The Ariegeois is a breed of scent hound native to France. Developed by crossing a number of other French hound breeds approximately 100 years ago, this is one of France’s youngest breeds. The breed almost went extinct as a result of World War II but has subsequently made a full comeback. The Ariegeois is highly regarded as a hunter and companion animal in France and a few neighboring countries, but remains very rare outside of Western Europe. The Ariegeois is also known as the Ariege Hound and the Briquet du Midi.
Because the breed was developed so recently, most of the history of the Ariegeois is known reasonably well. The Ariegeois is a member of the French scent hound family, a very large group of dogs. Hunting with hounds has long been one of the most popular pastimes in France, and the earliest records of the area mention its dogs. Prior to the Roman conquest, most of what is now France and Belgium were occupied by a number of tribes that spoke Celtic or Basque languages. Roman writings describe how the Gauls (the Roman name for the Celts of France) kept a unique breed of hunting hound known as the Canis Segusius. Although apparently no records have survived, it is commonly believed that the Vascones and Aquitani (Basque-speaking tribes) also possessed scent hounds.
During the Dark and Middle Ages, hunting with hounds became extremely popular with the French nobility. Aristocrats from across the land participated in the sport with great gusto and vast tracts of land were preserved for the purpose. For many centuries, France was not truly unified; instead, regional rulers had most of the control over their territories. Many of these semi-independent regions developed their own unique hound breeds which specialized in the hunting conditions of their homelands. Hunting eventually developed into more than just a sport; it became one of the most important aspects of noble society. Countless personal, dynastic, and political alliances were formed over the hunt. Decisions were discussed and made that would impact the lives of millions. Hunting eventually became highly ritualistic with many features of chivalry and feudalism making appearances. A good pack of hunting dogs was the pride of many nobles and some became almost legendary.
Of all the unique breeds of French hunting dog, perhaps the oldest was the Grand Bleu de Gascogne. Developed in the far southwest of France, the Grand Bleu de Gascogne specialized in hunting the largest game species found in the country. Although the origin of this breed is something of a mystery, it is commonly believed that it is the descendant of ancient Phoenician and Basque hunting hounds which were first introduced to the region many thousands of years ago. Another old breed was the Saintongeois or Saintonge Hound. This dog was developed in Saintonge, a region immediately to the north of Gascony. The ancestry of the Saintongeois is also a mystery, but it is thought that it may have descended from the Saint Hubert Hound. The Saint Hubert Hound (known in English as the Bloodhound) was developed by the monks at the Saint Hubert Monastery located near Mouzon. The Saint Hubert Hound was perhaps the first breed developed through a carefully regulated selective breeding program. It was a tradition for the monks to send several pairs of Saint Hubert Hounds to the King of France every year as tribute. The King then gave them as gifts to nobles across France, spreading the breed across the country as a result.
Until the French Revolution, hunting with hounds was almost exclusively the domain of the French nobility. In the aftermath of that conflict, the French nobility lost most of its land and privileges. Unable to afford to keep their hounds, many of these dogs were abandoned. Many others were deliberately killed by peasants angry that these dogs were often much better fed and cared for than they had been. Many, perhaps most, of the old scent hound varieties went extinct in the Revolution and its long aftermath. Such was the case with the Saintongeois, which was reduced to a population of three dogs. These dogs were crossed with the Grand Bleu de Gascogne (which had survived in greater numbers than almost any other French hound) to develop the Gascon-Saintongeois. Meanwhile, the former middle class was taking up hunting in large numbers. The sport was not only seen as enjoyable but also as a means to emulate the nobility. However, the middle class was unable to afford to keep large dogs such as the Grand Bleu de Gascogne and Gascon-Saintongeois and in any case the large game that they had been bred to pursue had becoming increasingly scarce. French hunters began to favor Briquets, a term used to describe medium-sized scent hounds that specialized in smaller game such as rabbits and foxes.
Briquets became especially popular in those regions along the Franco-Spanish border. This region is dominated by the Pyrenees Mountains. These mountains have always provided major impediments to settlement, and the area has long remained among the least densely populated and wildest parts of Western Europe. The French Pyrenees are known to have some of the best hunting in France. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the traditional French provinces were divided into newly created departments. One such department was Ariege, named for the Ariege River and composed of parts of the former provinces of Foix and Languedoc. Ariege is located along the Spanish and Andorran borders and is typified by the mountainous terrain of the Pyrenees.
Although it is not exactly clear when, hunters in Ariege eventually decided to develop a unique, purebred type of Briquet. Some sources claim that the process was begun in 1912, but most believe that the dog was already established by 1908. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that the breed, which became known as the Ariegeois after its homeland, was developed some point between the 1880’s and 1912. Some sources claim that the Count Vesins Elie was the primary force behind the development of the Ariegeois, but the extent of his role, or even if he had one at all, is apparently a matter of dispute. It is universally agreed that the Ariegeois was the result of crossing three dogs: the Grand Bleu de Gascogne, the Gascon-Saintongeois, and local Briquets. The Ariegeois also became known as the Briquet du Midi, Midi being both a common name for the South of France and part of the official name of the Midi-Pyrenees Region which includes Ariege. The Ariegeois is usually grouped with both sizes of Gascon-Saintongeois and all three sizes of Bleu de Gascogne, known collectively as the Blue-Mottled Hounds of the Midi.
