The 'Barkless' Dog
adapted from texts by Veronica Tudor-Williams
The Basenji has one of the most fascinating and mysterious histories of any dog in the world. The Basenji was already established as a breed, when civilization was in its infancy and has preserved its identity for centuries in Central Africa..... click here for a map
The Basenji is a lightly-built, finely-boned dog with gazelle-like grace, with the appearance of being high on leg compared to its length. It must have a wedge shaped head showing wrinkles with small hooded pricked ears set on top of the head. The head should be carried proudly on a longish well-arched neck with a strong, level top line finishing off with a well-curled tail set snugly against the hip. They move with a swift, long, effortless, swinging stride carried straight forward. In the early notes on the breed, it was written that the Basenji moving should resemble a trotting horse in full stride.
Basenjis, then, are very agile and fast.
For a description of what some feel the Basenji should look like... a favourite is the tribute penned to the "grand dame" of Basenji breeding, Miss Veronica Tudor-Williams, following the death of Miss Tudor-Williams' celebrated bitch "Fula of the Congo", by 'friends from Canada and the United States' who owned and showed Fula's descendants:
"We are taking this means to say thank you to a lovely lady (i.e. Miss Tudor-Williams) who has dedicated most of her life to the betterment of the breed....For finding Fula in the Sudan and importing her, our gratitude is most pronounced because we are daily reminded - through the pleasure of our dogs - of what a boon to the breed this new bloodline constitutes. Those of us who show 'FULA' dogs are thrilled with their consistent winning and those of us who are not show-minded are delighted with our delightful companions......
...Their correct size, sleek coats, fine bone, truly gazelle-like appearance, and marvellous dispositions, make them a joy to pet or to show."
BISS Australian Champion Bayenzi Sugar Minott "Maseru"
The Basenji is known for its remarkable cleanliness and has a very short coat which does not have any odour unless wet. Basic colours are red & white, black & white, tri colour (black, tan & white) and brindle with white markings on chest, feet and tip of tail.
The Basenji does not bark....
X-rays / post mortem procedures of the Basenji's larynx area have revealed an explanation of why the Basenji does not bark:
One notable example undertaken by Dr. R R Ashworth, Head of Veterinary Anatomy at the Royal Veterinary College, on Fula, following her death from old age, indicates that the laryngeal ventricle of Fula (and by extension, most Basenjis) is more 'shallowly-developed' than many other canids.
Hence the Basenji basically lacks the capacity to "bark" like the average dog.
Australian Neuter Champion Pukkanut Wirra Wirra (Uzuri)
Why no bark?....
The work by Dr. R R Ashworth, Head of Veterinary Anatomy at the Royal Veterinary College assisted by Mr. Richard Fiennes, Head Pathologist of the London Zoo and his wife - author of "The Natural History of the Dog", was not the final word on the "barkless Basenji".
Anatomists, Dr. Erwin Small and Dr. L E St Clair also found that the Basenji possesses a very shallow laryngeal ventricle. Of this situation Mr. F B Johnson writes: "Based on ... findings the Basenji does not bark due to a physical structure that differs from other dogs. This difference does not prevent him (sic) from making other noises that he makes." (extract "FULA Basenji from the Congo" Veronica Tudor-Williams at page 107)
They can, however, howl like a wolf, scream when in pain and yodel when greeting loved ones.
Here are a few examples of the sounds the Basenji makes
Basenjis are a strong-willed breed, that some people say are too intelligent for their own good. This intelligence means it is much harder to train them like a normal dog. Obedience, then, is not as strong a point as in the 'socially acceptable' dog. Basenjis can, however, be trained to obey the variety of commands considered normal for most dogs.
They require a fair amount of attention and do not like being on their own. In the family environment, they make very loyal and loving pets with a particular affection for young children. Being a pack dog, a pecking order needs to be established early in their life, as some times they will dominate younger members of the family.
An ancient breed....
The Basenji is an ancient breed and has been depicted as early as the period, 1080 – 332 BCE in Egypt. The old East Berlin Museum has a lime stone statue entitled “A sitting dog” which depicts a perfect Basenji and photos of this statue are used by most Basenji enthusiasts to explain the theory. Similarly, in the Louvre in Paris we see a similar example .....
Basenji Statue from the Louvre
It would appear that these dogs played an important part in the life of the Ancient Egyptians as they have been included in their memorial tablets and statues. The first engraving is a funerary stele of Sebeh-aa, an inspector of transport, dated 2300 BCE, a Basenji seated beside his chair. Another of the same date shows User, son of Meshta, sitting at his table of offerings and his dog, a perfect Basenji, at his feet.
Funerary stele of Dedusobek
with his son and pet Basenji (under his chair)
A close-up of an inscription from the Old Kingdom -'Raemkai's hunting Basenji'
A study by Professor Noack on the Central African dogs for the Zoological Society says that the Basenji is the same as the dogs of the ancient breed of Egypt. In the history of Ancient Egypt, the Khufu dogs of the IV Dynasty were described as a Spitz type or of a dingo/pariah type. A skull taken from the tomb in Upper Egypt of the first century BC, was described as one of the pariah type dogs, but appeared to be smaller than would be expected. The characteristics of the skull indicated that it was not a wolf type, but had to be the head of a mature dog and as such it was more likely to be of a Basenji type.
Interestingly, the most often used Ancient Egyptian word for dog, when transliterated, was "iwiw" An onomatopoeic word imitating a dog's bark. To distinguish the Basenji, the Ancient Egyptians had a particular word for the Basenji: "tsm" written thus:
The determinative (the dog at the right-hand end)
gives us a clear indication of the type of animal being described.
Photo from the British Museum
Basenjis are great hunters....
Basenjis have been used since the time of the Ancient Egyptians as hunting companions. In areas of central Africa, even until quite recent times, Basenjis were used in the hunt in a number of ways depending of the terrain:
They might be used to drive game into waiting nets where the game could be speared. Basenjis had 'bells', often made from the borassus (Palmyra Palm) nut, tied around their necks (and sometimes around their bellies) in order that their owners might keep track of them and that the noise from the bells would drive the game into the hunters' nets..... remember, the Basenji does not bark.
They might also be used to help hunt down larger prey (as seen in Egyptian tomb depictions) - here, the game would be confined until killed by the hunters; smaller prey, on the other hand, could be run-down and caught by these fast and agile hunters.
Frequently, Basenjis were used by hunters to scare game into carefully placed nets.
Contrary to a popular urban myth and complete lack of evidence,
the Basenji did NOT "run and hunt all day" rather, they were used in the manner described above.... frequently being carried to the hunt by their proud owner
Two of our own Basenjis, Tepy and Uzuri, are commensurate hunters. Tepy in particular. She will, in lion-like manner, crawl on all fours until close to her prey before launching her attack. A number of birds have met their demise this way. Interestingly, the 'kill' is not wasted. It is completely consumed; sometimes shared.
Basenjis leave their native Africa around the mid-1890's....
Whilst the Basenji has been around for a long time, and have been used for centuries by the natives of Africa as a hunting dog, they did not leave their native homeland until about 1895.
From the information available, it would appear that the dogs were used to 'herd' game into waiting nets - rather than actually hunt and bring down game either individually or as a pack.
Dinka woman with two Basenjis
One red and white, the other a tri-colour
The first evidence of the Basenji being imported into England was an article in ‘Our Dogs’ that the Basenji was exhibited at Crufts as the African Bush Dogs or Congo Terriers. Some breeders doubted this, but an extract from the Illustrated Kennel News of 1908 which gives a photo of “Native Dogs of the Congo”. Another example of early notice of the breed, is a photo of a pygmy group complete with Basenji taken in the Belgian Congo in 1912. This picture along with the hunting bell (made from the borassus nut) that was around the dogs neck is now on display at the Museum of New York.
Postcard from the Belgian Congo c. 1920's
Lady Helen Nutting, Mrs. Olivia Burn and
Miss Veronica Tudor-Williams....
The breed was established in England, in 1939 when the first club and standard was drawn up. This inaugural meeting included such famous Basenji breeders as Lady Helen Nutting, Mrs. Olivia Burn (see photo below) and Miss Veronica Tudor-Williams.
Miss Veronica Tudor-Williams (in blue).
Judge at the Basenji Club of NSW Championship Show, 1979
The next few years were rather traumatic for the breed, with the second world war taking a toll on the breed, but for the safe keeping of a few of the breeders. This period also saw many exchanges of ideas on what was the correct standard for the breed. Size was one of the big topics, as it was found that the dogs whelped in the UK were larger than most of the African dogs. It is believed that the diet of these dogs had a lot to do with their size, as the puppies would have received a better quality of food during the growing years. In Africa they were left to their own devices for food, where as breeders feed only the best quality of food.
Photograph from article of June 1st, 1937 in the AKC Gazette
by Mrs. Olivia Burn
Miss Veronica Tudor-Williams (right) and friend presenting awards at the
The first Basenji standard.....
The first standard drawn up gave the height as approximately, for dogs 16in (40.5cm) and bitches 15in (38cm). The height was increased by one inch in the 1942 standard, but the weight remained the same. The current standard has retained the ideal height of 17in for dogs and 16in for bitches together with the same weight range being 24lbs for dogs and 22lbs for bitches. The original standard gave an inch either way, but our current standard only gives the ideal height. It is a credit to Basenji breeders all over the world that our dogs have remained the same style, size and weight as the original native dog.
Select Reading on the Basenji
some of these books are old / difficult to find ... but they are worth it
"Basenjis, the barkless dogs" Veronica Tudor-Williams
"Fula, Basenji from the Jungle" Veronica Tudor Williams
"The Complete Basenji" Elspet Ford
"The Basenji – Out of Africa to You" Susan Coe
"The Basenji Stacked and Moving" Robert Cole
"How to Raise and Train a Basenji" Jack Shafer and Bob Mankey
Ngozi Basenjis - The Basenji Breed