Although the Basenji breed has been recognized by the American Kennel Club since 1944, the breed standards were updated and slightly revised in 1990 and are, as of June of 1990, considered to be approved. The breed standards are important for show dogs and are a way for judges to evaluate each individual dog in the ring against the ideal for the breed, not actually against each other.
Individuals that just want a great pet may not be as concerned about the breed standards since they are unlikely to show their Basenji in American Kennel Club events. For those individuals that may wish to show their dog or those that want to breed, knowing the standards and selecting puppies and breeding lines that are proven champions or very close to the breed standards is an important consideration. Working closely with an experienced breeder and selecting only the best and most healthy dogs is also very critical to developing a kennel and eventually a breeding line.
The breed standards of the Basenji in the American Kennel Club are very close to those in other countries and Kennel Clubs. It is important to know the variations within different clubs to know if your registration through the AKC will be immediately recognized by the other Kennel Club or breed association. This is not unique to the Basenji breed and in fact occurs in almost all other breeds.
The overall appearance of the Basenji is to be a lightweight sigh hound with a muscular yet not cobby or thick appearance and legs that are slightly longer than average for the size of the dog's body. The head is to be carried erect on the gently arching neck and the forehead area of the head is slightly wrinkled when the dog is attending to something.
The head itself is carried erect on the neck and the muzzle is shorter in length than the skull. The top of the head between the ears is relatively flat and tapers down to the eyes. There is a perceptible stop that is not overly exaggerated and the muzzle tapers slightly from the stop to the tip of the ideally black nose. The teeth are to meet in a true scissors bite and there should be no missing teeth for show purposes. The forehead has fine wrinkles when the ears are alert and the wrinkles may extend down the sides of the head but should not be deep or profuse. The eyes are dark hazel to dark brown and are relatively small and almond shaped. They should give the appearance of looking great distances and be very alert to what is going on about the dog. The ears are also typically carried very alert and slightly forward. They are triangular in shape and moderate in size, extending straight up from the sides of the head to form a line.
The neck is well balanced with the skull and drops down into the chest and shoulders in a flowing line. The neck is slightly arched or crested, giving a very elegant and refined carriage to the head. The head and neck flow together in a seamless fashion, adding to the impression of a very long necked dog. The topline or spine is flat and even, with the back moderately short in overall length. The chest is deep but not disproportionate and the ribs are moderately well sprung and roomy. There is a slight tuck up to the abdomen but not an exaggerated cut as seen in the Whippet or Greyhound types.
The Basenji legs are straight and strong, ending in small, compact feet that are well arched. The front legs are well balanced and allow the dog a good range of motion on the front quarters. The hind legs are similar to the front legs in that they are strong but not heavy or delicate in appearance. The hocks are well let down and are very straight with no inward or outward turning allowed. When in motion the Basenji should look fluid and graceful with a long trot the most common gait the dog uses in normal movement. They tend to move towards a center line track as the dog increases in speed. The legs should move forward and not be thrown to the side or turn inwards during any part of the movement.
The tail of the Basenji is as much a defining feature of the breed as the head, body and coat color and type. The tail is moderately short and carried very high, arching over the back in an incredibly tight curl. The curl may sit to either side of the spine but the tail should never be loosely curled or extended and down.
There are several colors acceptable in the breed standards for Basenjis. All will have white markings on the chest, feet and the tip of the tail. Many Basenjis will also have white on the face in the form of a blaze, as well as white on the collar and up the legs. The overall coat is very short and fine and can come in colors of chestnut red, pure black, tricolor or brindle. Tricolor includes white, chestnut red and black in distinct locations on the body, usually chestnut on the sides of the cheeks, the eyebrows and along the legs, while the brindle is black lines over a background of the chestnut red color. The area between the white and the body color needs to be clearly defined without roaning or ticking to shade the boundary of the color and white areas.
The temperament of the Basenji is to be one of focus and alertness without any signs of aggression or fear. Since most Basenjis are more aloof and less friendly toward strangers they do need to have routine socialization in order to be outstanding show dogs. Most Basenjis are very tolerant of other Basenjis so often human socialization is most important as they judges will approach and touch the dogs during the show event.