The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

Project Library


by Donna Lubbe

 There are few breeders willing to breed full African litters. I believe this is a shame. Since the importation of the African basenjis in 1987/88, I had heard how different they were from the American bred domestic basenjis. Depending on who you were listening to, the Africans were either too soft, too aggressive, too spooky and not a good choice for most people. This, coupled with the fact that they looked different and didn't do well in the conformation ring, tended to overshadow their true worth to the breeder and to the basenji breed. I recently had an opportunity to witness firsthand the difference between a full African litter of puppies. By observing the differences, I saw what the Africans have to offer.
 I had been following the imported dogs since they hit the U.S. I was a recent basenji convert, having come from a life long association with horses and working stock dogs I starting [sic] showing Shetland sheepdogs in 1979 and got my first basenji in 1986. When the Africans arrived, I was understandably fascinated with these new immigrants. I read every article that was written about them and talked to many individuals who had full Africans. In the years that followed, I watched the influence that the full Africans had on the overall conformation, movement, and of course the temperaments. In 1989, I met my first full African Avongara Zarirenna owned by Teri Gavaletz and I was hooked. Then I met Kibushi La Brea and the die was cast. I began to steer my breeding program towards using the Africans in my gene pool. Towards this goal, I acquired my first pup with the new African heritage; a lovely little ¼ African brindle girl who became CH Cinjas Cheetah. In 1997 I finally acquired Avongara Kipingi from Nancy Parks in Washington.
 Although Kippie was almost 8 years old, she was a long anticipated dream that had been worth waiting for. In 1998 I bred Kippie to AvongaraWorth The Wait JC. At the same time, I bred two other litters, mainly because I wasn't sure if Kippie's litter would take. One was a 3/8th African litter and the other was 1/16th or almost a total domestic basenji litter. I believed that I would have an excellent opportunity to see the much touted difference between the full Africans and the domestic dogs.

  The full African litter was born first; three days later the 3/8ths African litter was born. A week later, the last litter was born. It was easy to compare the puppies with all three litters being born so closely together. The three bitches were experienced mothers. All things were relatively equal, except the percentage of African heritage.
 The first difference I noticed was that the African pup were up on their feet and attempting to walk at 2 days of age. Not just trying to stand, but walking. It took the other two litters 5 to 7 days before they made attempt. This was the beginning of a developmental trend that was repeated with all area development including eyes opening, exploring, weaning, etc.
 There were many other I things that I noticed as I watched the puppies develop. The Africans were vying with mom for her dinner at just about 2 weeks old and what appetites they had! The 3/8th litter were starting to sample the food at just under 3 weeks of age, but the biggest thing was that, for the most part, the greater percentage of African blood, the faster the puppies developed overall.
 The play of all the puppies was very interesting to watch. The full Africans played like all puppies do but they played quieter and mostly in groups, while the domestic pups played one on one and the play was vigorous and noisy. The reverse of this was that the African babies started yodeling at 4 to 5 weeks and would greet you when you came into the room and they would wag their tails so much that their whole bodies moved. The African puppies all are still very vocal at a year of age, especially Mickey and Rooster. They tell it like it is. The African puppies also tended to potty in one area of the pen and still do to this to this day, usually well away from where they sleep.

