by   David Hancock

Our rich hunting heritage has left us with an impressive array of native hound breeds, with the Foxhound a leading figure. Less well known outside their own circles are the even longer established Harrier, the loyally-supported Trail Hound and the relatively recently introduced English Basset. Distinct types like the Welsh Hound, the Fell Hound and the Staghound are little known beyond the hunting fraternity. Sadly we have lost the most distinctive, arguably best-bred, pack of Dumfriesshire Foxhounds, with their gleaming black and tan jackets and superlative field performance. Introduced into the show rings here in the last half century are any number of foreign hounds, ranging from the Hamiltonstovare from Sweden, the Segugio from Italy, the Basset Fauve de Bretagne and the Grand Bleu de Gascogne from France to the Bavarian Mountain Hound from Germany and the Shiba Inu from Japan. Pure breeding, or rather, the misguided mindsets of modern breeders, means however that their blood cannot be used to widen the gene pool of either our native breeds or each other; yet informed out-crossing created all these breeds in the first place.

Breeding Within

 The traditional breeding technique in the 20th century and just before was to restrict breeding to within a breed and often within the pack. In his The Book of Foxhunting of 1977, JNP Watson quotes the Earl Bathurst, Master of the Vale of the White Horse, on the latter: “I do not object to breeding rather closely occasionally if I am sure that the dog or bitch is absolutely right and a particularly good one. There are instances of this that have turned out extraordinarily well. As a rule the fourth generation is near enough, and, if one can arrange for what I call a double cross, that is when two separate hounds’ names occur in the fourth generation of both sire and dam, it is most advantageous, again, that is, that they are both sterling good hounds in their work…” Watson also quotes the legendary breeder, ‘Ikey’ Bell as advising: “If your hounds are a well-bred lot, with a history sheet of constitution and stamina and no hereditary faults, such hounds can be bred closer to than those of a less excellent strain. It would be playing for safety if no name repeats itself prior to the fourth line, and then only once. On the other hand, if the hounds spring from different strains, it is necessary to breed closer, so as to form a uniform type…” It is the pursuit of a uniform type in breeds that can lead to unwise inbreeding by breeders with less knowledge and experience than those quoted. It is unskilled unknowing breeders that breed too closely, producing offspring lacking constitution and  virility and all too often with genetic flaws. Breeding outside breed gene pools is rarely permitted by national kennel clubs, even when inherited defects are appearing. But when appearance is all, this is a predictable outcome.

Blind Pursuit of Purity

 I have given space to hound breeds little known here: the well-established Swiss hare-hounds like the Lucernois, the many varieties of French, those of the Balkans and the Baltic, as well as those of Eastern Europe. Some of these are very similar to breeds well known here, as function decided type, and they represent a reservoir of untapped genes, increasingly valuable as small gene pools reveal their limitations. Foxhound breeders have long resorted to outcrosses to retain virility and maintain performance. Lurchermen pride themselves on the prowess obtained from the judicious use of mixed blood. For the show ring however the pursuit of breed purity is all, despite the loss of robustness and litter-size, as well as the veterinary costs resulting from such irrational unjustifiable recalcitrance.
Outcrosses have been made in KC-registered pedigree breeds, and authorised: Greyhound blood in the Deerhound and English Springer blood in the Field Spaniel, for example. The Irish Wolfhound was recreated using Deerhound blood, with an outcross to the Tibetan Mastiff too. The Mastiff has been recast, sadly not in its traditional form, using foreign blood like the Great Dane, the smooth St Bernard and the Tibetan Mastiff. In working terriers the Plummer, the Sporting Lucas and the Lucas came from deliberate blends of other terrier breeds. As writers like Idstone and Stonehenge testify, our sporting ancestors often used mixed blood. The KC once recognised crossbred retrievers and registered them as such. French hound breeders prize the blended product, as the very names of their packs demonstrate: Anglo-Francais Tricolore and Grand Gascon-Saintongeois, etc. It’s worth noting that an influential Foxhound, Carmarthen Nimrod ’24, had no less than four breeds in the first three generations of his pedigree. They were: the old Devonshire Harrier of blue-mottled Southern blood, Kerry Beagle, Bloodhound and a dog hound from the Badminton kennel.   

