The basenji is square-proportioned and high on leg. It is far more slightly built and longer-legged than most other primitive breeds, giving it a good amount of speed and the ability to perform the double-suspension gallop. Its erect ears help it locate prey in thick bush and may act as heat dissipaters. Its short coat also aids in dealing with the hot climate of Africa.
Some consider the basenji to have terrier-like mannerisms because it is feisty for a hound. More often it is considered catlike in mannerisms: clever, inquisitive, stubborn, independent and reserved. Its hunting roots are very evident, as it loves to chase and trail. It needs regular mental and physical stimulation, lest it become frustrated and destructive. Basenjis may be barkless, but they are not mute. They do make a sort of yodel, howl and shriek — and occasionally bark, but just one or two "fox barks" at a time.
The basenji is among the most primitive of breeds, discovered on the African Congo with Pygmy hunters. Early explorers called the dogs after the tribes that owned them or the area in which they were found, such as Zande dogs or Congo terriers. The native tribes used the dogs (which often wore large bells around their necks) as pack hunters, driving game into nets. Early attempts to bring basenjis to England in the late 1800s and early 1900s were unsuccessful because the dogs all succumbed to distemper. In the 1930s, a few dogs were successfully brought back to England and became the foundation (along with subsequent imports from the Congo and Sudan) of the breed outside of Africa. The name basenji, or "bush thing," was chosen. The early imports attracted much attention, and soon after the basenji was brought to America. The breed's popularity as both a pet and show dog grew modestly but steadily. In the 1950s, a surge of popularity occurred as a result of a book and movie featuring a basenji. The 1980s saw two important but controversial events for the basenji in America. First, several basenjis were brought from Africa in an attempt to widen the gene pool and combat some widespread hereditary health problems; some of these dogs introduced the previously unrecognized brindle color into the breed. Second, the basenji was recognized by the American Sighthound Field Association as a sighthound and was allowed to compete in lure-coursing trials. Its body structure and hunting style had previously been deemed too unsighthound-like. The basenji has always been hard to categorize. It retains several primitive characteristics, most notably its lack of barking ability and its yearly, rather than twice yearly, estrus cycle.
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