The Estonian Hound is a breed of scent hound native to the nation of Estonia, although it was developed when that country was still a part of the Soviet Union. Enjoying immense popularity as a working dog in its homeland, where it is the Official National Dog Breed, the Estonian Hound is known primarily for its intense drive and excellent sense of smell. The Estonian Hound is also known by its Estonian name of Gontchaja Estonskaja and sometimes by the alternate English translation of Estonian Scenthound.
The Estonian Hound is a very recently developed breed, and its history is very well-documented. The history of this breed begins in the early 20th Century. Estonia had been occupied by various foreign powers since the Early Middle Ages including the Vikings, Danes, Teutonic Order, Swedes, and Russians. Prior to 1914, the hunting dogs of Estonia were largely descended from English Foxhounds, various Polish hunting dogs, and a number of Russian hounds which had been imported to the country since the 1700’s. These dogs were possibly crossed with native Estonian hunting dogs, about which next to nothing is known, and German scenthound breeds. During World War I, Estonia fought a successful war of independence against both the Soviet forces of Vladimir Lenin and the German forces of Kaiser Wilhelm II. A brief but prosperous period of independence followed. During this period, a number of hunting dogs from Finland, which had also become independent from Russia in World War I, were imported to Estonia. These Finnish hounds proved to be uniquely suited to working in Estonia and began to replace the pre-existing dog breeds. Prior to World War II, scent hounds in Estonia were used to hunt all manner of game, but large quarry such as deer, boar, and wolf was preferred. Estonian independence ended when the Soviet Union used the global preoccupations with Nazi advance on Paris to illegally annex Estonia in 1940.
In 1947, the Soviet Union issued a decree that all member states must develop at least one unique national dog breed. The reasons behind the act were complex and convoluted, but involved regaining national pride following World War II, impressing upon the populace that the Soviet Union was truly a union of states and not a Russian-dominated empire, and practical concerns for the need for dogs specialized to local conditions. Although most Soviet countries developed their breeds primarily from local dogs, Estonia apparently did not have any pre-existing dog types that were deemed suitable. In the years preceding 1947, the Estonian big game population was decreasing at a rapid rate, and many observers were concerned that several species were in danger of becoming extinct entirely in the country. An act was passed which made it illegal for anyone to use a hunting dog in Estonia which was taller than 17 inches at the shoulder. It was thought that this height restriction would make it impossible to use dogs to hunt larger game. Additionally, hunting was restricted to foxes, rabbits, and small vermin species. Some sources claim that the Soviet Union initiated the development of the Estonian Hound in the 1930’s, but this is impossible as Estonia was an independent nation at the time.
Estonian dog breeders were put in a bit of a dilemma by these new regulations. They had to develop a new dog breed, but it had to be smaller than any existing hunting breeds in Estonia. Breeders began to work with the smallest native hunting dogs, but it was immediately clear that small hunting breeds would need to be imported from other countries. A large number of breeds from across Europe were imported into Estonia to improve the makeup of the newly developing Estonian breed. Beagles and Dachshunds were greatly valued due to their small size and excellent hunting abilities. Swiss Laufhunds, especially the Schweizer Laufhund, Luzerner Laufhund, and Berner Laufhund, were also favored not only for their size and hunting skill, but also for their ability to thrive in freezing climates. Those five breeds in addition to the smallest examples of the pre-existing Estonian hunting dogs formed the basis for the Estonian Hound breed. It is also possible that a few other breeds were added in as well such as the Drever, Westphalian Dachsbracke, Alpine Dachsbracke, and Swedish and Norwegian scenthounds, but this is less clear.
The result of these carefully planned breeding programs was the Gontchaja Estonskaja, known in English as the Estonian Hound. Partially because many of the breeds used to develop the Estonian Hound were so similar, the breed quickly bred true. By 1954, an official written standard had been developed and formally approved by the Soviet government in Moscow. The Estonian Hound quickly became extremely popular in its homeland. The breed had an exceptional nose, a great amount of energy, tremendous stamina, and a very high hunting drive, all features which made it an exceptional hunting dog. Unlike most breeds, the Estonian Hound also proved very well adapted to the frigid Estonian climate. The breed also possessed a very sweet and charming nature which made it easy and desirable to keep as a pet when it was not on the trail. Although mandated by law to preserve large game, the small size of the Estonian Hound proved to be an exceptionally desirable breed trait. The Estonian Hound was considerably less expensive to keep than the larger hounds that preceded it, allowing for more families to keep them and for serious hunters to keep much larger packs. The breed’s short stature also allowed hunters to follow it on foot rather than on horseback. The Estonian Hound became a staple of Estonian life, and by the end of the Soviet Era the breed had become one of the most popular, and probably the most popular, in Estonia.
Soviet power began to weaken in the 1980’s, and Estonia was one of the first Soviet Republics to formally declare its independence. Even before independence, the Estonian Kennel Union (Eesti Kennelliit) was officially reformed in 1989, after years of repression. Shortly after independence, the Estonian Kennel Union became an associate member of the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) and began to make changes in order to comply with that organization. The newly reformed Estonian government declared the Estonian Hound to be the Official National Dog Breed of Estonia. In 1998, a new Estonian Hound standard which complied with FCI rules was formally accepted by the Estonian Kennel Union. The following year, the Estonian Kennel Union became a full federated member of the FCI, becoming one of the first kennel clubs from the former Eastern bloc to do so. Since 1999, the Estonian Kennel Union has made achieving full FCI recognition for the Estonian Hound one of the organization’s major goals. Although the Estonian Hound has not yet achieved FCI recognition, it is hoped that the breed will soon become provisionally accepted.
Unlike many of the breeds developed during the Soviet Period such as the East European Owtcharka, the Estonian Hound has continued to remain very popular in the post Soviet Era. The Estonian Hound is currently one of the most popular breeds in Estonia, and almost certainly the most popular. The breed is especially favored by Estonian hunters, and the breed currently comprises a substantial majority of the working scenthound population of that country. Because the Soviet ban on hunting large game has been maintained by the Estonian government, the small Estonian Hound has remained incredibly popular for hunting foxes and rabbits. Despite its popularity in its homeland, the Estonian Hound remains virtually unknown elsewhere. Although a few breed members currently live in Latvia and Lithuania and a very small number of individual dogs have been imported to other Nordic countries, the vast majority of the Estonian Hound’s population currently resides in Estonia. It is unclear whether any Estonian Hounds have been imported to the United States, but it appears unlikely. The Estonian Hound is not currently recognized by any major English language kennel clubs, nor does it appear likely that this situation will change in the foreseeable future.
While many modern breeds are now rarely used for their original purpose, such is not the case with the Estonian Hound. A sizable majority of Estonian Hounds are still kept primarily as hunting dogs, and hunting remains the breed’s primary purpose. In recent years, however, increasing numbers of breed members have been kept mainly for companionship or as show dogs, a trend which may continue in the future. Due to its great and lasting popularity within Estonia, the Estonian Hound’s future is very secure in its homeland. However, the breed will probably remain virtually unknown outside of the Baltic and Nordic countries until more breed members are exported.
The Estonian Hound is very similar in appearance to the Beagle (although it is usually very slightly larger), and most Americans would surely mistake it for such. The Estonian Hound is a small to medium in size. The average male Estonian Hound stands between 17½ and 20½ inches tall at the shoulder, while the average female stands between 16½ and 19½ inches. Although weight is heavily influenced by height, gender, and condition, most breed members in good shape weigh between 30 and 45 pounds. The Estonian Hound is usually considerably longer from chest to rump than it is tall from floor to shoulder, although this tendency is not quite as exaggerated as in many small scenthounds. The legs of the Estonian Hound are proportionately short but not excessively so. As a working breed, the Estonian Hound should always appear fit and muscular. Although this breed is very sturdily constructed, it is not quite stocky. The tail of the Estonian Hound is medium to long in length, sword shaped, and carried below the top line.
The head and face of the Estonian Hound are very reminiscent of those of other scenthounds, although they tend to be somewhat more variable than most. Overall, the head of the Estonian Hound is proportional to the size of the dog, but many are comparatively long. The skull of the Estonian Hound is round and somewhat wide. The head and muzzle are somewhat distinct but they merge very smoothly. The muzzle of the Estonian Hound is straight and very long, at least as long as the skull. The Estonian Hound has more tightly fitting skin than many scenthounds and the lips should be dry and tight. The nose of the Estonian Hound is large. Most breed members have black noses, although dark brown noses are also acceptable on dogs with yellow patches. The ears of the Estonian Hound are thin, long, low-placed, and rounded at the tips. These ears should hang down close to the cheeks but not too close. The eyes of the Estonian Hound are dark brown in color, almondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the .... in shape, and small to moderate in size. The overall expression of most breed members is friendly, sweet, and charming.
The coat of the Estonian Hound is short, rough, and shiny. Soft, wavy, or coats which are excessively short or long are disqualifications in the show ring. This breed does have an undercoat, but it is only weakly developed. The coat should be uniform in length over the entire body, except for the ears, face, tip of the tail, and fronts of the legs where it is slightly shorter. Because the hair on the tail is the same length as that on the body, it makes the tail appear thicker than it actually is. The Estonian Hound is a tricolor breed, meaning that it exhibits three coat colors. Most breed members are black, tan, and white, with black and tan predominating on the backs and sides and white predominating on the belly and legs. Yellow markings are also acceptable in place of either black or tan. All breed members must have a white tail tip. Although the black and tan markings may be interspersed, black markings in white or yellow patches are considered a disqualifying fault. Sometime an Estonian Hound will be born with alternate markings such as solid black or solid tan. Such dogs are ineligible in the show ring and should not be bred but otherwise make just as acceptable hunting dogs or pets as other breed members.
Because the Estonian Hound is primarily kept as a working hunting dog, it is difficult to make many generalizations of its temperament outside of that environment. However, more information is becoming available as increasing numbers of Estonian families are beginning to keep these dogs as companion animals. The Estonian Hound is very well known for its sweet nature. These dogs are considered highly affectionate with their families, usually fawningly so. Estonian Hounds become extremely attached to their families, and greatly prefer to be in their constant company. This can be problematic as this breed can develop very severe separation anxiety. Like many scenthounds, Estonian Hounds are usually very good with children when properly trained and socialized. This breed is extremely tolerant of children’s rough play, and many breed members form extremely close attachments with children, especially those that provide them with treats.
As a hunting dog, the Estonian Hound had to be capable of working with strange hunters on a regular basis. Human aggression is seen as intolerable by breeders and has largely been eliminated. Although only very rarely aggressive, the Estonian Hound is considerably less fond of strangers than many scenthounds. This breed tends to remain aloof and distrusting of strangers, meaning that socialization is very important to prevent nervousness or fearfulness issues. The Estonian Hound is quite alert and makes a very effective watchdog. This breed would make a very poor guard dog, however, as it neither large nor aggressive enough.
The Estonian Hound and its ancestors were traditionally hunted in packs of up to 50 dogs. Any canine aggression was completely intolerable in such an environment and would have been quickly bred out. As a result, this breed is usually very good with other dogs when properly trained and socialized. In fact, this is a breed that craves the company of 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 whenever introducing two strange dogs to each other, however. Though the Estonian Hound is usually very good with humans and other dogs, this breed usually displays very high levels of aggression to non-canine animals. The Estonian Hound has been bred to relentlessly pursue and attack small animals, and most breed members will. Most breed members will be trustworthy with larger animals such as cats which they have been raised with from puppyhood (although some never are), but most breed members will attempt to attack and even kill strange animals or small pets such as hamsters or rabbits.
