This Basset, while French in origin like her cousin the Basset Fauve de Bretagne, is much more familiar to the American population. She has served since the mid-20th century as the mascot for Hush Puppies shoes. Many Hush Puppies Basset Hounds have come and gone; the current one’s name is Jason.
In the 1950s, Elvis Presley appeared on The Steve Allen Show to sing “Hound Dog” to a seated Basset Hound wearing a top hat. The performance appeared uncomfortable for both of them, but Presley was photographed playing with the dog after filming stopped. Television has also given us a TV commercial that finds a dour-looking Basset Hound accompanying a bored Maytag washer repairman along his route.
Don’t mistake the Basset Hound for a snooty Hollywood type, though. Her breeding makes her a formidable small game hunter, and her goofy personality is ideal for pet parents seeking a “fun” dog.
The Basset Hound is another product of the French passion for custom-breeding hunting dogs. The Basset Hound is closely related to the taller and slimmer Bloodhound; both are descendents of the “St. Hubert Hound,” a product of selective breeding credited to a French cleric and “patron saint of the hunt.” St. Hubert’s Hound resembled a bloodhound, and the modern-day bloodhound is his best-known ancestor; however, many people also believe that today’s basset hound resulted from a genetic mutation in the ancient breed.
The genetic maneuvering that produced the Basset Hound yielded a low-slung, solidly built, short-legged scent hound with a white-tipped tail that stands straight in the air, alerting her handler to the presence of game. Packs of Basset Hounds hunt in France and England to this day. Working alone or in packs, their long ears touch the ground and release the scent of small game, which the dogs then drive into warrens or quarries where the handler can retrieve them.
Height for mature purebred dogs is up to 14 inches. Weight can vary depending on the dog’s length and musculature. They can range from 40 to 65 pounds, so while short in stature, they cannot be considered “small’ dogs. Basset Hounds may have folds or wrinkles, which for most people only adds to their charm. The fold of skin around the neck is called a “dewlap,” and the Basset Hound’s long, pendulous ears are called “leathers” in breeding circles.
Many color permutations are possible; a Basset can display any of the standard hound colors in any combination (tan, black, red, gray or lemon, with or without white markings).
The Basset Hound’s morose expression masks a friendly and open worldview. Her first loyalty is to her own family or person, but she is usually welcoming to strangers and and affectionate with children. She can even do well with other pets in the home, although there’s likely to be an introductory period when everyone gets used to living together.
If you’re looking for a low-energy dog, the laid-back Basset Hound may be for you. She does enjoy walking and requires the exercise to control her weight, but usually she’s just as happy lying on the couch.
Like most hounds, Bassets can be stubborn. Training is recommended. Remember, these dogs have been bred to think independently and problem-solve on the hunting course.
Bassets are a vocal breed; beyond the bark, they issue a variety of low, soft sounds that delight most owners, who believe their Bassets are talking to them. The Basset’s prowess as a watchdog is mixed; while she can be counted on to alert her people to trouble in or around the home, she’s not likely to take on an intruder herself.
The Basset Hound’s very anatomy predisposes her to certain health conditions, including elbow dysplasia and arthritis. Owners should not allow aging dogs to jump from heights, as this can lead to injuries of the hip, spine or legs that may be fatal.
Basset Hounds have also been known to develop epilepsy, glaucoma, luxating patella, thrombopathia, Von Willebrand disease, hypothyroidism, and hip dysplasia. Their longevity is generally 10 to 14 years.
There are pluses and minuses about caring for a Basset Hound, and the prospective owner should be aware of both. On the plus side, their short coats do not tangle or mat, although the Basset Hound enjoys a good brushing as much as the next breed. Indoor Basset Hounds do not require a great deal of bathing. They do shed, however.
Those beautiful ears — considered the longest among all dog breeds — will require moderate but consistent care throughout the dog’s life. The ear length and folding greatly reduce air circulation inside the ear, creating a perfect breeding ground for infections and ear mites. The dog’s ears are also prone to touching her food as she eats; this, too, will require cleaning. Your veterinarian can recommend a gentle cleaning product for your Basset Hound’s ears, and also an appropriate medication should infection set in.
Basset Hounds can experience yeast infections of the mouth and mucus of the eye. Keeping your dog’s eyes and mouth clean and dry, along with regular vet visits, should keep these issues at bay.
Basset Hounds have unusually thick nails that grow quickly; left untrimmed, the nail will bend painfully to the left or right while the dog is in a standing position. Compounding this is the fact that many Basset Hounds greatly object to having their nails trimmed. Do-it-yourselfers might want to consider leaving this task up to the vet or groomer.
Finally, Basset Hounds, like many dogs in the hound group, require frequent expression of the anal sacs found underneath their tail. This task is not difficult to perform; your vet can demonstrate it for you. However, the material in the sac emits an odor most people find foul. If you are sensitive to odors, you might want to let your vet handle this one as well.
The Basset Hound Club of America (http://www.basset-bhca.org/) has compiled a page of Basset Hound rescue groups throughout the United States. Consult the page for a group near you, or Google “Basset Hound Rescue” if you can’t find a group in your region.