Though commonly known as the Barkless Dog, the Basenji is also referred to as the Dog of the Bush Hunters. Though the breed has existed for thousands of years, it wasn't until the late 1930's that the rest of the world found out about the Basenji. Before then, they were used as hunting dogs for the people of the Congo in central Africa. The Basenji came about as the result of mating between many types of native wild dogs. Even with years of Western domestication, there are many natural characteristics, traits and habits that have not changed. From their hunting instinct to their metabolism, the Basenji is still very much the Dog of the Bush Hunters.
When it comes time for hunting in the thick bush of the Congo, the small agile Basenji is used to chase down game and scare it into nets. Hunters typically adorn their dog with a bell made out of a hollowed out nut from a palm tree. Inside, bones or wood pieces make up the clapper and the noise is used to help to scare up game. The bell also lets hunters know exactly where their dog is at in the thick underbrush. Because females do not produce a lot of milk for their puppies in the wild, the Basenji learns to hunt for its own food at a fairly young age.
In a place where food is scarce, people do not have much place for pets. The Basenji is indeed revered for its speed, agility and silence in the hunt but they are viewed much more as a tool than a companion. There is very little in the way of petting or other types of similar interaction. At the same time, hunters and dogs have a strong bond with each other in the Congo. This has much to do with the Basenji's current reputation for being aloof at times, except with the people it has formed an attachment to. The breed is much more accustomed to fostering a work relationship with an owner than a buddy connection.
At the same time, the Basenji has adapted extremely well to Western domestication. Most clashes come when its basic nature is challenged by what is expected of the modern dog. While they enjoy the pluses of living inside and being fed on a regular basis, this wild work dog cannot always be the family dog that loves to play fetch for hours. The Basenji's catlike demeanor comes from thousands of years of use as a hunting tool. Still, many owners like that they are clean, do not bark and have no doggy odor. They are watchful over children, can be quite humorous and are good protectors of their property.