by   David Hancock

The hound world without Bloodhounds would be one missing a vital link with the past and the whole heritage of the scenting hound. But if you look at the KC statistics for new registrations of the breed in the last decade, it makes sober reading: 60 in 2009, 55 in 2010, 59 in 2011, 50 in 2012, 51 in 2013, 74 in 2014, 77 in 2015 and 53 in 2016. The breed is on the KC's list of vulnerable native breeds. The Bloodhound packs may be well-supported but these figures are deeply concerning. It is no coincidence that the hunting hounds are not exaggerated; the show-ring hounds are. For over half a century, warnings about such deformation have been provided, often by those who treasure the breed, as exemplified in The Bloodhound Handbook by Douglas Appleton of 1960; he knew a great deal about the breed: “No breed can vigorously thrive on the strength of past greatness, nor can it always rely on finding financially able and generous backers as it has in the past. The breed cannot thrive solely by its presence at dog shows and occasional Field Trials. Those who love these hounds must breed for good temperament, for active brains, and for the ability to fit into the home life of to-day. In order to do so some exaggerations of type may have to be swept away, but this price would prove well worth while.” He would have been alarmed at some of the exhibits appearing in our show rings today!

  The American Leon Whitney, vet and sportsman, who probably bred more crossbred dogs than anyone before or since, wrote in his informative How to Breed Dogs, Orange Judd, 1947, lamenting the ‘rage for “bone”’ in the breed by show breeders, the strange desire for ‘heavy ankles’ and the desire for ‘heavy wrinkle’, contrasting the usefulness of such dogs with the much more workmanlike hounds produced by those breeding ‘trailers’. His remarks come to mind when you have seen say the Peak pack or the Coakham hounds and compared them to show Bloodhounds. At the Richmond championship dog show of November 2011, one of the best show judges in Britain gave the view that this was the worst entry of the breed that she had ever judged, with some prizes being withheld. With tiny entry figures, some rosettes are hollow victories and I dread to think of some of the show dogs being bred from. Sadly, I have seen some show ring hounds with quite a variety of mouth and jaw faults, with both over- and undershot specimens and excessive narrowness at the muzzle. Bloodhounds ‘taste’ scent and deserve sound mouths. When working in Europe, I saw the hounds of Robert de Messemaeker in Belgium at shows and admired their heads – no excess facial skin or over-wrinkled brows, good sound dogs.

The KC is viewing needless exaggeration in breeds of dog with greater scrutiny nowadays. Commendably, the KC has removed expressions like: “especially noticeable loose skin about the head and neck and where it hangs in deep folds”, and, again on head skin, deleted “appears abundant, but more particularly so when head is carried low, skin falling into loose pendulous ridges and folds, especially over forehead and sides of face.” The KC has also introduced new wording: ‘Signs of any obvious eye irritation must be heavily penalised.’ Over the last thirty years I have seen Bloodhounds in the show ring with red-raw eyes and such a superfluity of head skin that their eyesight has been impaired. And some of them won prizes! One Bloodhound exhibitor informed me, and he believed it, that it was important that the head skin hung right over the dog’s eyes ‘so that it was forced to seek scent on the ground’. When I gently reminded him that all the famous man-trailers had tight head skin and no impaired vision, he merely shrugged and strolled away.

But before the devotees of pack Bloodhounds feel superior, the past seeking of heavy ankles and massive bone in Foxhounds was just as misguided. As always it is the dogs that bear the brunt of human foolishness. In the American show rings, the exhibits appear less exaggerated; a colleague recently back from there, with experience of hunting the breed, told me that the best hound he had seen for years was the American Champion Quiet Creeks Double or Nothing for Heather, sound yet full of breed type, tighter-skinned than our entry, and so much more like our Ch. Nestor of 1930. St Hubert would have admired such hounds! Why can't the show ring devotees? Or is fad breeding sacrosanct!

It was pleasing to see hounds from the Four Shires Bloodhounds (a pack hunting the Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire country) succeeding at a not-so-long-ago Peterborough Festival of Hunting – the result of a clear enlightened breeding programme. The Bloodhounds ‘of the packs’ contain valuable breeding material, especially for the widening of the gene pool in the show kennels. Their unforgettable ‘voice’ has long been treasured, with some sportsmen in France long favouring this breed in the hunting field. I have a distant memory, when working in Germany over half a century ago, of a British cavalry regiment to the south having a Bloodhound pack, called, I think, the Weser Vale Bloodhounds. I have a memory too, from working in Northern Ireland, of a pack in County Antrim, the Holestone Farmers Bloodhounds, working over very heavy going quite successfully. It was sad to learn of the break up of the East Anglian Bloodhound pack in 2013; run by farrier Roger Clark on the Essex-Suffolk boundary, it was formed in 1992. It was good however to learn a few years back of a new Bloodhound pack being formed, the Highmoor in North Yorkshire, with drafts from the Southdown and Eridge, the Readyfield and the Coakham hunts. These are rather special hounds, so much a keystone of all scenthound work and so much part of our sporting heritage.