JUDGING THE BASENJI
by Doreen Duffin
The Basenji is a very ancient breed which dates back to the days of the Pharaohs. He is both a scenthound and a sighthound and is, to this day, highly prized by the natives in the Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo for hunting – primarily flushing game. Two parties of Americans travelled to Zaire during 1987 and 1988 and after rather daunting treks into the jungle, brought back several adults and puppies which they purchased from the natives. As the Basenji is still used for hunting, and as we do not wish to change nature’s handiwork that has survived for so many thousands of years, the “show ring” Basenji must also have the conformation and movement to enable him to do his job. The words that immediately spring to mind when viewing a good Basenji are ELEGANCE, ARISTOCRATIC and GAZELLE-LIKE GRACE.
The Basenji is known as “the barkless dog”, but he is certainly not mute, being capable of all the other ‘doggy’ noises, plus a delightful yodel or chortle when happy. He can be very vocal, making lots of noise when in a stand up-argument with a kennel mate, but that is harmless “swearing” – more noise than damage, but he is also well known for not particularly liking his own breed, and will sometimes have a growl at unfamiliar Basenjis. The handler should ensure that this situation does not arise, but if it does I am positively of the opinion the dog should not be penalised. He is a remarkably clean dog, hates being dirty, and possesses no ‘doggy’ odour. He is extremely intelligent, independent, alert, and affectionate to those he knows and loves, but can be rather aloof with strangers.
Another feature of the breed is the fact that Basenji bitches come into season only once a year which is around autumn, thus the puppies are born May, June, July in the Southern Hemisphere. It is not commonly known, but it is something of which judges should be aware, that, similar to the Dingo, Basenji males also come into season about February/March/April (it is virtually impossible to artificially obtain semen from a dog “out of season”) and that can sometimes cause a change in temperament making them a bit “agro” – particularly with other male dogs. Therefore, some exhibitors do not show their dogs until they return to their normal happy selves when the season time is over.
Basenjis are more at ease being examined on a table and not on the ground, and NEVER approach the dog from the rear without warning, as his reflexes are very sharp. You must remember he has had to survive for many thousands of years and he didn’t do that by being complacent, especially when his life may have been at risk from a sudden wild animal attack. Approach him positively, from a slight angle towards the head and speak softly to him as you approach. Don’t lay your hands directly on his head – rather let your first feel be of his underjaw area then you can pass on to examine his teeth and head. A Basenji, like many other breeds, does not like being “eyeballed”, which can be taken as a threat, so don’t stare into his eyes for any great length of time. And please talk to him, or his handler even if it is just to ask the age.
You should be aware that Basenjis are notorious for tucking up their testicles in cold weather. If that happens, run your fingers gently but firmly along either side of the sheath and that should bring the testicles down.
The first impression should be of a finely boned, lightly built dog, high on leg compared with the length, looking poised, alert and intelligent. The head, with its pricked ears and wrinkles, is proudly carried on a well-arched neck. The deep brisket runs into a definite waist, the back is short and level, the hindquarters are strong and muscled with a moderate turn of stifle, and the tail should be tightly curled to either side. He should present a picture of a well balanced dog of gazelle-like grace.
The Basenji head is characterised by the wrinkled forehead, which is a feature of the breed, and without wrinkles the head has lost Basenji type. The skull is flat, well-chiselled and of medium width, tapering gradually towards the nose, with only a slight stop. Too much stop gives a “foxy” expression and too little gives a “Bull Terrier” appearance. The distance from the top of the head to the stop is slightly more than from the stop to the tip of the nose, giving a muzzle slightly shorter than skull. We do not want a muzzle too short, which, because of the curvature of the zygomatic arch, usually goes with cheekiness and a broad head which we do not want. Neither do we want a muzzle too long. The skull and muzzle are on parallel planes. As mentioned, wrinkle is a very important feature of the breed and WILL ONLY BE PRESENT WHEN THE EARS ARE ERECT. The wrinkle should be fine and profuse, not coarse nor heavy as in the Bloodhound, as this would hide the fine chiselling of the skull. Side wrinkles are most attractive and desirable at the outside edge of the eye, but they must not be exaggerated into dewlap. Wrinkles are more noticeable in puppies, as they do diminish slightly as the head grows and matures. Because of the lack of shadowing in tri-colours and black and whites, look to ensure that he has wrinkle, as it does not show up as easily as in the red and whites and brindles.
A black nose is desirable, but during winter, some noses will develop a pinkish tinge. This should not be unduly penalised. While the leather of the nose should be black, there will often be pink pigmentation in the skin above or on the sides of the leather, especially if the dog has a white muzzle. This is skin pigmentation and is not to be penalised. A scissors bite is required with very neat lips held closely to the teeth with no flews. A small amount of strong underjaw should show as he is a hunting dog, and for the size of him, has an extremely strong mouth.
A great deal of Basenji expression depends upon the eye which should be small, almond shaped and obliquely set with an inscrutable, intelligent, farseeing, yet gentle expression, set fairly well apart. Colour should be dark hazel or dark brown with dark or black rims. Large, round, light or staring eyes are most undesirable.
Ears should be small, pointed, erect, slightly hooded, of fine texture, very pliant and mobile, and set well forward on top of the head. They are set high on the head, but with a wide base as this will produce the forehead wrinkling when alert. Large low set aeroplane ears hanging off the side of the head are foreign to the breed and completely ruins head type. If the head is coarse and cheeky, you will usually find the ears large, wide set and heavy. While the Basenji is an alert breed, please do NOT expect his ears to be erect at all times. He is also very intelligent, therefore does get a bit bored with the show ring, as he feels he has “been there, done that”. Do endeavour to alert the dog at least for a short time to ensure the presence of wrinkles, and the best way to do that is when the dog is on the ground, not on the table.
The head is set on a strong neck of good length, which has a graceful curve from the back of the head to the shoulders accentuating the crest. This crest is usually more noticeable in dogs than bitches. The head should be well placed so as to give a “lofty” carriage, and on no account should he have a short stuffy neck or be ewe necked. The neck is slightly full at the base of the throat and flows smoothly into the withers, which are the highest part of the topline, in a smooth graceful curve – not at a sharp angle. He does not need an overlong neck, but it must be in balance with the overall dog and the correct length of neck helps to give the dog elegance and gazelle-like grace.
To acquire the well laid back shoulders as stated in the Standard, the dorsal vertebrae in the area of the withers must be long, with the top of the blade attaching between the first and second vertebrae. It is almost impossible to attain a 45 degree lay of shoulder – it is more likely to be 50 degrees or more to the horizontal. The upper arm is long and set at approximately a 70 degree angle to the horizontal. We do NOT want shoulder and upper arm angulation at 90 degrees, as that would set the elbow further rear-ward than is desirable for the Basenji. This open angle and upper arm length positions the elbow slightly rearward and level with the bottom of the chest. To bring the forequarters into static balance the straight front pastern slopes slightly. Support is then directly over the foot. In all likelihood the more open shoulder angulation with correct length of upper arm contributes to the Basenji’s ability to excel at the sighthound double suspension gallop. Elbows are tucked in against the brisket to form a straight line with the ribs, and the legs continue in a straight line to the ground, giving a medium width front. One should get a picture of an inverted U between the front legs and not an inverted V. Only a slight forechest in front of the point of shoulder is required as a heavy, protruding, “pigeon chested” front is completely wrong and detracts from the desired grace and elegance of this breed.
The legs, while strong and straight, MUST be finely boned. The forearms must be very long which, while enabling him to excel at the fast gallop, also adds to the dog’s elegance and gazelle like grace. There should be sufficient slope to the pastern, which is of good length, to give flexibility without weakness, and the thickness of the pastern should be just slightly more tapered than the leg above. Bone in dogs should have slightly more substance than in bitches. Any suggestion of heavy bone and short leggedness utterly ruins the grace of the breed and should be penalised. An important feature to remember is that the Basenji is NOT a dog of equal distance from withers to elbow and elbow to ground. There is slightly more distance from elbow to ground than there is from elbow to withers, and that is where the appearance of him being “HIGH ON LEG COMPARED WITH ITS LENGTH” comes in. He has more length of leg than body depth.
The brisket is let down to the elbow, and the ribs are well sprung, deep and oval (not barrel shaped nor slab sided) to allow the elbow free movement for his far reaching stride, and the deep brisket runs up into a definite waist, i.e. a good tuck up. The body is balanced with a short, level back. Back length is the distance from the withers to the hip bones, and, while the distance from the withers to the last rib should not be too short thus depriving the dog of heart and lung room, the length of loin should be short to give the overall impression of a short back. Again, remembering that the Basenji is a hunting dog which must be capable of twisting and turning suddenly, the loin should not be too short as to hinder him in this function, nor too long to show slackness and weakness. Any length of body should come from the sloping shoulder and the well developed hindquarters. The Basenji is basically a square dog, i.e. the distance from the front of the sternum (breast bone) to the point of buttocks (pelvis) should not exceed the height at the withers.
Excellent hindquarters and tail
Hindquarters must be strong and muscular, free from droop or crouch, with long second thighs and well let down hocks, turning neither in nor out. Stifles are MODERATELY bent and over-angulation and straight stifles are to be avoided. There should be enough angulation to prevent action from being in any way stilted and to allow the dog to cover the ground with good drive. Short second thighs and straight stifles cause the hind legs to act as props rather than instruments of propulsion. It is most important that there is width and strength across the upper and second thighs. Musculation should appear both inside and outside the thigh, so feel for it. Cow hocks, open hocks and sickle hocks should, of course, be penalised.
The Basenji is short bodied and its working gait is the collected trot. Any increase in angulation at the stifle beyond moderate creates over-reach and optical as well as functional imbalance. Maximum propulsion without increasing angulation is achieved by ensuring that the rear portion of the pelvis is long and the sacrum horizontal, to provide ample attachment for the muscles that extend downward and draw the hind leg rearward.
Feet should be oval in shape, small, neat and compact with thick pads and well arched toes. Nails should be short and strong. Dew claws are usually removed but this is not mandatory. Hare feet, cat feet, or big, round feet are undesirable – having in mind the breed’s purpose as a hunter.
Correct Oval Foot for the Basenji
|Incorrect hare foot.
Too long and not sufficiently arched
|Incorrect cat foot.
The tail is set very high and placed right on top of the hindquarters with the buttock curving out considerably beyond the root of the tail. This gives a strong reachy appearance to the hindquarters and is referred to as the “shelf”. The tail curls forward and down from the root, to lie as closely as possible to EITHER side of the hip. The curl can be either a single or a double curl, and if it is a double curl, it will naturally be tighter than the single curl. THE SET-ON OF TAIL IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN A DOUBLE CURL. A tail carried along the centre of the croup is a minor fault and should be penalised accordingly. It is important to see the tail when the dog is on the move, as a Basenji will sometimes hold his tail away from the back or drop it if he is upset or frightened. This should settle down when the dog is in motion. IMPORTANT: NEVER uncurl a Basenji’s tail when examining him, as some tails do have kinks in the bone due to the tight curl and it is very painful and upsetting to the dog if uncurled or handled roughly. Should it be necessary to examine the set-on, just lift the tail gently, and particularly look when the dog is in motion.
Excellent shelf and tailset
The coat should appear velvety to the touch and there should be a good sheen. The skin texture is important. It should be very pliant and that can be easily felt by lifting the skin gently on the back of the dog. Again, remembering the breed’s purpose as a hunter, a pliant skin can protect him as if he is caught on briars or bushes he can escape with minimal loss of skin. Scars should not be penalised. The coat is short, sleek, close and very fine. During winter the majority of Basenjis, especially those that are not house dogs, grow an undercoat for protection. It is up to you, as the judge, to decide the placings when confronted with out of coat dogs. Remember that the coat will improve as the weather improves. A bad front or a weak back will not improve!
Red and White
Black and White
Colours are red and white; black and white; black tan and white with tan melon pips and mask (tri-colour); black tan and white without tan melon pips and mask, and brindle (black stripes on a red background, the more clearly defined the better).
The desired red is a bright orange red, but may shade to a bright chestnut red. Those colours are far more attractive than the light red, sandy or brown shades, which are permissible but not preferred. Black and whites should have a glossy black/blue coat without any trace of brown. The black tan and white without melon pips and mask is what we call the “recessive” black & white. He will often have only a few tan hairs inside the ears and a slight fringe down the back of the thighs and around the vent. It is a permitted colour, but because there are so few of that colour born, a judge will rarely see it, and may be confused as to whether it is correct or not. It is entirely correct – providing the black of the body coat remains black and is not peppered through with tan or white hairs. This also applies to the tri-colour and the black and white – the body of the dog should be pure black. Intermingling of black hairs on a red coat giving a sabling effect is incorrect and should be penalised accordingly. The tri-colour has tan “melon pips” over the eyes, tan cheeks, a fringe of tan where the black joins the white on the legs and tan around the vent. The tan should be a rich red and not a pale straw colour.
Four white feet, white chest and white tip on the tail are also required, while a white blaze, white collar and white legs are optional. Part or the whole of the legs can be white, but if one foreleg is white and the other is half white, take a careful look at movement, as it can give an optical illusion that the dog is swinging out one leg. Dogs with too much white have always been a subject for debate. Some dogs have been of such outstanding virtue that they have won in spite of an all white hindleg or white shoulders, but generally speaking, such markings distract from the overall picture of the dog and should have some bearing on the placement in the show ring. The same applies to a dog without white on a foot, or with white on only two or three toes. That dog can still do the job for which he was bred, and if he is excellent quality, then give careful thoughts about your placings. Ideally the white should not reach above the hock or elbow, and apart from the optional collar, there should be no white on the body. White markings in the overall body coat of the dog should be penalised.
The white blaze may continue down and around the muzzle, and in some cases may have a fine white line joining the blaze and over the skull to the collar. This is quite acceptable, but a wide white patch going right over the skull, or a blaze which includes part or all of the eyes is not desirable as it ruins expression. A white collar means white neck markings whether or not they be a full wide or narrow collar, a half collar, or just a white spot on the neck. Also a red spot in a white collar is acceptable. I cannot recall ever seeing a Basenji without a white under-belly and that is perfectly acceptable. The white is often carried through to form a thin line along the inside of the thighs and this is quite acceptable as long as it is just a thin line. White markings should not have any ticking or red or black hairs. This should not be confused with spots of pigmentation on the skin itself, which many Basenjis have, particularly those with very fine coats. These should not be penalised. Also do not penalise a red dog if he has some black hairs in the tail. That shows that he carries the tri-colour gene.
The gait of a Basenjis is a swift, long, tireless, swinging stride and is a joy to behold. It is an easy, effortless extended trot that can be maintained for hours. They are basically trotting dogs, but are capable of short bursts of speed and many are capable of a double suspension gallop with all four legs off the ground at once over short distances. Their working gait is an effortless collected trot and they must expend only a minimal amount of energy, as in their natural habitat they are sometimes required to hunt all day without collapsing. The gait must be effortless, tireless, and far reaching with good rear drive, and the topline remaining level. He will tend to single track as speed increases. Any toeing in, pounding, padding or swinging out of the legs is a fault. A hackney gait, while eye-catching, is definitely wrong. Little “tiddly” stilted steps are also wrong and must be penalised. The rear leg should reach well under the body while the follow through of the opposite leg should extend about twice the distance behind, allowing the paw to be seen at full extension. Always move a class of Basenjis around the ring to observe side movement – length of stride, rear drive, level topline and the “swift, long, tireless, swinging stride”.
The ideal height for a dog is 17″, weight 24 lbs, and for a bitch 16″, weight 21 lbs. The old Standard stated that an inch either way should not penalise an otherwise well balanced, correctly proportioned specimen and we still accept that. Size must take height, length and weight into consideration; the three combine to produce a balanced, correctly proportioned dog. The typical Basenji is finely boned, carrying no more weight than is absolutely necessary.
The Basenji is built for endurance at the trot – not all out speed – and that is reflected in his square proportions, light bone and small size. An overlarge dog is often accompanied by heavier bone and a longer body. He may well appear more impressive and strong, but he has sacrificed the endurance capability of the smaller, finely boned specimen. He will most likely appear coarse, and coarseness is completely taboo in a Basenji. Endurance is the criteria, not strength, and the requirement to move with effortless grace separates the typical lightly boned Basenji from dogs that must expend a greater amount of energy at the trot.
The Basenji must be an elegant, finely boned, aristocratic, well balanced dog with gazelle like grace. He has a fine head with profuse wrinkle, small high set ears, crested neck of good length, very long forearms with well padded oval feet, well laid back shoulders, deep brisket with well tucked up loins, short, level back. Strong muscular hindquarters with a moderate turn of stifle and a tightly curled tail lying over either thigh. Above all, he must move with an effortless, swift, long, tireless, swinging stride. If you can find all that, together with the correct coat and colour, then you will have a good Basenji.
Makuba Basenjis Victoria
The Complete Basenji by Elspet Ford
The Basenji Stacked and Moving by Robert Cole
Basenjis, The Barkless Dogs by Veronica Tudor-Williams
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