Description of the AFRICANIS land race.

Compiled by Johan Gallant, advised by the late Joseph Sithole.

Date of publication : 1 January 1999
Copyright The Africanis Society of Southern Africa 1999 ©


The traditional dogs of Southern Africa, together, make up what we could call a "land race". This land race, because of natural environmental conditions and a certain degree of selection by man, did evolve into different "ecotypes" with sub-varieties. The custodians of the dogs emphasise on physical and mental aptness rather than on superficial external homogeneity. However, they differentiate between types, not so much at birth, but rather when the dog has reached adulthood and displays certain properties and abilities common to a specific type.

Selective breeding on specific features could split this heterogeneous land race into multiple so called "improved breeds". To start with, one could differentiate between the sub varieties as they are described in various communities and breed selectively within these parameters. Further segregation could take place based on size, type of coat, colour, ear and tail carriage, etc.

The aim of the Africanis Society is to avoid such differentiation and to conserve the traditional dogs of Southern Africa as an heterogeneous entity that has been forged primarily through thousands of years of natural selection. Natural selection is still the best recipe for creating individuals which are adapted to their environment, tolerant against parasites and common diseases, and which are virtually free of hereditary disabilities. Conservation of the "Africanis" is aimed at preserving this "acclimatised" gene pool.

Not many primitive dogs - as they occurred in ancient human cultures - are left. The "Africanis" has its origin, and is linked to the sight- and pariah hounds which in pre-dynastic times were introduced into the Nile valley from the Levant. With the consecutive migrations of Early- and Later Iron Using people, they spread into Southern Africa where they became endemic. Since their arrival as from the 6th century AD, they have played a social and cultural role in the different societies to which they belonged. They mean a cultural and biological heritage. Conserving the Africanis would also be conserving bio-diversity.

The description which follows broadly applies to any primitive dog breed which originated in the Levant. Where variables occur, they are respectively due to the predominance of graioïd features above pariah particularities, or vice versa. These were the ingredients which seven thousand years ago formed the corner stones of the proto-Africanis.

Description of fixed and variable features :

(When after several thousands of years of predominantly natural selection, variables still occur in certain features, it only means that such characteristics are of no direct influence on the physical and mental well being of the dog. Tampering with them to obtain fashionable homogeneity would therefore simply be inappropriate).

Regions of Occurrence : Southern Africa (Similar dogs occur further north in the lacu- strine region and beyond. (In Swahili they are called Umbwa wa ki-shenzi or traditional dogs).

Specific suitabilities : Watchful companion in and around the homestead, able to work with livestock. Also a hunting hound combining sight and scent with great efficiency.

Classification : Primitive Hound.

General Appearance :

  1. Medium-sized, slender built, dry and well muscled. Gives the impression of a swift, enduring and efficient dog. When in good condition the ribs are just visible.

Important Proportions :

  1. The length of the body measured from the point of the shoulder angulation to the buttock slightly exceeds the height at the highest point of the withers.

Demeanour and Character :

  1. Because the Africanis has for centuries roamed freely in and around rural settlements, it combines attachment to humans with a necessity for space and freedom of movement.
  2. The people to whom these dogs traditionally belong do not tend to make body contact with them. However their settlements are seldom deserted from humans, other dogs and livestock, ensuring adequate socialisation and environmental adaptation. This also entails that the Africanis displays watchful territorial behaviour.
  3. They are well-disposed without being obtrusive. When pushed around the Africanis can demonstrate reactive aggression.
  4. The Africanis displays unspoiled social canine behaviour with a high level of facial expressions and body language towards congeners and humans. Therefore, when approached correctly, it is easily trainable.
  5. Although it is a hound with a swift chase response, it is able to live in and around the homesteads in the company of livestock without ever harming it. This is a result of correct environmental adaptation and imprinting.
  6. The rather demanding conditions, imposed by its environment, have over the years induced the Africanis into an energy conserving life style.
  7. It has a steady nerve constitution but is always cautious in its approach to new situations. In other words it displays a high survival instinct.
  8. During the hunt it is active and alert, shows great eagerness and toughness.
  9. It is a great opportunist that easily adapts to modern western lifestyle without however losing its natural need for space and a certain degree of freedom.
  10. It has to be noted that the Africanis has never been used to the western concept of dog obedience training. However, because of its innate subservience and a high sense of attachment to pack leader, it follows its handler in a natural way.


