The Chiens Francais are three breeds of French scenthound, all of which have been bred to hunt in large packs. The Chiens Francais are the result of crossing a number of older hound breeds in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Considered to be among the world’s rarest scenthounds, these breeds are seldom seen even in their country of origin. Each of the three breeds of Chien Francais has a slightly different ancestry, but all are very similar in terms of appearance and temperament. These breeds are primarily distinguished by their coloration, which is the source of their names. The Chien Francais Blanc et Orange is also known as the French White and Orange Hound, White and Orange French Hound, and Francais Blanc et Orange. The Chien Francais Blanc et Noir is also known as the French White and Black Hound, White and Black French Hound, and the Francais Blanc et Noir. The Chien Francais Tricolore is also known as the French Tricolor Hound, French Tricolour Hound, Tricolor French Hound, Tricolour French Hound, and the Francais Tricolore. Collectively, these breeds are sometimes known as the Youngest French Hounds, Newest French Hounds, or Rarest French Hounds.
Hunting with hounds has been a popular pastime in France since the dawn of recorded history. The earliest written accounts of what is now France mention that the Gauls and Vascones, the peoples that inhabited France prior to Roman occupation, kept hunting hounds. No one is really sure what these dogs were like, but it is often claimed that they were the result of crossing Celtic, Basque, Phoenician, and Greek dogs. The Romans conquerors were also very fond of hunting and introduced their own breeds to the region. However, hunting in France did not reach its peak until the Dark and Middle Ages.
During the Dark and Middle Ages, hunting became the most popular and important pastime of the Western European nobility. Essentially every person of noble blood, especially men, engaged in some form of hunting, and the vast majority engaged in several. As a result of its noble patronage, hunting became a highly ritualized and socially significant affair. Hunts were more than just a means to pass the time. They were the primary means by with the nobility formed social bonds. Countless personal, political, and dynastic alliances were formed over the hunt. Decisions were discussed and made that would come to impact the lives of millions. Hunting was so important that virtually every man with a title kept a pack of scenthounds. The sport was so popular that many nobles prohibited development on vast stretches of land so that they could hunt on it, costing themselves immense wealth in the process. The traditional quarry of scenthounds was large mammalian prey such as deer, boar, and wolf. Large packs of hounds would find a scent trail of one of these animals and then follow it, baying loudly so hunters could follow. Armed hunters would then follow on horseback. Depending on the breed of dog and the species of prey, the dogs would either surround the quarry or attack it directly. Sometimes the dogs would kill the animal themselves as a team, other times the hunters would dispatch it.
Although hunting with hounds was popular throughout Western Europe, nowhere was it as popular as in France. At the time, France was not a unified country as it is today, but rather a collection of semi-independent feudal states. This lack of unity meant that many regions developed their own unique varieties of hunting dog. Some of these dogs, such as the Grand Bleu de Gascogne and several breeds of Griffin, were very ancient and probably existed prior to the Roman occupation, while others were much younger. A substantial amount of competition developed between French nobles and their hound keepers to see who could develop the best hunting hounds, which led to the development of even more breeds. The end result was that by the start of the French Revolution, there were dozens of unique hound breeds in France.
Much of the development of French Hound breeds was inspired by the monks of the Saint Hubert Monastery, located in Belgium near Mouzon. Sometime between 750 and 900 A.D. these monks began a selective breeding program designed to develop the best possible scenthound. The result of these efforts was the Saint Hubert Hound, better known in English as the Bloodhound. Every year, the monks at Mouzon sent several pairs of Saint Hubert Hound to the King of France as a tribute. In turn, the King would give these hounds as gifts to favored nobles, spreading them across France in the process. The Saint Hubert Hound would go on to have a major influence on all French hound breeds that were developed after the 1100’s.
Although the French were by far the most prolific hound breeders in Europe (and the entire world), they were not alone in their endeavors. Across the English Channel, the English had also developed a number of unique breeds. The most popular of these breeds were the English Foxhound, Harrier, and Beagle. The ancestry and origin of the British hounds is fiercely debated, with each expert seeming to be a proponent of a different theory. There is near universal agreement that the English Foxhound at least was the result of a careful and deliberate breeding program, and that it first appeared between the 16th and 17th Centuries. Although there is substantial disagreement on this point, the English Foxhound was probably developed by crossing a number of British dog breeds with the descendants of French hounds imported by Norman invaders in the 11th and 12th Centuries.
In 1789, the opening shots of the French Revolution were fired. This led to nearly 30 years of constant social unrest in France and foreign conflict during the Napoleonic Wars. The French Middle and Lower Classes fought back after centuries of oppression and mistreatment at the hands of the nobility, taking away most of their lands and power in the process. Stripped of their wealth, most nobles were forced to abandon their hounds. Many scenthounds were actively slaughtered by the revolting masses, who were angry that the dogs had been much better fed and cared for than their own children. Many French hound breeds went entirely extinct at this time, and others were reduced to such low numbers that breeders combined the last surviving individuals into new breeds to preserve as many bloodlines as possible. After the defeat of Napoleon, the French monarchy was briefly restored and interest in hunting with hounds increased. By that point, technology had improved to the point where it was much cheaper and easier to ship dogs than ever before. This allowed the French nobility to import a large number of British hounds, partly because of their superior qualities and partly because there were so few French hounds remaining. It was during the period from 1815 until 1900 that the three Chien Francais breeds were developed.
The exact origins of the Chiens Francais will probably never be known for sure because accurate breeding records were not kept by early breeders. All that is clear is that the three breeds were developed from a mixture of living and now extinct French and English hound breeds, although a few breeds of French Braque (French Pointing Dog) may have been used as well. The Chien Francais Blanc et Orange is thought to be the result of crossing the Billy with other dogs. The Chien Francais Blanc et Noir is thought to be primarily descended from the Saintongeois, Gascon-Saintongeois, and Poitevin with lesser influence from other breeds. The Chien Francais Tricolore is thought to be the result of crossing the Grand Anglo-Francais Tricolore, Billy, and Poitevin. Some fanciers claim that the Chien Francais Tricolore was developed to create a hound with less English blood than the Grand Anglo-Francais Tricolore, but that was still equally well suited for hunting deer and boar.
The Chiens Francais breeds were initially kept exclusively as hunting dogs, and most early fanciers had little interest in registering them with kennel clubs or entering them in dog shows. Largely as a result, these breeds remained unrecognized by the international canine community for many decades although they were kept pure bred. World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II proved devastating for French hounds. The great hardships wrought during these struggles forced many owners to abandon their dogs when they could no longer afford to keep them, and breeding essentially stopped for many years. Additionally, many dogs were killed as collateral damage in military actions. Several of those French breeds which had managed to survive the French Revolution were not as lucky in the aftermath of the World Wars, and disappeared entirely. Those that did live to see France liberated from Nazi control, did so in greatly reduced numbers. The three Chiens Francais were among the breeds that survived World War II, and they experienced a brief renaissance after the fighting ended. In 1957, all three breeds were granted formal recognition with the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI), exposing them to the world outside of France for the first time. Because these breeds were the most recently recognized of all French scenthounds, they are sometimes known as the Youngest or Newest French Hounds.
Although FCI recognition greatly increases international interest in most breeds, it has not done so for the Chiens Francais. As is the case with most French scenthounds, the Chiens Francais are almost entirely unknown outside of their homeland. There does not seem to be any definitive reports of breeders of any of these three breeds outside of France, nor any individual breed members for that matter. If any of these dogs have been exported from France, it is a very small number and they have not yet become established. Although it is unclear if any of these dogs have made it to the United States (and all evidence indicates that none have), the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted full recognition to all three breeds in 1996 as members of the Scenthound Group. The Continental Kennel Club (CKC) and several other rare breed registries have also granted these dogs full recognition.