This breed is a natural hunter, and most of these dogs take to hunting very quickly with little or no training. However, the same traits which make the Estonian Hound such an excellent hunting dog, extreme determination, stubbornness, dedication to following its nose, also make the breed challenging to train. Most of these dogs are very stubborn and resistant to changing, and many are outright defiant. This breed takes to manners training and socialization very quickly and well, but anything more than basic obedience can be quite challenging and requires a skilled trainer. This does not mean that the Estonian Hound is impossible to train, but it does mean that owners must take extra time and effort to train them and that the final results may not be as great as desired. All that being said, the Estonian Hound is regarded as being much easier to train than most scenthounds, and those accustomed to working with breeds such as Beagles and Coonhounds will probably be pleasantly surprised when working with this breed. This breed is also regarded as being an extremely intelligent and creative problem solver.
There is one area where the Estonian Hound present major training difficulties, coming when called. The Estonian Hound was bred to relentlessly pursue a scent once on the trail, completely ignoring distractions and obstacles. As a result, most breed members are almost impossible to call back when on a scent; they will either ignore the call or possibly not notice at all. For this reason, breed members should always be kept on a leash when out of a safely enclosed area, and very special care must be taken in areas with traffic.
This breed is renowned for its extreme stamina. The Estonian Hound can and will follow scents for hour upon hour. As a result, this breed has one of the highest exercise requirements of any dog of this size. Most owners claim that these dogs should receive no less than an hour and a half or exercise every day, although more would be better. This breed does not necessarily need to be running for this hour and a half, but it does at least need to be walking at a solid pace. Estonian Hounds which do not receive a proper outlet for their energy are likely to develop behavioral problems such as excessive barking, destructiveness, hyperactivity, over excitability, and nervousness. Once the Estonian Hound is properly exercised, however, this breed tends to be very calm and mellow in the house, and most breed members will spend hours lazing about.
Potential owners need to be aware of the Estonian Hounds tendency to be extremely vocal. Like most scenthounds, the Estonian Hound was bred to loudly and continuously bay when on the scent so that hunters could follow their dogs if they ran out of sight. These dogs not only bark and bay much more frequently than most breeds, but also much more loudly than other breeds of their size. Exercise and training can greatly reduce an Estonian Hound’s barking, but they cannot eliminate them entirely. When kept in close quarters, Estonian Hounds are quite likely to cause noise complaints. The breed’s voice combined with its high exercise requirements make the Estonian Hound a very poor choice for apartment dwellers, and this dog truly requires a home with a yard.
The Estonian Hound has minimal coat care requirements. This breed should never need professional grooming, only a regular brushing. Estonian Hounds do shed, and they shed quite heavily. This is a breed that can completely cover furniture, carpets, and clothing with hair despite its small size. Owners of these dogs do have to regularly and carefully clean the breed’s ears. The drooping ears of this breed collect dirt, grime, food, and other particles which will cause irritation and infections if not frequently removed.
It does not appear as though any health studies have been conducted on the Estonian Hound which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements about the breed’s health. In fact, there is very little information available of any kind detailing this breed’s health. Most seem to believe that the Estonian Hound is a relatively healthy breed. This dog has likely benefitted both from being spared commercial and backyard breeding practices as well as being bred primarily as a working dog. This does not mean that the Estonian Hound is immune from genetically inherited health conditions, but it does mean that this breed is less likely to suffer from them than most purebred dogs.
Although skeletal and visual problems are not thought to be major problems 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. It is highly advisable to request that breeders show any OFA and CERF documentation that they have on a puppy or its parents, which essentially all reputable breeders will have.
Although health studies have not been conducted on the Estonian Hound, they have been on a number of closely related and similar breeds. Based on these studies, the Estonian Hound may be susceptible to the following conditions: