Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.
Most of the dogs I met during my years in Africa were of the "mixed breed" variety, and among most village dogs, there is no selection for the "best." That said, there are several good breeds of dog native to Africa, and this article highlights the five I think are the best. Some of them are sighthounds, some of them are scenthounds, and some of them are just good old hounds. Each of these breeds is discussed in detail in the sections that follow.
5 Great African Dog Breeds to Consider
- Rhodesian Ridgeback
This is not an easy dog to find, but it's definitely one of my favorites. This sighthound is a desert dog used to hunt gazelle but also kept to act as a livestock guard dog. The dog is tall (about 70 cm or 28 inches at the shoulders) and thin (usually less than 25 kilos, or about 50 pounds), with a thin skin and short red or fawn coat.
These dogs are originally from the southern Sahara or Sub-Saharan Africa, where Tuareg keep them around their villages to guard goat herds and hunt. They usually do so in a pack, unlike most sighthounds.
Azawakh like to run, of course, and in a pack, they seem to be that much happier. In addition to hunting together, they sleep in packs, have a social hierarchy similar to wolf packs, and are nervous around strangers and anything new and will attack as long as they have a pack to back them up.
The breed is very healthy, and owners really only need to worry about physical injuries. Azawakh only come into heat once a year, and most have small litters. They live about 12 years and are admired for their fine gallop, speed, and ability to withstand heat that would kill a dog like a Greyhound.
2. Rhodesian Ridgeback
This big African breed (they weigh 30 to 40 kilos, or 70 to 85 pounds) was developed in South Africa from European and native breeds. The Khoikhoi tribe also had a dog (maybe the Africanis?) with a length of hair on the back growing in the reverse direction, and this breed was probably crossed with Bloodhounds, Foxhounds, Greyhounds, and Great Danes to make the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
Some fanciers consider this breed a scenthound since that is how they tend to hunt in the brush. Others consider them sighthounds since they are related to Greyhounds and do so well in coursing competitions. A third contingent views them as “wagon hounds” since they are multi-purpose hunting and guard dogs. It really doesn’t matter. They can also be considered primitive dogs (since they are related to the native Khoikhoi dogs) or cur-dogs (since they also drove livestock).
In addition to problems like hip dysplasia and bloat, this breed has some unusual health issues because of the ridge on its back. Some dogs are born with a defect called dermoid sinus, which is like a sterile abscess under the skin that has to be surgically removed. Some puppies are born without a ridge at all, and they cannot compete in dog shows.
Since these dogs are so powerful, they do need to be socialized and obedience trained. The Rhodesian Ridgeback lives about 10 or 11 years, and during those years, they make excellent companions.
The Basenji is a small dog (only about 11 kilos, or 24 pounds) and the best known African dog for several reasons. They do not bark, but they do have a howl/yodel. They only come into heat once a year, unlike most breeds, which do so every six months or so. Basenjis also have an unusual twist to their tail, a unique squint, and a personality different than most domestic dogs.
This might also be the most ancient dog breed. They were probably descended from Asian wolves but have lived in Africa for thousands of years, driving game into nets and working with human hunters for much of that time.
Basenjis are not as healthy as some other African dogs but have fewer problems than many of the purebreds from Europe. Some of them are prone to retinal atrophy (PRA), hypothyroidism, and Fanconi syndrome, a kidney disease. There is now a test available for this disease so that it can be identified early and maybe even eliminated from the Basenji population.
Basenjis live about 13 or 14 years. They can be great companions but may not get along with other animals (cats, rodents, etc). In another article, a Basenji fancier commented that they are notoriously stubborn, easily bored, and destructive as soon as your back is turned. What a great dog!
This large dog from South Africa was bred to guard homesteads against lions and other large predators. They may be part Bullmastiff, part Mastiff, and part native African dog. No one is really sure, but the dog that exists now is large and powerful.
Boerboel are usually fawn, red, or light brown with a short coat and a black mask. They have a blocky head, a muscular body, and look built to handle any situation.
Like any giant dog, they have to be trained on how to handle that weight. Socialization is important if the dog is going to accept family members and strangers, and adequate exercise is important to keep them from getting bored and becoming destructive.
They are healthy for big dogs (they get up to about 65 kilos, or 150 pounds), but can have hip dysplasia, eyelid problems, and a few less common diseases. Boerboel typically live about 10 years. If you are looking for a great family guard dog, they are one of the best.
This native African sighthound is from the north of the continent. Research has found that the Sloughi is related to the Azawakh but not the Saluki—fanciers in Morocco do not really accept this and believe the dog has a noble origin.
