Out of Africa: Great Dogs You’ve Never Heard Of

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

basenji dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • Several dogs originated in Africa, including the barkless Basenji and the Rhodesian Ridgeback, also known as the African Lion Dog
  • The Republic of Madagascar lays claim to the Royal Dog of Madagascar, the intelligent, joyful little Coton de Tulear

Native Dogs of Africa

Dogs originating in Africa include:

Abyssinian Sand Terrier






Another dog that hails from the old growth forest regions of the Congo Basin in Africa is the Basenji, an ancient hunting breed that’s considered “barkless,” thanks to an oddly shaped larynx that produces more of a yodel than a bark. Basenjis are also unique in that they come into estrus only once a year instead of two or more times like most dogs. In addition, the breed has little to no “doggy smell.”


These little dogs are known to be alert, energetic and inquisitive. They’re climbers, so chain link fences aren’t much of a challenge. They tend to bond closely to a favorite human. Things Basenjis don’t like can include other non-canine pets and wet weather. Basenjis often stand on their hind legs (think meerkat), either by balancing or by leaning on something, to investigate a curiosity. They have a strong prey drive, and are said to be difficult to train.

The handsome Rhodesian Ridgeback is also native to Africa, specifically Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), and is also known as the African Lion Hound or African Lion Dog.

The Rhodesian Ridgeback's distinguishing feature is a ridge of hair that runs along the back in the opposite direction from the rest of the coat. The ridge is usually about 2 inches in width at its widest point. But despite being named for the unique ridge, many purebred Rhodesian Ridgebacks don't possess this physical trait.

Rhodesian ridgeback puppy

These dogs are said to be willful, often stubborn and known for testing boundaries. They’re independent, intelligent and confident dogs that need an assertive guardian who will insist on appropriate training and boundary setting. That said, Ridgies are also sensitive to criticism and harsh discipline, and should learn how to get on in the world through the use of positive reinforcement behavior training.

The Royal Dog of Madagascar

There may be only one dog native to the island of Madagascar, the adorably fluffy Coton de Tulear. The Coton's ancestors may have been brought to Madagascar in the 16th and 17th centuries on pirate ships, perhaps to control rats on the ships, or as companions, or as booty stolen from other ships. Tulear is a port now also known as Toliara.

The Coton is linked most closely to the Bichon Tenerife and the Tenerife Terrier. The dogs were bred as companions for the ruling tribe in Madagascar, which is why they have very little prey drive or interest in hunting. Their unique cottony coat may be the result of a single gene mutation.

coton de tulear dog

When an American, Dr. Robert Jay Russell, discovered the breed in Madagascar in 1973 and brought the first ones to the U.S., he coined the phrase the Royal Dog of Madagascar and the name stuck. In 1974, Madagascar released a stamp with an image of the Coton, affirming their status nation's "royal dog".

The Coton de Tulear weighs from 11 to 15 pounds, and has a medium-to-long, fluffy, cottony coat that is more like hair than fur. It’s a non-shedding breed with low dander and little to no odor when bathed and groomed regularly. Cotons are very eager to please, which makes them easy to train.

The Coton is known to be a playful, affectionate, intelligent little dog. Although normally quiet, they tend to make lots of joyful noise when having fun, running, playing or swimming. They also have a habit of jumping up and walking on their hind legs to please their people!

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