Some Facts about the Basenji Breed Standard

By Les Siddall

The Basenji Standard on this web site is the current official British Standard as agreed by the Kennel Club in January 2009.

Nine revisions have been made to the British standard since Basenjis were first recognised by the Kennel Club in 1937. These revisions have been defined as “made in the process of clarification and presenting a more positive word picture.” Most revisions over the years were minor, consisting mainly of rewording descriptions so that they were clear, precise and not open to more than one interpretation.

The most significant revision was made in 1986 when the KC set up a body to peruse and revise all of the Breed Standards and where necessary table amendments. At this time a number of useful minor alterations were made to the Basenji Standard which were of obvious benefit; but many of the then long time breeders and exhibitors expressed reservations that certain significant changes had been made which far from being of assistance to prospective judges of the breed, and although made in the interest of clarification and uniformity of all the Breed Standards by the KC , were in actual fact likely to have the opposite effect as far as the Basenji breed was concerned.

It is of interest to the Basenji student/historian to note the differences brought about by the major 1986 revision, taking in to account that the comments in brackets here are my own opinion of the amendments. Readers should note that I always judge to the current agreed and accepted KC Standard as last amended in 2009 and any prospective judge must do the same.

Amendments were made by the KC in 1986 to the following sections of the standard:

4. Head and Skull - the pre 1986 wording “a black nose is greatly desirable” is amended to “black nose desirable.” (The removal of the word “greatly” now indicates to a judge that a less than black nose is acceptable. In the former standard some judges would not accept anything but jet black noses interpreting the word “greatly” to mean this. In recent years we have seen more really good black noses but a pink tinge should not and never should have penalised an overall quality dog. However, there is a positive difference between a pink tinge and a completely pink nose which is not and never was acceptable. It would have avoided any doubts about this point if further wording to this effect had been included in the 1986 amendment. Regrettably it was not).

7. Mouth - the pre 1986 wording “The mouth should be level, with scissors bite, the upper teeth slightly overlapping and touching the lower teeth” is amended to read “Jaws strong, with perfect, regular and complete scissor bite, i.e. upper teeth slightly overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws.” (This is a logical and sensible amendment as there can now be no doubt how the teeth should be whereas many judges were confused by what exactly was meant by “a level mouth” and at the same time calling for “a scissor bite” as written in the earlier standard).

9. Forequarters - in the pre 1986 standard the words “The points of the scapulae should be fairly close at the withers” are now completely deleted the words “narrow front” are replaced with “medium front” and the words “pasterns should be of good length, straight but flexible” are amended to “pasterns good length, straight and flexible.” (Basenjis should never be wide fronted and the original wording was intended to convey this but the words in the former standard concerning the ‘scapulae being close at the withers’ when taken literally and in conjunction with ‘narrow front’ confused some judges into looking for dogs which were far too narrow. The new amendments are logical as long as judges bear in mind the rest of the paragraph on forequarters which makes it clear what the front is. Changing the words “straight but flexible” to “straight and flexible” when describing the pasterns seems to me of no significance except it’s a better use of English).

16. Colour - in the pre 1986 standard the words “Pure bright red, or pure black, or black and tan, all with white feet, chest and tail tips. White legs, white blaze and white collar optional.” are amended to “Pure black and white; red and white; black, tan and white with tan melon pips and mask; black, tan and white. The white should be on feet, chest and tail tip. White legs, blaze and collar optional.” (This is a logical and sensible amendment which clearly defined the 4 colours which were then accepted by the KC. The original standard’s words did not differentiate between tricolours and those without melon pips and/or masks (Fula Blacks) and many non specialist judges were confused when confronted with a dog without pips or mask or both. This adversely affected the chances of both tricolours and particularly Fula blacks winning in the ring. I knew of top quality Basenjis who were never exhibited just because they were Fula black and owners felt they had no chance at all of winning. In fact I owned such a dog myself who was never shown for this very reason).

17. Size - in the pre 1986 standard the words “An inch either way should not penalise an otherwise well balanced specimen.” were deleted in the revised standard. (The removal of this statement was misguided and unnecessary. A number of excellent Champions made up in the mid 1970’s and 80’s would never have become Champions within the size restrictions of the revised standard. I am not alone in believing it is better to have a top quality “big un” who meets the breed standard in all other respects than a whole host of “little uns” who are mediocre specimens. One can breed out size but mediocrity cannot be bred out).

18. Faults - in the pre 1986 standard the list of faults “Coarse, domed or peaked skull. Muzzle too long or too broad. Cheekiness. Mouth overshot or undershot. Round or light eyes. Ears too low-set or too large. Wide chest, barrel ribs, shelly brisket. Short in the leg, out at the elbow, toeing in. Heavy bone, cow hocks, low set or straight tail, thin flat open feet. Long or heavy coat. Creams or any other colours than those defined in the Colour paragraph should be heavily penalised. Poor temperament.” are deleted and replaced with “Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree.” (In the 1986 revision the KC removed listed faults from all the breed standards replacing them with the same new statement. Whilst the Basenji fault list may have been lengthy and contained some faults which are obvious to even the most novice judge (e.g. the colour fault) it did mention serious faults which are not made readily clear within the main paragraphs of the standard. Nobody should just fault judge but in my opinion the removal of the Basenji fault list has adversely affected the consideration and emphasis most judges place on serious faults. The revised 1986 paragraph is so general as to be meaningless for instance I defy anybody to logically explain how they can ‘regard the seriousness of a fault in exact proportion to its’ degree.’ The removal of the original fault list was the amendment that most dismayed the original breeders and Basenji experts back in 1986).

Since 1986 only three amendments have been made to the KC Basenji Breed Standard, the first was in 1999 when the KC finally approved acceptance of the Brindle Colour and at paragraph 16. Colour - the words “Brindle, red background with black stripes, the more clearly defined the stripes the better.” were added.

The second amendment was made by the KC in January 2009 when following a controversial BBC TV programme a complete health review of all breeds was carried out by the KC and they introduced a new introductory paragraph that was to be added to all Breed Standards. At the same time the KC amended many Breed Standards but not the Basenji Standard which remained unaltered except for the new introductory paragraph being added. The introductory paragraph read: A Breed Standard is the guideline which describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance of a breed and ensures that the breed is fit for function. Absolute soundness is essential. Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed. From time to time certain conditions or exaggerations may be considered to have the potential to affect dogs in some breeds adversely, and judges and breeders are requested to refer to the Kennel Club website for details of any such current issues. If a feature or quality is desirable it should only be present at the right measure. (The paragraph was wordy containing a number of vague statements that seemed meaningless. For example I would challenge any judge to explain how they would interpret what the “right measure” is of a “desirable quality” as called for in the last sentence of the new paragraph. The paragraph as it stood was an irrelevant addition to any breed standard and particularly so the Basenji Standard.)

The third amendment was made by the KC in July 2014 following much debate in dog circles about colours in some breeds leading to the introductory paragraph being amended to include the following additional words in the first sentence of the paragraph, immediately after 'temperament and appearance', including the correct colour and and at the last sentence of the paragraph following the words 'judges and breeders are requested to refer to the Kennel Club website' the wording is amended to read as follows : . here for details of any such current issues. if a feature or quality is desirable it should only be present in the right measure. However if a dog possesses a feature, characteristic or colour described as undesirable or highly undesirable it is strongly recommended that it should not be rewarded in the show ring .

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