When hounds are hot on the trail, it’s as if their brains fall from the skull and roll straight down the snout – right between their two nostrils. They don’t walk in a straight line. They don’t care if you follow them. And they certainly don’t listen to direction. In this context of hunting, we call these dogs determined. In every other context, we call them stubborn.
To be a scent hound is to be relentlessly at the service of your nose. Second only to the scenting capabilities of the bloodhound, basset hounds are certainly no exception to this rule. They don’t particularly look like working dogs, with long, sagging ears and eyes, elastic wrinkles, and short, knobby ankles. Most of the time they don’t act like working dogs, either, enjoying a leisurely life with little activity between meals and naps. But don’t be fooled — these squatty characters are the product of thousands of years of pure olfactory refinement.

The use of dogs for tracking down deer, hare, and other game revolutionized hunting thousands of years ago. In ancient Greece, a type of dog referred to as a Laconian hound was depicted as a determined tracker that would never give up on sniffing out their targeted prey. For this reason, these hounds became an indispensable part of hunting in Greece, infiltrating Constantinople and eventually spreading throughout Europe. The Laconian hound contributed to the breeding of the scent hounds of the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Hubert in Belgium, dating to around 1000 AD. The Norman staghound, a now extinct breed, was an early descendent of the St. Hubert hound and, with a tall stature, was best suited to track deer. When a mutation occurred in a Norman staghound litter causing short-legged, bloodhound-type dogs, a new breed of scent hounds emerged.

There are six different basset-type dogs existing today. The name “basset hound” combines the French word bas, meaning ‘low,’ with the suffix -et, implying ‘rather.’ With adults weighing up to 70 pounds, they truly are large dogs that aren’t just low, but rather low. Bloodhounds and other St. Hubert descendants were great for hunting on horseback but difficult to keep up with on foot. Besides, up until the end of the French Revolution, hunting from horseback was an activity in which only royals were allowed to partake. It was the stubby legs of the basset hound that allowed the common person to hunt. With this in mind, basset-type dogs became quite popular in 19th century France — so much so, the English began importing them, where their breeding was further refined.
Everett Millais, an English hunter, imported the first French basset, named Model, into England in 1874. Unsatisfied with the leaner physique of the French basset hound, he began breeding them with bloodhounds to create a heftier build, which ultimately became the breed standard we know today.

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The modern basset hound remains remarkably dense, having the highest percentage of bone per pound compared to any other breed of dog. While nearly every physical trait contributes to their dopey appearance, each silly feature has served some function to enhance their scenting capabilities. The loose skin and dewlaps, falling into deep, rolling wrinkles, help keep the scent close to their face and nose. And with such impressively long ears, one could easily assume the basset’s hearing is its most sophisticated sense, when in fact, they primarily serve as flaps to waft smells up to the nose.
While independent, basset hounds are remarkably friendly, gentle, and often quite lazy. They are extremely social dogs and agreeable with nearly any type of company — that is, until they catch a whiff and set off wandering.

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