Posts Tagged ‘bloodhound’

bloodhound golden retriever mix

A cross between a golden retriever and a bloodhound looks a lot like a ridgeback. There are no dogs like this one featured anywhere in historical golden retriever photos.
Source for image.

I see it often repeated on websites that golden retrievers have bloodhound ancestry. I don’t know why it gets repeated that much, but if you breed a golden retriever to a bloodhound, you get smooth-coated puppies. There are no smooth-coated golden retrievers or any mention of smooth-coated bloodhound retrievers anywhere in the breed history.

The GRCA has published an article in which it quotes Arthur Croxton Smith, a British gun dog enthusiast from last century, who actually talked to the originators of the strain. It was actually he, not Elma Stonex, who revealed that the Russian circus dog story was bogus.

But no one listened to him.

And apparently no one is listening now. This is what Croxton Smith found out about the exact ancestry of the retrievers from the Third Lord Tweedmouth:

“Col. Ie Poer Trench ( St. Hubert’s Kennel) told me a romantic story which I was responsible for reporting extensively in various articles, to the effect that Sir Dudley Marjoribanks founded his kennel on a troupe of performing dogs that he bought from a circus proprietor in Brighton soon after the Crimean War. My old friend told me this story with such conviction that I had no reason to doubt it, but when I saw descendants of Mr. Harcourt’s strain (Culham} I came to the conclusion that they were not greatly different from the Flat­Coats that I used to know when a boy, and I thought the best way of getting an accurate version of the origin of the Guisachan dogs was to go to the late Lord Tweedmouth who was the grandson of the first peer [Dudley Churchill Marjoribanks, 3rd Baron Tweedmouth].

“He told me that one Sunday when his grandfather and father were at Brighton in the late ’60’s, they met a good looking yellow retriever and approached the man who had it. This man, who was a cobbler, said that he had received the dog in lieu of a bad debt from a keeper in the neighbourhood and that it was the only yellow puppy out of a black Wavy-Coated (the Flat Coats were then called Wavy) Retriever litter. Sir Dudley bought the dog and later obtained a bitch of a similar colour in the Border country. Several others were obtained, and to prevent the danger of excessive inbreeding, an occasional outcross was made with black Flat-Coated bitches. The third Lord Tweedmouth assured me that there was never a trace of Bloodhound in them — they were absolutely purebred Retriever.

“This version had corroboration in a letter published in the ‘Field’ in 1941, when M. S. H. Whitbread stated that the second Lord Tweedmouth told him how, as a small boy at school near Brighton, his father, Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, took him for a walk on the downs where they met a man with a very handsome young yellow retriever. He was a shoemaker and had received the puppy from Obed Miles, the keeper at Stanmer, in payment for a bill. Sir Dudley bought the dog, which was the originator of the Tweedmouth breed.

“Reading these two accounts together, combined with my previous doubts, I feel we must accept them as being correct.”

The bloodhound story is the last vestige of the Russian circus dog story that gets repeated in respectable circles.

People did breed hounds to retrievers, but there isn’t very good evidence that modern golden retrievers are bloodhounds.

Now, there is an account that at Guisachan the retrievers were bred to a bloodhound to make a better deer-tracking bloodhound, but there is no account of those dogs being bred back into the retrievers.

Croxton-Smith knew that the golden retrievers were nothing more than yellow or reddish variants of the old way-coated retriever, and  for that reason, he was skeptical of the Russian origins story.

We now have dropped the Russian dogs from the picture, but the bloodhound still remains.

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From Hunter-Trader-Trapper (1908):

Let me give you boys a pointer on breeding coon dogs. Take a large Irish water spaniel bitch and breed her to a large black and tan fox hound, then take a large bitch from this litter and breed her to a dog from a part blood hound and part black and tan fox hound. You will find that you have got a coon dog that will give plenty of tongue and is not afraid of the water, and has a spaniel nose with good feet and spread enough, with plenty of sand in his craw to kill any coon that runs.

Eugene W. Griffin, Huron Co., Ohio.

Mr. Griffin doesn’t tell us what the dog looks like.

In those days, experimentation and innovation were the key.

Not the malaise of the closed registry system and its religious tenet of blood purity for blood purity’s sake.

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Painting by George Horlor (1851).

The dog at his feet is a bloodhound, a dog that any Highland ghillie would need to track wounded deer.

The identities of the other two are less clear.

I think they are setters. Solid white and gold-colored setters were not unknown in the nineteenth century.

But then again, cream-colored and gold-colored retrievers were not unknown in the nineteenth century either.

Gordon setters were very similar to wavy-coated retrievers in conformation, and they were also known to come in the reddish gold color.

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Mr. E.C. Musgrave and his working bloodhounds. 1916.

From an article on “English bloodhounds” in Country Life in America (November 1916):

The English bloodhound is comparatively easy to breed, but has a reputation for a delicate constitution in spite of his apparent sturdiness. He is said to be especially susceptible to distemper. In the matter of health, I have the testimony of Mr. E. C. Musgrave, a breeder of Fairmont, W. Va., who writes as follows:

“I have had ten years of actual criminal work with bloodhounds, and consider the English bloodhound the best breed on earth. They are the best trailers and the most sensible dogs. They are healthy and usually large, but no man can expect to have healthy dogs if he does not give them plenty of exercise at least twice a week. Don’t let them get too fat. Don’t feed too much raw meat in the hot weather, or they may get indigestion and skin trouble. Once a week is enough for meat in summer, and it should be cooked. Their houses should be high and dry; a damp place may give them lung trouble, for which there is no cure. In hot weather keep sulphur in their water, and give plenty of water at all times. When the female is in whelp, work her right along every week; it is better for her and for the puppies as well.”

But the “English bloodhound” never made it as a coonhound in this part of the world.  Although they have better noses and can be crossed into coonhound breeds, the pure bloodhound is just not what is needed for a hunting hound.

That is probably because the bloodhound was used as a limer, which means they were leashed hounds that always scented cold trails or followed blood spoor (hence the term “bloodhound.”)

Most coonhounds are run off-leash and at great distance from the hunter. A bloodhound is meant to be used on a leash or “lyam” (where we get the term “limer” for a hound.)

A bloodhound is a slower and more deliberate dog than a coonhound. It will pick up scents that a fast running coonhound might miss, but it won’t do it fast enough for a good ‘coon chase.

That’s why bloodhounds are mostly used for police work, tracking tests, and man-trailing events.

Jed Clampett had the wrong dog. Old Duke wasn’t what you’d use to shoot up some food.

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This image comes from Dog Breaking by William Nelson Hutchinson (1865).

The dog at the front is obviously an English setter.

The other two are listed as retrievers, but they are very setter-like. Not unusual when Hutchinson clearly states that the best retriever is a setter crossed with the “true Newfoundland” (St. John’s water dog).

However, one dog– and I’m assuming it’s the dog to far right of the image– is said to be a retriever with bloodhound in it.

It may have some bloodhound ancestry, but the dog doesn’t look that much like it has any bloodhound features, except for the prominent occiput, which can occur in a variety of breeds from very different ancestries.

It appears that this dog has some feathering. Feathering would have been almost axiomatic in retrievers of that day, for they were mostly crossed between (long-haired) St. John’s water dogs that were exported from Newfoundland because of their inferior coats and some sort of setter.

However, this trait is recessive.  No bloodhound is feathered.

If this dog were an F1 bloodhound/feathered retriever cross, it would have something nearer to the bloodhound’s coat.

I don’t see that sort of coat on this dog.

And the other retriever looks so much like a setter that only the labeling in the text gives away its identity. However, it could be part bloodhound because of its “furrowed brow.”

If either of these dogs had bloodhound ancestry, it would have to have been more distant that the F1 cross. Perhaps it had a bloodhound grandsire or grandmother.

Of course, it is actually hard to tell if the dog on the far right is actually feathered.

But it appears to have some feathering, which means that if it’s part bloodhound, the bloodhound ancestry is more remote than implied in the caption.

I don’t know why anyone would cross a bloodhound with a retriever. The number of bloodhounds that actually have retrieving instinct has to be incredibly small. Bloodhounds aren’t bred for biddablity, but because they were bred as limers (scent hounds that tracked game and spoor on a leash), they were more biddable than foxhounds or harriers. The only advantage that bloodhound blood would impart onto any retriever is nose, which is important and would have been even more important in the type of battue shoots that were commonplace in nineteenth century Britain.

But you might lose quite a bit of biddability through such a cross.

I should note that I have always been skeptical of the common story that golden retrievers are part bloodhound. I think this is mostly a hold-over from the circus dog myth, which very often stated that the circus dogs were crossed with bloodhounds to decrease their size and darken their color. There is some evidence that there were bloodhound retriever experimental crosses at Guisachan. Giles Stephen Holland Fox-Strangways, 6th Earl of Ilchester, claimed to have seen these dogs,  but from my understanding, there was only one litter of crossbred retriever bloodhounds — and these were given away.

There is no record of the bloodhound cross in any of the kennel records at Guisachan.

I can see the possible logic for trying to add bloodhound to a line of retrievers, but it seems that the addition of the bloodhound would add too many deleterious traits to compensate for the supposed increases in scenting ability that should come from the cross.

Having grown up in a culture that worships the large scenthound, I can say that the traits of a good coonhound are the antithesis of a good retriever. A retriever is supposed to be biddable and ruled by the voice and whistle of his master. A coonhound is supposed to be ruled by his nose.

Coonhounds aren’t bloodhounds, of course– although some of them do have both bloodhound and Old Southern hound ancestry.

But even a limer isn’t going to be as driven to listen or retrieve– as in pick up thing– as a retriever would have to be.

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From George Turberville’s The booke of Hunting (1576).

All sorts of ways to hack around on your dog, get it drunk on wine, and make sure it ingests a ton of black pepper!

My favorite malady for which Turberville’s prescription for keeping “Bytches from going proud.” I have a lot of problems with “proud Bytches” these days, so I was quite interested in how to prevent this condition:

Before a Bytche haue had whelpes, giue hir euery morning nyne dayes together, nyne graynes of Pepper in hir meate, and she shall not become proude. Put them in to hir, in some cheese, or breade, or hard meate (pg. 234).

It should be noted that the only hunting Turberville mentions is “venery,” which is hunting with scent hounds. The  original word “hunting” originally only referred to venery. The word is etymologically connected to the word “hound.” Hunting originally referred  only to using scent hounds to pursue game. The word has since lost its very specific meaning and now means any act of pursuing game with or without dogs.

The illustrations of bloodhounds in this book are quite, um, different. The dogs don’t look much like any bloodhound I’ve ever seen!

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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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One of the most interesting etymological twist in the dog world is the story of how the bloodhound got its name.

In the nineteenth century bloodhounds were depicted in literature as the ferocious man-trailers who savaged slaves as they tried to escape captivity. In reality, the writers of that day were writing about an entirely different sort of bloodhound, one that had developed in the tropical parts of America by crossing the Spanish hound with some kind of mastiff. The most famous of these dogs was the Cuban bloodhound.

The common perception was that the bloodhound of Europe was the same breed and that it got this name from its bloodthirsty nature.

The nineteenth century bloodhound fancy responded to this problem with another etymological canard. This one still survives today, and I believe I have heard it announced when the bloodhound is shown at the Westminster Kennel Club show.

This line goes something like this: Bloodhounds were owned by the nobility, and they were “blooded.” At one time, very well-bred horses that were owned by the nobility were called “blood horses,” so it had to have been that the bloodhound got its name from that same source.

That explanation has always bothered me.

Now, I am not much into scent hounds, so I never actually looked into all of this history.

But it turns out that my skepticism about that story was well- founded.

I had read that the original bloodhounds were called “limers.” The dogs were used to follow the blood trails of deer and boars that were wounded by the hunter’s arrows. They did not freely trail these wounded animals. Instead, they were kept on a leash, which was called a “lyam” in Middle English, and that is how the dogs got the name “limer.”

The reason why these dogs were kept on a leash is to keep the dogs from running a wounded deer or boar. When wounded, a deer can keep running for great distance, even when it is mortally wounded. That’s why deer hunters wait for a while after shooting a deer that doesn’t fall where it was shot. If one starts putting pressure on wounded deer, it will keep running, and it may never be founded.

Now, I thought that might be a better reason to call the dogs bloodhounds, but I had no real authority on the matter. I let my mind worry about other things.

I had read this book many years ago. It was originally written in French, and although it says it is about hunting dogs from around the world, it really is only about gun dogs and scent hounds from Europe and North America. There was a section I remember quite distinctly. In fact, it was the place where I learned about the existence of modern day “limers.” Two German scent hounds, which we call the Hanoverian Schweisshund and the Bavarian Schweisshund, were called “bloodhounds” in the English translation. When I read how the German hunters and foresters used these dogs, it sounded a lot like the way the ancestral bloodhounds where used. The animals followed blood spoor from wounded animals while on lead.

As I was digging through W.E. Mason’s Dogs of All Nations (1915), I came across a Hanovrian limer (which sounds like the Hanoverian Schweisshund, except for color) and the Bavarian limer (which looks and sounds almost exactly like the modern Bavarian Schweisshund.) I noted that the dogs were called “limers’– exactly the same term that was used for the ancestral bloodhounds.

It seemed to me that the task of the limer hound was more compatible with the etymology of the bloodhound’s name.

But it turns out that I did not have to look into it from those angles.

The bloodhound fanciers had also started to question this strange story behind its name. After all, nobles kept spaniels, greyhounds, and lighter scent hounds in the Middle Ages. Why were was it that only the heavy scent hounds that were called “bloodhounds”?

It turns out that John Caius, who wrote Of Englisshe Dogges the late sixteenth century, believed that the bloodhound got its name from its utility as a limer.

Further, the term bloodhound is older than the colloquialism of calling a noble’s horse a “blood horse,” so it must be that the use of limers to track wounded animals is the origin of the term.

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The slave-catching dog that was infamous in the South for tracking down its victims and savagely mauling them was the Cuban bloodhound.

It was most likely derived from the Spanish war mastiff (a derivative of the Alaunt) with maybe a tough of greyhound or scent hound blood.

Drury has a depiction of this dog:

Cuban bloodhound

Note how similar this dog is to the dogs in “The Hunted Slaves” by Richard Ansdell.

These dogs were usually just called bloodhounds in the US, and their infamy spread through the world.

Now, the actual bloodhound of Europe received some of that bad reputation. That breed of bloodhound is a pack hound. It is quite docile and gentle. It has a great nose, and if someone can stand living with a rather large, active dog that is driven more by its nose than a desire to please its people. (These dogs are not “Ol’ Duke” from the Beverly Hillbillies. They do require a lot of exercise.)

So when one reads accounts of bloodhounds savaging people, especially escaped slaves trying to escape the oppression of their captors, one must remember that the bloodhound in question is the tracking mastiff from Cuba.

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