Africa is a large and diverse continent filled with many different peoples and cultures. While there are not many dog breeds that can trace their origins to Africa, those that can are some of the most unique. Many of the African dog breeds are ancient and have been providing companionship, protection, and hunting assistance for the peoples of Africa for thousands of years. From the tiny Chinese Crested to the massive Boerboel, all have been bred to meet specific needs and all are worth a closer look.
Tall, lean, and lanky, the Azawakh may appear fragile but it is anything but. Bred to chase prey across the African savannah, this ancient breed of sighthound possesses great endurance and speed.
Similar to the greyhound in appearance, this African dog can appear to the untrained eye to be too thin, even emaciated. This is actually a prime condition for this breed and is the result of body shape, thin skin, and a short, fine-haired coat, not underfeeding.
The elegant Azawakh is a beautiful dog. There are no specific markings or colorations for the Azawakh so they can be found in almost any color scheme.
Their short, shiny coat makes grooming a breeze and shedding only a minimal nuisance. Although friendly and loyal, they tend to be independent and may require vigorous training to keep them in line. As a working breed, they require to exercise every day but are not known to be high-strung.
The Azawakh is known to be patient and gentle with family members but not so much with strangers. While not actively aggressive they are reserved with people they don’t know. Not suited for apartment living, they do best in open areas where they have access to a fenced yard and fewer people.
- Height– 23 to 29 inches
- Weight – 33 to 55 pounds
- Appearance – tall and slender, hips and ribs visible in prime condition
- Color – found in a wide variety of colors and markings
- Personality – affectionate, gentle, and attentive with people they trust, quiet and reserved with those they don’t
The Basenji is one of the better-known African breeds, gaining popularity in the United States as the “barkless dog” – allegedly addressing one of the common frustrations of dog ownership. Bred to be hunters, they are energetic, intelligent, and independent.
Basenjis are relatively small dogs with sleek coats and a regal bearing. They are intelligent and inquisitive in nature.
The independence of this African dog breed can make them challenging to train but once trained they are loyal and obedient. They can be found in any dark colors, including brindle, but all must have white feet, chest, and the tip of tail to meet the breed standard.
Basenjis, like many of the African dog breeds, are known to be protective of their family and aloof with strangers, so socialization at a young age is necessary to avoid aggression. They require a lot of exercise and tend to be high-strung if confined.
This African dog may be best suited for a rural lifestyle where they can run and burn off their energy. They also make excellent hunting dogs, using both their sight and smell to track down prey and their speed and agility to flush it out.
- Height – 16 to 17 inches
- Weight – 20 to 25 pounds
- Appearance – small and refined, sleek but not bony
- Color – any dark color scheme with white chest, feet, and the tip of the tail
- Personality – independent, inquisitive, and intelligent, not good with strangers
Chinese Crested Dog
Regardless of its name, the Chinese Crested Dog originated in Africa. This is the tiniest of the African dog breeds. They can either be largely hairless, with hair only on their head, ears, feet, and tail, or powder puff, with hair covering their entire bodies. These dogs were bred to be companions to royalty and so are accustomed to a life of ease.
The Chinese Crested is friendly and outgoing and is more likely to hide when frightened than show aggression. They frequently suffer from separation anxiety and so are not suited for owners who do not spend much of their time at home.
This dog breed is eager to please and easy to train. They do best with a fair amount of exercise but their small size makes it possible for them to get all they need without leaving home. They can be found in any color.
The Chinese Crested may be the perfect companion dog for apartment dwellers or the elderly or infirm. The powderpuff types do require a fair amount of grooming to keep them looking their best but shedding is not a problem. They cannot tolerate the cold and are happiest when curled up on their owner’s lap, safe and warm.
- Height – 11 to 13 inches
- Weight – 8 to 12 pounds
- Appearance – either hairless, except for the head, ears, feet, and tail, or completely covered in fine hair
- Color – any color scheme is acceptable
- Personality – affectionate, needy, prone to anxiety
Coton de Tulear
The Coton de Tulear originated on the island of Madagascar, off the coast of South Africa. It is also known as the Royal Dog of Madagascar because the royal family enjoyed them so much that they made it illegal for anyone but royalty to own them. Thankfully, those days have passed and now anyone can enjoy the company of this small, affectionate, and endearing ball of white fluff.
Lively and intelligent, the Coton de Tulear is eager to please and responsive. They train very easily and seem to enjoy learning new things.
This African dog is gregarious in nature and is open and friendly, even with strangers. They are more likely to try to win a new person over with tricks or affection than show any aggression.
They adapt well to apartment life but are not so fragile that they cannot withstand the rigors of an outdoorsy lifestyle. They do require a good bit of grooming, mostly brushing and trimming their thick luxurious coat.
- Height – 9 to 11 inches
- Weight – 8 to 15 pounds
- Appearance – short and compact with a long cotton-like coat
- Color – white, sometimes with tan or yellow makings
- Personality – intelligent, happy, energetic, eager to please
The Rhodesian Ridgeback, also known as the African Lion Hound, was bred by white settlers to Africa for both protection and hunting. Their official name derives from the distinctive ridge of hair that runs down their back from the shoulder blades to the hips.
Bred to hunt in packs, these dogs will be protective and affectionate with their human pack but must be properly trained to know their place in that pack. They are large and powerful but can be gentle, especially with children.
The Rhodesian Ridgeback is smart and playful but can be difficult to train. They have a tendency to challenge the perceived leader of their family pack and must be taught at a young age, before they reach an adult weight of 100+ pounds, that they belong to the part of the pack that takes orders, not gives them.
They are not well suited to the urban environment as they crave lots of exercise. If they are not given enough time to run and play, they tend to become hyper and bored leading to various behavior problems. When properly trained and exercised they make great family dogs, being both gentle and protective.
- Height – 24 to 27 inches
- Weight – 70 to 100 pounds
- Appearance – large and powerful with a broad chest and muscular legs, short sleek coat
- Color – light tan to red with darker hairs mixed in, grizzled, usually a solid color but may have small patches of white on toes or chest
- Personality – intelligent, playful, rarely aggressive
Abyssinian Sand Terrier
The Abyssinian Sand Terrier is perhaps the rarest of the African dog breeds, still found largely only in South Africa. The heritage of this African hairless dog is not clear, but it is believed to be the ancestor of the Chinese Crested Dogs. Perhaps in part because of their rarity, they have not been accepted as an official breed by either the UKC or the AKC.
The Sand Terrier is a mid-sized dog, weighing in around forty pounds. It is almost completely hairless, except for small tufts on its head and tail.
Like many of the African dog breeds, they are hardier than they appear but they cannot tolerate the cold. They can be found in many colors, frequently mottled, sometimes spotted. They have a slightly comical appearance brought on by their large bat-like ears but their eyes are bright and alert.
Although hard to acquire, their lack of hair may make them worth the effort for those with allergies. They are best suited for warm climates as even with sweaters, coats, or blankets exposure to cold or snow could be harmful to them. They are known to be loyal, fearless, and playful making them a great pet for those who have the right living conditions.
- Height – 15 to 21 inches
- Weight – 21 to 40 pounds
- Appearance – hairless except for small tufts on head and tail, small but solidly built, the skin should be smooth and tight, not wrinkly
- Color – found in black, tan, bronze, and grey, often a mottled patchwork of all of those colors
- Personality – playful, inquisitive, and friendly
The Sloughi is one of the ancient African dog breeds. It was developed to hunt everything from hares to hyenas and so is both agile and quick while still being large enough to approach larger prey. It is also fast enough to challenge gazelles and other fleet prey animals while having the stamina to run all day if necessary. This breed is still highly valued as a hunting dog in the countries of North Africa where it originated.
Also known as the Arabian Greyhound, the Sloughi is tall and slender with long legs and a narrow body. Its head is small, merging almost seamlessly its long neck, with a long muzzle and small ears.
Developed as a hunting dog, this African dog breed requires a good deal of exercise to keep them in prime condition. Lack of exercise and stimulation will also lead to boredom and behavior problems.
These African dogs are definitely not apartment-friendly. They need wide open spaces to run. Although affectionate and tender with their families they can be fearful and aloof around strangers. They can be hard to train so need a firm hand but, as they are very sensitive, they do not do well with harsh treatment.
- Height – 24 to 29 inches
- Weight – 35 to 50 pounds
- Appearance – tall and thin with a long neck and legs, small head, almond-shaped eyes, and small ears set high on the head
- Color – found in colors ranging from cream to reddish-brown, may have dark points but shouldn’t have any white
- Personality – sensitive, shy, attentive with people they know, standoffish with those they don’t
The Boerboel is the largest of the ancient African dog breeds. The name translates as the “Farmer’s Dog” as it was originally bred in South Africa to protect the farmers and their stock. Since the threat to the farmers included animals like lions and hyenas, these are massive and powerful creatures. They are still valued as guard dogs around the world due not only to their large size but also their fierce loyalty.
Like other dog breeds developed for protection, the Boerboel has a large, square head and powerful jaws. It is heavily muscled and broad-chested, with a thick neck and sturdy legs.
They do not require a lot of exercise but their large size means they fare better in larger homes. Their short fur requires little grooming and they are not plagued by skin problems like many short-haired dog breeds.
While too large for most apartments they do not need a lot of open space. Despite their size, they are gentle and loving with their families, especially children. It is vital that they are socialized at a young age or their protectiveness may cause problems.
- Height – 22 to 27 inches
- Weight – 150 to 200 pounds
- Appearance – heavily muscled and stocky, large head and neck, broad shoulders and hips
- Color – any shade of fawn and brown, frequently brindled and may have a white blaze on the head or a white chest
- Personality – intelligent, loyal, gentle, and protective
Like most dogs, the African dog breeds vary widely in their personalities and needs. As with any pet, take the time to research the dog breeds you are interested in and make sure they match your living arrangements and lifestyle.