Basenjis are one of the more ancient breeds of dog; some research indicates that Basenjis or a very similar relative were known and used for hunting in Egypt during the era of the Pharaohs. Accounts from European explorers of Africa indicate that Basenjis were well known to residents of the African Congo by the late 1800s, and even the name "Basenji" means "villager dog" in the northeastern Congolese language of Lingala. But despite this long familiarity between humans and Basenjis, there is something extremely unusual about the breed, and that is their voice. Basenjis do not actually bark or howl; they yodel and scream.
The Root of the Behavior
Basenjis are sometimes called 'barkless' dogs, but that's not accurate. Basenjis aren't naturally mute and do make an assortment of noises, but most of those noises are rather distinct and unusual among dogs. One of the most common Basenji sounds is a yodel-like vocalization commonly called a "baroo" by fanciers of the breed. Other sounds reported by Basenji owners are a low "roo-roo-roo" growl, human-like shouts (that have even drawn the attention of the police in rare cases), "boofs," "*arks," 'quacking," and "Tasmanian Devil noises." Basenjis have even been reported by their owners as making "crowing rooster" sounds. The reason for all these auditory oddities is that a Basenji's larynx, or voice box, is shaped quite differently from that of other dogs. Because of the narrower shape of their larynx, Basenjis' 'voices' differ notably from the voices of other dogs. It has also been theorized by researchers that Basenjis either evolved or were bred by African villagers (or both) to either be silent or to sound like jackals or hyenas.
By being silent or sounding like predators, the thinking goes, the dogs would either not attract predators to the village or would discourage predators from approaching, thinking that predators were already there. Silence on the dogs' part would also be valuable to hunters; they could benefit from the dog leading them to preferred prey, while not having to worry about barking alerting the prey and potentially frightening it off. Basenjis are known to be intelligent and independent dogs, and while they have a strong prey drive, they are considered difficult to train by many. Some Basenjis don't like to be crated and may require special handling or treatment if they are to be left alone overnight or during the work day. Given their tendency to make unusual and (sometimes) alarming noises, it might be wise to warn the neighbors about your dog earlier rather than later.
Encouraging the Behavior
Basenjis are clean dogs; they are known to groom themselves in a manner similar to a cat, and many Basenji owners report that their dogs lack a 'doggy' odor. They don't require much if any grooming. Of course, due to their African heritage and short coat, Basenjis do better in a warm climate and aren't well-suited to cold weather. It does take a Basenji some time to bond with an owner, as they can be uninterested in new people. This lack of interest can translate into recalcitrance with a trainer, as the dog might not recognize or acknowledge the trainer's authority before any sort of bond has formed. Because of this, many Basenji owners prefer to train their dogs themselves as best they can.
Basenjis are known to be jumpers; one African name for the breed translates loosely as 'the dog that jumps up and down,' recognizing the tendency of hunting Basenjis to leap up in order to catch sight of their prey. As a pet, a Basenji can be likely to jump as well, even jumping over fences and other barriers if the opportunity presents itself. The wise Basenji owner will find time to walk their Basenji at least daily, at a moderate to quick pace and even while running or cycling, as most Basenji are willing and able to run. Athletic people who seek a dog that's able to accompany them and keep up may be well advised to consider Basenjis as their pet. Again, Basenjis can be difficult to train, but they do have plenty of energy and can form a deep bond with a single owner.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Among the other unusual features of the breed is this; unlike most breeds, Basenji females come into heat only once a year, normally in the late summer or fall. Basenjis also display traits and characteristics of both sight hounds and scent hounds, meaning that they can excel at athletic events like lure coursing (ideal for sighthounds) and tracking (for which scent hounds are well suited). Basenjis can also, if they take to training, be good candidates for running agility courses. All three event types are supported and sponsored by the American Kennel Club, which means that you may well be able to find other competitors, training opportunities, and competitive events in your area no matter where you live in the United States.
Keeping a Basenji is almost certain to be a unique adventure. You will have a determined and intelligent companion who won't always agree with you, and the unique noises a Basenji can make will likely draw the attention of your neighbors and possibly even the police! That said, you will also have an athletic pal with a long and distinctive historical heritage who will probably exercise you as much as you exercise him.
By a Chow Chow lover Jodi Mai
Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 01/30/2020