None of the veterinarians I worked with in the Ministry of Agriculture in Morocco accept this breed as a relative of the Azawakh. All believe the dog is related to the Saluki and other hunting dogs of the Mid East.
This breed may have come through Egypt or Ethiopia on its way west. Nowadays, they are used for hunting gazelle, and a few people still count on them guarding the home. Unlike the Azawakh, they do not work as livestock guard dogs since the Berbers have another breed that serves this purpose (the Aidi, or Kelb Rihali).
Sloughis have less muscle than Greyhounds and Whippets and are usually sandy or reddish and sometimes brindled. They don’t have very much white and are an attractive sight with their light gait, thin bodies, and natural colors.
Like a lot of native purebreds, the Sloughi is not prone to many genetic diseases. Some dogs do have retinal atrophy (PRA), but there is now a test for it so it might be eliminated in the near future. There is not much data about life expectancy, so it is probably about as long as the Azawakh, although some sites do say dogs live to be about 15.
If you find one of these dogs, they do not make the best companions in an apartment, but they can do well in a country house where they have more room to exercise.
What African Dogs Did Not Make This List?
There are several good breeds that I did not include here.
- Abyssinian Sand Terrier: The dog from east Africa is hairless and may actually be the forebear of the Chinese Crested. They are small, usually grey or black, and usually only a little over 10 kilos (About 25 pounds). Like all hairless dogs, they do not do well in cold areas, and like many African dogs, they are hard to find.
- Africanis: This is a type of native "pariah" breed that has been around the southern part of Africa for thousands of years. They are pretty healthy but unlike the Rhodesian Ridgeback, which may be one of their descendants, they are difficult to find outside of their native country.
- Aidi: This is a type of sheepdog found in the Atlas mountains of Morocco. Theyu are hard to find outside of Morocco. I have worked with several of these dogs and do not consider them among the best because they did not seem suited to a domesticated life.
- Coton de Tutelar: If you are looking for a tiny dog of African origin, this is the only choice. They are similar to the Maltese in size and looks, but many owners report that they are a lot more intelligent.
Where to Find an African Dog
If you are interested in owing one of these African dog breeds, you should check with your local animal shelter and find out if the dog you are looking for is there. Dogs will sometimes lose their homes after a move, and you will never know if you do not check.
You can also check Petfinder.com. They keep a listing of dogs available in animal shelters in your area and far away. Find out if the dog you want is available.
If you don’t have any luck, you can try rescue groups or visit a dog show if you want a Basenji; talk to some of the breeders you meet and find out what is available. For the other breeds, you will need to search for breeders over the internet, but do not buy without going and visiting your new puppy.
Whatever you do, don't buy from a pet shop. You will be supporting a puppy mill.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: I am looking for an African breed of dog, but I'm not sure which of Basenji or Africanist I should have, since I also have chickens in my yard. Which one should I buy?
Answer: Neither of these breeds is a good choice if you also want to raise chickens. All of the pariah breeds like the Africanis are a little more likely to hunt, and the Basenji is actually bred to hunt birds. (Not chickens!)
If you want an African breed, have you considered the Boerboel? Livestock guard dogs are also great around almost all livestock, including chickens.
(You can also look into Guinea fowl instead of chickens. They will fly and can get away from dogs unless their feathers are soaked. Most dogs will give up after chasing these birds once or twice.)
Question: Are there indigenous dogs in Kenya? Why are they not used for breeding?
Answer: There are some native dogs in East Africa used for hunting, herding cattle, etc, but I am not aware of any selection process so no true breed has been established.
Question: My Boerboel does not bark. What do I do?
Answer: Your dog will probably bark when he feels he has something to guard. How old is he? Some young dogs do not bark until they are older and feel like protecting their property.
If you want him to bark to guard your property, read https://hubpages.com/dogs/dog-training-how-to-trai...
If he still does not want to bark, I have seen some dogs start barking when they have another dog to emulate. A dog like a Schnauzer is a great teacher.
If none of this works, consider taking him to your local vet for an exam. There may be something wrong.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on July 01, 2018:
Tina, before mating the dogs, be sure to have them both examined.Discuss genetic diseases with your vet and have any testing done to screen the dogs. Make sure you have homes for the puppies before breeding so that they will not end up dead in some animal shelter.
Tina on June 30, 2018:
We have female boerboel and a pure male borberman. Can we cross them?
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on April 18, 2013:
Thanks Georgie! I have never shared my home with an Azawakh but they sure look like an interesting dog. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment.
GH Price from North Florida on April 18, 2013:
Your Hubs are always so informational, most of these guys I've never heard of. These guys are all beautiful, but I think I like the Azawakh the best. Thank you for the info!