With the exception of the Plott Hound, the American English Coonhound’s history is not terribly different from that of other treeing Coonhounds, which all descend from English Foxhounds. Coonhounds date back to the 1600s, when English settlers brought Foxhounds to the North American colonies. Englishman Robert Brooke brought his pack of hunting hounds to America in 1650. In 1742, Thomas Walker imported a number of hound dogs from England to Virginia. George Washington, who was an avid fox hunter, had English hounds imported to this country in 1770. The early English Foxhound imports became known as “Virginia Hounds.” They are the predecessors of today’s American English Coonhound.
At first, Virginia Hounds were used primarily to hunt foxes, rabbits and raccoons during daylight hours in the deep Southern states. Some people also used them to pursue larger prey, such as wild boar, cougar, deer and even bear. To improve their hounds’ ability to take on these big animals, owners selectively bred them for increased size, strength, stamina and speed. Careful breeding also helped the dogs adapt to the rough American terrain and climate. Virginia Hounds were crossed with American Foxhounds to enhance their endurance and versatility. Because the dogs were used to track animals that took shelter in trees, they also were crossed with Bloodhounds, which have the best noses in the canine world. The American English Coonhound developed into a hardy, tenacious breed with tremendous endurance, determination and courage. Able to cover uneven ground day or night with a swift, seemingly effortless gait, this powerful dog became extremely popular with Southern hunters. It has since become prized by hunters country-wide.
The Redbones and Black-and-Tans were the first Coonhounds to be recognized as distinct breeds. Until the end of World War II, the other treeing Coonhounds (American English, Bluetick and Treeing Walker) were lumped together as a single breed, with different color varieties. The United Kennel Club accepted them into its Scenthound Group in 1905, under the designation “English Fox and Coonhound.” In the 1940s, Coonhound breeders began making marked distinctions between their dogs. The UKC separately recognized the Bluetick and Treeing Walker Coonhounds in the mid-1940s. Fanciers of the traditional Virginia (English) Coonhound, now called the American English Coonhound, began to favor dogs with red-ticked coats, to distinguish them from those more modern offshoots. The American English Coonhound was granted full AKC status in 2011, as a member of the Hound Group. The Canadian Kennel Club has not yet recognized this breed, which is still called the English Coonhound in Great Brittain.
Today's American English Coonhound is a speedy, hot-nosed, super-charged hunting dog with exceptional versatility. He increasingly fills the role of family companion as well. Gentle, sociable and good-natured, these dogs get along well with people of all ages. They generally are not aggressive and enjoy the company of other dogs. With their high energy level, intelligence and intense focus and drive, American English Coonhounds excel at agility and other competitive canine sports. Their deep, booming voice also makes them good watch dogs.
The American English Coonhound is a healthy breed, with an average lifespan of 11 to 12 years. Like other mid-to-large dogs, one of the most common health concerns is hip dysplasia. Other breed health predispositions may include ear infections (bacterial; yeast), progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and polyradiculoneuritis (possibly from exposure to raccoon bites).