By Al Toews of Ashland Bassets, VA
Bassets are “big” dogs with short legs. The Basset appearance as a long, gangly and awkward animal is deceptive as they are in fact a working hound breed, bred to be deliberate, agile, and have great endurance. They are a great deal faster than many people credit. Popularly known for their loveable and affectionate temperament, the Basset Hound has been called “the armchair clown”.
Bassets do make great pets and personal companions as they are overall gentle, friendly and sensitive. The breed ranked 22nd in popularity of the 146 breeds of dogs registered with AKC in 2000. The Basset, or, more correctly the Basset Hound, is also quite loyal and territorial. Of the few breed characteristics cited as a detriment to the breed is one frequently referred to as “hard headed”; as a hound, the Basset’s nose can rule the brain under some individual circumstances. The Basset is by nature a hunting hound, created to identify and stick to a scent trail. What one may call “hard-headed,” another sees as “tenacity.”
To understand the Basset Hound, one must remember that the breed is one of the Scent Hound Group. The Basset in particular is endowed with an incredibly sensitive and accurate nose, ranking second only to the Bloodhound. (Canines generally have in excess of twenty million scent receptors in their nose. Humans have fewer than five million. As one of the keenest noses among the canines, the average Basset is many times more attuned to this physical stimulant.). The Basset Hound looks as it does for practical, not humorous, reasons. Reputedly, its long ears stir up scent from the ground for the sensitive and powerful nose to smell. The characteristic facial wrinkles and skin folds under the chin (dewlap) function to “trap” or hold the scent while the nose and brain decipher and identify it. A Basset’s loose body skin allows them to shed thorns and briars, while their short, sturdy legs and heavy chest allow them access to brushy and vine covered habitat and low trails inaccessible to taller dogs and humans. The body strength in turn allows the Basset Hound to force its way into coverts a “small” dog cannot penetrate. That same “hard headedness” – or tenacity – noted as a breed characteristic also ensures that the Basset Hound has the heart and determination to push through thorns, briars and brambles in pursuit of that scent line despite the pain or inconvenience of the natural hazard. In short, the Basset Hound is a very, very effective hunter, and the fact that it is also clever, cute, and canny is merely incidental.
Among hounds, Bassets are known to have a great “voice.” The “cry” voiced when each hound is actively in pursuit on a scent line is distinctive. While each individual hound has its own particular voice, often instantly recognizable even to humans, as a breed, the Basset voice on the whole tends to be deeper and more resonant than that of other pack hounds. Some people feel that this depth of note and carrying capacity is also a function of the same heavy throat and dewlap developed to hold scent. In any event, when a pack of Basset Hounds open on its quarry, the sound can make the woods ring and the hair on the back of the hearer’s neck stand up. It’s music!
Bassets were bred as hunters, to put up game for followers on foot. Originally they were used on all types of game that might provide food or sport for humans ranging from birds, such as pheasant or quail, to small game, such as rabbit, hare or coney, right up to larger animals including deer, stag and even wild boar and bear! Today the Basset Hound is primarily used to chase rabbit or hare, although in France they still use them on all game pursued in organized hunting. In addition to the basic sport of hunting or chasing itself, there are Field Trials and hunting tests for hounds. These Trials are formal competitions that form practical demonstrations of the breed’s ability to perform those hunting related functions for which it was bred. The format varies from Brace (two hounds judged individually at a time), to SPO [Small Pack Option] (six hounds judged individually at a time), to Pack (a group of hounds judged as a group against other packs). Each type of competition adheres to specific running rules as well as requiring overall reference to the breed standard as a qualifier.
While Bassets can be obstinate (hard headed), their mild disposition, basic cleverness and desire to please allows individual hounds to participate in many different types of uses. The Basset Hound is one of only a few breeds that actively compete in many, if not all, of the recognized canine competitions:
Dog Shows are where the accent is on conformation and dogs are placed according to how they measure up to their breed standard.
Obedience Trials test the dog’s ability to perform a set of exercises but conformation is not a factor. There are three regular Obedience titles: CD (Companion Dog – Novice), CDX (Companion Dog Excellent), and UD (Utility Dog).
Tracking Tests allow dogs to demonstrate their natural ability to recognize and follow human scent. There are three levels of competition: TD (Tracking Dog), TDX (Tracking Dog Excellent) and VST (Variable Surface Tracking).
Agility Trials allow dogs to demonstrate the ability to negotiate a complex obstacle course that includes walking over a bridge, weaving in and out of a series of poles, jumping through and over objects, traversing tunnels and pausing on command. There are different height categories for the jumps for each breed.
One day, the new Free Style (Musical Kur) may become an event also engaging the Basset as a breed. The only discipline which does not seem to have a Basset component is that of the herding dog, which after all, requires all those attributes that the Basset Hound was bred not to have.