The Basenji University

204 The Standard

Kinte Cloth


The Basenji Standard states:

     Shoulders moderately laid back. Shoulder blade and upper arm of approximately equal length. Elbows tucked firmly against brisket. Legs straight with clean fine bone, long forearm and well defined sinews. Pasterns of good length, strong and flexible. Feet–Small, oval and compact with thick pads and well arched toes. Dewclaws are usually removed.



      The Forequarters section covers the shoulder, upper arm, forearm, pasterns and feet. These five fundamental building blocks are very important to how the Basenji looks and functions.

      The Basenji standard calls for: “Shoulders moderately laid back.” Why moderate?  What is moderate?  How is angulation measured?

      One fundamental feature of a Basenji is that it is a general-purpose dog, meant to function well for various activities.  This dictates that the body is built for a multitude of purposes rather than a specialized function.  Specialized dogs include the German Shepherd (built for trotting) and many terriers and dachshunds (built to follow prey down a hole or ‘go to ground’) and in the hound group there are breeds specialized for speed at the gallop.  These breeds are not as efficient overall but are exceptional in what they do.  Basenjis should be moderate, not extreme, to remain efficient in movement at various gaits and agile for varied bush and terrain environments.

Diagram finding angles      Measuring angulation is based on the geometry of a circle.  As we learned in school, a circle has 360 degrees.  If you draw a line through the circle you now have 180 degrees on each side.  The shoulder and upper arm of the dog can be placed in that half-circle to imagine the angles.  The quarter circle has 90 degrees measured from the vertical to the line shown.  The solid black line is laid back from the dashed vertical line at 90 degrees.

     In relation to Basenjis one learns that an angle of about 30-35 degrees is moderate for the lay back of the shoulder blade.  In contrast the German Shepherd standard states: "The shoulder blades are long and obliquely angled, laid on flat and not placed forward. The upper arm joins the shoulder blade at about a right angle.”  This would call for an angle of 45 degrees for this specialized trotting breed.   

     Now we can take the half circle and put a line at 35 degrees to demonstrate the angle the Basenji shoulder might be laid back from the vertical.

     Well that is all very simple but how does it actually relate to the shoulder blade of a dog?  Here is a diagram of a dog’s front from the shoulder down into the foreleg. 
The first thing noticeable is that the shoulder blade is not simple in shape.  However, it does have a raised spine along it, which can be felt when you run your hands over the dog. This raised spine can be used as a line to measure the angle of the shoulder when your hands are on the dog because it runs in a nearly straight line. The spine is shown clearly in the top image.

      If the half circle is placed over the shoulder and upper arm and the 35 degree line reapplied along the raised spine, the angle of the shoulder is shown. The shoulder blade is not actually attached to the spine and it does rotate as a dog moves.

     At this time you should notice that the shoulder blade and the upper arm are the same length.  The standard states: “Shoulder blade and upper arm of approximately equal length.”  That is pretty clear but it doesn’t cover the angle of the upper arm.  In a moderate, general or all-purpose dog such as the Basenji, the upper arm’s angle should match the shoulder blade’s angle.  So taking the same circle we can show the angle of the upper arm.

     The upper arm should be laid back at the same angle away from the vertical as the shoulder blade.  The angle makes the elbow appear to be tucked back under the body. The upper arm should be approximately equal in length to the shoulder blade.

     You should be aware that there is another way to measure shoulder angulation. The system above is based on physics with the lines drawn representing the lines of force i.e. the direction of travel of the forces generated in movement. The reference points are sometimes called the “points of rotation.” The second way to measure shoulder and upper arm layback involves convenient points on the assemblage making it easier to find the points of reference. The diagram below in the left panel shows this measurement system.

Two ways to measure forequarters

     The superimposed red lines in the diagram on the right represent the measurement system explained earlier. You can see the different results with the 30° measurement becoming 23° shoulder layback.

     Whichever system you choose to use, be consistent and be sure anyone who you are discussing angulation with knows what system you are using.

     In your study of shoulders it is important to realize that the simple shoulder and upper arm angles are not the entire story. It has been established now using modern techniques that the shoulder blade is not stationary but actually rotates so its angle while moving is more laidback then when standing. Also, remember that the skeletal structure of the dog is a framework for the muscles, sinews and ligaments to attach to not the entire basis of canine movement.

