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The Beguiling Basenji

by Diana Pollock 10 months ago in dog
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Africa's Barkless Dog

Can you imagine an animal that washes itself all over like a cat, trots like a racehorse, climbs onto rooftops, has a curly tail, and crows?

There is such an animal, a dog known as the Basenji. Sometimes the Basenji is called the "barkless dog." But it is not silent! It can make almost all the usual doggy noises, such as growling, yelping and whining. However, when it tries to bark, all that comes out is a sort of oof!

The Basenji can make a noise that no other dog can make. It sounds something like a chortle or a yodel or a crow. The dog can give it various intonations to show different emotions. If you had a Basenji, every time you came home it would probably go to every member of the family, crowing and wagging its curly tail to express its joy at seeing you again.

The modern Basenji’s ancestors came from the remote swamps and forests of the Congo and Sudan in Africa. Pictures of the Basenji even appear on the ancient tombs of the Pharaohs in Egypt. The dogs have changed very little over the centuries because their African masters have kept their bloodlines very pure. In fact, Basenjis are sometimes imported from Africa today to strengthen the American breed’s bloodline.

When the European explorers of the 1860s first saw the dogs, they called them “Congo terriers.” Olivia Burn, one of the earliest importers of the breed to England, named them Basenjis, which means “wild thing” or “bush thing” in the Swahili language. It was years, however, before the breed was established in America, because they were especially vulnerable to distemper, a disease not common in their native land.

In Africa, Basenjis are hunting dogs, valued for their silence, speed and intelligence. Because their bodies are odorless, it’s easy for the dogs to sneak up on their prey without alarming it. Basenjis are often used to hunt a vicious species of water rat that is nearly as big as the dogs themselves. Their African owners will also tie small gourds or bells around the dogs’ necks when hunting antelope. The antelope flee from the noise as the dogs drive them toward waiting traps.

The Africans have nicknamed the Basenji the “jumping-up-and-down dog” because of the way it leaps up to see over tall elephant grass. Basenjis are so prized by their owners that sometimes the hunters will carry the dogs around their necks so they won’t get tired out on the way to the hunt.

The Basenji is a member of the hound family. While it is very trim and athletic-looking, its skin is loose, and if you grab it you can pull it at least an inch above its back. Its short coat is either copper-red or a tricolor of black, tan and white. The Basenji is lightly built and has a dainty, gazelle-like grace, yet it also possesses surprising power. Its gait is similar to a horse's trot. The average adult weighs about 24 pounds and measures sixteen to seventeen inches at the shoulder. It carries its head proudly, and when its erect ears are pricked forward, its forehead is covered with fine wrinkles, giving the dog an engaging, quizzical look.

Basenjis are intelligent and easily trained. In fact, they can even teach each other. If you put an older, trained dog with a puppy, the older dog will take the puppy into its care, grooming the younger one and disciplining it with a growl whenever it does something wrong. Basenjis are insatiably curious, too, poking their noses into everything. You might even see one of these agile climbers up a tree or perched on a rooftop, keeping an eye on the neighborhood!

Basenjis are impish, affectionate dogs. When given plenty of love and kindness, their happiness is contagious. You may find it difficult to remain serious with a Basenji enticing you to play!


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Diana Pollock

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