Inbreeding Concerns

 If the coefficient of inbreeding is a source of worry in some imported and native pedigree hound breeds, as it is, there is ample breeding stock from outside Britain to blend with breeds based on a limited number of original imports. If say the Hamiltonstovare is becoming inbred, then the blood of the Finnish Hound or the Schillerstovare would be an ideal reinforcement. If the show Bloodhound is becoming too closely bred or too exaggerated for its own comfort, then just as the blood of the Dumfriesshire Foxhound was once utilized in the packs, that of the Gonczy Polski or Polish Hound or the Jura Hound of Switzerland could be introduced. Why is mixed blood prized in the creation of breeds but scorned when an infusion of unrelated blood would benefit today's hounds? Is it breed-blindness, breeder-ignorance or fear of losing type? The Coefficients of Inbreeding (CoIs) can be ascertained for each pedigree scenthound breed recognized by the KC by consulting their helpful web-site for this. Some breed CoIs are worryingly high.
A geneticist, Bruce Cattanach, crossed the Boxer with the Corgi to obtain a tail-less Boxer; after three generations no one could tell the resultant Boxers from the long-purebred ones. I see Mastiffs at Crufts that are more like Alpine Mastiffs (as the ancestor blood comes through) than the Mastiff of England - and no Mastiff fancier seems to care! If you dared to suggest to them that true type has been lost, they would just shrug. So much for the importance of true type! As a boarhound, the Great Dane, more aptly named the German (Hunting) Mastiff, was never as huge as it is now. More hounds died in the boar hunt than boars; to survive they had to be superbly agile, immensely athletic and physically superlatively coordinated. Today's type could not hunt the boar; pedigree breeders prefer the show type to the real thing in any number of breeds. The Plott Hound in America typifies the real big game hound, true to type and wholly unexaggerated. The KC’s slogan of ‘Fit for Function’ needs to be rigorously applied to the scenthound breeds recognized by them.

Informed Outcrossing

 Uninformed outcrossing is not the answer; there has to be research as well as vision. In the wake of the revealing BBC TV programme Pedigree Dogs Exposed of 2006, leading geneticist Steve Jones wrote and was quoted in several newspapers, that for pedigree breeds of dog 'a universe of suffering' is ahead with continued inbreeding. Fellow geneticist Bruce Cattanach was similarly quoted as stating: '...inbreeding has been ingrained in dog breeder psyche from the beginning and is hard to break, even when it is possible to show that it is not the most successful way to breed...'. He went on to state that some pedigree breeds may well become extinct in our lifetimes without intervention, advising outcrossing to other related breeds. But who will listen to him; dogma will prevail and not just lurchermen will wonder at such folly - and such damage to long-established breeds. I did however see a Beagle-Basset cross at a show at the Heythrop kennels a few years ago, an unexaggerated sound symmetrical hound. In the world of the pedigree hound there is so much untapped breeding material - and so many closed minds!

 In her Bridleways through History of 1936, Lady Apsley includes an Appendix giving an account of a visit by the distinguished sporting artist, and sportsman, Lionel Edwards, to the kennels of David Davies’s Welsh Foxhounds at Llandinam, that read:

“A mixed lot. Cross bred: Welsh-English, English-Fell. Fell-Welsh-English, Welsh (pure bred). The pure-bred Welsh mostly white, rough-coated, with high occipital crest, as No.2.

No.1. Rough-coated, red-tan in colour with white nose, collar, pads and tip of stern…Mr David Davies himself prefers the rough white-coated and breeds for them…Many were smooth-coated and typical Fell Hounds, from which they were bred – being only first and second crosses – these, of course, not eligible for Welsh stud book…There seemed to be some difference of opinion on type, as one rough-coated looked a very small bitch, had a ruff and the general appearance of a collie, yet took a prize at Welshpool.” Whatever their looks, hounds have to function; breeding for type and a level pack is a refinement.    