 One major break from the early development trend is African puppy ears. Both domestic & 3/8 litters had upright ears in approximately a week, while the Africans took much longer. In fact, 2 puppies went to their new homes at 15 weeks of age and their ears were not consistently up although they did finally come up; Roos between 17 & 18 weeks and Roosters by 4 months. I found the Africans used their ears at an early age to a greater extent to telegraph their mood.
 One other item beyond structure that I find completely appealing is temperament and cognitive reasoning of the Africans. They never rush into anything and their entire approach to life reflects this instinctive trait. They check out each new place, person and situation before approaching to closely. I have watched Pippi sit and watch the refrigerator with her head cocked to one side, then walk to it and push the door, stop sit and look again and approach it again and try something different until she got the desired result - the door opens. I have a hedge in my yard that attracted a large number of birds. All the Basenjis will flush birds in the hedge, but the Africans will work together; to not only flush the birds but try to bring them down.
 As time has gone by, I have been able to see other differences as the dogs matured. One of the most striking features is how the Africans are more social than the domestic pups. Today I can have 7 full Africans, of both sexes and a variety of ages, in the same yard where I would never consider having 7 different domestic basenjis running together unsupervised. I enjoy the sociable nature of the full Africans. My African dogs do not spend all their time jockeying for dominance; they tend to work together as a team in most of what theydo. I have noticed that Kippie is the matriarch. Because of their understanding of pack roles, it has made it easier for me to assert my dominance as ultimate pack leader. The full Africans do not challenge me as pack leader after about a year of age and they don't challenge one another either.
 I have observed that the Africans are much more aware of their environment, which may be one of the reasons that they are considered spooky. When released in a new surrounding, they investigate the entire area and then monitor it for any new changes. An example of this was when I took 5 full Africans to a fenced in training area to take pictures. All of the dogs circled the training area until they were satisfied that there were no immediate threats. They worked as a team, the pack probing and surveying for possible hazards. When none were found, they came back to play and lounge.
 They are especially sensitive to new sounds and smells, and are alert to anyand all changes. Their caution is, I believe, one ofthe reasons that the full Africans have not succeeded in the show ring. If you can imagine walking into a grassy area that is surrounded by unknown sounds and smells, and they are given no chance to determine if the area is safe, then it is easy to grasp why their reaction is not as confident as we would like. I have found that if the full Africans are worked with and come to expect numerous new sounds and smells at a show setting, particularly in the show ring, then they are able to overcome their fearful manner.
 When the puppies started going to their new homes, one of the Africans went to a fairly novice basenji owner who had already had a 1/4 African male from the year before and 2 children. Rooster was about 17 weeks old and the transition was very smoothly [sic]. He immediately took the 2 girls as well as to Tigger, the other basenji. He bonded very quickly to the family and adapted to their life style. Rooster is a highly sociable dog who accepts all the neighborhood children as well. The one problem they have had was during Nationals when Tigger was gone and Rooster was without canine company, a fact he protested very loudly for the first 2 days.
 Beau went to a long time Basenji breeder and moved in and settled very quickly with no problems. His new owners had several full Africans and their comment was that he was a happy boy who preferred to be with the people in the household, but dealt well with their Papillons and other basenjis.
 Roo, the little girl, also made a smooth transition except she had some minor house breaking problems. Her new owner, also a long time breeder who had a ½ African, remarked that Roo was the most voca basenji she had ever owned. That was how she got her name. She ROOS at everyone she meets and she has never meet a stranger, or at least anyone that stayed a stranger. Roo seemed to be happiest with people but also fine with most of the other dogs in the household. The 3/8 male puppy went to a relative Basenji newbie and was not as easy. Bear thought he was the man in charge and in typical basenji fashion, proceeded to establish that thought in his new home. But the new owner finally prevailed and life is good.
 The puppies all settled in to their new homes and the last year has been full of challenges for all. Rooster has become the best friend of a 3 year old and a 10 year old girl who all go for long walks with Dad. He has unfailing patience with the kids and a sweet disposition. Roo comes when she's called (what a concept) and shows a natural desire to hunt. Mickey and Ellymay, who stayed here along with their mother Kippie, are part of my pack. Mickey greets each day with a rousing yodel and a true joy of just being with you. He has a happy go lucky attitude and a strong desire to please you in all you ask of him. Although he is some what tentative in new surroundings, he tends to adopt well after a few minutes. Ellymay, on the other hand, is much quieter and laid back. She is softer with people and does not deal will with the bitches except her mother. Of all the pups she is my only shy one.

 In Retrospect

What did the Africans bring into my breeding program, from a conformation point of view? The most significant benefits that the Africans have brought to my breeding program has been an improvement of movement. This has come about by the lengthening of the upper arm and the lengthening the second thigh, which gives a strong rear drive. One of the faults that I do have to watch is the lengthening of loin and or back. However I am not unduly worried about this fault. Too many of our dogs have become short and cobby. A little judicious lengthening of the back and or loin is necessary to keep good movement and length of stride. I personally like to have a dog that has correct feet with well arched toes. This enables to [sic] the dog to move over a wide variety of terrain including, but of course not allowed on top of, kitchen counters. The Africans have brought this back and we are seeing an overall improvement in their down lined descendants. Just look at some of the current top winning dogs.

 Reprinted from
The Official Bulletin of the Basenji Club of America, Inc.
Vol. XXXIV No. 1 January/February/March 2000, pp. 26-27
Copyright © 2000 BCOA, All Rights Reserved.