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10 Incredible Basenji Dog Facts You Never Knew

Have you ever wondered why Basenjis don’t bark like the typical dog? There’s both a folklore and scientific explanation for this. Or have you heard of Ancient Egypt’s “god of death” that was most likely inspired by the Basenji dog?

And are you interested in learning why Basenjis are considered one of the least intelligent dog breeds? Spoiler: they’re not actually dumb dogs! If you want to learn how Basenjis are able to “hunt” 400-pound lions, then stick around.

In today’s episode, we’re counting down the 10 most interesting Basenji facts that you’ve probably never heard of. And that all starts right now, on The Smart Canine – the only show that explores the most interesting stories and facts behind dogs.

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10 .The Basenji is the oldest dog breed that we know of.

Some of the oldest dog breeds in the world include the Shar Pei, Akita Inu, Samoyed and the Akita Inu. But none may be as ancient as the Basenji. According to DNA testing, these dogs are believed to be thousands of years old

These dogs are so old that scientists are mapping the DNA sequencing of the Basenji to help us better understand the evolution of all dogs. But way before such medical technology advances, historians could already estimate how long Basenjis have been around.

For example, cave paintings from 6000 BC Libya had dogs that looked similar to the Basenji. Even in Ancient Egypt, plenty of hieroglyphs had depictions of the Basenji in them. Not to mention, all the Egyptian statues of these dogs that we’ve dug up through the past decades.

It’s simply incredible to believe that a dog breed that’s been around for that long, is still with us today.

9. Basenjis don’t bark. Instead, they yodel. 

If you own or have met a Basenji, then you probably already know that these dogs don’t bark. In fact, they’re literally known as the “bark-less dog” by so many people. But that’s not to say they’re mute, it’s just that they don’t vocalize the same way as other dogs.

The Basenji will “yodel” instead of barking. And while it’s called a “yodel,” it sounds more like a mix between a “howl” and a “bark.”

So why are Basenjis unable to bark? In short, the Basenji’s voice box is different from other dogs. The section between the vocal cords is much more shallow and doesn’t vibrate the same way as other dog breeds.

According to researchers, it’s believed that these dogs were bred by African villagers to be silent. After all, a silent dog means a better hunter in the African jungle. It’s also possible that the yodel sound mimics a jackal or hyena, which may scare away predators from coming near their villages.

8. In African mythology, an angry god took away the Basenji’s ability to bark. 

Now that we have the scientific explanation for why Basenjis are bark-less dogs, let’s take a look at the African folklore explanation. In Nyanga, there was a talking Basenji named “Rukuba.”

This Basenji was the pet companion of the fire-god. And one evening, while the dog’s owner wasn’t around, a man from Nyanga stumbled into Rukuba’s hut.

He had never seen fire before and asked if he could have the fire in his home. The friendly Rukubu, who felt it was okay, gave it to the man with little hesitation. Though when the fire-god returned, he was outraged that Rukubu would do such a thing.

The god banished the Basenji from his home and, as an insult to injury, took away his ability to speak. However, in a lot of other versions of the story, the Basenji decided not to speak after the people of Nyanga tried to force him to become a messenger.

7. We’ve found mummified Basenjis in old Egyptian historical sites. 

Basenjis served as muses in Ancient Egypt. Not only were they highly respected dogs, but they were the inspiration for all sorts of artwork and statues in the ancient civilization. In fact, the museum of Cairo displays a few canine mummies that are believed to be Basenji dogs.

And what’s interesting is that in 2015, archeologists discovered a catacomb with nearly 8 million mummified dogs. Most of these are likely to be Basenjis. This ancient ritual was believed to allow these dogs to enter the afterlife with their owners.

And according to a researcher, this discovery proved that there were “puppy mills” in Ancient Egypt. You don’t get 8 million dog companions without puppy mills. 

6. Modern Basenjis in Africa are bred to hunt lions. 

Basenjis aren’t the only dogs that are associated with lion hunting. The Rhodesian Ridgeback are fierce African dogs that will keep a lion at bay before the human hunters come and make the final blow. However, the role of the Basenji is very different from the ridgeback when it comes to lion hunting. 

Basenjis essentially act as bait. A small pack of these dogs will enter the lion’s den, most often in a cave. The idea is to lure them out of their caves in the open, where a group of hunters would then trap the lion by forming a circle around them.

