by   David Hancock

Why are so many good scenthounds in a black and tan jacket? From Russia in the north east to Sweden in the north west and from Greece in the south to Finland in the far north, even to Basenjis in the Congo and Coonhounds in the States, most countries sporting scent-hounds feature a black and tan coated version. Do the genes for this handsome coat colour also embrace some strong scenting component? Our Bloodhound, Ireland's Kerry Beagles and Scotland's Dumfriesshire Foxhounds, now sadly lost to us, feature this distinctive jacket, as do some Welsh Foxhounds and Otterhounds. Tricolour is favoured in Foxhound and Beagle equivalents with the white facings often producing an even more handsome look. German, French (the St Hubert's derivatives especially), the Dutch, Spanish and Italian scent-hound breeds can also exemplify the tricolour coat. Did our sporting ancestors know that this coat colour combination gave improved scenting powers to its bearers? When working abroad I must admit to confusing some black and tan scent-hound breeds, especially when they operated across national borders. The Swiss Jura Hound, for example, can be seen across adjacent borders and was undoubtedly developed from foreign stock.

The Germans favour black and tan in their working breeds, as their shepherd dog, Dobermann and Rottweiler demonstrate but their hounds too, as the Steinbracke and Dachsbracke are preferred in this colour combination. Fondness for this jacket varies in France, apart from the root of so many scent-hounds in this part of Europe resting in the St Huberts, but to the east the Polish, Hungarian, Lithuanian and Russian sportsmen prize their hounds in this colour. In Scandinavia too, the black and tans - from the Hamilton and Smalands-stovare to the Finnish Hounds further east are greatly valued and very well-bred. I have seen Finnish Hounds in their native country that simply take your breath away. Further south, the Segugios of Italy, the Greek Scent-hound and those of the former Yugoslavia may not be hunted in packs but give treasured service to their local hunters, often in difficult terrain.

Some of these hounds are of course tricolours, as are many of our native scenthounds: Foxhounds, Harriers, Beagles and Basset Hounds, but plain black and tan is rarely favoured in packs here, despite the acknowledged prowess of the Bloodhound as a tracker and the fine reputation of the Dumfriesshire Foxhounds. Are the black and tan hound whelps (with no white facings or leg markings) being 'put in the bucket?' Or has that gene been bred out in packs for some unstated reason? The black and tan gene pool can produce reds as many Bloodhound packs feature, but is there some kind of colour prejudice at work here? American Foxhound packs and the Coonhound can come in two-tone black and tan, and the famous Kerry Beagles too, but apart from the Tiverton Foxhound pack, I very rarely see a black and tan (with no white) Foxhound. I see black and tan Otterhounds and in smooth-coated Minkhounds too. But it is not a pack signature in any of our remaining packs.

The great man, Beckford, himself gave the view that ‘the colour I think of little moment’; Fox, for over 40 years a huntsman and whipper-in, wrote in 1924, under his pseudonym ‘Yoi-over’, of: “…our native foxhounds…rich and varied colours, tan – deep and light – black and tan, and the white flicked and bitten; one was white and spotted like a Dalmatian carriage dog.” Hound expert Rycroft has questioned whether the tan eyebrows on a black and tan hound indicate a throw-back to the ancient St Hubert hound, going on to state that blue-mottle is often linked to a good nose. In his masterly Hounds of the World of 1937, Buchanan-Jardine, wrote: “In the colour of foxhounds there are again different tastes. At one time, Belvoir tan hounds were the only ones in the fashion, and the less white they had on them the better coloured they were considered to be. Now there is a fashion among some Masters for very light-coloured hounds, sometimes almost white…I have known many good hounds marked with blue-mottled colour, and with tan ticks down their legs, perhaps throwing-back to the old Southern hound blood. Again, I have known many very good hounds with a lot of black about them, particularly about the head…it is really a great mistake to allow oneself to be prejudiced by mere colour when breeding hounds…” That judgement could be valuably extended to read when breeding dogs more generally.      

Genes act in a random not a mathematical manner; the range of a breed’s gene pool will always reveal its past in time. Today’s KC-ordained breed standard for the Bloodhound stipulates: Black and tan, liver and tan (red and tan) and red, but allows darker colours sometimes interspersed with lighter or badger-coloured hair and sometimes flecked with white. A small amount of white is permissible on the chest, the feet and on the tip of the tail. Truly, there is no threat to any breed's capability from the colour of its coat; the only threat to a hound breed comes from an inability to hunt.