Head : Indicating the Africanis’ ancient origins, its head simultaneously features particularities found in primitive sight- and pariah hounds. Although the head is streamlined, elongated and wedge shaped, it gives the impression of strength.
Top skull: Flat, moderately wide between the ears. Frontal furrow gradually becomes less pronounced across the upper head until it disappears when it reaches the not pronounced occiput. The top skull runs parallel to the ridge of the nose. Its skin may wrinkle when the dog is attentive.
Stop: Slight.
Fore face :
Muzzle : Prolonged wedge without exaggeration, about as long as the skull. Ridge is straight.
Nose : Rather large, full, pointed, usually black. (Note: partly unpigmented noses are sensitive to the African sun).
Lips : Usually black, clean with often a little bell in the corners. It seems to play a role in facial expression
Jaws: Strong.
Teeth: Normally a full set of strong, healthy, white teeth meeting in a scissors or pincers bite. (Dogs born in rural   areas can show deteriorated teeth. This is usually due to an onslaught of distemper at a very young age).
Eyes : Medium to large, oval, slightly slanting, colours range from yellow to black. Often accentuated by a black rim and/or expressive eyebrows. Alert, mild and intelligent expression. No entropion, nor ectropion.
Ears : Set on laterally, V-shaped, of medium size, carried erect or drooping in any position. The most important facet is that they are mobile and linked to the dog’s awareness of its environment.
Neck :Clean, dry, well muscled and of medium length. Flexible - In stand and alert, carried at approximately 45° to a horizontal line, on the move, the neck tends to follow the body’s top line.
Body : Slender, slightly longer than high.
Withers : Tips of shoulder blades wide apart and just perceptible above the thoracic vertebrae.
Back (Thoracic part of the spine): Slightly sloping towards the anticlinal vertebra.
Loin (Lumbar part of the spine): Strong, fairly broad, raises slightly to the first sacral vertebra.
Pelvic slope : Steep (±30-40°). Huckle bones are generally somewhat prominent, always equal to, or slightly higher than the withers.
Croup : Short, sloping to set on of tail.
Tail : Set on half way between huckle bone and ischial protuberance, harmoniously continuing the slope of the croup, reaching approximately to hock. The tail is closely coated, medium thick, narrowing to the gently upward curved tip (The tip of an entirely straight tail is prone to injury). Functionally mobile - carriage varies in function of mood and/or environmental stimuli. A darker triangle at the upper outer part of the tail, approximately one quarter from its onset, is often present. It indicates the place where the caudal gland used to be.
Chest : Shallow, moderately broad, oval in shape, roomy. Ribs well arched, slanting rearwards. Sternum not reaching to elbows. (Depth of chest - sternum to ground : ratio 1 - 1.3).
General : The fore legs are straight, long, dry, with strong big oval bones. Muscles and tendons are clearly visible. Seen from the front the upper part forms an inverted "V".
Shoulder blades: Wide apart, long and oblique, dryly muscled. Angle between shoulder blade and upper arm is obuse (±120-130°).
Upper arm: Equal in length to shoulder blade.
Fore arm: Longer than upper arm.
Pasterns: Strong, slightly sloping.
Feet: Large, oval, strong, supple. Toes are well arched, neither splayed out nor cat-footed. Pads are thick, hard and pigmented. Unpigmented pads and nails are undesirable. The front paws larger in area than rear paws.
General: Hind legs are long and dry.
Upper thigh : Broad with well developed and dry muscles.
Stifle : Moderately bent - i.e. when standing normally with rear pastern vertical to the ground, the front edge of the paw is directly under the rear of the buttock.
Under thigh : Long, with well developed and dry muscles.
Rear pastern : Longer than the front pastern.
Hind feet : As fore feet but slightly smaller. Extra 5th toes or rear dew claws sporadically occur.

Gait :Walk, trot, canter and gallop are common ways of moving. The Africanis normally uses the pace-like walk or the pace in the slower rate of travel. He should be able to trot and/or canter for long periods on rough terrain and in a hillside environment, going into gallop when real speed is required. The trot is light and effortless, with moderate stride. Viewed from the front or rear, the trotting movement reveals, as the speed increases, a natural tendency for the limbs to converge towards a central line of travel (nearly single tracking).

Coat :
Texture :Compact short coated, harsh and thick, very short on head and limbs. The length and density of the undercoat varies with the seasons. Wire-haired dogs are possible. A ridge on back: (symmetric or non-symmetric of indefinite length can occur).
Colour : Any colour or combinations permissible.
Skin : dark and loose to body. (In the event of a superficial injury, a loose skin ensures that the damage remains skin-deep and that subcutaneous tissue and muscles stay intact.)
Size :For dogs and bitches usually between 50 and 60 cm at the withers, but even 2-3 cm smaller or bigger individuals can occur.

Note : Male Africanis have two testicles normally descended into a tight carried and well protected scrotum.