Posts Tagged ‘Basset hound’

The Thinning of Ludlow

To name a dog Ludlow, one must have a truly avuncular animal. And basset hound with crooked legs, pendulous dewlap, and massive zebu ears certainly fit the bill.

Ludlow was purchased for $3,000 from a breeder who had true European basset hounds for sale, and these dogs hang more loosely than the typical American basset, which still (in theory at least) being bred for the pursuit of hares and rabbits.

But Ludlow’s job was not to run the rabbit. He really didn’t have much of a job at all. Just wander the grounds of Judge Smith’s stately Georgian home, and not tear anything up.

As a pup, he’d failed a bit as at his task. He’d chewed up an expensive sofa, gnawed away at the binding of a few good books, and let his excrement fall on some imported rugs.

But he’d made it through the scoldings, and the exasperating fights where Judge Smith’s wife demanded that the pup be sent back to the breeder but eventually relented when she looked into those deep brown puppy eyes and couldn’t resist him.

A six-week obedience course smoothed out Ludlow’s rough edges, and by the time he was 18 months old, he was a nice dog to have around the house.

He got meatballs and sausage as daily treats. Sometimes he got ice cream just before bed, but he lived on dog food and bits of cheese parceled out of the fridge.

And he grew to be a fat old basset that waddled down the lawn and bayed at squirrels that leaped among the treetops of the stately oaks in the Judge’s lawn.

Such is the life for an American dog. It is a life of luxury that few other beings in the history of life have experienced, and unlike the people who daily toiled to maintain the home, he could live the life of a retiree while at the prime of his life.

When he was seven years old, though, the discs of his spine began to act up. Some weeks, he could barely walk. The vet who prescribe anti-inflammatories and rest, and above all, he would demand the Smiths put the old boy on a diet. 115 pounds is not a healthy weight for a basset, even a big boy like Ludlow.

And the Smiths would do the diet thing. They’d get Ludlow back down to 100, even 95 pounds, and then the Judge, who’d locked up his fair share of criminals, would see those sad basset eyes staring at the refrigerator.

And the fattening of Ludlow would begin again. 

For three years, Ludlow was on this seesaw diet regime. He would still have back trouble, but how could anyone refuse to feed the poor dog?

But when Ludlow hit ten years of age, it became apparent that something had to be done.  The vet said the dog was falling apart, and he had to go on a diet soon.

And it just so happened that the Judge retired within a week of the vet’s stark advice.

And this time, the Judge decided that he would do it. This time, he would switch to salads for himself and diet dog food for Ludlow and the walking would begin.

For the first two weeks, Ludlow barely made it around the neighborhood, but after that second week, he’d built up some nice muscle and a bit of endurance.

And for six months, man and dog walked and dieted. And both grew trimmer and more fit.

At next annual checkup, Ludlow weighed in at a strapping 83 pounds. The vet estimated that his ideal weight would be 78 pounds, but he was closer to that weight than he’d been since his was a puppy.

Ludlow’s back and joints were tighter, and he looked like a true hound of noble breeding and not some slobby old seal of a dog.

His back stopped bothering him, and that winter, Ludlow realized a new activity: chasing squirrels.

For the first time in his life, Ludlow began to run the squirrels, and he would do it for several hours a day.  No longer encumbered by so much fat and a lack of muscle, he was now a lithe running dog.

And at the age of 11, he was now fitter and more trim than he had ever been.

The next time the vet weighed him, he was 80 pounds, but he was no longer the fat dog he once was. He was a fit beast at last.

Never again did Ludlow get fat. He lived on to the ripe age of 16, truly ancient for a basset.

Fat is never good for a dog.  They are adapted to run long and hard. and we’ve made them softer and less healthy than we ever have in history.

But we can make it right. If we can refuse the sad eyes at the fridge and take them out for a good run.

That’s all they need.

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In the English language, the term “basset hound” refers to a specific breed. We recognize it as sort of a dwarf bloodhound that comes in the more “beagly” colors of tricolor and lemon and white.  It is immortalized in the cartoon character Droopy and is the mascot for the Hush Puppy shoe brand. One of my favorite stuffed animals as a boy was a Pound Puppy named “Droopy,” and the majority of these toys were based upon how basset hounds look.

This animal is well-established in Western pop culture, but its origins as a distinct breed are very rarely discussed. It is usually said to be a French breed, but anyone who has looked at French dog breeds closely very quickly discovers that there are many basset breeds. “Basset” just means a dwarf hound.  Dwarf dogs have shorter legs for their body size, and it very common in a variety of breeds, which can easily be “grafted” onto different strains through crossbreeding. For example, within the bleu de Gascogne breeds there is a basset. It is very similar to the long-legged petit and grand bleus de Gascogne. It has short-legs, and short legs define it as a basset. It probably derives from the longer-legged bleus being crossed with some form of basset.

Short-legged hounds are quite useful in hunting rabbits and hares while the hunter is on foot and especially if the hunter has a gun. Short-legged hounds will put pressure on the quarry and drive out in the open where it can be shot, or the slow running hounds will  put pressure on the prey to continue the chase.

France is the world’s leader in producing scenthound breeds. I say this as an American, a nation that has produced many find scenthounds, but the French have been at it for centuries.  It is usually suggested, though with a bit of exaggeration, that the major scenthounds of Britain, which are also the root source for most North American hound breeds, are all derived from French strains.  After all, hunting with hounds in England was always the realm of the wealthy and high positioned, and for many centuries, the noble class of Britain largely consisted of French or French-speaking gentry.  It would have made sense that they would have brought hounds from France into England and established them there as distinct scenthound types.

But until the 1870s,  there was never a native British basset breed.  For hares and rabbits, the British sporting men ran various forms of harrier and beagle. These are all longer-legged dogs with great endurance, and a beagle pack was usually attached to the leading boarding school in the country. Eton has a famous beagle pack even now, and these beagle packs were used to introduce the elite’s sons into the culture of sporting hounds.

In Picardy and Artois, a long-legged harrier type of hound was developed for much the same purpose. The Artois hound (or “Chien d’Artois) developed quite a bit of fame in French history as a superior hare hound. Some of these dogs are believed to behind the modern beagle, for this part of northern France is but a short distance across the channel from England.

But the British were uninterested in obtaining any of the basset breeds for hunting purposes.

However, in the nearby province of Normandy, a strain of basset was developed for hunting hares on foot. It was a grafting of the basset trait on the now extinct Normand hound, and someone began adding the same feature onto the Artois hound, producing the “Basset d’Artois.” These two breeds have since been combined into the modern Basset Artesien-Normand, but originally there were two breeds.   The Normand breed had crooked front legs, and the Artois had longer legs.

The Count le Couteulx de Canteleu kept a pack of the Artois basset, consisting of two distinct types. One was heavily built and usually tricolor or red and white. The other, which was said to be crossed with beagle, was usually lemon and white or tricolor. Another strain bred by Louis Lane of Normandy were gray and white or lemon and white and had very heavy bone. It is from these dogs that modern basset hound descends.

Eventually a few of these dogs wound up with George Edmund Milnes Monckton-Arundell, 7th Viscount Galway (“Lord Galway”) in the 1860s.  In the 1870s, these dogs became property of the William Hillier Onslow, 4th Earl of Onslow, (“Lord Onslow”), and they were the only pack of these hounds in the entire country, where they used to run hares

In 1874 Everett Millais, the son of the famous painter Sir John Everett Millais, took in a dog show at Paris’s Jardin d’Acclimatation.  At the time Millais was interested in dachshunds and decided to check out the breed in Paris and compare them to those in England. He had traveled to the continent to import some in 1870, and he was looking for more examples of what was then a novelty breed in England.

At this French dog show, however, there were two dogs of the basset Artesien-Normand-type being exhibited. He was instantly drawn to these bassets, eventually purchasing one, which he was named “Model.” The other hound also wound up in the hands of an English dog fancier, George Krehl, and this dog, which as named “Fino de Paris.”

Millais hadn’t been much into dog shows until he brought Model over, and it wasn’t long before he exhibited this new dog at English dog shows. The dog was much celebrated in the press, and the dog received the attention of Lord Onslow.  It wasn’t long before Model was being bred to his bitches, including some that he recently imported from The Count le Couteulx de Canteleu. George Krehl also joined in the breeding venture, and it wasn’t long before they had good-sized but very inbred population.

It was then that there were attempts to find an outcross. Beagles didn’t work, because the crosses just didn’t look or bay correctly.

