What Are Basenji Dogs Like – What are the Characteristics of a Basenji Dog

So, what are Basenji dogs like? The fact that you’ve landed on this article tells me that you want to find out more about the Basenji breed. I will do my best to help you understand this unique breed (and my favorite breed) a little better.

In short, the Basenji is an intelligent breed that has a strong prey drive and was mainly used for hunting. It is an affectionate dog and very protective of its family. It grooms itself like a cat and does not smell like other dogs due to this and its short undercoat. Though it’s difficult to train, it can eventually be taught obedience with patience and tact.

The B, as it is affectionately known is not always the easiest dog breeds to own and not naturally ideal for a first-time owner. The exception is when you are well prepared for them by educating yourself on them and being willing to live with the challenges that come with owning one.

They can be a bit of a handful if they are the first dog breed you are considering owning but ask most Basenji owners and they will tell you that they will not trade them for anything. They balance off their difficult nature with many more upsides as you will see in this article. Let’s dig a little further into these amazing dogs for a better understanding of them.

a Basenji doing the dance trick
A Basenji does a dance trick. Easy to teach!

Basenji are Highly Intelligent

The Basenji is a highly intelligent dog breed and master escape artists. They are able to get themselves out of confined spaces like a fenced-off yard and wiggle their way out of a leash. They will also surprise you with other feats of wit that will often amuse you.

This same intelligence is the reason that they are considered hard to train. They have a mind of their own and are not too eager to please like other dog breeds are. Something has to be in it for them in order for them to cooperate.

Basenji Temperament

Basenjis have a reputation of being a bit difficult and aloof at times. Some may even be a bit aggressive but this is largely based on individual personality and whether they are socialised. They can be a bit aggressive towards other dogs they are not familiar with and argumentative with other Basenjis.

If they have grown up around many other dogs and pets, they usually tend to have a more rounded personality and don’t have problems. Again, this can be very different depending on the individual Basenji. Some will even be aggressive despite socialisation.

This aggression is most likely to be exhibited towards dogs, cats and other animals that are not part of their family while at the same time getting along quite well with those that are.

An owner sits with her larger red and white Basenji. Not so small!
An owner sits with her larger red and white Basenji. Not so small!

Basenji are Aloof

Basenjis can be very sociable at one time and be quite the opposite at other times. They have a reputation of being aloof. From time to time, they will want their own space and during these times, they will often not want to be bothered at all.

They will want to go to their own corner and not want to be bothered. During such times, it is best to let them be. If you have small children, teach them to spot this and not to bother them during that time.

They will come back when they are ready and it will be like nothing ever happened. The reason that you want to teach your children or any children visiting your house to not bother them when they show signs of not wanting to be bothered is that they can get a bit aggressive and growl, nip and in the worst-case scenarios, even bite.

Basenji are Difficult to Train

As stated earlier in this article, Basenjis are highly intelligent dogs and because of this, they do what they want to do when they want to do it. They will not be forced into doing something they don’t want to.

If you use traditional dog training methods on Basenjis, you may meet some resistance. The best course of action during such scenarios is to use enticement rather than coercion. You will need to be very creative in your training methods.

Using treats is a great way to get them to cooperate under such circumstances. Click training combined with using treats is a popular method used by experienced Basenji trainers when they work with Basenjis.

In these training sessions, you need to keep things interesting in order to keep the Basenji engaged. You also need to keep the training sessions between 5 to 10 minutes because Basenji’s attention span is also very short.

Though they are difficult to train they can learn to be obedient so much so that they compete in obedience events and agility courses.

training a tricolor Basenji puppy
In the process of training a tricolor Basenji puppy

Basenji can be Aggressive

Aggression is one of the traits that Basenjis are famous for. In fact, it is one of the things that keep would-be Basenji owners from owning one. Except for a few unique cases, Basenjis show aggression as a way of protecting their family from danger.

Bs have a strong pack mentality and understand rank and pack order. They will always want to test your authority to see whether they can dominate you. It’s important that you exhibit firmness with them whenever they challenge your authority so that they recognise who the alpha is.

Due to an understanding of this pack order, they will jump in to protect those they deem to be of a lower station such as the kids of the house. This behaviour may happen most when the clear leader; that is you, is not there to protect the pack.

When they show this aggression towards perceived danger while you are present, it may be a sign that they don’t deem you as strong enough to protect the pack and maybe a sign that they are challenging your authority.

In such cases, step up to the challenge and make it clear that you are in charge and aware of any possible danger. Oftentimes, all it takes is you standing up and looking towards the area where the perceived danger it then scan the vicinity before going back to where you were.

This shows them that you have recognized and assessed the danger and there’s nothing to be worried about.

A running Basenji leaping through the air.
A running Basenji leaping through the air. They are FAST!

Basenji Have a Strong Prey Drive

Basenjis are both blood and sighthounds meaning they hunt and track prey using both smell and sight. Their sighthound side seems to be the more dominant one though a lot of the times. They will take off and chase anything that moves it seems.

Cats, squirrels, cars, other dogs, birds are all game. They will hunt down and sometimes kill anything that happens to get within their vicinity. Though they will often not harm cats or other animals that they grew up around, they will chase and kill any cats that they don’t know which may wander into their territory.

There have been sad instance though where Basenjis have killed the family cat. This has happened in situations where they were left alone for some hours while the family was out. In most cases when this happened, there was no prior sign of aggression towards the cat.

That’s why it’s important to leave them separated in different, closed off, parts of the house whenever you leave them alone. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

hiking with a Basenji dog
Even though they are small, some Basenji dogs take to hiking and long walks

They Don’t Smell ….Well, almost

Unlike most dog breeds, Basenjis don’t give off an odor. That comes with a qualification though. Though they do not give off the typical dog smell, they do have an interesting scent that is strong around their paws.

This smell has been described by Basenji owners as being like popcorn, tortillas and something similar to that. Most owners find it pleasant while others don’t necessarily like it. Either way, it is a far cry from what other dogs give off with others literally filling the house with their doggie smell.

The reason that the Basenji’s paws smell is that their sweat glands are located there. When they mark off their territory, Basenjis will rub their paws into the ground to leave their scent there.

Basenji Rank Low on the Hypoallergenic Scale

Coupled with the fact that they virtually don’t smell, Basenjis also have a very short undercoat and shed very little. In fact, you will hard-pressed to find Basenji fur all over the furniture or linen in the house.

They also groom themselves like cats. These two qualities lead to them ranking very low on the hypoallergenic scale. People who suffer from allergies are more likely to build a tolerance to them because of dead skin cells and fur, the two main things that cause allergies are very minute due to the Basenji’s grooming habits and short undercoat.

Speaking of the undercoat, it has to be mentioned that Basenjis in colder climates develop a thicker one so they will shed a little more than your average B.

A full grown Black and White Basenji sits on the grass
A full grown Black and White Basenji sits on the grass

They are Very Affectionate

Basenjis are really affectionate dogs and want to be close to people at most times. Even though they can be aloof, they balance it off by wanting to be in your vicinity during other times. They will often stay within a few feet of you and follow you around the house.

They are also cuddlers  cossying up to your feet or next o you on the couch. This is one of their redeeming graces which makes Basenji owners not mind all the other possible headaches that may come along with owning a Basenji.

Basenji are Good with Babies and Kids

Basenjis also make great family dogs because they are really great with babies and kids. They are very tolerant with babies but you need to keep an eye out when it comes to toddlers as they can be a little less tolerant with them.

Generally speaking, they are the perfect family dog and will protect the children of the house whenever they sense danger. Kids have to be trained to read when they are not in the mood to engage with them and would rather be left alone in order to avoid incidences.

hugging a basenji in the snow
A Basenji all rugged up for the snow.

Basenji Can’t Bark

Though Basenjis are dogs, they can’t bark. Instead of barking, they make other vocalisations like yodelling, screaming, whining and barooing. They are far from quiet though. They use what they have to great effect and have been the subject of many noise complaints.

Their scream, in particular, sounds like an actual human scream so much so, you would think that a young child is being tortured. Many neighbours have called the police due to them.

They are Good Apartment Dogs

When you take the noise issue out of the equation, Basenjis are actually great apartment dogs. They are well suited for apartment living due to their general cleanliness as well as demeanour. It has to be stated here that they are very energetic and need at least 30 minutes of exercise each and every day.

If they don’t get it, they may end up trashing the place up as a way of letting out that pent up energy.

What is Basenji Dog Breed?

The Basenji is an ancient breed hailing out of Africa. They are recognized as the oldest dog breed in the world with the earliest records of them being engraved on the walls of Pharaoh’s tombs in ancient Egypt.

They were used as hunting dogs in Africa as pack hunters to flush out prey and lead it into hunters’ nets as well as control rodent populations in villages. In modern days, they are recognized as being from the Congo as this is where they were eventually imported to Europe and eventually America.

Early attempts to breed them in these environments failed as the new puppies kept dying soon after birth. The first real success was in 1930 in Europe and during that period, it was exported to America.  Let’s look at some of the qualities of this breed.


We hope that this article has helped you better understand the Basenji dog breed. Basenjis, though challenging, are wonderful companions with a rich heritage.