Mrs. Piper and I are the domestic servants of a basenji. It’s quite true: ours doesn’t bark. The most we’ve ever heard is a single, experimental “yap” kind of noise when the other household ruler, the miniature dachshund, is barking his fool head off at something, and the basenji tries to imitate him in a frustrated sort of way.
She does “sing,” though - or “yodel,” or just plain howl. She can make a tremendous amount of noise when she’s frustrated or lonely. We once were driving out to the lake in tandem with my parents and they took the basenji in their car while we were loading up ours. Before we got finished loading, they were driving back in and gave us back the basenji. Apparently as soon as she realised she was being dognapped by strangers, she just started howling. They went for a few miles with non-stop howling before giving up and driving back to town.
The explanation that I’ve heard is that basenjis are a “primitive” breed - one of the earliest domesticated dogs. In the wild, barking is actually a juvenile puppy sound, while adults howl: adult wolves and coyotes don’t bark, they howl. Over the millenia of domestication, other dogs have been bred with that juvenile behaviour because of the desire to have watch dogs who let you know when someone’s prowling around. Basenjis were originally bred for hunting, in packs, so barking wasn’t needed as a desired characteristic.
I thought it was a bit of wishful thinking on basenji owners’s part, sort of “dog lore”, but awhile ago I came across a website that said that DNA tracking of dogs did indicate that basenjis had deviated from most domestic dogs considerably farther back than most other breeds, so maybe there’s something to it.
Whatever - if you’re looking at getting a basenji because they don’t bark:
The other thing is that they are one of the most stubborn breeds of dogs to train - not stupid-stubborn, but smart-stubborn. Sounds sort of like Phlosphr’s experience with a Rhodesian Ridgeback.