So it was Millais who came up with the novel idea of crossing the basset with the bloodhound to save the breed.  The bloodhound bitch was bred to a basset using artificial insemination. The reason he wanted to use the bloodhound as an outcross is to perform what we know as genetic rescue but also add bone and stronger-scenthound features to the breed.

That cross was initially thought of as a way of helping this breed of basset in England, but what Millais essentially did was create an English basset breed. The French breeders of basset Artesien-Normand wanted their dogs to have more moderate bone and not be particularly large dogs, but when bloodhound was added to this breed, those traits took off in the English breed.

Millais, who had loved dogs but wasn’t particularly interested in showing them, eventually became the leading expert on bassets and dachshunds in England. Indeed our association with bassets and dachshund as being similar breeds is really an English concept. Millais believed dachshunds were a sort of German basset, and he argued extensively that dachshunds be bred with a stronger emphasis on their scenthound traits.

But he had created inadvertently crossed the bloodhound and the basset. Now we think of the basset hound and the basset Artesien-Normand as distinct breeds. Europeans continue breed for heavier and heavier boned English bassets, while the pack hounds still run through the North of France. North American basset breeders have tried their best to keep their dogs lighter built and less exaggerated. The dogs have proven themselves on our native lagomorphs, especially snowshoe hare. And now there is a large divide between North American and European-style bassets.

A few years ago, I suggested that the basset Artesian-Normand or even the Artois hound be reintroduced to the basset breed, but modern fanciers wouldn’t want that blood any more than Millais did.  European-style bassets are much larger than the old basset Artesian-Normand.  Some of these dog approach 90 pounds in weight, and the obese ones certainly exceed it.

In England, some bassets have been crossed some strain of native harrier to produce a lighter built hound.

And that certainly is an option.

But in Europe, the basset hound of England is very much a show dog.  It can be bred for exaggerated features because that’s what the fancy and the public ultimately want.

Indeed, I’ve come across people over here selling massive European-style bassets to the pet market for very high prices. Usually, these dogs are never shown in the AKC ring, because the AKC standard still calls for a much more moderate dog.

The Millais family hailed from Jersey in the Channel Islands, right between England and France, so it was very fitting that a family– with such an obvious French origin name– would be part of creating this English breed out of French stock.

The creation of the basset hound in England shows that just the odd desires of one person can led to sudden breed creation.  All it takes is just some odd trait or two to select for, and we suddenly have a breed.

Even if it was unintentional.


In a subsequent post, I am going to discuss another member of the Millais family and his love of dogs. Unlike Everett, this member was far less interested in dog shows and didn’t hold them in much esteem. He had a very different kind of dog, though.











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Nothing explains this problem better than this clip from PDE:


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Ch. Buzz Lightyear at Dereheath failed the mandatory heath check following his BOB win at this year's Crufts.

 The basset hound that won BOB at Crufts failed its health check.

Buzz looks like he’s got a lot of “chalk” in his eyes– which means he was likely DQ’d for having ectropion.

Strange as it may seem, having a penis that drags the ground isn’t a health disqualification.


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(Source for image)

From Robert Leighton’s Dogs and All About Them (1910):

The rough or Griffon-Basset, introduced into England at a later date than the smooth, has failed for some reason to receive great attention. In type it resembles the shaggy Otterhound, and as at present favoured it is larger and higher on the leg than the smooth variety. Their colouring is less distinct, and they seem generally to be lemon and white, grey and sandy red. Their note is not so rich as that of the smooth variety. In France the rough and the smooth Bassets are not regarded as of the same race, but here some breeders have crossed the two varieties, with indifferent consequences.

Some beatuiful specimens of the rough Basset have from time to time been sent to exhibition from the Sandringham kennels. His Majesty the King has always given affectionate attention to this breed, and has taken several first prizes at the leading shows, latterly with Sandringham Bobs, bred in the home kennels by Sandringham Babil ex Saracenesca (pg. 174).

Now, there are several basset breeds in France with this type of coat. The best known in the English-speaking world is the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen.

I am not sure if the “rough bassets” that appear in the dog fancy’s literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are PBGV’s or other French bassets. One must recognize that the dog we call a “basset hound” was developed in its present form in England– with more than a touch of bloodhound crossed in.

The bassets in France are not nearly as heavily boned or as short in leg as the modern conformation “English” basset.

Ch. Tambour, the dog depicted above, looks like a rough-coated English basset, not  a PBGV.

I would like to know what happened to these “rough bassets.”

Did they disappear entirely from the  English basset bloodlines?

Were they absorbed into the PBGV?

Were these rough bassets essentially PBGV or Grand BGV?

The GBGV is closer to the size of a modern English basset, though it is a bit longer in the leg, but the breed has never had the following in English-speaking countries that the smaller PBGV has had.

Leighton suggests that one or more of the griffon-coated bassets was imported to England and then interbred with the “English” basset. The French never would have done such a thing, but the English don’t have a tradition of keeping hounds lines distinct on the basis of color and coat in the same way the French do. The only extant British griffon hound is the otterhound, whereas in France many hounds types have a griffon type as an auxiliary– which is rarely, if ever, interbred with the smooth dogs.

The English created their own version of the basset, largely by using two strains of smooth basset from the North of France. One of these, the Basset Artésien Normand, can still be found in France, and it strongly resembles what we would call a working-type basset.

At one time, it appears that there actually were English bassets with griffon coats.

Why these dog disappeared is a very good question. Because of their more recent French ancestry, it may have been harder to breed them to look like English bassets with rough coats. Those more refined French features would have been harder to eliminate, just as the “button-eyes” from  the outcrossed staffies were so hard to eliminate in the early colored bull terriers.

Bull terrier breeders did create a colored bull terrier that looked like the white ones, but it took several decades and a lot of infighting. Seeing as there was a debate within bassets about the bloodhound cross, it may have been that the questions about purity of the rough-coated dogs were simply battles that the basset hound fancy simply decided not to fight.

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Basset hounds from 1879

(Source for both images)

These photos, of course, remind me of this part of Pedigree Dogs Exposed:


Those dogs in the photos are from the time period that this dogs “came into this country [the UK].”

Improved? I really don’t think so.

No one I know who beagles uses basset hounds.  I’ve heard of people crossing beagles and bassets and using that cross.

From understanding, the only hunting basset hound that ever lived in my part of the world would wear out so easily that he’d just stop in the middle of the road and lie down. His short legs just couldn’t handle the steep hillsides for long.

But maybe these dogs could.


The dog in the top photo could have been a beagle, but I’m sticking with Pietoro’s classifcation until proven otherwise. Some of the earlier strains of beagle were shorter in the leg than they are today.

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The following account appears in Rawdon Lee’s A History and Description of Modern Dogs (Sporting Division) (1894):

Sir Everett Millais ultimately found that through inter-breeding [sic] the Basset-hound was deteriorating in many respects, and, with the idea of improving his appearance and size, he looked out for a cross. He says:

“After inbreeding for nearly twenty years, it was obvious that the English Basset required fresh blood, primarily because the general mass of hounds were below the average in size; secondly, because there was increasing difficulty in breeding and rearing them; thirdly, because barrenness was becoming very prevalent; and fourthly, because when reared they succumbed through constitutional causes to distemper in a most alarming manner. The question, having determined to make the cross, was, what hound to use which would give us the points we desired, and give increased stamina to the breed. “I chose the Bloodhound, firstly, because the head of the Basset should resemble that of the Bloodhound; and secondly, because from my experimental work with Beagles, I knew that the question of a return to Basset formation in legs was but a matter of one or two generations. There therefore remained simply the question of colour, and this I was certain would come back very speedily.

“The first cross was between the Basset-hound Nicholas and the Bloodhound Inoculation, and the puppies were produced artificially by the method now known as ‘Insemination.’ Twelve in all were born, and they were all anatomically nearer the Basset than the Bloodhound, but in colour they took after the dam. These were Basset-Bloodhounds.

“The next cross was between Champion Forester and one of the above litter, viz., Rickey. There were seven puppies born, six of them were tricolours like the sire, and one black and tan like the dam. They all took after the Basset in anatomy, and were 3/4-bred Bassets with 1/4  Bloodhound.

“The next cross was between Dulcie, one of the above litter, and Bowman. There were four pups in the litter, three tricolours and one lemon and white. They cannot be distinguished from purebred Bassets. They are naturally hounds containing 7/8 of Basset and 1/8 of Bloodhound.

“The next cross was between one of the above litter and the Basset-hound Guignol. Here six puppies were born, four tricolours, one lemon and white, and one black and tan. They are perfectly indistinguishable from pure Bassets, and are composed of 15/16 Basset blood to 1/16of Bloodhound.

“The result of this set of experiments has brought about animals which cannot be distinguished from pure Bassets, and they can be used throughout the breed to bring in the trifling quotum of fresh blood necessary without damaging or altering the existent type in the slightest degree.

“Now, in going through these various crosses, it will be seen that in the first we get half-bred hounds taking mostly after the Basset in shape and the Bloodhound in colour. In the second cross we have a return to Basset colouring, and greater approach to the Basset in every way. In the third cross we get pure Bassets, and in the fourth the same, with what might be expected, one case of atavism to the Bloodhound in colour.

“We have, however, something more. I have said that one most desirable object was size, and when 1 stated that most of the hounds one meets with are below the average, I place the average at such hounds as Fino de Paris, Fino V., Fino VI., and Forester.

“These have been the four great sires in direct descent and those most used, and it will be acknowledged, that with a few exceptions, few of their offspring have equalled them in size and bone. By the use, however, of the Bloodhound cross, both the third and fourth crosses are equal in size to Forester, and in addition we have the required points.

“It is, in my opinion, a mistake to call such hounds as the third and fourth crosses by the name of Basset-Bloodhounds, for this name applies only to the first cross. The third cross has only 1/8 of Bloodhound in it, and the fourth 1/16; in other words, is an animal a Basset-Bloodhound, whose greatgrandmother or great-great-grandmother was a Bloodhound? I think most breeders would not pay very much attention to such relationship as this, and would call their animals pure Bassets. At least such is my intention. It would take a very good man to tell an Octoroon in the human subject, and I would defy him to pick out a cross below that. Why should we do so in dogs? Of course, in crossing one must expect a case of atavism now and then as is seen in the fourth cross, but by such phenomena as these, we are able to add a new colour to those now existing in Bassets” (pg. 344-346).

Now, this argument exists today in two rather notorious cases:  The Dalmatian Backcross Project and Bruce Cattanach’s bob-tailed boxer experiment.  Like the basset-bloodhound outcross, these two projects involved the introduction of foreign blood. The Dalmatians were crossed with a pointer to produce Dalmatians that did not have the uric acid defect that so plagues the breed, and the boxers were crossed with naturally bob-tailed corgis to produce boxers that have naturally bobbed tails.

Neither of these outcrosses has been well-received. The Dalmatians can’t be registered as Dalmatians with the AKC, even though they have only minute amounts of pointer blood, and the German boxer fanciers (and the FCI) amended their standard so that only docked bobtails were in keeping with the standard. (Of course, tail docking is now illegal in Germany. Except for the stuffed one, all the boxers I saw in Germany had tails.)

It is interesting that the bassets with bloodhound in them became widely established within the breed, as Millais points out.

That did not happen with the modern day examples.

The  bloodhound outcross with the bassets was done to alleviate what appears to have been an inbreeding depression.  The only breeds I know of that have had outcrosses to stop problems with inbreeding are the Cesky terrier and the Chinook. In the Cesky, those dogs that have the outcrossed Sealyham blood are called “Line 2 dogs,” which distinguishes them from the original Line 1 dogs that were developed from a Scottish terrier bred to a Sealyham in the 1940’s in Czechoslovakia. And the Chinooks have such a stringent outcross plan that very few outcross dogs have been registered.

It seems in the case of the basset hound that the outcross was successful. Had they stayed on this road, the British basset breed probably would have gone extinct.

Of course, I don’t know why they didn’t add blood from the French basset breeds. There are many different breeds of basset in France, some of which, like the Artesian Basset of Normandy, look like English bassets.

But they wanted the bloodhound head.

So the bloodhound was chosen.

Ah, just like the corgi in the bob-tailed boxers.

An outcross for conformation reasons.

Too bad the boxers didn’t get the same treatment as the bassets.

Shouldn’t naturally bob-tailed boxers have as much right to be considered boxers as modern bassets with bloodhound heads have the right to be called bassets?

Double standards?

You betcha.


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And you wonder why no one I know uses bassets to hunt rabbits.

Or if they do, they use a regional French basset (like the basset bleu de Gascogne) or breed a beagle to a basset.

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The reaction of the basset club chairperson is absolutely hilarious!

“We have improved them.”




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