The American English Coonhound is a breed of scenthound native to the United States of America. One of six Coonhound breeds, (the others being the American Leopard Hound or Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog, Black and Tan Coonhound, Bluetick Coonhound, English Coonhound, Plott Coonhound, Redbone Coonhound and Treeing Walker Coonhound) this breed specializes in hunting raccoons, although it is equally capable of pursuing essentially any game species found in North America from rabbits to cougars. This breed is a very rare sight in urban areas and has only recently been recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), but is actually one of the most common purebred dogs in America and regularly ranks in the top 5 breeds in terms of United Kennel Club (UKC) registrations. The American English Coonhound is more commonly referred to as the English Coonhound and is also known as the English Fox and Coonhound, American English Fox and Coonhound, Redtick Coonhound, English Coondog, Redtick Coondog, English Hound, Redtick Hound, English, and the Redtick.
It has been said that the history of the American English Coonhound is the history of all coonhounds. While this is something of an exaggeration, the ancestry of this breed is very similar to those of most other Coonhounds. Because the American English Coonhound was developed in a time before written records were commonly kept of dog breeding and in predominantly working areas, very little can be known with certainty about its origins. However, most of the generalities of the breeds’ ancestry are known, if not the specificities.
The American English Coonhound can directly trace its ancestry back to European scent hounds. Since the fall of the Roman Empire, hunting with packs of scent hounds has been one of the primary pastimes of the European nobility. Hunts eventually became a highly ritualized event, becoming far more important than a mere sport. Countless personal, political, and dynastic allegiances were formed over the hunt, and decisions that would come to impact the lives of millions were decided. Because hunts were so prestigious, quality hunting dogs became both financially valuable and culturally prestigious. Dozens of different scent hound breeds were developed across Europe, many localized to their region of origin. Although hunting was very important across Europe, it was probably most popular and prestigious in France and England, long considered the epicenters of European scenthound breeding.
Across Europe, the preferred game species of the nobility were large, potentially dangerous species such as boar, deer, and wolf. Such was the case in England until the 1600’s when major cultural, political, and ecological changes began to take place. The rapidly expanding British population meant that there was increasingly little wild space left and hunting pressures were beginning to rise. Large game species either became very rare or disappeared entirely. The British nobility increasingly turned to fox hunting to replace the loss of their preferred quarry, which until that time had been considered the exclusive domain of the peasantry. An entirely new breed was developed to hunt foxes, the English Foxhound. The English Foxhound’s development may have begun in the late 1500’s, but continued on until the 1700’s. Although it is unknown exactly how the English Foxhound was developed, it is widely agreed that it was primarily descended from the now-extinct Southern Hound, with heavy influence from the North Country Beagle, mixed breed scent hounds, Greyhounds, Scottish Deerhounds, Lurchers, Old English Bulldogs, Fox Terriers, and possibly other breeds as well. Fox hunting rapidly became immensely popular with the British nobility, and until relatively late in the 20th Century was probably the most important sport among the British upper classes.
At around the same time that fox hunting was growing in popularity in Britain, the first British colonies were being established along North America’s Eastern Seaboard. A very high percentage of early colonists were second and later sons of noble and wealthy families, who sought the opportunity to earn the wealth that would be denied them according to English inheritance rules. Many of these men had been raised as fox hunters and greatly wished to continue their preferred pastime in the new world. In order to do so, they brought their much beloved Foxhounds with them. The first definitive record of Foxhounds in what is now the United States comes from 1650, when Robert Brooke imported a pack into Maryland. Later on, Robert Brooke became the first Master of Hounds in the American colonies. Virginia and Maryland would eventually come to have a highly disproportionate number of upper-class settlers, and the states of the Chesapeake Bay became the center of American foxhunting. The English did not just bring Foxhounds with them; they also brought a number of other breeds including Bloodhounds and Greyhounds. Settlers from other countries brought their own dogs as well, including Spanish Alaunts and Levriers, German boar hunting dogs, French Grand Bleu de Gascognes, and various Irish and Scottish hunting hounds.
