Basenjis are an ancient African breed known for their cat-like personalities and jackal-like appearance. Learn more about this clever breed and their unusual history.

1. THEY GO WAY BACK.

Basenjis have been around so long, they hung out with the ancient Egyptians. In fact, there is evidence of the dogs existing as far back as 4000 BCE. These dogs most likely originated in Central Africa, between the Congo Basin and South Sudan, and were probably kept as hunting companions. Experts believe they may have been gifted to the Pharaohs of Egypt, who were said to love the animals for their cat-like personalities and clean coats.

2. THEY SERVE AS MUSES.

Depictions of the curly-tailed canines can be seen in ancient bas-reliefs and sculptures. The first illustration of the breed was found in tombs of the Great Pyramid of Khufu; the dogs can also be found on shields, walls, and drawings, and there are even some mummified basenjis. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has a Babylonian bronze statue of a basenji and its owner.

3. THEY'RE EXCELLENT HUNTERS. 

Basenjis were bred for hunting. The canines were used for flushing animals out of hiding places and into hunter’s nets, and were also helpful in finding caches of eggs, pointing, and keeping villages rodent-free. Most dog breeds will hunt using either sight (like greyhounds) or smell (like beagles), but basenjis use both sight and smell to find their prey. 

4. LIONS ARE NO MATCH FOR THEM. 

In Kenya, the dogs are used to lure lions out of their caves. Masai hunters use about four of these dogs at a time to find lions and get them out in the open. Once a lion leaves the safety of its cave, hunters form a circle around the big cat. 

5. THEIR NAME IS PRETTY CUTE.

People of the Ituri rainforests called these dogs Basenchi, or “little bush thing.” 

6. THEIR BARK IS MORE OF A YODEL. 

Basenjis are known for being a very quiet breed; because they have flat larynxes, the dogs cannot bark. When they do make noise, it sounds more like a yodel than a traditional bark.

7. BRINGING THEM TO EUROPE WAS TRICKY. 

Basenjis were brought to England in the 1890s, but once there, a distemper epidemic wiped out the majority of the dogs. When a vaccine finally became available in the 1930s, basenjis were brought back to the UK and to the United States. However, the breeding pool was small for this rare dog, which led to health issues. A gene disorder called Fanconi’s syndrome became a widespread problem, resulting in the deaths of a number of basenjis. In order to add diversity to the gene pool, breeders brought in dogs from Sudan and the Congo. Today, some still suffer from Fanconi's syndrome, so it is recommended that you get your basenji from a reputable breeder.  

8. TRAINING WON’T BE EASY. 

Basenjis are aloof and independent dogs. The cat-like canines generally only bond with one or two humans, and like to do things on their own. As a result of their willful personalities, training can be tricky and requires a lot of patience. 

9. GOOD LUCK CATCHING UP TO ONE. 

Like greyhounds and whippets, basenjis use a double suspension gallop when running. When most dogs run, there's generally at least one foot touching the ground at all times. But with galloping breeds like the basenji, there are two separate times when all four paws are off the ground. This gait helps the dog reach impressive speeds.

10. THEY’RE VERY CLEAN. 

Basenjis were bred to be quiet and independent hunters, often roaming free from their owners while on a hunt. The sometimes-aloof breed is less friendly than other dogs, but forms strong bonds with its owners. And they're known to keep their coats and paws clean, just like cats. Owners find that grooming them is easy, as the dogs do much of the work themselves. [PDF]