English Foxhound

The English Foxhound and the sport of foxhunting are among the most recognizable symbols of English culture.  The English Foxhound is the oldest pedigreed dog in the world, with extensive breeding records being kept since the 1700’s.  While the English Foxhound has breed members in many countries and is known throughout much of the world, the breed is the rarest dog in terms of American Kennel Club (AKC) registrations, and its future in the United Kingdom is in jeopardy as a result of recent bans on hunting with dogs.

Breed Information

Breed Basics

Country of Origin: 
LifeSpan: 
10 to 12 Years
Trainability: 
Moderate Effort Required
Energy Level: 
High Energy
Grooming: 
Brushing Once a Week or Less
Protective Ability: 
Good Watchdog
Hypoallergenic Breed: 
No
Space Requirements: 
Needs Alot of Space
Compatibility With Other Pets: 
Friendly With Other Dogs
Likely To Chase Or Injure Non-Canine Pets
Not Recommended For Homes With Small Animals
Litter Size: 
6–10 puppies; average 7
Names: 
Foxhound

Height/Weight

Males: 
65-75 lbs, 23-25 inches (Show dogs tend to be larger- 90 lbs+)
Females: 
Same

Kennel Clubs and Recognition

American Kennel Club: 
ANKC (Australian National Kennel Council): 
CKC(Canadian Kennel Club): 
FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale): 
KC (The Kennel Club): 
NZKC (New Zealand Kennel Club): 
UKC (United Kennel Club): 
History: 

 

Dogs resembling modern hound breeds have long been present in what is now England.  For example, there is some evidence to suggest that the origins of the Beagle go back to Pre-Roman Celtic days.  At the very least, Beagles, Harriers, and other similar hounds were in existence by the 1200’s, although they probably are considerably older.  It is unclear when these dogs first came to England, as records were seldom kept of dog breeding in Medieval and Roman times.  However, it is highly likely that their ancestors came with the Celts to the British Isles, and were later bred with dogs brought to England by Romans, Germanic tribesmen, and Viking conquerors.  These hounds were kept primarily by the nobility, but also by commoners.  Initially they had a variety of uses, primarily sport-hunting, vermin eradication, and personal protection.

 

By the late Middle Ages, hunting with hounds had become the predominant pastime of the European nobility.  The sport was important not only as a form of recreation, but also as a means for the ruling classes to form political and social bonds.  The alliances and decisions made over hunts would impact many nations and millions of citizens.  Hunting with hounds was perhaps the most popular in French lands, and this country became centers of hound hunting culture.  While dogs had long been bred for purpose and to some extent appearance, for most of the Middle Ages there were no dogs that could be called purebred, there were only types and landraces.  That began to change in the halls of the Monastery of Saint Hubert near Mouzon.  Sometime between 750 and 900 A.D., the monks of Saint Hubert began a highly regimented breeding program designed to create a purebred hunting hound.  The resulting breed became known as the Saint Hubert Hound.

 

It became customary for the Monks of Saint Hubert to send several pairs of these dogs to the King of France every year.  The King would then disperse them to his nobles.  Partially inspired by the Saint Hubert Hound, nobles throughout France began their own breeding programs, developing hounds from ancient local stock.  Eventually, there were a variety of unique hound breeds throughout France.  When William of Normandy conquered England in 1066, he brought several different types of French hound with him.  During the period of Norman rule, French nobles continued to import French dogs into England.  Among breeds which are known to have entered England are the Saint Hubert Hound (known in English as the Blooded-Hound, or Bloodhound), the Bleu de Gascogne, and possibly the now-extinct Talbot, which may have actually been nothing more than a pure white Bloodhound.  Other extinct breeds such as the Chien Gris and Montemboeuf may have been imported as well.  How many of these dogs were imported will probably never be known.  However, the Norman nobility was likely responsible for a newfound focus on more careful hound breeding in Britain.

 

These French breeds were mixed together and crossed with native hounds.  Exactly what mixtures were used is a mystery that will never be solved.  The extent to which French hounds interbred with their British counterparts is also up for debate.  Many experts believe that French breeds, particularly the Bloodhound and the Grand Bleu de Gascogne heavily influenced, and may have been the primary ancestors of several English Hound Breeds.  Two breeds which are typically believed to be primarily descended from French Hounds were now extinct Southern Hound and Northern Hound, which were apparently primarily deer hunting dogs.  These breeds were best described by John Henry Walsh in his works under the name of Stonehenge, who believed that they were primarily descended from Norman hounds.  Other writers such as William Youatt, author of The Dog, feel that the Southern Hound, Northern Hound, and even the Talbot were native British breeds that pre-date the Norman Conquest, and were later bred with a few French hounds.  The truth is likely some combination of both.  Whatever their true ancestry, the Northern Hound and especially the Southern Hound featured prominently in the development of other British hound breeds.