Settlers in the New World quickly discovered that their European dogs were poorly suited to their new environment. For one thing, even the most northerly reaches of the American South are much hotter than Britain. Dogs accustomed to working in cool England quickly collapsed of exhaustion and even died in the American summer. Higher temperatures meant that there are substantially greater numbers and rates of canine infectious diseases and parasite in America, many of which proved fatal to unexposed dogs. When compared to heavily developed England, the terrain is also much more varied and difficult in America, which to this day has vast tracts of swampland, mountains, and completely undeveloped woodlands. Perhaps most importantly, the wildlife of America was often very different from that of Britain. Whereas most dangerous creatures had been exterminated from England long before America was colonized, the New World was at that time home to large populations of wolves, bear, cougar, alligator, bobcat, wild hog, venomous snakes, porcupines, and other creatures. Even those creatures that were less dangerous often had very different habits of which the most important was how they fled attackers. In England, most creatures escape down a burrow to evade pursuit, but in America, they climb trees. American hunting dogs needed to be capable of working long hours in extremely hot temperatures, resistant to all manner of disease and parasites, hardy enough to work on difficult and varied terrain, fierce enough to handle dangerous quarry, and have a strong treeing instinct.
Initially, natural selection took a heavy toll on British dogs, and many perished as a result of American conditions. This resulted in dogs better suited to working in America, but also ones that were somewhat different than in England. These differences were furthered by the small number of dogs brought to America. Because it was both very expensive to import dogs from Europe and the journey often proved fatal to them, not many individual dogs made it to America. Because of this, the dogs that were imported were frequently crossed with each other. By the 1700’s, the scenthounds of the American South were regarded as being a distinct breed from their British counterparts, and were known as Virginia Hounds. One of the most prominent breeders of these dogs was none other than George Washington, a lifelong avid fox hunter. After the American Revolution, George Washington received several pairs of various French hounds from his friend and ally the Marquis de Lafayette, which would profoundly impact his breeding programs. American settlers continuously pushed westwards and southwards from Virginia, bringing their hunting dogs with them. The dogs of Virginia and Maryland, where fox hunting remained the most popular, eventually developed into the American Foxhound, Virginia Foxhound, and Virginia Black and Tan Foxhound. Those that spread elsewhere began to specialize in raccoons as well as fox, and became known as coonhounds or fox and coonhounds.
In Europe, hunting with hounds was limited exclusively to the nobility and upper classes, often by law. Such was not the case in America, which has long despised such rules. American hunters were of all social classes, and in many rural areas a very large percentage of the population were active hunters. Hunting became a major sport in the American South and Midwest, and raccoon hunting was one of its most popular forms. Due to the popularity of the sport, quality hunting dogs became highly prized and valuable. In order to test their dogs, raccoon hunting competitions known as coon dog trials began to be held in the 1800’s. Initially, these were local gatherings, but quickly evolved into regional, statewide, and even national events. Whereas traditional dog shows judged dogs based on their conformation to a standard, coondog trials judged a dog on the speed and manner with which it performed various aspects of a hunt as well as the number of animals it was able to help capture. Eventually, coondog trials came to have very substantial monetary prizes, as well as prestigious awards. Because high quality dogs were so valuable, many breeders kept their lines quite pure, although not exactly in the modern sense. American English Coonhounds have always been major competitors at coondog trials, and in fact the first winner of a major coondog trial was an American English Coonhound.
At one point, there were only two lines of Coonhound, one descended from German boar hunting dogs known as the Plott Hound, and the other descended from the Foxhound. It did not take long for the Foxhound line to split into several distinct varieties. Some Coonhounds became heavily crossed with Bloodhounds from England, resulting in the Black and Tan Coonhound, the first Coonhound to be recognized as a distinct breed. A few breeders began to heavily favor solid red Coonhounds, thought to be the descendants of red Foxhounds from Scotland. These dogs eventually became known as Redbone Coonhounds and also were considered a second breed. The remaining Coonhounds became known as English Coonhounds, both in honor of their English ancestry and to separate them from the Black and Tan and Redbone Coonhounds. English Coonhounds came in a wide variety of colors and patterns, although three predominated; the Tri-Color of the English Foxhound, the Bluetick of the French Grand Bleu de Gascogne, and the Redtick of unsure origin.
Initially, coonhound breeders showed very little interest in entering their dog in the show ring. They cared almost solely about their dogs’ working ability, not appearance. This began to change in 1898, when Chauncey Z. Bennett founded the UKC. The UKC put a strong emphasis on working dogs and field trials. Although Bennett himself was a breeder of American Pit Bull Terriers and the first dog registered with the UKC was the Pit Bull Bennett’s Ring, he quickly found many allies among breeders of hunting and working dogs, especially Coonhound fanciers. The UKC began to hold its own Coondog trials, which became known as some of the most prestigious and important in the sport. At the same time, the UKC became the primary and most prestigious Coonhound registry in the world. In 1905, the UKC granted full recognition to the English Fox and Coonhound, joining the Redbone Coonhound and Black and Tan Fox and Coonhound which were already registered. The name was eventually shortened to English Coonhound, as the breed was increasingly rarely used to hunt fox. By the 1940’s, attitudes and breeding practices had begun to change. Breeders of most English Coonhounds were developed an increasingly hotter nosed dog, or one that trails very quickly but does not necessarily track old scent trails as well. Many breeders of the Bluetick-colored dogs wanted to breed cold-nosed dogs, that were excellent at trailing old scents but often worked more slowly and deliberately. At the same time, breeders of a specific line of Tri-Color English Coonhounds known as Walker Hounds began to want to be recognized as a separate breed. In 1945, the breed that would eventually become known as the Treeing Walker Coonhound was formally separated from the English Coonhound, followed by the Bluetick Coonhound one year later. These separations meant that a sizable majority of English Coonhounds were Redtick dogs, but a sizable number of Bluetick and Tri-color dogs remained part of the breed. In the middle of the 20th Century, several English Coonhounds were imported to Brazil to participate in a breeding program designed to develop a scenthound for work in that country. The resulting dog was known as the Rastreador Brasileiro, and although it later became extinct as a purebred continues to be found as a mixed breed dog throughout Brazil.
Although all Coonhounds are regularly tasked with hunting all manner of mammalian prey, the American English Coonhound is probably the one that is used to hunt non-raccoon quarry the most frequently. In particular, this dog is known to be highly skilled at hunting, foxes, opossums, and cougars. This breed is also probably the Coonhound that is usually kept in the largest packs. The American English Coonhound remains almost exclusively a working dog, and the vast majority of breed members are either active or retired hunters. Because of this, the breed is a rare sight in urban or suburban areas where hunting is not commonly practiced. This does not mean that this is a rare breed, far from it. The American English Coonhound is actually one of the most common purebred dogs in terms of population size in the United States. For almost the entire 20th Century, the breed has ranked in the top 10 breeds in terms of UKC registrations, usually in the top 5. In rural areas of the South, Midwest, and Mountain West, the American English Coonhound is well known and common. Although very popular with American hunters, the American English Coonhound is essentially unknown outside of its homeland and the neighboring country of Canada. Very few of these dogs have been exported to foreign countries as of yet, although a few hunters across the world have been experimenting with the breed. Many of those dogs that have been exported have proven to be very keen nosed and willing hunters, with a strong work drive, excellent temperament, toughness, and an ability to hunt many different species in a variety of environments. Due to the success of these dogs, it is quite possible that the breed will increase in popularity overseas.
Coonhound breeders have long strongly distrusted the AKC, feeling that registering their dogs with that organization would damage their breed. It was the opinion of most Coonhound fanciers (and of many other working dogs as well) that AKC recognition would lead to their dogs being bred solely for appearance conformation and the health, temperament, and working ability of their beloved dogs would be compromised as a result. In recent years, this skepticism has somewhat faded and in 2010, the American English Coonhound was granted full recognition with the AKC as a member of the Hound Group. The AKC added the American to the name to avoid confusion with breeds that had actually been developed in England. The AKC organized the American English Coonhound Association AECA to represent the breed. However, AKC registration has met with great disapproval with many breeders of American English Coonhounds, and many have either refused or not bothered to register their dogs with that organization. However, a sizable number of breed fanciers have chosen to register with the AKC and in 2011 the breed ranked 33rd in terms of AKC registrations, although that includes breed members of all ages that registered as new dogs and not just puppies. It is unclear what AKC recognition will mean for the American English Coonhound, as it has happened too recently. However, it is clear that the breed’s immediate future will be almost exclusively as a hunting dog. An increasing number of breed members are being kept primarily as companion animals, and when properly exercised and cared for this dog makes an excellent pet in rural areas.