      Feel the shoulders of many dogs.

     The photo above shows a dog's shoulders being examined by the judge in the show ring. Breeders need to become proficient in appreciating and measuring angulation. To do this you should try to get your hands on many dogs and even dogs that are not Basenjis to help "get a feel" for the layback of shoulder blade.  

     The white collar markings can be deceptive, especially in photos, in relation of layback of shoulder and upper arm.  A white collar with the bottom edge at a 35-40 degree angle sitting behind the actual shoulder blade, for example, may appear to indicate a better shoulder blade angle than acutally exists. Conversely the white collar can be postioned to make the shoulder appear steeper than it is.  Learn to look carefully at all the clues described below.

     Unfortunately one cannot see the bones in a photo so we need a few clues to suggest the structure of a dog in a photo or even at a dog show where only the judge gets to do a hands-on examination.  First the dog needs to be standing in a fairly relaxed pose, with the neck in a natural position.  Too often the photos show the dog leaning well forward, which does indeed change the angles.   If the dog’s pose has the forearms no longer vertical because it is leaning forward or backward, everything in the front has shifted.  Sometimes the head has been forced back to make it appear to have a very high carriage changing the natural line of the neck and the line’s flow over the withers.

Stand and move

     These two photos are of the same dog showing the shoulder and upper arm angles superimposed and then how the same dog moves in front.  There will be more studies of movement in the Basenji Standard Dissected "Gait" section.

    Here are some examples that may help you evaluate forequarters from the photos you see published. You may find that you can learn a lot about your own dog by studying the photos you have.  

Two Front Compared.

     Look at the line down the neck and into the body of these two examples.  Dog A has a smooth line down the neck through the top of the shoulder and into the back with all the parts blending together without abrupt angles.  Dog B has an abrupt transition from the neck into the withers and back.  Additionally there is the beginning of wrinkles over the shoulders, which are often a clue to straight shoulders.

     Dog A has a clear forechest with the forearm tucked under the body showing the upper arm has reasonable angulation.  The return angle of the upper arm places it correctly under the shoulder blade.  Dog B has very little forechest and it almost seems like the shoulder and upper arm are a straight line from the top of the shoulder right into the foreleg.  Dog B’s photo has conveniently caught the light along his shoulder and upper arm so their outline is visible and it isn’t too hard to imagine the actual bones involved to see that the lay back of the shoulder is quite steep.

Structure Superimposed on two fronts

     Here are the same two dogs again with shoulder and upper arm superimposed on the photos. You will notice the different angles of the shoulder and upper arm on the dog at the right. The front on the right is too straight.

Examples of Shoulder

    The four examples above show a range of satisfactory shoulder and upper arm layback angulation. The shoulder blade is not visible in each photo, but photo shows smooth transition from neck into shoulder and clear upper arm return (angle). Together these two features suggest reasonable shoulder angulation.

      It isn’t easy to evaluate movement from a still photo but there are clues when the dog is trotting.  The entire front assembly should be working together efficiently as in the movement example pictured below.  This photo is useful because it is taken directly from the side and because of the way the light has caught and outlined the shoulder and upper arm making it possible to see how clean the line is down the length of the front assembly during the brief suspension.  The stride is low to the ground with long reach forward.

Showing Extension

     When a Basenji is at the most fully extended position during its brief suspension and as the foot actually approaches the ground, the line along the front assembly reflects the quality of the shoulder and upper arm angles when the dog is standing.  In this example photo showing the dog during suspension there is good reach.  The photo highlights the maximum, efficient reach for this front helping the dog move easily and tirelessly. 

     A dog with a steeper shoulder or an okay shoulder and steep upper arm would have a shorter stride.   The less well made dog would not cover as much ground with each stride and would therefore have to take more steps, working harder to get where it is going.  There will be a great deal more on movement in the "Gait" section.

Filled and hollow front

     The two dogs in the photos above show the front at a slight angle. The dog on the left has a well filled front, the muscle fills between the upper arms. The dog on the right has a faulty hollow front, sometimes called a cathedral front based on the similarity of the hollow shape to a cathedral. The hollow front is particularly seen on dogs who have straight upper arms.

     The Basenji elbows are described in the Standard as: "Elbows tucked firmly against brisket."  This characteristic can be seen from both the view from the side and from the front of the dog as demonstrated in the photos below.


     The shape of the rib cage is a big determinant of the elbows being well tucked in. The correctly formed rib cage is covered in the "Neck, Topline, Body" section of the Standard. The rib cage shape also has a good deal to do with how close the shoulder blades are at the withers.  It is not desirable to have a large space between the shoulder blades. Breed pioneer Veronica Tudor-Williams had this clear description in her 1976 book “Basenjis the Bark less Dogs of Central Africa:”  "The points of the scapulae (shoulder blades) should be fairly close together at the withers, the shoulders gradually increasing in width to the elbows, which should be tucked firmly against the brisket so as to form a straight line with the ribs. When viewed from the front, the elbows should be in line with the ribs and the legs should continue in a straight line to the ground... The ideal is to have the forelegs working smoothly close to the ribs but not fouling them".

    Next in the Standard the line "Legs straight with clean fine bone, long forearm and well defined sinews" has several facets.

 Sinews well defined    The desired type of bone on different breeds varies.  A beagle, for example, should have a round shaped bone.  The specialized sighthound, another extreme, wants a "bladed" bone, cross-section of a blade, to be aerodynamic.  Comparative Bone LengthBasenjis should have a oval shape leg bone closer to a blade than round for their all-purpose function.

     The forearm should be about the same length as the shoulder and upper arm as shown in the skeleton to the right.

     While the white legs of the Basenji make it difficult to photograph well defined sinews. This photo of a black Basenji to the left (see shadowed leg) shows the definition desired.

      One might ponder on why breeders and judges get excited about such a small thing as "Pasterns of good length, strong and flexible."   The strongest pasterns are flexible, being neither very vertical nor very sloped.  The angle should be about 15 degrees from vertical.  This is usually clear in a photo although sometimes a dog that has pulled himself up, very alertly will make the pasterns appear more vertical then they are and conversely, a dog that is slouching can make his pasterns appear too sloping

     The pastern acts as a spring whenever the dog moves.  Don't forget that the trot is not the only working gait for Basenjis.

Pastern action in coursing basenjis.,

     See what happens here during the gallop. The front assembly of the dog has to take up the force of the galloping rear's action then grab onto the ground and turn that force into additional forward locomotion. Both the upright and overly sloped pasterns will not be strong and flexible enough to withstand the forces applied to them.

Work of pasterns in agility

Agillity Turn 


    While agility trials don't happen in the African bush, the jumping and quick turning maneuvers required for AKC agility mimic the stresses a dog's front assembly (including the pasterns) would withstand while hunting in the African bush.



A. Too Sloping — B. Correct — C. Too upright

     Again when evaluating a dog in a photo, those showy Basenjis that lean forward in their stack can make their pasterns appear straighter than they are.

     The feet also have a rough life in a Basenji that is active in the field so the Standard calls for: "Feet–Small, oval and compact with thick pads and well arched toes."   An oval foot is again a moderate foot to fit the moderate Basenji.

Good Basenji feet

     Here are photos of good feet from two angles. The oval shape and the thick pads are what is desired. The toes are well arched and close together. You should notice that the foot's width from the front should be about the same width as the leg bone.

Beagle and Whippet Feet

      Breeds calling for rounded leg bones have cat feet or rounded feet as shown in the photo of the Beagle on the left.  Specialized sighthound breeds, such as the Borzoi shown in the two photos on the right above, call for long feet to increase their speed at the gallop. The long toes, some breeds even prefer longer toenails, are meant to grab the ground to propel the dog forward more efficiently at the gallop.

Poor feet

     A flat foot or foot with a thin pad is much more likely to be injured making the dog lame and unable to hunt.  The photos above show poor feet with thin pads and that are both flat and splayed.

     The Basenji foot has a "thumb" on the inside of the pastern, which is called a dewclaw.  The Standard mentions that "Dewclaws are usually removed."  The logic for this practice is that the dewclaw is easily torn when the dog is working. However, dewclaw removal is optional and some breeders prefer to avoid this practice.  A dog with dewclaws should not be penalized in the show ring.

Forequarters from VTW

Comments on Forequarters

      The front assembly of the Basenji is complex and important. Correct forequarters add greatly to the dog's grace both standing still and moving. The ability of the dog to function with ease on the move depends on all the parts of the forequarters, as well as the rest of the dog's structure, being correct and working together.


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