The Ariegeois came to look very much like its ancestors the Grand Bleu de Gascogne and Gascon-Saintongeois, but with the size and preferred game of the Briquets. The dog also became among the most finely built of all French scent hounds. The preferred quarry of the Ariegeois has always been rabbits and hares, but the breed has also been routinely used to track deer and boar as well. The Ariegeois serves two major roles on the hunt. The dog uses its keen nose to track and locate game and then it pursues the game to the hunters’ guns. In 1908, the Club Gascon Phoebus was founded. Different sources disagree as to what the role of the Club Gascon Phoebus was with the development of the Ariegeois. Some claim that it merely popularized the breed. Others claim that it revived it from near extinction. Some even say that the breed did not exist prior to this point and that the club was the driving force in its creation. In any case, the Ariegeois grew in popularity in the region that it was developed and across France until the outbreak of World War II. World War II proved devastating for the Ariegeois. Breeding of the dog almost ceased entirely and many individual dogs were abandoned or euthanized when their owners could no longer care for them. By the end of the war, the Ariegeois was on the verge of extinction.
Luckily for the Ariegeois, its home in the South of France was spared the worst ravages of war. While breed numbers were dramatically reduced, they did not reach the critical levels of many other breeds and the Ariegeois did not have to be revived by crossing it with other breeds. Perhaps just as beneficially, the breed’s homeland remained rural and ideally suited for hunting. In the years after the war, interest in hunting in the French south remained quite strong, and the ideally-suited Ariegeois became a desirable hunting companion. Breed numbers recovered rapidly and by the end of the 1970’s were at approximately pre-war levels.
Although the Ariegeois has recovered in its homeland and is now known throughout France as an excellent hunting dog, it remains rare elsewhere. In the last few decades the breed has become established in those parts of Italy and Spain which border France and have climactic and environmental conditions most similar to those found in Ariege. The breed still remains rare elsewhere and is essentially unknown in most countries. In much of the world, the breed is recognized by the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI). Although it is unclear if any Ariegeois have been imported to the United States yet, the breed was granted full recognition with the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1993. In America, the breed is also recognized by the Continental Kennel Club (CKC) and the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA) although the latter organization uses the name Ariege Hound for the breed. In Europe, the majority of breed members remain working hunting dogs and this dog is still primarily kept as a pack hound. Unless additional hunting bans are enacted in France, Italy, and Spain as they have been in England, this will likely be the case for the foreseeable future. However, a few owners are beginning to keep Ariegeois exclusively as companion animals. Those that have done so have found that the breed makes a very affectionate pet, and it is possible that more of these dogs will be primarily companion animals in the future.
The Ariegeois is very similar in appearance to other French scent hounds, especially the Grand Bleu de Gascogne and the Gascon-Saintongeois from which it is descended. However, this breed is considerably smaller and more finely built than those breeds. In general, the Ariegeois possesses a very refined appearance. The Ariegeois is considered a medium-sized breed. Males stand an average of 20½ to 23 inches tall at the shoulder and typically weigh between 55 and 70 pounds. Females stand an average of 19½ to 22 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 50 and 60 pounds. While an Ariegeois would never be described as frail or delicate, this breed is definitely finely built and relatively slender. As a working dog, the Ariegeois does not possess any overly exaggerated feature which would impair working ability. The Ariegeois should always appear fit and trim, and this breed is extremely muscular for its size. The tail of the Ariegeois is relatively long and tapers substantially towards the tip. This tail is usually carried in an upright saber-like shape when the dog is working and low with a curve at all other times.
The head of the Ariegeois is proportional to the size of the dog’s body. The muzzle and head are less distinct than in most scent hounds and are somewhat reminiscent of those of a sight hound. The muzzle itself is approximately the length of the skull, and often tapers towards the end. This breed does possess some of the extra facial skin found in many hounds but to a much lesser extent, and the Ariegeois does not have facial wrinkles or jowls. The nose of the Ariegeois is prominent and black. The ears of this breed are very long, droopy, and usually quite wide. The eyes of the Ariegeois are brown in color but are frequently difficult to see at a distance due to the dog’s facial markings. The overall expression of most Ariegeois is alert and bright.
The coat of the Ariegeois is short, close, fine, and ample. The breed comes in only one color scheme. The base coat of the Ariegeois is white, which predominates over most of the body. This breed also always possesses jet black markings. These markings are almost always present on the ears, head, and face, especially around the eyes, but may also be found mottled over the dog’s entire body. Many Ariegeois also exhibit light ticking. Many, but not all, breed members may also have tan markings on their faces, usually above the eyes and on the cheeks.
The Ariegeois has a temperament typical of most scent hounds. This breed is known to be extremely affectionate with its family, often fawningly so. This is a dog that may shower owners with kisses. Known for being exceptionally loyal, Ariegeois will gladly accompany their masters wherever they go as this breed wants nothing more than to be in the constant company of its family. As is the case with many similar breeds, Ariegeois are known to be exceptionally gentle and patient with children when they have been properly socialized with them. Many breed members form very close bonds with children, especially those that provide playtime and treats.
Ariegeois were bred to work with strange hunters on occasion. As a result, this dog exhibits low levels of stranger aggression. Some breed members are very affectionate and friendly with strangers, while others may be reserved and even somewhat shy. Some Ariegeois make capable watch dogs, but most alerts provided by this breed are an announcement that a potential new friend has arrived rather than a warning. An Ariegeois would make a poor guard dog as most would either warmly welcome an intruder or shy away from him or her rather than exhibit aggression.
Bred to work in large packs that sometimes contain dozens of dogs, the Ariegeois exhibits very low levels of dog aggression. When properly socialized this breed tends to have very few problems with other dogs, and most breed members would greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one, and preferably several, other dogs. Owners should always use extreme caution when introducing strange dogs to each other. Ariegeois do have major issues with non-canine animals. This dog is a dedicated hunter and will pursue and potentially attack almost any other type of animal. As is the case with all dogs, an Ariegeois could be trained to accept pets such as cats if raised with them from a young age. However, some breed members are never entirely trustworthy around even those cats it knows best, and an Ariegeois that lives in peace and harmony with its owner’s cats may still attack and even kill a neighbor’s cat with which it is unfamiliar.
The Ariegeois was bred to hunt, and it is highly skilled at this task. The breed is said to possess surprising speed and greater stamina than almost any other hound of this size. Such abilities are extremely desirable to a hunter, but are less so to most pet owners. An Ariegeois has very substantial exercise requirements and should probably receive at least an hour of vigorous physical activity on a daily basis. This dog needs a long daily walk at a minimum but greatly prefers the opportunity to run around in a safely enclosed area. Ariegeois that have not been provided with a proper outlet for their energy will almost certainly develop behavioral issues such as destructiveness, hyperactivity, and excessive barking. Ariegeois adapt very poorly to apartment living and do much better when they are provided with an ample yard to run around in. Ariegeois are said to take to hunting training very quickly and easily, although this breed would probably present the same training difficulties as most scent hounds for other tasks. As a rule, scent hounds are extremely stubborn and actively resist and refuse training. In particular, when an Ariegeois gets on a trail, it is nearly impossible to call back. The dog becomes so single minded and dedicated to the pursuit of its prey that it will ignore its owners’ commands and may not even hear them at all. For similar reasons, the Ariegeois can become a dedicated escape artist and wanderer, following whatever its nose picks up wherever it leads.
As is the case with many scent hounds, the Ariegeois has a melodic, baying voice. This is necessary for hunters to follow their dogs when they are on hot pursuit of a trail, but can result in noise complaints in an urban environment. Although training and proper exercise can greatly reduce an Ariegeois’s barking, this breed will still be considerably more vocal than most. Potential Ariegeois owners should definitely listen to the cries of this dog before they acquire one as they can be extremely loud.
The Ariegeois is a relatively low maintenance dog. This breed never requires professional grooming; only a regular brushing is necessary. There do not seem to be any reports as to the Ariegeois’s shedding, but if this breed is like most similar dogs it will shed, and probably shed heavily. The white fur of this breed would be especially noticeable on most surfaces. Owners do have to carefully and regularly clean an Ariegeois’s ears to prevent particle buildup which can cause irritation, infections, and hearing loss.
There do not seem to have been any health studies conducted on this breed, making it difficult to make any definitive statements about its health. Most seem to believe that the Ariegeois is a relatively healthy breed and that it does not suffer from genetically inherited conditions at significantly higher rates than other purebred dogs. Such good health is relatively common among primarily working dogs as any health defect would impair their working ability and therefore be eliminated from breeding lines as soon as it is discovered. Most estimates of the breed’s life expectancy range from 10 to 12 years, although it is unclear what information such estimates are based on.
The Ariegeois is almost certainly vulnerable to ear infections. The long and drooping ears of this breed are thought to push scents towards the dog’s nose, increasing its sense of smell although this theory has not been satisfactorily proven by science. They do definitely collect particles of anything that the dog comes into contact with such as leaves, dirt, water, grime, and food. Once in the ear, such particles easily become trapped and if they are lodged in deeply enough, the dog cannot remove them on its own. Eventually these trapped particles will cause skin and membrane irritations which can cause the dog great discomfort. These irritations can transform into chronic ear infections which can be extremely painful and may even lead to hearing loss.
Based on what is known about the Ariegeois and similar breeds, a list of problems which the breed may be susceptible would include: