The Basset Hound is one of the most instantly recognizable and beloved dog breeds in the world. The wrinkled face, drooping ears, sad expression, and short legs of the breed have captivated admirers for centuries. Originating in France as a skilled hunter of small game, the Basset Hound’s unique appearance, affectionate nature, and independent personality has made it a popular choice as a companion animal. Although only the Basset Hound itself is commonly recognized outside of its country of origin, there are actually six different recognized Basset breeds found in France; the Basset Hound, the Basset Fauve de Bretagne, the Basset Bleu de Gascogne, the Basset Artesien Normand, the Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen, and the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen.
The history of the Basset Hound prior to the late 1800’s when Basset Artesian Normands were introduced into England is somewhat obscure. The earliest known description of a dog as being a Basset can be found in La Venerie, an illustrated hunting text written by Jacques du Fouilloux in 1585. The dogs in Fouilloux’s text were used to hunt foxes and badgers. The short-legged hounds would pursue the animals into their burrows, where they would be dug out by their human handlers. Fouilloux illustrated dogs with wiry hair which modern day Basset Hounds do not have. However, the similar and probably closely related Basset Fauve de Bretagne, Grand Griffon Vendeen, and Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen all have wiry hair. Fouilloux’s illustrations show a breed that is well-into the development stage, both in terms of appearance and use. This means it is likely that the Basset breeds originated far earlier, at least several decades and possibly centuries earlier. The earliest records of Basset breeds in America date from the Presidency of George Washington in the late 1700’s, when the Marquis de Lafayette gave a few of an unknown type of Basset to the President as a gift.
It is generally believed that Basset Hounds were developed from larger varieties of hound, in order for hunters to follow the dogs on foot rather than horseback. This is certainly what they were being used for from the time of their first mention in literature until the development of modern kennel clubs in the late 1800’s. Other than the Basset Hound itself and the Basset Artesian Normand from which it is descended, all Basset breeds are clearly either related to or a form of a specific larger breed of hound. For example, the Basset Bleu de Gascogne is the Basset form of the Grand Bleu de Gascogne and the Petit Bleu de Gascogne. It is not clear whether each Basset breed was individually bred down in stature from the larger breed, or whether one breed of Basset was developed and then crossed with other hounds. The latter option seems to be preferred in the literature and is probably more likely. It is also unclear whether Basset breeds were created exclusively by taking the shortest examples of an individual breed or whether existing small breeds such as Terriers, Spaniels, or Beagles were crossed with large hounds. Due to the paucity of records, these mysteries may never be fully resolved.
The Basset Artesian Normand itself is somewhat of a mystery. While other Basset breeds are obviously connected with other types of hounds, the Basset Artesian Normand itself is not. It is generally believed that the Basset Artesian Normand is the Basset form of the Saint Hubert Hound, more commonly known in English-speaking nations as the Bloodhound. Those who follow this line of thinking believe either that the Basset Hound was bred directly from short Saint Hubert Hounds or that Saint Hubert Hounds were crossed with an existing Basset breed, most likely the Basset Bleu de Gascogne which the Artesian Normand most closely resembles. Some even say that the Basset Artesian Normand was developed by the monks of the Saint Hubert Monastery, also the birthplace of the Saint Hubert Hound. While there is little evidence to suggest that the Basset Artesian Normand has a monastic origin, the breed’s similarities to the Bloodhound are difficult to ignore. Both breeds share similarly wrinkled faces, drooping ears, sad expressions, and keen noses. However, the Basset Artesian Normand has substantially different markings than the Bloodhound. It is very possible that other breeds influenced the development of the Basset Artesian Normand, in particular the Basset Bleu de Gascogne and the Chien d’Artois.
Basset breeds greatly increased in popularity following the French Revolution. The Basset breeds had been bred for their short stature. This allowed hunters to follow them on foot, rather than on horseback. This may have originally been desired so that hunters could pursue quarry across terrain that would prove too difficult for horses. It was a quality that made them highly desirably in post-Revolutionary France. Before the French Revolution, hunting was solely limited to the nobility. After the Revolution, the sport spread quickly among the middle and lower classes. Members of these classes could easily afford to keep a hound or two, but not a horse. This made a dog capable of hunting without a horse highly desirable. The comparatively compact size of Bassets also increased their popularity. Basset breeds began to increase in number at a time when many other traditional French hunting hounds went into decline or went extinct entirely.
Whatever the breed’s ancestry, the modern history of the Basset Hound dates to the reign of Napoleon III, from 1852 until 1870. The Emperor was such a fancier of the Basset Artesian Normand that he had the renowned sculptor Emmanuel Fremiet create bronze statues of three of his Bassets just one year after his reign began. The Basset Artesian Normand found international fame when specimens were exhibited at the 1863 Paris Dog Show. At this time there were several varieties of Basset Artesian Normand. There were wire-haired Bassets, known as Basset Griffons, as well as smooth-haired Bassets, known as Basset Francais’s. Both coat-types were further organized into leg length. Basset Artesian Normands were championed primarily by two major breeders who each gave their names to prominent Basset Hound lines, M. Lane and the Count le Couteaux.
The first record of a modern day Basset leaving France comes from 1866, when the British Lord Galway imported a pair of le Couteaux’s dogs, which remained the more popular line in England. However, Bassets did not become widely established in the United Kingdom until eight years later when Sir Everett Millais began to import them. Millais and other sportsmen popularized the breed through exhibitions at dog shows and hunting trials. Breeding of Basset Artesian Normands in England began quickly. In England, the dogs became known as Basset Hounds. Within a few years there were several packs. However, English breeders were not always picky or knowledgeable about the dogs which they imported. Most also kept spotty records, if any at all. This has led to some confusion over the early development of the Basset Hound in England. English breeders freely mixed different breeds and varieties of Basset, as well as the lines of each variety. There were at least a few recorded instances of Beagle blood being introduced to the breed as well. This was exacerbated by breeding experiments being conducted by Lane and le Couteaux in France. It is clear that two stud dogs in particular, Model and Fino de Paris were instrumental in the development of modern day Basset Hounds. Princess Alexandra quickly became and admirer of the breed, and established her own kennel. Almost all Basset Hounds alive today descend at least in part from her dogs.
Eventually, English breeders decided that they wanted to create a larger, heavier boned animal. To this end they began to cross Basset Hounds with Bloodhounds. As the taste of Breeders changed, wire-haired dogs were no longer allowed to breed with the smooth coated animals, leading to the disappearance of the Basset Griffon from Basset Hound bloodlines. The Heseltine family created the Walhampton Pack, which became incredibly influential in the development of the Basset Hound as a show and a hunting breed. Although many of the Basset Hound’s original admirers in England were primarily concerned with dogs for the show ring, the Basset Hound’s value as a hunting dog quickly became apparent. Dogs bred for hunting began to influence the breed as well. Within fifty years the English Basset Hound was an entirely new and distinct breed from the Basset Artesian Normand.
Basset Hounds were imported from England into the United States during the waning years of the 19th Century. As occurred in England, the first dogs were brought over for exhibition in the show ring, but they quickly became working dogs. To this day, hunts with Basset Hounds occur in the United States, primarily in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Basset Hound in 1885, one year after the club was founded. The United Kennel Club (UKC) followed in 1928. The Basset Hound Club of America (BHCA) was founded by breed fanciers in 1933. The Basset Hound’s popularity in America began to climb steadily after the breed appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1928. This is also when advertisers and the entertainment media began to feature the Basset Hound heavily.
The Basset Hound’s charming and unique appearance instantly attracted fanciers when it was first seen outside of its native home, and this has not changed in the years since. Basset Hounds have become regular features in popular media, making hundreds of appearances in books, movies and television shows. The Basset Hound has long been a popular character in children’s cartoons, appearing in works such as All Dogs Go to Heaven, The Aristocrats, Rock-A-Doodle, Ghost in the Shell, and Rover Dangerfield. Basset Hounds have also made numerous appearances in live action films, having roles in Smokey and the Bandit, Monkeybone, An American Werewolf in Paris, and many others. Basset Hounds have also long been popular on the small screen as well; the breed appears in The Dukes of Hazzard, Columbo, Lassie, Coach, That’s So Raven, Judging Amy, and countless others. Perhaps the Basset Hound’s most famous appearance in American culture was on The Steve Allen Show in 1956, when Elvis Presley sang his classic hit “Hound Dog” to a member of the breed.
While small numbers of Basset Hounds are still used for hunting in the United States, almost all members of the breed are exclusively companion animals. This is a role in which these gentle and friendly dogs excel. Their distinctive sad appearance and charming personality continue to win them admirers.
The Basset Hound is one of the most instantly recognizable breeds of dogs in the world due to their unique appearance and frequent appearance in popular media. They are equally well-known for their long bodies, short legs, sad expression, wrinkled face, and drooping ears. Basset Hounds in many ways closely resemble a very short-legged Bloodhound or Foxhound.
One of the most defining characteristics of the Basset Hound is low height. These dogs were bred to have short legs to decrease their speed. This allowed the dogs to be followed on foot rather than on horseback. Because of this, Basset Hound breeders have always put a premium on height. Basset Hounds should not be more than 14 inches high at the shoulders. Dogs which are taller than fifteen inches high at the shoulders are disqualified from the show ring and most breeding lines.
Basset Hounds low stature leads many to believe that these are small dogs. However, these dogs are surprisingly heavy and strong, as any one who has tried to lift one up will surely tell you. While not the world’s heaviest dogs by any means, the Basset Hound is several times heavier than most Beagles and Dachshunds. Unlike many breeds, most Basset Hound standards such as the ones used by the AKC and UKC do not specify a weight standard, likely because the height of the dog is more important to Basset Hound breeders than the weight. Most Basset Hounds weigh between 50 and 60 pounds, with males tending to be slightly heavier than females. This is roughly the weight of a small Labrador Retriever.
Basset Hounds and their ancestors have been bred as scent hounds for hundreds of years. Much of the Basset Hound’s unique appearance is a result of this breeding. Basset Hounds have very long snouts and noses. This gives the dog a greater area and number of scent receptors. It also makes it easier for the dog to keep its head as close to the ground as possible. Basset Hounds have very wrinkly faces and jowls. It is believed that these wrinkles trap smells and bring them closer to the dog’s nose, although this is doubted in the scientific community. The drooping ears of the Basset Hound are also said to collect scents and buffer them towards the nose of the dog, a theory which is similarly doubted. The skin wrinkles of the Basset Hound extend over much of the face and neck, giving the dog the drooping, sad expression for which it is so famous. A Basset Hound’s eyes should be brown, the darker the better.
Basset Hounds are considerably longer than they are tall. In general, their body resembles that of a greatly oversized Dachshund. Essentially, a Basset Hound is a larger hound in body size that has had its legs shortened. These dogs have thick chests and bodies. Basset Hound legs are famous for being slightly bent, typically inwards at the knee. However, this bending should never be so extreme as to impair the dog’s movement or hunting ability. Basset Hounds have a great deal of “extra” skin over their entire bodies, giving them a drooping appearance. However, Basset Hounds should be quite muscular underneath this skin, as befits a hunting dog. The tail of the Basset Hound is quite long relative to body size, and is typically held upright and slightly curved forwards, giving the impression of a saber.
Basset Hounds have short, smooth fur. This fur can come in any recognized hound color. The pattern and shapes of color on a Basset Hound’s coat are of no importance. Basset Hound breeders have long followed the mantra, “A good hound can be in any color.” Because of this there is substantial variety in the coats of Basset Hounds, although very few dogs are one solid color. Some of the most common colors in the coats of Basset Hounds are black, tan, lemon, and white.
Basset Hounds are known for being one of the best-natured and gentle of all dog breeds. Basset Hounds are rarely aggressive and are typically very friendly and affectionate with people. Basset Hounds are known for being excellent companions for children and the elderly due to their gentleness. Children must be taught to not pull on the dog’s ears and skin, however. If you are looking for a guard dog, you should almost certainly look elsewhere, as a Basset Hound would be ill-suited to that purpose. If you are looking for a family pet for children, a Basset Hound may be ideal for you.
Basset Hounds also tend to be very good with other dogs. These dogs were bred to hunt in packs, and generally get along well with other dogs. There can be some dominance issues with Basset Hounds, particularly when social relationships are first being sorted out, but outright dog aggression is comparatively uncommon in the breed. If you are looking for a companion for an existing canine pet, a Basset Hound may be a good choice. However, every dog is different and it is always advisable to exercise caution when introducing new dogs into a home.
Unlike most dogs bred for hunting, Basset Hounds were bred to pursue their quarry, but never to attack it once found. This means that Basset Hounds are a good breed to introduce to non-canine pets. However, many Basset Hounds will chase other animals around your home, leading to some disturbance. Like all dog breeds, some Basset Hounds may exhibit aggression towards non-canine animals to which they have not been exposed. For this reason it is best to properly socialize your Basset Hound with cats, rabbits, and whatever other small creatures you wish from a young age.
The gentleness and sweetness of Basset Hounds towards people and other animals does not mean that a Basset Hound is easy to train, quite the contrary. Basset Hounds have the reputation of being one of the most difficult breeds of dogs to train in the entire world. While Basset Hounds take to hunting and tracking very quickly, almost anything else will be a struggle. Basset Hounds were bred to tirelessly follow a trail for hours. As a result, Basset Hounds are notoriously stubborn. It is incredibly challenging to get these dogs to do anything which they don’t want to. This is not to say that a Basset Hound is untrainable, but you will have to exercise a great deal more patience and spend a whole lot more time than you would with most other breeds. Also, the results may never be what you may want. Even the best trained Basset Hounds exhibit a very high degree of selective listening. A Basset Hound may know that you are giving it a command and what it is supposed to do, but it will choose to do what it wants anyway. If you want a dog that will do tricks, you should probably look elsewhere. This stubbornness extends to housebreaking as well. Basset Hounds are one of the most challenging dogs to housebreak, a process that will take many months longer to complete than is the case with most breeds.
If you do want to train a Basset Hound, food rewards are a must. Basset Hounds love food. They will eat any that they find, and their keen noses allow them to find quite a bit. You will have to keep anything edible well out of reach, as Basset Hounds will show you just how smart they actually are in getting to food. Also, don’t let their short legs fool you. Basset Hounds can get very high when they stand on their hind legs.
Basset Hounds were bred to hunt and track quarry, a task at which they excel. Although they do not quite possess the keen nose of the Bloodhound, they are not very far off. Basset Hounds will get on a trail and they will follow it. Often, they will follow that trail for hours, and they can be quite difficult to get off of it. Many Basset Hounds will not come back when called if they are pursuing something. This means that it is very, very important to always keep a Basset Hound on a leash at all times unless in a fenced in area. It is also important to keep Basset Hounds in a secure fence, preferably one that extends well underground. Although these dogs are not the leapers or escape artists that many larger hound breeds are, they are surprisingly strong and quite capable of digging.
Many people assume that the Basset Hound is lazy, an assumption that is frequently furthered by the actions of Basset Hounds themselves. However, these dogs are quite capable of pursuing prey for hours, and do require regular exercise and mental stimulation. While Basset Hounds require less exercise than many dog breeds, it is still important to keep them in good shape as they can suffer from health problems if overweight. Also, while Basset Hounds do not have the reputation for destruction that many breeds have, a bored Basset Hound may still chew on furniture, or more likely bay all day long.
There is one other aspect of the Basset Hound’s temperament that prospective owners should be aware. These dogs are quite vocal, and they can be very loud. Basset Hounds were bred to bay while they hunt alerting their handlers that they were on the trail. Modern Basset Hounds still bay, although typically in less appropriate circumstances. While not as loud as the cry of a Bloodhound or Coonhound, most people are shocked to hear just how loud a Basset Hound can get. It is best to make sure that your Basset Hound is properly stimulated and exercised; otherwise you may get some noise complaints from your neighbors.
Basset Hounds should require very little professional grooming, if any at all. Regular brushing is all that most Basset Hounds need in terms of coat care. However, Basset Hounds are shedders. Some Basset Hounds are very, very heavy shedders. You will probably have coarse Basset Hound fur over your entire home. Basset Hounds also drool, some more than others. You will find slobber on yourself, as well as your possessions. Sometimes you may find piles of mixed slobber and hair. Basset Hounds are also known for having a fairly strong “doggy odor.”
Despite the lack of coat care, Basset Hounds do require a fair bit of maintenance and hygiene. Their ears and facial wrinkles are susceptible to infection. They also can collect dirt and odors. This means that you must regularly clean a Basset Hounds ears and skin wrinkles, a process which these always stubborn dogs can make quite difficult. It is advisable to start doing so when your dog is quite young and to always have food rewards on hand.
As with many breeds whose body shape has been fundamentally altered by humans, Basset Hounds are susceptible to a number of health problems. Studies done by the UK Kennel club found that the average life span of Basset Hounds is about eleven years. These same studies found that the number one cause of death among Basset Hounds was cancer, which was responsible for 31% of all Basset Hound Deaths. Other leading causes of death were old age at 13%, Gastric Dilation Volvulus Syndrome, also known as bloat, at 11%, and cardiac problems at 8%.
Cancer is a particular threat to Basset Hounds, as it is to many pure-bred dogs. When humans breed dogs for specific traits, we unknowingly focus on one gene, or a few interrelated genes. This can have many unintended consequences, such as spreading the frequency of a certain type of cancer. Additionally, many pure-bred dogs suffer from high degrees of inbreeding. This reduces the gene pool, as well as greatly increasing the likelihood of any potential genetic problems in the dogs which remain. The majority of modern day Basset Hounds descend from a very small number of Basset Artesian Normands brought from France into England. Most of these dogs came from a two French Breeders who were dominant at the time. Luckily, modern day breeders are aware of these problems and are working to eliminate health problems through genetic screenings and carefully monitoring their dog’s lineages.
Like many low-legged breeds, Basset Hounds are susceptible to back problems such as ruptured discs. These dogs are particularly at risk of back difficulties because they are so heavy. Many Basset Hounds also suffer from skeletal ailments such as arthritis and hip dysplasia.
Other common health problems associated with Basset Hounds include: