9 African Dog Breeds That Are Affectionate, Brave and Absolutely Adorable

If you went back to Africa in 4,500 B.C., it’s highly likely you’d see some of the exact same dogs you’d find across the continent today. This is what sets African dog breeds apart from most European dog breeds. African dog breeds evolved naturally to adapt to their environments, whereas most European (and English and German) dog breeds were bred by humans for specific purposes or to meet superficial needs. The dogs on our list are ancient. Fossils and cave etchings indicate domesticated dogs lived in Africa as early as 4,500 B.C. Again, these dogs look almost identical to African breeds of today, which is wild! Honestly, well done, dogs of Africa. We’d kill to look that good after several millennia.

Common traits among African dog breeds

Africa’s climate is not to be trifled with. You’ve got everything from the dry, unforgiving heat of the Sahara Desert to rainy and subtropical in northeast South Africa. Like Russian dog breeds who developed thick coats to keep them warm in the tundra, African dog breeds developed short coats to keep them cool under the sun. Many are extremely thin with tall, boney legs, and almost all of them are adaptable to a variety of climates and terrain.

Undying loyalty is a huge through line among African dog breeds. Think about living in small civilizations thousands of years ago, knowing lions and baboons were out there just…waiting for you. You’d want a protective canine by your side, too! This type of courage and fearlessness exists in many African breeds, as does the athleticism required to leap into action at a moment’s notice.

This relationship also means many dog owners in ancient Africa considered their pups true members of the family. Affection is an African dog breed’s middle name! They love their people, which can mean they are wary of strangers. Due to their strength and size, socialization early and firm training is essential to raising a happy, healthy and well-mannered pet.

african dog breeds africanis
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1. Africanis

Height: 20-24 inches

Weight: 55-100 pounds

Personality: Friendly, watchful

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Low

Life Expectancy: 10-12 years

If you visit southern Africa, you may very well run into an Africanis. Cave drawings indicate this breed existed as early as 7,000 years ago. Unlike many modern breeds, these evolved all on their own without any human interference. Don’t call them “mongrels.” It’s easy to mistake them for strays, but they are social animals who love having space to sprint and pals to play with, so they wander. They primarily live in rural areas. Africanis dogs have a variety of coat colors and their bodies have adapted to the African heat (a defined rib cage isn’t a sign of starvation).

african dog breeds aidi atlas mountain dog
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2. Aidi (atlas Mountain Dog)

Height: 20-25 inches

Weight: 50-55 pounds

Personality: Protective, sensitive

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Shedding Factor: Moderate to High

Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

If you want a steadfast yet playful watchdog, go with an Aidi! Also known as the Atlas Mountain Dog, the Aidi hails from Morocco. With unusually thick fur for an African pup, they are alert, protective guardians. It makes sense since they’ve spent centuries living with the Berbers, groups of people indigenous to North Africa, protecting them and their livestock. Raise Aidis around other puppies if you want to avoid aggression towards strange dogs in adulthood.

african dog breeds azawakh
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3. Azawakh

Height: 23-29 inches

Weight: 33-55 pounds

Personality: Loyal, reserved

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Low

Life Expectancy: 12-15 years

Like the Africanis, the Azawakh’s boney body shape is normal. They are actually very powerful and are adept at hunting boar and antelope. Native to the Azawakh Valley between Mali and Niger, these dogs are known as “idii n’illeli” by the Tuareg nomads, which means “sighthound of the free people.” Rare and regal, they are loyal to their families and reserved with strangers. If you own one, get ready for lots of playtime together!

african dog breeds basenji
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4. Basenji

Height: 16-17 inches

Weight: 22-24 pounds

Personality: Independent, smart

Activity Level: High

Shedding Factor: Low

Life Expectancy: 13-14 years

Described as almost cat-like, Basenjis are graceful and independent dogs. Because they are super smart and incredibly active, they need mental and physical exercise daily. Too much alone time makes a Basenji anxious and destructive. You won’t hear much barking from them, but their expressive faces are to die for! Basenjis used to be given as gifts to Pharaohs in ancient Egypt and haven’t changed much since then (impressive).

african dog breeds boerboel
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5. Boerboel

Height: 22-27 inches

Weight: 150-200 pounds

Personality: Affectionate, confident

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 9-11 years

Hello, giant dog! Boerboels are big dogs with bigger hearts. Dutch and German colonizers who settled in South Africa in the 1600s (“boer” is Dutch for “farmer”) bred their mastiff-type dogs with African breeds to create the Boerboel. While incredibly affectionate and calm around their families, Boerboels won’t hesitate for a second if they think they or their loved ones are in danger. As powerful, protective animals, they require lots of early socialization.

african dog breeds coton de tulear
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6. Coton De Tulear

Height: 9-11 inches

Weight: 8-15 pounds

Personality: Charming, social

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Low to Moderate

Life Expectancy: 15-19 years

Unlike every other dog on our list, the Coton de Tulear actually makes a great indoor dog. Charming and happy as clams when around people and other pups, they do get bored if left alone for too long. Exercise is still necessary though; playtime inside or a swift walk outdoors suffices. In the 17th century, nobility among the Merina tribe on Madagascar fell in love with tiny white companion pups arriving on pirate and trade ships in the port of Tulear. So much so, that they kept their Coton de Tulears all to themselves until the 1960s! These dogs were only just recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2014.

african dog breeds rhodesian ridgeback
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7. Rhodesian Ridgeback

Height: 24-27 inches

Weight: 70-85 pounds

Personality: Affectionate, independent

Activity Level: Moderate

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 10-12 years

Sure, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are quiet dogs, but they are certainly intimidating, even without a bark. These are big, tall canines who were used to help in lion hunts and protect families from baboons in southern Africa. Incredibly affectionate, Rhodesian Ridgebacks are also strong-willed and have prey instincts that are hard to ignore. Get ready to train early, often and firmly to ensure a well-socialized pet. They get their name from the ridge of fur along their spine that grows in an opposite direction to the rest of their gorgeous tan coat.

african dog breeds saluki
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8. Saluki

Height: 20-28 inches

Weight: 40-65 pounds

Personality: Gentle, independent

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Shedding Factor: Low to Moderate

Life Expectancy: 10-17 years

Salukis are pricey dogs, but you get what you pay for: an ancient, athletic companion reminiscent of a ballerina. Don’t be fooled by their lean structure! These dogs are agile hunters and love to run. Their origins are murky but can be sort of traced back to the Middle East almost 9,000 years ago. They’ve been dubbed “The Royal Dog of Egypt” and have been known to be mummified alongside their Egyptian humans (cute). Today, they make sweet, albeit independent, pets.

african dog breeds sloughi
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9. Sloughi

Height: 24-29 inches

Weight: 35-50 pounds

Personality: Reserved, gentle

Activity Level: Moderate to High

Shedding Factor: Moderate

Life Expectancy: 10-15 years

Another rare breed from northern Africa, the Sloughi is a thin dog with legs for days. They’ve been hunting small game for centuries alongside Egyptians and Berbers (like the Aidi). At home, Sloughis are content lounging next to you on the couch. Outside, they will run and chase like there’s no tomorrow (give them lots of outdoor time). Sloughis thrive with a space to call their own at home.

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Sarah Ashley

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Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...
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