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Breeder Buzzwords – The Basset Hound

In 1958, shoe manufacturer Wolverine World Wide of Rockford, Mich., selected the name “Hush Puppies” for its new brand of casual footwear. The brushed-suede shoe with a crepe sole needed a logo, and the company chose the gentle and easygoing Basset Hound as the perfect symbol for a comfortable shoe with a relaxed style.

The Basset is recognizable the world over for its long ears, short legs and doleful expression. Wherever this affable breed goes, smiles are sure to follow, as onlookers are instantly enamored with its disarming appearance and delightfully spirited stride.

Originating in France, where so many scenthounds emerged, the Basset is thought to come from a dwarf mutation of the old St. Hubert’s Hound. The word “basset” stems from the French word, bas, meaning “low,” and dwarf varieties eventually evolved from several breeds in France, including the Bleu de Gascogne, Fauve de Bretagne and Griffon Vendeen.

These low-set hounds were perfectly equipped to move through heavy underbrush. Shortened legs slowed their pace, allowing hunters to follow on foot. Packs of these hounds were used to trail deer and other large game and, over time, hunting rabbit and hare became their specialty.

In a 1997 AKC Gazette article titled, “The Origin of the Basset,” breed columnist Randy Frederiksen explains that by the 19th century, two strains of Bassets were common in France, each a combination of the Artois and Normand hounds. “Both strains were exported to England,” writes Frederiksen, “where the Beagle was added to the Couteulx line.”

The long, low hounds arrived in Great Britain where various crosses were made with other breeds to improve size and nose. Frederiksen indicates that, from France, the Lane line of Bassets was introduced, as was the Bloodhound and perhaps even the Clumber Spaniel.

The Lane and Couteulx hounds eventually merged to become the Basset Artésian Normand, a popular breed in France today.

In Britain and the U.S., the Beagle and Bloodhound continued to be added to the mix, until a distinctive type was developed. The large animal that resulted, with massive bone and substantial wrinkles, became known simply as the Basset Hound.

The Kennel Club (England) recognized the breed in 1880. Five years later, the American Kennel Club followed suit, and a parent club was organized in 1933.

Developed as a pack animal, the Basset’s companionable nature assured its place in the home of legions of admirers. The breed quickly became a favorite among dog lovers who preferred their companions a bit, shall we say, stumpy. By the 1970s, its popularity hit an all-time high.

The Basset Hound, with its completely original structure and style, continues to inspire its share of admirers. AKC registrations in 2011 placed the breed 41st of the 173 recognized breeds.

The Basset Hound is a long and low hound with massive bone and a soulful expression. Photo © Ksenia Raykova/Dreamstime.

Heavy Bone and Heavy Paws

The Basset Hound may be short on leg, but the breed that is well known for its squatty body certainly isn’t lacking in heft. In fact, the General Appearance section of the AKC breed standard indicates the Basset is “heavier in bone, size considered, than any other breed of dog.”

Ask anyone who has had a Basset sit on his or her lap, and they will tell you that this is a BIG dog. Although the standard does not include measurements for weight, males of the breed can weigh up to 75 pounds, with bitches generally tipping the scales at 10 pounds less. When it comes to size of bone, the Basset certainly is a heavyweight.

The short, powerful forelegs are “heavy in bone,” and the “massive, very heavy” paws have “tough heavy pads.” Hindquarters are “very full and well-rounded” with a “well-let-down stifle” and hocks that turn neither in nor out. Hind feet “point straight ahead.”

The Basset’s heaviness of bone and its front construction with wrinkled skin are important characteristics, since the breed carries roughly twice the amount of weight expected for its size. Correct placement of shoulders and elbows is critical too, as are the deep chest and curved forelegs with feet that turn slightly outward.

The AKC breed standard disqualifies any Basset measuring “more than 15 inches at the highest point of the shoulder blades” or with front legs that appear “knuckled over.”

Designed for locomotion, the Basset’s deliberate action allows for “great endurance in the field.” As might be expected of a breed built to move, the Basset Hound exhibits a coordinated balance of front and rear. Despite its short legs and massive frame, the breed is surprisingly agile as it moves over and through rough terrain.

A ‘Lotta’ Loose Skin

The Basset Hound’s rumpled head is another notable breed feature. Loose skin presents “distinctive wrinkles” that fall forward “over the brow” whenever the head is lowered. The effect is as functional as it is appealing. Deep folds created by the loose skin capture scent as the hound trails.

All aspects of the breed’s skin assist with gathering up scent. The Basset Hound Club of America’s Illustrated Standard emphasizes the noticeable wrinkles of the forehead as well as “the folds at the side of the face and the deep, heavy muzzle.” According to the standard, the darkly pigmented lips are also “pendulous, falling squarely in front and, toward the back, in loose hanging flews.”

That loose skin on the forehead and over the brow also contribute to the Basset’s soft and sad expression. Typically mild tempered, the breed faces each day with a happy disposition, despite its rather despondent countenance.

The Basset Hound wears another extraordinary feature on its elastic exterior. Described by the standard as “very pronounced,” a deeply folded dewlap hangs loosely from the powerful, well-arched neck. Like the wrinkles on the head, this loose fold of skin traps and holds scent, allowing the hound to follow a trail without distraction.

Exceptional Ears

As the Basset works with its nose to the ground, gathering scent with its wrinkles and dewlap, the breed’s long ears act like brooms, sweeping up any lingering redolence from the ground.

According to the AKC standard, “The ears are extremely long, low set, and when drawn forward, fold well over the end of the nose.” Short, smooth hairs give a “velvety” texture, and their extreme length creates “loose folds with the ends curling slightly inward.”

The ears are set “far back on the head at the base of the skull,” per the standard. Loose skin on the head and neck make the ears appear to be set on the neck when the dog is in repose. High set ears and those lacking in folds are serious faults.

Steady on the trail, the Basset Hound hunts with its nose – and its dewlap and ears – to the ground. A hound that is well constructed, with structural soundness and a distinctively wrinkled head, will happily live up to expectations in the field, on the bench and in the heart.

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.