797 Hunting for the Real Basset Hound

Hunting for the Real Basset Hound
by   David Hancock

 The Basset Hound had a chequered start as a hunting dog in Britain. As Dr Brian Wilson points out in his A Bother of Bassets of 2004; throughout Britain, over 30 Basset Hound kennels which had begun to operate between 1872 and 1903, had, by the time the Master of Basset Hounds Association (MBHA) was founded in 1912, come and gone. But the Basset Hound, as a pet or show dog, is now well established in Britain, with over 1000 being registered annually. In America in 1977, nearly 15,000 were registered with the AKC, such was their appeal. Other French Basset breeds are now becoming known here, with the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen proving the most popular. Thirty years ago, I found them longer-eared, longer-backed and more heavily-coated than desired, but this may have been due to the breeding between the Grands and the Petits allowed up till then. This is hardly surprising for it is a delightful breed, full of character and charm. The best show Basset Hound, of all the Basset breeds, that I saw in 2012 was a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen bitch, Champion Soletrader Peek A Boo, bred by Gav inand Sara Robertson and sired by a Dutch import, also from Soletrader kennels’ stock. This hound really looked as though she could hunt! (she won Best-in-Show at Crufts in 2013).

 The Albany was for some time the Basset Hound Club's pack, with some show dogs hunting with them. The American hunting Bassets are often show dogs too. American hunters find two types of Basset Hound: those with high energy, which are lighter in bone, less chunky and longer in leg and the lower energy, more classic hounds which are noticeably more laid-back, in the modern idiom. The former lack the painstaking methodical style of the classic Basset hunt but often 'hunt on' using air scent before picking up ground scent once more. The Americans have trials for hunting in packs and hunting in couples or brace trials. The American Rabbit Hound Association also has a hunt competition for Bassets. In the future we may well have no Bassets hunting. We need closer cooperation between benchand field.

Showing Limitations

 If you respect and admire functional dogs then it is with sadness that you might view some Bassets on the show bench. There is all too often a poor lay of shoulder, a short upper arm, a looseness of elbow, flat feet or even splay-feet and a lack of a ribcage carried well back. Even more apparent are the over-long ears and the over-bent front legs. A cynic might observe that the Basset Hound is a breed much loved by the nation but not so much by some of its breeders. There is a balance to be found in such a breed between breed type and a degree of gross exaggeration that causes discomfort to the dog.  Breed lovers should be dog lovers too. It is worrying to read a show critique by an experienced well-regarded judge at a top championship show in 2012 containing remarks such as: “I was very surprised at the poor quality…at this show. Too many upright shoulders…flat large heavy ears...eyelids not in contact with the eye…Some were too heavy and close to the ground and were unable to move with any purpose.” An event like this should show-case the breed, not provide ammunition for the anti-showdog brigade.

 It was reassuring to read the critique of the Basset Hound judge at Crufts 2013, which included these valuable observations: “…my overall impression was that the huge, overdone Basset, dripping in furnishing and confusing weight with substance was on the wane which can only be a good thing. However breeders must not overlook the less overt faults such as flanged and slab-sided ribs, forward shoulders, incorrect bites and most importantly eyes, all of which are both wrong and debilitating, in favour of what appears, from the ringside, to be improvements.” Such informed and outspoken honesty can only be good for this appealing little breed. So often show critiques seem worded to please the exhibitors and not to benefit the breed itself. In time, pressure to breed a healthier, less exaggerated, much sounder Basset Hound for the show ring will bring about a show version much more like the English or Hunting Basset Hound. A tighter-eyed, straighter-legged, shorter-eared, less elongated hound will represent the real Basset Hound and that will be a blessing for both compassionate hound lovers - and the hounds themselves!     

(David Hancock's latest book Hounds - Hunting by Scent is being published by Crowood in 2014)