCE and 100 CE, depict Basenji-type dogs living alongside humans as hunting companions.
While Basenjis were originally highly sought-after for their excellent hunting companionship due to their distinct lack of odor, keen eyesight and sense of smell, and quiet vocalizations if any at all, they have lost popularity in the developed world over the years, ranking 93rd in popularity in 2011, according to the AKC.
The Unique Temperament of Basenji Dogs
Barkless dogs, including Basenjis, possess a temperament that is as unique as their vocalization style. They are curious, intelligent, and independent – all traits that have contributed to their popularity. Understanding a Basenji’s temperament is essential for anyone considering them as a pet.
Basenjis can be aloof dogs; while very affectionate with their owners and fiercely protective of their families, they are not keen on strangers.
Breed Characteristics: Understanding Basenji Traits
Basenji have distinct physical characteristics that complement their barkless nature. Every aspect of their anatomy plays a role in their solent but effective communication methods, from their sleek coat to their agile build.
Basenjis are small, measuring only 16-17 inches at their shoulders. They are graceful and agile creatures with the ability to jump vertically. They have short, smooth coats which range in color from red, black, brindle, and fawn and have tightly curled tails. They typically weigh between 22 and 24 pounds.
While Basenjis may not bark in the traditional sense, they make sounds, characteristically, like a sort of yodel.
While they are independent, intelligent, and energetic, their loyalty and affection for their humans know no bounds. They form strong bonds with their owners, becoming deeply devoted companions. The silent language they share with their families is rich in love, trust, and understanding, creating a contention beyond words.
Personality and Temperament: Insights into Basenji Traits
Don’t underestimate the Basenji as a barkless dog with no bite – though this primitive hunting dog has a lean, smaller body, it is strong and filled with personality. These little rascals are small but mighty with their sleek, elegant build.
Basenji Temperament: Curious, Intelligent, and Independent
Basenji are known for their inquisitive nature. Their curiosity drives them to explore their surroundings, and their intelligence allows them to learn quickly. Despite their independent nature, they form strong bonds with their human companions.
Because of their independence, Basenji’s personality type can be described as catlike; not only do they often groom themselves like cats, but they are generally independent and wary of strangers.
They bore easily and are highly energetic and intelligent, which can make a challenging combination for the unprepared pet owner. Without the proper training and exercise, Basenjis can be mischievous and troublesome.
Because of their small size, they are apartment-friendly dogs but don’t forget that they need plenty of exercise and enrichment. They have a high prey drive, meaning they must always be on a leash if they’re not in an enclosed space. Otherwise, they may be tempted to chase squirrels and other small rodents. They are happiest when tracking a scent, which means there is a high risk of them running off, and they also tend to chew on things they shouldn’t, so consider this when leaving them home alone.
Navigating Basenji Training: Challenges and Rewards
These African dogs need daily training sessions and playtime to exert their energy. Training a barkless dog, especially one as spirited as the Basenji, comes with a unique set of challenges. Patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement are key elements in successful Basenji training. While it might be a challenge, the rewards of a well-trained dog are immeasurable.
Channeling your Basenji’s energy into canine sports, like tracking, agility, and lure coursing can be an incredibly effective and rewarding method of play, as well as training.
Training Tips: Nurturing a Well-Behaved Basenji
Training a barkless dog requires a tailored approach. They are strong-willed and can be stubborn because of their independent nature. This rare breed is not for the faint of heart or first-time pet owners. You’re going to need patience and a great sense of humor.
Here are some tips for nurturing a well-behaved Basenji:
Consistent training: maintain a consistent training schedule to reinforce desired behaviors.
Positive reinforcement: reward good behavior with treats, praise, and affection to encourage repetition.
Socialization: expose your Basenji to various environments, people, and other animals to promote positive social behavior.
Training Basenji can be notoriously difficult because of their cat-like attitude, as they often seem to look down upon training sessions – all the grace and poise of a canine with an air of aloof, better-than-you cattitude.
Fear not; with time, consistency, and lots of patience, you can train your dog to behave how you want it to.
Basenji Grooming: Keeping Your Companion Neat
Basenji dogs don’t require special skin or eye care unless they develop some kind of infection. Coat and ear care are the most important focal points. Their ears should be cleaned frequently, ideally every two to four weeks. Pet parents, keep an eye out for any redness or abnormal smell.
Formal grooming can be kept to a minimum because, as we previously mentioned, this breed tends to groom itself regularly. It's always best to be aware of your pet, whether that’s noticing consistent itching, scratching, or irritations, and know when to visit your vet!
Remember, any changes to your dog's health should be evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible, especially regarding the ears, as it could be a sign of an ear infection.
Coat Care: Managing Basenji's Unique Fur
Basenjis have a short, fine coat that requires minimal grooming. Regular brushing helps remove loose hair and keep their coat shiny. According to PetMD, they don’t need more than the occasional bath if your vet recommends it for their overall cleanliness and health.
Health Issues: Caring for Your Basenji's Wellbeing
When caring for your dog, regardless of breed, it is important to consider preventative care in the form of flea, tick, and heartworm protection. Regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, and regular exercise are vital in maintaining their overall health. The Basenji lifespan is typically 13-14 years. Give yourself the peace of mind that comes with protecting your dog.
While barkless dogs are generally healthy when they’re active and not overfed, they are susceptible to specific health issues common to their breed:
Hypothyroidism: This is an auto-immune disease that destroys hormone-producing cells in the thyroid, which is important for metabolism and skin health.
Dogs that are affected typically do not exhibit signs until a significant amount of the gland is destroyed.
Signs can include:
Increase in skin infections
Fanconi Syndrome: This is a genetic disease affecting the kidneys, causing problems with protein and sugar leaking into the urine from the blood, eventually leading to kidney failure and death.
There are DNA test markers for Fanconi syndrome, and if your dog has one of these markers, then there are urine tests that can be administered to identify if your pup is developing the disease.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): Essential for vision, the retina is the part of your eye made of rods and cones that receive light signals and send nerve signals to the brain. When present in dogs, the number of rods and cones decreases over time, resulting in the gradual loss of vision.
PRA is not treatable, but because the loss is gradual, dogs may learn to cope with their vision impairments.
Hip Dysplasia: Three bones fuse together in the pelvis to form the hip joint as puppies grow, and if these bones don’t fuse properly, it can result in hip joints that are too loose or shallow.
Eventually, this developmental problem causes pain and arthritis. This is a developmental disease that affects many breeds, including the Basenji dog breed.
To combat it, have your vet monitor and evaluate your dog every six to 12 weeks for signs of pain and decreased mobility and to potentially obtain X-rays to help detect hip dysplasia.
Caring for a Basenji involves more than just providing food and shelter. Their active minds and bodies require regular exercise and mental stimulation to keep them content. Engaging in activities like puzzle toys, agility training, and interactive games not only provides physical exercise but also stimulates their sharp intellect.
Is the Basenji Right for You? Considering Ownership
Before welcoming a Basenji into your home, it's essential to assess whether this unique breed aligns with your lifestyle. Their intelligence and curiosity require mental stimulation and physical activity. If you’re prepared to invest time, patience, and love, a Basenji can make a wonderful, albeit unique, addition to your family.
This breed of dog requires an experienced pet owner who is patient and will provide consistent training. Though Basenjis are highly intelligent, they can be just as independent, and that can lead to stubborn behavior. This is a high-energy breed that requires at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, preferably more, so they would be well suited with an active owner.
If you’re a first-time pet parent thinking about adding a Basenji puppy to your family, it may be worth considering the behavioral and physical needs of the dog as well as care requirements. With time, dedication, and patience, Basenjis can be a loyal companion.
If you are considering a Basenji specifically, we always advise adopting from rescue organizations or shelters to provide a home to a loving dog in need. While we understand that you may choose to purchase your dog, please ensure you do your research and choose a reputable breeder.
Be sure that the breeder you choose follows ethical practices and prioritizes the well-being of their dog. Reputable breeders prioritize health and temperament, conducting necessary health screenings and providing a healthy nurturing environment for puppies.
Basenjis also do better in homes with older children who understand how to properly interact with dogs/pets. The Basenji can be a good family dog if they are socialized and trained early, and kept active to stay out of mischief and avoid troublesome behaviors. They also tend to bond with only one to two members of a family, so if you’re planning to add them to a larger home, consider they may not be affectionate towards every member of the family, and can also become very protective over the people they do bond with!
Embracing the Barkless Wonder - The Basenji
Barkless dogs, especially the enigmatic Basenjis, offer a unique and fascinating petexperience. Their silent yet expressive communication style, coupled with their curious intelligence, makes them exceptional companions for the right pet owner.
Embracing the barkless wonder of the Basenji means understanding and appreciating their distinctive traits, and in return, you’ll have a loyal, quiet friend by your side. It’s more than just appreciating their lack of barks; it's about understanding the depths of their character, the richness of their history, and the enduring love they offer those fortunate enough to share their lives.
For those seeking a unique canine companion that defies the norm, the Basenji offers a profound, if not quiet, presence. If you’re looking for a dog that speaks volumes without uttering a sound, the Basenji might just be the perfect addition to your family!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some common barkless dog breeds?
Some common barkless dog breeds include the Basenji, the Shiba Inu, and the Basque Shepard Dog.
How do barkless dogs communicate?
Barkless dogs communicate through yodeling, growling, and other vocalizations. Though they don’t bark in the traditional sense of the sound, they have unique ways of expressing themselves.
What is the history behind barkless dogs?
Barkless dogs were originally bred for hunting in Africa. The quietness of a barkless dog made them a valuable hunting partner, especially in dense forests.
What is the temperament of barkless dogs?
Barkless dogs are not completely silent and can still make noise. They are often intelligent, independent, and curious – traits that make them equally intriguing and challenging to have as pets.