The American English Coonhound could be described as the “most typical” Coonhound. This is a large breed, but certainly not a giant one. Male breed members usually stand between 22 and 27 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 50 and 65 pounds. Females usually stand between 21 and 25 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 40 and 55 pounds. This is a well-proportioned dog with a generally square build and no exaggerated features. The American English Coonhound is a working dog and should always appear as such. This breed should be heavily muscled and incredibly fit, as befits one of the canine world’s greatest athletes. This breed is very sturdily constructed without being exactly thick. The tail of the American English Coonhound is of medium-length and usually held upright with a slight curve, but never directly over the back.
The head and face of the English Coonhound are very similar to those of other Coonhound breeds. The head of this dog is slightly domed and proportional to the size of the body. The head and muzzle blend in relatively smoothly with each other but remain distinct. The muzzle itself is very long and quite broad, giving the dog the maximum area for scent receptors and the strong bite needed to grab a hold of its prey. The lips of this dog are somewhat pendulous, giving its muzzle a square appearance. Like many hounds, this breed has a substantial amount of seemingly excess skin on its face and neck, although an American English Coonhound would never be described as wrinkly. The nose of the American English Coonhound is quite large and usually black in color. The ears of this breed are both very long and very wide. The usually droop down parallel to the sides of the head but may face slightly forwards. The eyes of this breed are large and dark brown in color. The overall expression of most breed members is kind, gentle, and pleading.
The American English Coonhound is the most variable of all Coonhound breeds in terms of coat coloration. The coat of this breed is hard, protective, and short to medium-short in length. Both the AKC and UKC recognize redtick, bluetick, tri-color with ticking, red and white, and black and white as acceptable colors, while the UKC also recognizes white and lemon. Ticking is very small spots of color that cover a dogs coat making it look like the dog is infested with ticks. Occasionally, an American English Coonhound will be born with an alternate coloration or pattern, such as a solid colored dog with no ticking or a tricolor dog with no ticking. These dogs are penalized in the show ring and should not be bred but otherwise make just as excellent hunting dogs and pets as other breed members.
The American English Coonhound has exactly the temperament one would expect from a working scenthound. This breed is generally very loving and devoted to its family. These dogs are known to form intensely close bonds with their masters, and are also generally very openly affectionate with them, usually fawningly. This is not a one person dog and will form equally strong attachments with all family members. When properly socialized, this breed usually does very well with children, with whom it is very gentle and tolerant. Many American English Coonhounds greatly enjoy the company of children (especially ones that give them food), and become close friends with them.
Human aggression is seen as completely unacceptable by most American English Coonhound breeders, and the breed reflects this. When properly socialized, most breed members are very polite. Timidity is a problem in some lines, but not always. Many breed members are quite friendly and actively seek human companionship. Inappropriate greeting can be a problem with this breed and without training these dogs may jump up excitedly on guests and lick their faces. This breed sounds much louder than it actually is and can make an intimidating watchdog from behind a closed door. However, these dogs would make very poor guard dogs as they would probably follow an intruder home before they would attack.
Bred to work in packs of between 2 and 50 dogs, the American English Coonhound generally exhibits low levels of dog aggression. With proper training and socialization, most breed members are very accepting of even strange dogs, and the majority of American English Coonhounds would greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one (and preferably several) canine housemates. Some breed members, especially males, will be somewhat pushy and dominant when pack order is being decided, so care must always be exercised when introducing new dogs. Potential problems can arise with very small dogs, which the American English Coonhound may mistake as prey to be pursued.