Crufts Material

 The claim by the KC that Crufts is a show for the ‘Best of the Very Best’ is in conflict with the critiques produced by the judges they appoint to officiate there. In 2011, the Beagle judge found too many incorrect bites; the 2012 Beagle judge complained of far too many poor fronts; the 2012 Bloodhound judge was disappointed by the bite and the amount of haw in the eyes of the entry; the 2012 judge of Grand Bassets Griffon Vendeen found a lot to be desired in the hindquarters – high hocks, cow hocks and narrow thighs - and in the movement of the entry; the 2012 Rhodesian Ridgeback judge wasn’t pleased with the jaw shape in far too many of the entry; the 2012 Basset Hound judge found the ears still far too long – a persistent fault in this breed. In the championship shows in recent years, even more worrying faults have been reported. Beagles have been shown with short rib cages, distressing movement and poor bites. Bassets and Bloodhounds were found to have incorrect movement and worrying anatomical flaws. Rhodesian Ridgebacks displayed poor feet and a lack of drive from behind. Hamiltonstovares were found to be lacking substance and quality of bone. Norwegian Elkhounds seem to have poor rear angulation as a persistent fault. I would be surprised if these pedigree dogs were not bred from; you do not get healthier hounds from flawed stock.

KC Action

 The KC lists both the Bloodhound and the Basset Hound on their ‘High Profile Breeds’ or ‘vulnerable’ breeds’ register, that is, those pedigree breeds, registered with them, with visible exaggerations, potentially harmful. Many prominent show breeders, but not prolific breeders, have striven to reduce the likelihood of this but of course, as always, it’s the puppy-farmers, not the leading show kennels that stand to benefit from what, sadly, some members of he public see as ‘appealing’, in pups with soulful eyes, an abundance of loose skin and a cartoon-like appearance. Writing on the Basset Hound in Dog World in November 2012, Sandra Thexton gave the view that: “Very few ‘show breeders’ register puppies. Most who do are unknown to us and some advertise puppies as having extra long ears, droopy skin, and droopy eyes – something we have been trying to avoid for many years. These ‘breeders’ are hard to track down and influence. We are easy meat…” And in the same issue, the distinguished Bloodhound breeder, Sue Emrys-Jones, wrote: “The majority of breeders will always try to breed with care and forethought. After all, it is not to their advantage to churn out Bloodhounds that have poor eyes, are unsound and are generally over-exaggerated.” Such hound breeders have my sympathy; until the KC actually examines specimen litters from prolific breeders, the perennial difficulty of ensuring that only the soundest of hounds are bred will persist. That is bad news for any breed.

KC Progress

 After a century of neglecting the health aspects of pedigree dog breeds, and perhaps shamed by the hard-hitting BBC TV documentary of 2006: Pedigree Dogs Exposed, the KC has, to their credit, now embarked on wide-ranging activity to examine and oversee the production of healthier pedigree breeds. Their Dog Health Group supervises the Fit for Function campaign, from which the hound breeds especially should benefit. Their Assured Breeder Scheme Sub-Group puts into operation those health screening requirements agreed by the Dog Health Group in close cooperation with breed clubs and councils. Their Breed Standards and Conformation Sub-Group now works with breed clubs on specific conformation-related health issues. And two particular hound breeds certainly need such work. In 2012, officially-appointed observers and expert judges raised these specific issues: on the Basset Hound – eyes, excessive haw, incorrect bite, inadequate ground clearance, teeth, eyelid conformation, unsound movement, short in upper arm and upright in shoulder, obesity, excessive wrinkle and, worryingly, temperament; and on the Bloodhound – incorrect bite, eyes, unsound movement and, just as worrying, temperament. This relates to a relatively small number in each breed, not the breed itself, but these two breeds still deserve close scrutiny, after well over a century of wholly unsupervised breed-led indifference to the gross exaggeration in some show specimens. I give the KC great credit for facing up to their responsibilities in such a serious matter.      