The Chiens Francais remain very rare dogs, even in France. The population of Chien Francais Blanc et Noir is currently estimated to be around 2,000 animals with between 200 and 400 new puppies registered each year. The populations of the other two Chien Francais breeds is thought to be somewhat less, particularly that of the Chien Francais Blanc et Orange which is thought to be the rarest of all French Hound breeds. Because these dogs are so rare, they are sometimes known as the Rarest French Hounds. Despite their low numbers, the immediate future of these dogs seems relatively secure because they are maintained by avid hunters who keep sizable packs. However, these three breeds are at serious risk long term. Hunting with dogs is becoming increasingly unpopular in Europe and is banned in some countries entirely. Although the sport remains popular in France, it is unclear how long this tradition will continue. If hunting with hounds becomes increasingly unpopular, it may well result in the demise of breeds such as the Chiens Francais that are almost exclusively kept for hunting. These dogs are in a greater level of danger than most because they already have very low numbers and very few, if any, fanciers that keep them primarily for companionship or competitive canine events such as dog shows.
The Chiens Francais are very similar in appearance to each other, and to French Hounds in general. Although the standards for the breeds are slightly different, the average layperson (and frankly most experts) would not be able to distinguish them were it not for their differently colored coats. These are large hound breeds, but they are certain not massive. The Chien Francais Blanc et Orange usually stands between 24 ½ and 28½ inches tall at the shoulder. Male Chiens Francais Blanc et Noir usually stand between 24½ and 28 inches, while the females usually stand between 23½ and 26½ inches. Male Chiens Francais Tricolore usually stand between 25½ and 28 inches, and the females usually stand between 24½ and 26½ inches. Although weight is heavily influenced by height, gender, and build, most Chiens Francais of all breeds weigh between 50 and 80 pounds. Although the Chiens Francais have long legs, most are slightly longer than they are tall. The Chiens Francais are very muscular and lean dogs. These animals should obviously display speed, stamina, and athleticism. The tails of Chiens Francais are long and carried elegantly.
The heads and faces of the Chiens Francais are very similar to those of other French hound breeds. They are quite long, but never disproportionately so. The muzzles of these breeds are only somewhat distinct, blending in very smoothly with the slightly domes skulls. The muzzles are almost as long, if not as long as the skulls, giving these dogs the maximum possible area for scent receptors. The lips completely cover the lower jaw, giving a square appearance to the muzzle, but they should not be loose or jowly. Although these dogs exhibit some slightly loose skin around the face, they should never have noticeable facial wrinkles as adults. The noses of these dogs have well-opened nostrils and should always be black in color, except in the case of the Chien Francais Blanc et Orange whose nose may also be brown. The ears of the Chiens Francais are typical of French scenthounds, long, drooping, and often slightly twisted. The eyes of these breeds should be large and dark brown. The overall expression of most of these dogs is intelligent and gentle.
The coats of all three breeds are very similar except in regards to color. The Chien Francais Blanc et Orange and the Chien Francais Tricolore have short and fine coats, while the Chien Francais Blanc et Noir has a coat which is short, harsh, and dense. The proper coat coloration is the hallmark of these breeds, and is considered their defining features. One of the best English language descriptions of the proper coloration for these breeds can be found in their official UKC standards. The Chien Francais Blanc et Orange is, “White and lemon, or white and orange, but the orange may not be so dark as to appear red.” The Chien Francais Blanc et Noir is, “White and black, with black or bluish speckling. Tan speckling is allowed on the legs. There are often tan markings on the head and under the tail and a tan ‘roebuck’ marking on the thigh.” The Chien Francais Tricolore is “Hound tricolor, with a black mantle and bright tan. Black shading in the tan on the face, and blue or tan speckling on the legs, are allowable but not preferred. Grizzle is an allowable color.” Sometimes one of these dogs will be born in an alternative coloration, such as a Chien Francais Tricolore being born with smokey colors. Such dogs are penalized in the show ring and should not be bred but otherwise make just as good hunting dogs and pets as any other breed members.
There is very little information on the temperaments of the Chiens Francais other than their hunting skills and behaviors. This is because very few, if any, of these dogs are kept for any purpose other than pack hunting. These dogs are known to be very friendly and affectionate with people, although some individuals may be shy. There do not seem to be any reports on the breed’s suitability with children, but most pack hounds are very tolerant and affectionate with them. Some breed members may be alert enough to make effective watch dogs, but the Chiens Francais are generally neither aggressive nor territorial enough to make effective guard dogs. As is the case with all dogs, proper training and socialization are very important to ensure an even and friendly temperament with strangers and children, but these dogs are usually comparatively easy to socialize.
These dogs and their ancestors have been bred to hunt in packs for many centuries. As these dogs had to live and work in groups of 50 or more dogs without problems, even the slightest amount of dog aggression was unacceptable. All dogs require training and socialization to get them accustomed to other canines, but most Chiens Francais do very well with other dogs once such training is complete. In fact, these breeds often crave the company of other dogs and do much better in multiple dog homes, preferably ones with many dogs. Although generally good with other dogs and people, the Chiens Francais are generally not good with other animals. These dogs have a very strong urge to chase other creatures, and to attack and even kill them when they catch up to them. Breed members that are raised with other pets from a young age will usually be very gentle with those individual animals, but will still probably attempt to chase other small animals.
The Chiens Francais are natural hunters and learn how to do so very quickly and with minimal effort. Training these dogs other tasks will probably prove quite challenging. Scenthounds were bred to relentless pursue their quarry completely ignoring any distractions. These animals can be extremely stubborn, and many seem to completely ignore training. Training methods that emphasize rewards, especially food rewards, work far better than other methods but still only have limited effectiveness. This does not mean that the Chiens Francais are impossible to train, but it does mean that training them will require considerably more time, patience, and effort than many breeds, and that the results may not be to the desired level. Some who have worked with these breeds claim that they are considerably easier to train than most scenthounds, but it is unclear if that is true or not. As is the case with all scenthounds, once these dogs are on a trail they are almost impossible to call back and should be kept on a leash at all times when outside of a safely enclosed area.
These dogs were bred to hunt and are capable of working at a vigorous pace for hours on end. The Chiens Francais are very athletic and energetic dog with substantial exercise requirements. These breeds should receive a minimum of 45 minutes to 1 hour of vigorous physical activity every day. Breed members that do not receive sufficient exercise are likely to develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, excessive barking, hyperactivity, and over excitability. Once these dogs have their needs met they tend to be relaxed and calm indoors, and will usually laze about for several hours.
When on the hunt, Chiens Francais bay loudly so that hunters may follow them even if they run out of sight. These breeds are very vocal and very loud. Training and exercise can greatly reduce the amount that a Chien Francais barks or bays, but will definitely not eliminate them entirely. Keeping one of these dogs in close quarters will likely result in a noise complaint. This loudness combined with the high exercise requirements of these breeds mean that they are ill-suited to apartment life. These dogs do best with large yards, preferably with several acres.
The Chiens Francais are low maintenance dogs. These breeds should never require professional grooming, only a regular brushing. Owners do have to regularly and thoroughly clean a Chien Francais’s ears. Otherwise dirt, food, water, and other particles may become trapped in them, leading to irritations and possibly ear infections. There do not seem to be any reports on the shedding of the Chiens Francais. However, it is fair to assume that these breeds do shed, and shed very heavily.
It does not appear that any health studies have been conducted on the Chiens Francais, which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements on the health of these breeds. Based on what is known about similar breeds, it is probably fair to assume that these dogs are in average to good health. Most scenthounds which have been bred as working hunting dogs are in good health because any genetic defect impairs their ability to work and is therefore quickly eliminated from breeding lines. However, these dogs also have very small populations and may be at risk of several inheritable diseases due to restricted gene pools. Based on what is known about similar breeds, the life expectancy of a Chien Francais is probably between 10 and 14 years, although that is admittedly a very rough estimate.
Although skeletal and visual problems are not thought to occur at high rates 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.
Although health studies have not been conducted for the Chiens Francais, a number have been on similar and closely related breeds. Some of the problems of greatest concern hound in those breeds include: