The Bloodhound is an ancient breed documented as early as the third century A.D. Their precise origin is unknown, but they are thought to have descended from dogs in the ancient Mediterranean, having been bred selectively over many centuries. Bloodhounds appeared in Europe long before the Crusades. Two particular strains developed: the black type called the famed “St. Hubert’s Hound“ of the seventh and eighth century, and the whites later known simply as the “Southern Hounds.” Dogs from the St. Hubert’s line apparently were exported to Great Britain in the eleventh century to become what we know as the Bloodhounds of today; the white Southern Hounds are thought to have eventually become predecessors of today’s Talbot Hound, although this not certain. In the twelfth century, church dignitaries and royalty fostered development of the breed. High ecclesiastics maintained packs of Bloodhounds, and the kennel seemed to be an essential part of almost every English monastery. Great care was taken to preserve the purity of the Bloodhound, whose original function was to follow the scent of wounded wolves, deer and other large game. As the deer population dwindled over the ensuing centuries, English sportsmen became more interested in hunting the fox, which required a much faster scent-tracking hound. The Foxhound eventually replaced the Bloodhound as the preferred tracking companion in Britain, while Bloodhounds evolved to become trackers of poachers and other people.
The original St. Hubert’s Hound became extinct during the French Revolution. In the late eighteenth century, only the British black-and-tan Bloodhound remained. Throughout the nineteenth century, the British Bloodhound was widely exported to other countries, which helped preserve the breed that almost disappeared from England by the end of World War II.
In the New World, Bloodhounds initially were bred as scent hounds specifically to track humans, particularly Native American Indians, runaway slaves and escaped criminals. In 1977, a pack of Bloodhounds was responsible for successfully tracking James Earl Ray, the murderer of Martin Luther King, Jr., after he escaped from prison and fled to the Tennessee hills. Today, Bloodhounds continue to work in tracking missing people but also are extensively used as police dogs and in search-and-rescue efforts. Their tracking capabilities are unmatched by any other animal, be it canine or human. They have been selectively bred as “finders,” not as “killers” or “hunters.” They are excellent companion and competition dogs and are almost overpoweringly friendly, although they can have a stubborn streak and probably are not the best choice for first-time dog owners. If left unattended or not safely confined, a Bloodhound’s nose can get him into trouble. Bloodhounds were accepted into the American Kennel Club’s Hound Group in 1885. The American Bloodhound Club was formed in 1952 to encourage and promote quality in the breeding of purebred Bloodhounds and to protect and advance the best interests of the breed.
Bloodhounds live on average between 10 and 12 years. Breed health concerns may include gastric dilatation and volvulus (bloat), ear infections, entropion (usually of the upper eyelids), ectropion, keratoconjunctivitis sicca (Dry Eye), prolapse of the gland of the nictitating membrane (“cherry-eye”) and hip dysplasia. They also can be prone to congenital aortic stenosis. Their skin folds must be kept clean to prevent infection, and they tend to slobber.