Colour Prejudice

 Breeding sound but still typical hounds has long been a challenge. But it has never been  wise to reduce breeding stock by favouring a colour, to the neglect of good dogs in an unfavoured colour. Commenting on the widespread desire at one time for the ‘Belvoir’ tan in hounds, hound expert Earl Bathurst, in his The Breeding of Foxhounds of 1926, wrote: “This fashion, for it is nothing more than a fashion, is really quite a modern invention, and rather an unfortunate one, for some breeders of hounds it is almost carried to excess, with more thought of breeding for colour than work…I believe this fashion for the tan colour has done an immense amount of harm. It has caused the destruction of hundreds, perhaps thousands of whelps…” This could be said of any number of pedigree hound breeds on the show circuit. As described in an earlier chapter, a century ago, the distinguished vet and sportsman Frank Townend Barton destroyed a white pup born to a Bloodhound dam, sired by another Bloodhound, later greatly regretting the loss of this genetically valuable offspring. I can remember George Leake, when Joint Master of the Shropshire Beagles in the 1980s, telling me of the rare coat colour known as ‘Berkeley Blue’ cropping up in Beagle litters; he found it often came along with light-coloured eyes, which he didn’t favour but he mourned the loss of the old blue-mottled coat colour. Coat colours and coat features, like texture, don’t ‘make’ the hound. I recently saw an outstanding Rhodesian Ridgeback that had been neutered - just because it didn’t feature the expected fiddle-shaped spinal ridge; what a loss of quality material to valueless prejudice. If you want healthier hound breeds, get rid of such a mindset!

Health Surveys

 How I wish that all pedigree hound breeders would match the work of the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen and Griffon Vendeen clubs worldwide in which their health survey resulted in 524 owners providing details on 1,148 hounds for subsequent analysis. This gives a base line for future study; scientists need data! A large international survey like this one is, for any breed, a major step forward and all other hound breed clubs must aim to match this valuable study. There is work to be done, for example, in the Basset Fauve de Bretagne breed, where, admittedly in a small survey, chronic kidney problems were cited as common a cause of death as cancer or heart disease. The work on dog health in countries like Finland and Sweden shames us but if the example of the ‘GV’ fraternity can be matched by the other pedigree hound breed clubs and associations, the hounds would in time greatly benefit. The introduction, in 2013, of the Karlton Index Health Awards, that recognize the time and effort invested in breed health by breeders and breed clubs, and pioneered by Philippa Robinson, is a most praiseworthy advance in the promotion of health surveys and should make a really positive contribution to the future health of the dog. I do hope that every hound breed club steps forward and strongly supports this admirable initiative.   

Breed Specific Instructions

 The Swedish KC has a routine programme, the Breed Specific Instruction (BSI), regarding exaggerations in pedigree dogs, that is a complement to the breed standards in 46 high profile breeds. These breeds have been accepted by them as being at risk in their health and soundness due to the exaggerations in breed points preferred by show ring judges – and therefore selected as breeding stock. The BSI is made up of recommendations, not imposed rules, so that the integrity and independence of judges is respected. These BSI routines have been applied to all official Swedish KC shows from 2009; it is widely accepted by Swedish breed clubs that this system will be, in the long term, beneficial to their breeds. A watered-down scheme has been introduced by our KC but has been greeted with aggressive resentment amounting to rebellion. This situation does not reflect well on our clubs. Would the show Basset Hound not benefit from shorter ears, a shorter spine and less crooked legs? The English or Hunting Basset Hound shows what could be done by the show fraternity - or do they prefer exaggerations? Would the show Bloodhound not be healthier with shorter ears and less skin abundance on its head and throat? An outcross to the Bloodhounds of the packs could easily achieve this. The good breeders in these breeds are quite capable of breeding out harmful exaggerations; who is going to force those actually favouring such excesses to change their ways? The KC controls the registry and is therefore in a strong position to insist on cooperation – or decline registration. As I point out above, the KC is improving its guardianship over breed-health; now it must become even more demanding in the name of healthier dogs. If its newish slogan ‘Making a difference for dogs’ is not to be mere words, the KC simply has to place healthy dogs ahead of handsome ones; breeding healthier dogs takes sustained effort and great determination, backed by informed enlightened judges and this I cover in the next section.

 “My justification for out-crossing hounds is connected to two sound fundamentals that were drummed into me by Bill Goodson, a man renowned for success in breeding many varieties of stock: First, never be satisfied by what you have achieved in breeding, and, second, the importance of injecting hybrid vigour into long-established lines, whether human or canine! These were two maxims he had already proven over 40 years of practice, over many generations of hounds, before I appeared on the scene.”
From Memories of My Life at the College Valley, Trafford, 2012, by Martin Letts.