 

The fox has always been a major pest in England, but the disappearance of most of the remaining forests by the end of the Renaissance allowed this predator of open fields to dramatically increase in number.  These animals were so overpopulated that they were thought of in the same way as rats.  Foxes posed many dangers to farmers, including killing chickens, sheep, pigs, goats, rabbits, geese and other small livestock.  Cattle also frequently break their legs as a result of stepping in fox holes.  British farmers began to get frustrated.  The earliest known pursuit of a fox with hounds comes from 1534 in Norfolk, when an English farmer attempted to catch a fox with his hounds, although it is highly likely that hounds have been hunting foxes in England for many hundreds, and perhaps thousands of years before that.  As time went on, farmers began gathering in groups to hunt foxes.  They each brought the few dogs that they owned, forming a pack.  These large packs were much more likely to successfully hunt a fox than a few individual animals were.  Farmers would take turns clearing each others land of foxes.  These hunts became a form of social gathering and entertainment, as well as performing a valuable service for their participants.  The dogs used were either random-bred hounds, or dogs bred for other purposes such as deer hunting.

 

Initially, the English upper classes looked down upon fox hunting as the mere pursuit of vermin.  Their preferred quarry with hounds was deer.  However, the destruction of forests and increasing development of the British Isles led to a severe decrease in the population of deer.  Beginning in the 1600’s, the British nobility began to turn more and more to fox-hunting as a replacement.  Eventually, fox-hunting became the primary form of hunting among the nobility.  Hunts became highly ritualized, with unique procedures, dress, and etiquette.  A number of individuals became employed exclusively in fox-hunting.  As fox-hunting increased in popularity, breeders set out to create a dog designed to hunt foxes.  It is generally believed that the base stock used was the Southern Hound.  These dogs were renowned for their strong nose and stamina.  Other hound breeds were added, including the Northern Hound, Harrier, and the random-bred hounds used by farmers.  The resulting dogs had great noses and stamina, as well as being-excellent in a pack, but they lacked in speed and tenacity.  Sighthounds from Northern England, then known as gazehounds, were added to increase the speed.  Exactly which breed or breeds were used is unknown, although the most likely candidate is the Greyhound, followed by the Whippet, Lurcher, and Scottish Deerhound.  The Fox Terrier was added to increase tenacity, and possibly the English Bulldog, at that time a very different and more athletic breed, as well.  By the 1700’s, the resulting animals were breeding true to type, and were very skilled as fox hunters.  These dogs became known as Foxhounds.

 

The antecedent relationship of the Greyhound to the Foxhound is supported by notable authors of the time such as John Scott, who in his 1845 work, “The sportsman's repository; comprising a series of highly finished engravings, representing the horse and the dog, in all their varieties” wrote of the Foxhound:

 

“THE most fashionable Fox HOUND of the late and present times, is of the middle height of the Hound Species, comparatively slender, and bearing a strong resemblance, indeed proof of affinity, with the Greyhound, in the head, ear, neck and shoulder. He is doubtless descended from the old Northern hound, which was the lightest and speediest known, and said to be a cross between the Greyhound and the slow Hound of those days. Additional and periodical crosses with the Greyhound, have since taken place, joined perhaps with other Varieties, and from the portraits of certain crack individuals which have been published, it appears probable that, at no former period, have the hounds of this species been so light, active, and speedy, as within the last forty years, and at the present time. Nor do we hear any complaint among modern Sportsmen, as among the ancient, of the excess of Greyhound form or qualities in the present Fox Hound, or of a want of nose, steadiness", or stoutness. On the contrary, the best packs of this improved breed have found and killed more Foxes in their seasons, than any other and slower breeds could boast, running as long and desperate chases. The immense prices they have fetched, individually or in packs, have beggared all former precedent, and they have been the admiration of those foreigners who during their residence in this country, among other curiosities, novelties to them, have paid attention to our Turf and Field Sports.”

 

During the 17th and 18th Centuries, Foxhounds were imported to America by settlers who wished to continue fox hunting in the new world.  The first record of Foxhounds in America comes from 1650 when a pack was imported into Maryland by Robert Brooke, who later became the first Master of the Hounds in the 13 Colonies.  Fox hunting became a popular sport in America, particularly in the colonies of Virginia and Maryland.  Many prominent Americans were participants in the sport.  George Washington in particular was heavily involved.  In America, Foxhounds were heavily bred with other breeds, such as Bloodhounds, French hunting hounds, and various German, Scottish, and Irish hunting dogs. By the mid-1700’s, American dogs were seen as distinct from their British ancestors, and were known as Virginia Hounds.  These Virginia Hounds were the primary ancestors of the American Foxhound, the Black and Tan Virginia Foxhound, and five of the six breeds of Coonhound.  American Foxhounds are known for being faster and less stocky than their English counterparts.  It was in America that the English Foxhound was first referred to as English to distinguish the breed from American dogs.  In most of the world the English Foxhound is simply known as the Foxhound. 

 

Because of the prestige and social importance associated with fox hunting, the status and value of Foxhounds increased as well.  As a result, a greater emphasis was placed on their breeding.  Borrowing again from the work of John Scott in which he provides instructions on how to properly breed high quality Foxhounds:

 

“In breeding the Fox Hound with the view of obtaining a capital Pack, a stallion hound of high repute should be either purchased or hired, and of that variety, whether the lightest bred or otherwise, which it should be thought proper to adopt, and none should be used but middle-aged and thorough-shaped females; and certainly, by choice, those which had established a character in the hunt. Notwithstanding the occasional and frequent exceptions, like will produce like, upon the average ; and the Sportsman who aims at superiority, must attend to that average, which, if his only dependence, is past all doubt, preferable to chance-medley, or to the very poor chance of breeding good shapes from bad patterns. In a course of years by the indefatigable attention of a proprietor, but not otherwise, may a pack of hounds of any desired Variety be reared, of the highest character and greatest money value.”

 

By the year 1800, most breeders were not only keeping studbooks of their dogs but also carefully selecting and breeding them in such as way as to produce dogs of the highest quality. These are the earliest known precise written records of dog breeding anywhere in the world.  Eventually, breeders formed groups and associations, which were some of the first precursors to modern kennel clubs.  This means that the English Foxhound was the first pedigreed dog breed in the world.  As fox hunting became increasingly popular, the breed was likewise further refined which brought about an increase in the demand and prestige of the Foxhound. As evidence by the “Encyclopedia of Sport” of 1897; a joint work between Henry Charles Howard (Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire), Hedley Peek and Frederick George Aflalo:

 

“It has been said that the foxhound has been so carefully bred as to be at the present time the most perfect specimen of the canine race extant. That he is the most valuable no one will deny. He is built in a manner which ensures speed and stamina, and in both respects he cannot be excelled. He is not often seen on our show benches, though when classes are provided for him he is sure to attract attention. There is a foxhound show held at the Peterborough each year, which is largely attended; and their representatives of the leading pack are always to be seen. A dog hound {sic} weighs from 70lbs. to 80lbs, whilst a bitch weighs from 60 lb. to 70 lb. As to the value of a pack of foxhounds, great variation is found. Squire Osbaldiston's pack was sold at Tattersall's in 1840 for 5,219 guineas, whilst the Haydon in 1884 went for 15 guineas; both these are the extremes. A lightly made Foxhound is specially bred in the north of England where it is used for "trail hunting." In various parts of the world the foxhound has been introduced. In the United States, it is popular, in Canada likewise. The Virginian hound is less heavily built than our foxhound, has longer and more pendulous ears, and certainly inclines to the bloodhound type.”

 

By the end of the 19th Century there were over 140 packs of registered Foxhounds in the United Kingdom, each with about 50 dogs.  The breed also spread throughout the British Empire.  Essentially anywhere where the British flag flew, Foxhounds followed.  Foxhounds were imported to India for the Raj to use in hunting jackals, although the dogs faired poorly in the Indian Subcontinent’s tropical climate.  Once considered a pest in England, foxes were actually imported to Australia and New Zealand by hunters who wanted to chase the animals with Foxhounds.  Now foxes have become an invasive species in both countries and endanger many native species.

 

Unsurprisingly for the first pedigreed breed in the world, the English Foxhound has long been registered with the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club (UKC).  The UKC first registered the English Foxhound in 1905 and the AKC followed by recognizing the breed in 1909 and the current Breed Standard in 1935.  Despite the breed’s presence in the United States since the 1600’s, the English Foxhound has never been as popular on American shores as its descendant the American Foxhound.  According to recent AKC statistics for 2010, the English Foxhound is the least most commonly registered breed; sitting in 167th place out of the 167 AKC accepted breeds. At last count, there were fewer than 20 AKC registered English Foxhounds in America. 

 

The UKC, which is primarily a working dog registry, has a larger amount of English Foxhounds registered than the AKC; however, the breed is still significantly less common than many other hounds.  There are still two national breed clubs which promote the English Foxhound in America: The English Foxhound Club of America (FNCA) and the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America (MFHA).  The FNCA is listed as the parent club of the breed according to the AKC; however, there is no history available as to the formation of the club, its members, current ambitions for the breed, nor does it appear to have an active website.  The Masters of Foxhounds Association of America, the larger of the two organizations, founded in 1907, does not specialize in this one breed as it promotes the American Foxhound, the Black and Tan Virginia Foxhound, the English Foxhound and the sport of fox hunting in general.

 

Despite the English Foxhound’s lack of popularity in the United States, the breed remains relatively common in other countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom.  However, the breed’s status in its homeland is in serious jeopardy.  Changing opinions about animal cruelty have led to bans on the hunting many animals, including deer and foxes, by use of  dogs.  Bans went into effect in Scotland in 2002 and in England and Wales in 2005, although Northern Ireland still allows fox hunting with hounds.  Some packs owners have said that they will continue to maintain their animals in the hope that the ban will be repealed; however, public opinion makes this very unlikely.  Other pack owners have said that they will have to euthanize most or all of their dogs as a result of the ban.  While it is virtually impossible to find exact numbers, the population of Foxhounds in Britain has likely substantially declined.  In addition to animals which have been euthanized, breeding of English Foxhounds has slowed somewhat.  Some pack owners in England have begun to trail humans or artificial scents instead of actual foxes.  Also, a large number of illegal hunts go on every year, apparently with the knowledge of law enforcement officials.  While it is too soon to tell, the English Foxhound may be a dog without a purpose in its homeland, and may eventually become endangered there.  However, fox hunting with hounds remains legal in many countries, such as Ireland, France, Australia, India, Canada, and the United States.

 

Unlike many other breeds of dog which are rarely used for their original purpose and are instead primarily companion animals, the English Foxhound is almost exclusively used as a pack hunting animal.  Although the breed tends to be very friendly with humans and other dogs, as well as being very physically appealing, its hard-wired hunting instincts mean that the English Foxhound does not adapt well to sedentary life.  Very few English Foxhounds are kept as pets or show dogs in any country, with almost all of the breed’s population comprised of active or retired pack hunters.  A small number of English Foxhounds are also used for livestock or home protection.

 

Appearance: 

 

Because of the importance of fox hunting to English culture, and the spread of the English Foxhound to most British territories, the English Foxhound is one of the most recognizable dog breeds in the world.  For much of the world, the breed defines what a pack hunting hound should look like; sizable, straight-legged, droopy-eared, and in traditional hound colors.  Most of the English Foxhound’s appearance is determined by the breed’s purpose.  This is a working dog and should appear as such.

 

The English Foxhound is a large breed.  Both sexes should be between 23 and 25 inches tall at the shoulder.  Although breed standards do not dictate an ideal weight, typical hunting English Foxhounds will weigh between 65 and 75 pounds.  Dogs bred for the show ring tend to be significantly larger, with some males coming close to 100 pounds.  While these dogs should be muscular and somewhat thick, they should never appear to be in any way overweight.

 

The English Foxhound has a long snout and nose, although not as long as those of some hounds, such as the Basset Hound.  This gives the dog a greater area for scent receptors.  The breed has droopy ears, which flop forward.  These ears should not be as long compared to body size as a breed such as a Bloodhound, but more in proportion to those of a Beagle.  There is some seemingly extra skin around the mouth and face, which may form a few wrinkles around the lips.  The breed’s head is connected to the body by a comparatively long neck.

 

The English Foxhound is strong and athletic in appearance.  These dogs have very thick, straight legs, which are ideal for long chases.  The entire dog should appear muscular, especially around the shoulders and hips.  The dog’s body is held high off of the ground.  The English Coonhound has a long tail which is typically held in an upright, saber-like position.

 

The coat of the English Foxhound is short, dense, hard, and glossy.  This gives the breed some protection from the elements.  Color is not regarded as particularly important, so long as the breed is of a traditional hound color, meaning any combination of black, white, and tan.  Although these dogs come in many patterns, the most recognizable and common is a saddle shaped marking on the back.  Judges care primarily about the symmetry of the breed’s coat.

 

Temperament: 

 

The English Foxhound is known for being an affectionate and friendly animal with its handlers and family, as well as being gentle with children.  The breed is somewhat unpredictable around strangers; some dogs will warmly approach any stranger, while others may be shy and protective.  Unlike most hounds, some English Foxhounds are employed as livestock and property guard dogs.  If you are looking for a multi-purpose hunter and guardian, some English Foxhounds may be ideal for you.  Other breed members may be too friendly.  Despite its friendly nature, the English Foxhound’s strong hunting instincts mean that very few of these dogs can adapt well to companion animal life.

 

English Foxhounds are among the best breeds of dog in the world in terms of compatibility with other canines.  These dogs have been bred for centuries to work in packs with between 40 and 100 other hounds, in addition to other dogs such as terriers and Whippets.  As a result, if you are looking for a breed to introduce into a home with existing canine residents, an English Foxhound may be one of the best options for you.  However, it is important to always be careful when introducing new dogs to each other, especially if both dogs are adults or of the same gender.

 

As so few English Foxhounds are kept for purposes other than hunting, it is hard to say what their personality is with non-canine animals.  Obviously, dogs trained to hunt and kill foxes are probably going to pursue and kill other small animals such as cats and rabbits.  Even dogs which are kept as companions are likely to have a high prey drive, and may not be ideal to keep around non-canine animals.  However, these dogs have for many centuries worked in close association with horses, and some owners have said that their dogs get along better with other household pets than many other dog breeds.  It is likely that this breed can get along with other animals if properly socialized from a very young age and its hunting instincts are highly discouraged.

 

The English Foxhound may cause some training problems.  English Foxhounds can be very stubborn and willful.  These dogs were bred to chase down game for hours without giving up, and as a result can be quite determined.  This does not mean that these dogs are untrainable or stupid, quite the opposite.  However, you will have to dedicate a substantial amount of time to training, and you may never get the results which you want.

 

English Foxhounds pose particular problems when off-leash.  These dogs have a strong instinct to follow a scent trail once they get on one.  They will follow a trail for many hours, not giving up until they find their quarry.  Additionally, the English Coonhound has a tremendous amount of speed and endurance.  There is a reason that these dogs must be followed on horseback when hunting.  As a result, English Coonhounds are likely to run away, and may be difficult to call back.  These dogs should be kept on-leash at all times unless in a secure area.  Any place where an English Coonhound is let off-leash must be very secure.  These dogs could scale a six-foot fence with surprisingly little difficulty, and are more than capable of digging underneath or going straight through taller fences.

 

English Foxhounds are capable of running at high speeds for very long distances.  They are also excellent problem solvers.  This breed needs a tremendous amount of exercise and mental stimulation.  You must be willing and able to give and English Foxhound a great deal of time and exercise.  A twenty minute stroll around the neighborhood will definitely not be enough for this breed.  Bored and unexercised English Foxhounds will become vocal and most likely destructive.  They may also become highly inappropriate greeters, jumping and licking owners and guests alike.  If you cannot provide the dog what it needs this is not an ideal breed for you.  However, if you are a regular jogger or hiker, the English Foxhound would almost certainly love to accompany you for hours every day.

 

One aspect of the English Foxhound that makes the breed almost impossible to keep in urban areas is the breed’s voice.  The English Foxhound is renowned among hunters for its melodic bay.  Indeed, many hunters believe the breed is the ideal hound to hunt alongside horses because of it.  However, these dogs will use their voice very loudly and very frequently.  Proper exercise may reduce baying in some dogs.  However, even the best kept English Foxhound will be far more vocal than other breeds.  Some of this breed may bay for hours on end.  English Foxhounds will almost certainly result in noise complaints in heavily populated areas.

 

Grooming Requirements: 

 

English Foxhounds have coats that were designed to be durable and low-maintenance.  These dogs will probably not require professional grooming.  This does not mean that they will not shed.  These dogs are considered average shedders, but their substantial size and white fur may mean that it is more noticeable.

 

Special attention must be paid to the English Foxhound’s ears.  As is the case with many droopy-eared dogs, the English Foxhound is susceptible to dirt getting trapped in their ears.  This can lead to chronic ear infections.  As a result, it is very important that the dog’s ears are regularly cleaned.  This should be started from a young age to get the dog accustomed to it.

 

Health Issues: 

 

English Foxhounds are among the healthiest of all large dog breeds.  Their average life expectancy is between 10 and 13 years, high for a dog of this size, even more so when it is considered that the vast majority spend years as hunting dogs.  They have been bred almost exclusively for performance for centuries.  Dogs which suffered from physical disabilities or health issues would not have been bred by any Master of the Hounds, and indeed may have been euthanized to prevent a chance of that happening.  This does not mean that the English Foxhound is immune from health issues; it just means that they are considerably less likely to be afflicted by genetically inherited disorders than most other purebred dogs.

 

It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed.  The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.

 

Among the Health Issues which English Foxhounds are known to suffer from include:

 

 

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