The Basset Hound was developed in the late 1500’s by the Friars of the Abbey of St. Hubert in northern France, as part of a selective breeding program to produce a low-set, slow-moving and highly intelligent hound that could be followed on foot rather than only on horseback. Bloodhounds were no doubt prominent in its ancestry. These dogs were bred to track rabbits, fox, squirrels, pheasants and deer, and eventually raccoons and badgers, using their keen sense of smell. They apparently even hunted wild boar and wolf. Their short legs and tight coat made them especially useful in thick brush, and they hunted equally well in packs or alone. Hunting was popular among French royalty during the 16th through 19th centuries, and Basset Hounds were favored in the kennels of aristocrats and other nobility. However, even commoners who did not own horses favored the Basset, which developed a special niche among hunting hounds.
By the mid-19th century, the two preeminent breeders of Bassets in France were producing dogs of slightly different types. M. Lane was breeding hounds with broader skulls, shorter ears and rounder, more prominent eyes. His dogs typically were lemon and white in color and tended to knuckle-over in front. Count Le Couteulx was breeding hounds with narrower heads, domed top-skulls and a softer, more sunken eye. His hounds also had a more prominent jaw and a down-faced look with more exaggerated facial expression. The Le Couteulx hounds also were tri-colored, making them more recognizable and more highly sought-after. In 1866, Lord Galway brought the first pair of Le Couteulx Basset Hounds to England. This pair produced a litter of five puppies in 1867, but they were not widely promoted. In 1874, Sir Everett Millais imported another French Basset Hound, named Model, to England. Using Model in a selective breeding program and with the help of Lord Onslow and George Krehl, Millais became known as the “father of the Basset Hound breed” in England. He exhibited the first Basset in England in 1875. However, it was not until 1880, when Millais coordinated a large Basset Hound entry for the Wolverhampton dog show, that public attention finally focused on the breed. Several years later, the Basset’s popularity in England grew when Queen Alexandra brought the breed into her royal kennels.
George Washington reportedly owned one of the first Basset Hounds in the United States, which was given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette after the American Revolution. Starting in 1883, imports of Bassets contributed to the bourgeoning popularity of the breed in America, particularly among sportsmen who valued their talents for hunting rabbits. The Westminster Kennel Club first recognized and held a class for the Basset Hound in 1884. The English import, Nemours, made his debut at that show and completed his AKC championship in Boston two years later. The American Kennel Club first recognized the Basset Hound in 1885. The breed continued its popularity into the 20th century, with a Basset puppy being prominently displayed on the cover of Time Magazine in 1928. The Basset Hound Club of America was founded in 1935 and became the national parent club for the breed in the United States. This breed remains a capable companion to hunters and an ideal family pet. It also excels in field trials, pack hunting, obedience and tracking. The Basset Hound retains its reserved nature and resonant voice.
The average lifespan of the Basset is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include allergies, back and joint problems, bloat/torsion, cardiac disease, skin conditions, ear infections, eyelid and eyelash problems, glaucoma, intervertebral disk disease and von Willebrand disease. While they are generally a healthy breed, Basset’s ears need to be cleaned and cared for or they can develop ear infections. Their droopy eyes also need to be wiped daily to keep dirt and dust from accumulating in the fold and predisposing them to developing eye infections.