The American English Coonhound continues to be bred almost exclusively as a working hunting dog. As a result, this breed exhibits very high levels of animal aggression. Most breed members will chase, and attempt to attack and even kill, almost any non-canine animal that they come across. One of these dogs left alone in a yard for any length of time will almost certainly bring its owner back “presents” of dead animals. Training and socialization will make most breed members capable of living peacefully with the family pets. However, many of these dogs are never entirely trustworthy with them, and even those breed members which coexist peacefully with cats that they have known for years may still attack and kill a cat with which they are unfamiliar.
As is the case with most scenthounds, American English Coonhounds can be very challenging to train. Although this breed is very affectionate, they are usually also incredibly stubborn. When one of these dogs decides that it is not going to do something that is essentially the end of that. American English Coonhounds also constantly try to find their way around doing something, even when well-trained. In particular, this breed is almost impossible to call back. When one gets on a trail, they will follow it single-mindedly, seemingly ignorant of any calls to return. For this reason, this dog should be kept on a leash at all times when not in a safely enclosed area unless it has been carefully hunt trained. American English Coonhounds do tend to be highly food motivated, and respond much better to rewards-based training methods, although they will only go so far.
This breed is capable of hunting over very challenging terrain for many hours. As a result it has relatively high exercise requirements. An American English Coonhound should receive at least 45 minutes of vigorous physical activity every day, and preferably significantly more. This dog makes an excellent jogging companion, but greatly prefers the opportunity to run off-leash in a safely enclosed area. In general, these dogs do much better in a rural environment, and most adapt very poorly to apartment life. Without the proper exercise, this breed will almost certainly develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, excessive barking, nervousness, and hyper activity. However, once this dog gets the exercise that it needs, most are very calm and reserved in the house, and will spend countless hours lying around calmly.
American English Coonhounds are highly intelligent problem solvers, incredibly physically gifted, and driven to follow any scent which catches its attention. This combination means that the American English Coonhound is a very accomplished escape artist. These dogs will find any possible way out, and make their own if one is unavailable. This breed can clear a six foot fence, dig underneath one, or power its way straight through. If on a trail, one of these dogs could end up many miles away in a short period of time. Because of this, any enclosure keeping one of these dogs must be very secure.
Because they work primarily at night, breeders selected those American English Coonhounds with the most pleasant sounding and loudest bays so that they could easily be followed by hunters on foot. The sounds that this breed makes are both extremely frequent and unbelievably loud (many can be clearly heard over a mile away), and if left unchecked these dogs can bay for hours on end. Training and exercise can greatly reduce the barking and baying of American English Coonhounds, but will certainly not eliminate them. When kept in close quarters, these dogs are quite likely to result in a noise complaint.
The American English Coonhound is a very low maintenance breed. These dogs should never require professional grooming; only a regular brushing is necessary. Owners do have to regularly clean their ears to prevent irritation and infections. American English Coonhounds do shed, and many of them shed very, very heavily. Many breed members will completely cover furniture, clothes, and carpets with hair, and this breed would be a poor choice for an allergy sufferer or merely someone who hates the thought of cleaning up dog hair.
The American English Coonhound is generally regarded as a very healthy breed. This dog continues to be bred almost exclusively as a working hunting dog. Any genetic defects impair the dog’s ability to perform its job and are therefore eliminated from working lines as quickly as they are discovered. The breed also benefits from a very large genetic pool. This does not mean that the American English Coonhound is immune from genetically inherited diseases only that it suffers from fewer of them and at generally lower rates. The average life expectancy for the American English Coonhound is between 11 and 12 years, about average for a breed of this size.
Hip dysplasia is a known health concern for this breed, and for most pure bred dogs. Hip dysplasia is caused by a malformation of the hip joint which prevents the leg bone from properly connecting to the hip. As the dog ages, this results in discomfort, pain, arthritis, difficulty moving, and in severe cases even lameness. Although hip dysplasia is genetically inherited, the timing and severity of its onset can be influenced by environmental factors. Although there are no universally accepted cures for hip dysplasia, a number of treatments do exist for its symptoms, most of which are long term and expensive. A number of tests have been developed for hip dysplasia and responsible breeders are using them to reduce the rate of its occurrence.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of health concerns for the American English Coonhound would have to include: