As the world’s second-largest continent, Africa is home to many exotic animal species. Tourists flock to Africa to go on safaris, where they have a chance to spot the continent’s amazing elephants, giraffes, and lions on wildlife preserves. Typically overlooked are their dogs, which vary enormously and have unique appearances, temperaments, and history. Some breeds are widespread across the globe, while others only exist in Africa.
The diverse landscape of Africa varies from desert to tropical rainforests and mountains to grassy savannah. African dogs have several common qualities. They’ve adapted to the continent’s hot climate with short coats and lean bodies. They’re energetic, working dogs that have developed intense hunting and guarding instincts. They also tend to bond well with their people and have established a reliance on each other.
Here are 12 unique African dog breeds that dog lovers enjoy.
Looking at a saluki, the first thing you’ll notice is how tall and slender they appear. While they are slim, salukis are very strong, balanced, and athletic. Historians believe the breed is one of the oldest globally, possibly dating back to 7000 B.C. Salukis were favorites of Egyptian pharaohs and kings throughout history, and their elegant appearance is likely why they are still popular pets in current times. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the saluki in 1927, which marks its rise in popularity in the U.S.
The unique Rhodesian ridgeback was created when breeders crossed the native ridged Khoikhoi dog with European breeds like various terriers brought to southern Africa by Dutch colonists. Hunters found these ridged dogs excellent at confronting lions, which made them extremely valuable hunting dogs. They were also proven experts at fending off dangerous animals like leopards and monkeys and could hunt prey, like antelope, for food. The active and loyal breed increases in popularity each year, especially in the U.S.
African Wild Dog
Also known as the painted dog or painted wolf, the African wild dog is a unique canine species Lycaon pictus that typically roams the plains and woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa in packs. These wild dogs are not domesticated and are like the wolves of the African continent. They hunt antelope, rodents, birds, and sometimes, even large wildebeests. Hunters and farmers often kill African wild dogs due to their threatening behavior. These wild dogs are endangered animals.
Aidi (Atlas Mountain Dog)
Even though this breed hails from the hot African continent, the Aidi’s coat is actually thick, dense, and soft to the touch. Their plush coat is one of the reasons why the Aidi reminds owners so much of traditional sheepdogs. The breed was originally developed in Morocco to protect its owners from predators in the mountains where they worked. Because Aidis are smart, protective, and loyal, they became popular pets. The American Kennel Club does not currently recognize the breed, but it is recognized by several other canine organizations and continues to prove its excellence in North Africa.
Boerboels are often mistaken for cane Corsos or a mastiff-type due to their large, muscular appearance and blocky head. Their looks are powerful and intimidating, but boerboels are gentle giants that are intelligent and loyal companions and are exceptionally great with kids. The breed came to fruition after interbreeding between European guard dogs, including bull and mastiff types and African bloodlines. The boerboel, translated as the “farmers dog,” was kept by farmers due to its fearless attitude and protective nature.
The history of the sloughi breed remains largely a mystery, but experts can confirm that hunters especially loved hounds like the sloughi, and they were popular hunting companions among Egyptian royalty as well as nomads. They are commonly found in Morocco, where it is still used for hunting. Sloughis are also used as guard dogs because of their aloofness towards strangers. But don’t be fooled—sloughis are often affectionate among those they know, and they make lovely pets.
The Basenji may have a small and compact body, but that does not mean they aren’t athletic. Basenjis have an incredible amount of stamina and, thus, they have high exercise needs to prevent boredom. If you can meet their exercise needs, Basenjis are lovely, affectionate pets. A plus—Basenjis don’t bark. Instead, they make yodeling noises that are less disruptive. If that’s not enough for you, the Basenji has a long history of domestication, proving that they make top-notch pets. The breed is depicted in ancient Egyptian artifacts, and Basenjis can also be found in ancient Babylonian and Mesopotamian art.
Abyssinian Sand Terrier (Hairless African Dog)
This extremely rare breed originated in Africa and features long bodies and varying skin tones. The most striking feature of this breed is its hairlessness. They often have hair on their heads and the ends of their tails. Abyssinian sand terriers are quiet and calm, but they love exercising with their owners. Abyssinian sand terriers are fearless, loyal, and eager to please their owners.
The exact origin of the Chinese crested is unknown, but experts believe they evolved from other African hairless dogs that were crossed with smaller Chinese breeds. You may be familiar with the adorable Chinese crested dog, if you are an avid dog show viewer. Chinese cresteds stand out among other dog breeds because of their highly unique look. The breed is primarily hairless with pink-ish skin. Tufts of hair typically top their heads, giving them a fun, furry hairdo. While these dogs are tiny, Chinese cresteds are very energetic and love to spend time running and walking with their owners.
Coton de Tulear
Upon hearing the words “African dog,” the white, fluffy coton de tulear is likely the last kind of dog that comes to mind. This short, squat, and cotton puff is a happy companion dog that loves being around its owners and amusing them with its silly antics or fun tricks. The breed was once the preferred lapdog of the nobles of Madagascar, an island nation off the coast of Africa. These nobles wanted to keep the adorable breed for themselves, and thus the coton de tulear was isolated from the rest of the world for centuries. In the 1960s, French tourists discovered the breed and brought it to Europe, making it an instant hit. The American Kennel Club registered the breed in 2014.
The Africanis is one of the few primitive breeds left globally and is an indigenous South African dog breed. Previously dismissed as mongrels, DNA testing confirms that the Africanis is a distinct breed. It dates back further than the Egyptian dynasties, with origins from approximately 7000 BC. It looks like a cross between a greyhound and a dingo. Today, the Africanis exists in rural tribal communities in South Africa, where they continue their traditional lifestyle as their hunting, herding, and guard dogs.
The ancient and elegant Azawakh originates from the West African Sahara Desert. Their name comes from the Azawakh Valley, which lies in the desert between Mali and Niger, translating to “Land of the North.” They are loyal to their families but can act wary around strangers. This high-prey-drive sighthound also guards the livestock of their nomadic Tuareg herders. They are highly regarded for their companionship and hunting skills. They are well adapted to living in harsh desert climes.
Breeds to Avoid
If you have your heart set on getting an African dog, the worst choice would be taking in an African wild dog puppy. These dogs are tough to come by in the U.S., and in most cases, these dogs are illegal to keep a majority of the states (like other wild canines, such as wolves and foxes). These exotic wild dogs are hypercarnivores, requiring meat for 70% of their diet. If you have your heart on an African dog, then the easiest to find would likely be the Rhodesian ridgeback, coton de Tulear, and basenji.