The Basset Hound

Breed History

Hunting with hound types has been a necessity and pastime of mankind for many thousands of years but it was in the regions of France with the Royalty, Nobility and Clergy where the 'art' of hunting with hounds first evolved. It is popularly supposed that a son of the Duc de Guienne, Hubert (656 - 727), a cleric who hunted in the Ardennes region, was the instigator of the 'art' of the hunt - though the techniques were well developed by his time. It is also popularly supposed that the St Hubert hounds were of a definite and uniform type - similar to the bloodhound - and that all scent hounds have been developed from this unique race. Hubert selected his hounds for their hunting ability and chronicles from that time demonstrate that the Huberts were of very mixed type and,


apart from the superb working qualities, bred not at all 'true' in look. But, because these hounds had a great reputation as hunters, they were in great demand nation-wide and were welcome additions to any pack. In order to retain this important aptitude for the chase, great thought and care was given to the breeding of individual packs (who would eventually become known by the name of their owners or of the region they hunted in). The Huntsmen bred and selected not only for hunting proficiency but also for health and strength. Inevitably, each huntsman's individual tastes and preferences of colour and conformation led to the development of several distinct breeds of hound bred to hunt the various types of game in different regions - so by the time of the French Revolution over 40 breeds and varieties were known. Several of the breeds being in three sizes:- the full sized Chien d'Ordre standing about 23 to 30 inches at shoulder, the Briquet which is a medium sized hound being more compact, shorter coupled and standing about 15 to 23 inches at shoulder; then, finally, the Basset standing 10 to 15 inches at shoulder.

According to Le Comte Le Couteulx de Canteleu in his Manual De Venerie Francaise - published in 1920 - Du Fouilloux, a 16th Century huntsman, had a great preference for using the basset - or lower legged - type of dog to hunt fox and badger; they were used more like terriers and put to ground after the prey. Du Fouilloux recognised two types:- the crook legged type with short coats who, being less excitable, are better for badger (as they stay down longer) and the more excitable types with straight legs and rough coats - who will hunt above ground like regular hounds or go to ground with great keenness, though obliged to come up sooner for air; the drawback to this type being that they are over bold - having a tendency to fight the fox or badger instead of driving him out.

Size has probably increased over the years but this is in keeping with the general trend in everything. They are low to the ground with strong heavy bodies and heavy bone, so that they can go over, under or through any cover. They are not fast but oh so thorough. They do not hunt by using eyes but nose and the purpose of the loose skin on the head becomes apparent as it falls forwards and protects their eyes when going through rough prickly cover. They must be strong, heavy and very intelligent so that they can do the job for which they were intended.

This was not written about the basset - though it could have been. It was written by breed note writer, Frances Stanley, about the Clumber Spaniel in an issue of the Dog World 17 years ago. Clumbers were bred basically as beaters to drive the game out for the guns and it is interesting that the basset, especially the full crook type has been popular in France since the 1680 s as a superior hound for the chasse a tir - a method of hunting game whereby the short legged hound was able to go through the dense undergrowth and flush out the quarry ready for the waiting sportsmen to shoot. Bassets with the full crook Bassets a jambes torses were considered superior to their basset cousins with straight legs Basset a jambes droites because they were slower moving and thus did not push the quarry too quickly to frighten it into flight to escape. The prey, usually rabbit or hare and deer, were driven slowly but surely away from the slow moving (but - I would expect - noisy) hounds to give an easy shot for the waiting guns which, in the very early days of this type of shooting were very cumbersome. More menacing game, wild boar and wolf, were also hunted by this method in order to try to control their numbers and so prevent their dangerous attacks and devastation of crops and livestock. The basset breeds have traditionally been used in France to drive the game to within reach of the guns without frightening or hurrying it - and it was only prior to the Second World War that the French recognised the 'astonishing' fact that bassets could, given time, take a hare without the aid of guns!

Le Comte Le Couteulx de Canteleu, in his writings, states that the Bassets Artesiens had become almost extinct by the early 1870s and both he and a Monsieur Lane had, using almost the same stock, reformed the breed - though the Comte obviously did not care much for the 'Lane type', thinking them to be too high and too crooked in the leg (he, as much as possible only selecting those hounds with straight legs as breeding stock - as crooked legged to crooked legged tended ".... to produce hounds which cannot walk at all"). The hounds bred by Mons. Lane were not only taller than the 'Canteleu type' - they were heavier too and also lighter in colour being mostly a lemon and white. The difference in head was very marked between the two types, the 'Lanes' being tight in skin with lips cut away fairly sharply and a distinct lack of flews. The eyes appeared prominent and quite yellow in colour. However, it was in the ear properties were they had their greatest qualities. The leathers were set on low and of great length and suppleness to give the characteristic inward curl of the Basset Artesian.

In 1866, Lord Galway imported a pair of French Bassets of the Le Couteulx type to England. The following year a mating of these two produced a litter of five pups, but as there was no public exposure of them, no interest in the breed was stirred. It was not until 1874, when Sir Everett Millais imported from France the hound, "Model," that real activity with the breed began in England. For his support of the breed and continued drive on a breeding program within his own kennel as well as cooperation with breeding programs established by Lord Onslow and George Krehl, Sir Everett Millais has to be considered the "father of the breed" in England. He first exhibited a Basset at an English dog show in 1875, but it was not until he helped make up a large entry for the Wolverhampton show in 1880 that a great deal of public attention was drawn to the breed. A few years later, further interest was created when Queen Alexandra kept Basset Hounds in the royal kennels.

The Bassets from the Artois and Normandy regions have, to all intents and purposes, been lost as specific basset breeds. In the early part of the twentieth century, a Monsieur Verrier combined the two breeds and, along with other like-minded French breeders, formed a society for the Basset Artesien-Normand breed. The head properties of the hounds incline more to the 'Norman' type rather than the 'Artois' type but they have the 'Artois' ears mentioned above, rather than the flat 'Norman' ear leather - sometimes seen in our bassets.

Just after the Second World War the basset in England had become very interbred and undesirable characteristics were emerging. Miss Keevil, of the famous Grims kennel, imported from France three Bassets Artesian-Normand which she was very lucky to acquire - considering the state of the country after the German Occupation and subsequent fighting during the invasion and Liberation of France. George Johnston, of the equally famous Sykemoor kennel, imported a tricolour Artesian-Normand dog puppy - Hercule de L'Ombree in 1959.

The Basset Hound though owing much of it's ancestry to some French basset breeds is as different to them as they are to each other and it is The Basset Hound which is recognised all over the World as a companion, working and show dog.

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