Because this style of lion hunting is different from the style of hunters with ridgebacks, the Basenji doesn’t need to be as strong and courageous as the ridgeback.

5. The Basenji has little to no body odor.

While some dogs have a strong dog odor, other dogs seem to have no smell whatsoever. Basenjis fall into the latter group.These dogs are known for their odor-less coat. Part of the reason why Basenjis don’t smell is because they’re some of the cleanest dog breeds out there.

Their cat-like mannerism means they often clean themselves. Basenjis can’t stand dirty or wet fur, so they’ll often be seen licking their coats until they’re satisfied with the cleanliness.

In some cases, they’ll even lick their pack members and owners too. But just because Basenjis are relatively clean dogs doesn’t mean they don’t need grooming. Occasional baths and brushing is still necessary to keep their coats as healthy as possible.

4. Exporting the Basenji to western countries was met with a ton of obstacles. 

Though Basenjis were originally from Africa, they’ve been exported to all over the world in recent decades. But the task of getting these dogs to western countries was a lot more difficult than it seemed. In fact, there were several failed attempts at this.

The first attempt at importing Basenjis to the UK was in the 1890s. But the moment they arrived, the unfortunate timing of a distemper epidemic completely wiped out these dogs. It took nearly 40 years for a distemper vaccine to be ready.

So by the 1930s, Basenjis were once again brought into the UK and United States. The problem this time around was that there weren’t enough Basenjis. In other words, the breeding pool was too small for the breed. With a lack of genetic diversity, it led to all types of health issues in Basenjis. 

For instance, a gene disorder called Fanconi’s syndrome became a problem with Basenjis. When breeders and enthusiasts realized this, they had to import even more dogs from Africa. But even so, there are some Basenjis that still suffer from Faconi’s syndrome. 

3. Kennel clubs and organizations can’t seem to agree on whether the Basenji is a sighthound or a scenthound.

So is the Basenji a sighthound or a sighthound? Well, that depends entirely on who you ask. The American Sight-hound Field Association says Basenjis are eligible for “lure coursing,” which is a sighthound activity. Even the Canadian Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club seem to agree on this.

However, the FCI does not. According to the FCI, both the body structure and the hunting style of the Basenji doesn’t align with most sighthounds. 

However, the American Kennel Club seems to have just as much trouble deciding. So, they’ve listed Basenjis as both a sighthound and scenthound. But what do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

2. Basenjis are unfairly labeled as one of the “dumbest” dog breeds in the world.

According to Stanley Coren, a canine psychologist and pHD, the Basenji is one of the least intelligent dog breeds in the world. But is it really fair to make this claim?

Coren held nation-wide dog intelligence trials that tested hundreds of dogs on two things. How fast the dog is able to learn, and how well a dog retains their obedience training. 

So how did the Basenji perform? It took them 80 to 100 repetitions to learn a new command, and they’ll obey a known command just 25% of the time or worse. With these numbers, Basenjis came out second to last place out of 138 breeds.

But this test really isn’t fair. That’s because different dogs have different motivators. And, different breeds will have different personalities. Basenjis are known for their independent, aloof and stubborn personalities. All these traits mean they may be more difficult at learning commands.

Unlike the Border Collie, these dogs won’t work for the sake of obeying or pleasing their owners. But just because a Basenji doesn’t obey you, doesn’t mean they don’t understand what you mean. I would argue that these dogs are smarter because they don’t rely on their owners and think for themselves. 

Plus, do you really think Basenjis survived thousands of years by being dumb dogs?

1. The “god of death” in ancient Egypt may have been half human, half Basenji.

Anubis, otherwise known as the Egyptian “god of death and the afterlife,” has the body of a human with the head of a dog. Though some claim the head is actually of a jackal, many historians believe that Anubis had the head of a Basenji due to the popularity of the breed back then.

And with the pricked ears and sharp snout, the physical resemblance is undeniable. Anubis had many roles. He was an embalmer, which meant he was in charge of the mummification process.

Anubis was also known as a protector of graves, tombs and cemeteries. Some believed that thieves who tried to steal from the dead were often punished by Anubis himself.

And finally, Anubis was a guide for souls. The god would safely guide the dead into the afterlife, so they wouldn’t get lost along the way. But whether Anubis was real or not, it’s cool to think that Basenjis were likely the inspiration for such a prominent figure in Ancient Egypt.


So what was your favorite Basenji fact? Did we miss any that deserves to be on this list? Let us know in the comments section below.

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