The Bloodhound is the oldest of all the scent hounds and the one with the sharpest sense of smell. That means she’s also a favorite with law enforcement, as she can tirelessly track suspects or support search and rescue operations with a high degree of success — even though she will not hold or attack the object of her pursuit, preferring to wait for her handler. Their success as hunters in catching human quarry is so great that they are are one of handful of breeds whose findings can be used and upheld as testimony in a court of law.
Bloodhounds are one of the many “gentle giant” breeds who transition easily from a day of work to an evening with the family. They have enjoyed a steady presence in popular culture; for example, the family dog Ladybird in the animated series King of the Hill is a bloodhound, as are the “Bumpuses’ hounds,” a pack that lives next door to Ralphie Parker’s family and ultimately runs off with their Thanksgiving turkey in A Christmas Story. A Bloodhound is also one of the show champion hopefuls in the classic Christopher Guest mockumentary Best in Show.
Bloodhound history is thought to reach as far back as the third century A.D., when they are thought to have been selectively bred for centuries with other dogs in the Mediterranean region. Today’s Bloodhound is believed to descend from two known dogs of this period: the St. Hubert’s Hound and the Southern Hound. The British began breeding today’s Bloodhound in the 11th and 12th centuries; eventually, the breed was so highly regarded in Great Britain that the royals and high-ranking church officials kept packs of them.
Over time, England’s deer population waned and hunters turned to foxes as their new quarry. Fox-hunting required a dog with a speedier gait than the Bloodhound, and the Foxhound soon supplanted the Bloodhound as hunting companion of choice. The British Bloodhound, as she became known, nearly disappeared in England the post-World War II years, but by that time she had gradually become a favorite in “the Colonies” among soldiers in battle and police tracking criminals. Bloodhounds were accepted into the American Kennel Club’s Hound Group in 1885.
A bloodhound is at her happiest when tracking. The problem-solving aspect of tracking satisfies her high intelligence and need to solve problems. A Bloodhound was part of the team that collared prison escapee James Earl Ray, murderer of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. However, if you’re not a hunter or employed in law enforcement, you and your Bloodhound can still enjoy hiking, bicycling and walking together.
The adult male Bloodhound stands 25 to 27 inches; the female, 23 to 25 inches. Her expression is solemn and wise, yet easily approachable. She makes a great dog for families of all sizes and ages. Weights range between 80 and 100 pounds.
The characteristic wrinkles for which this breed is so well known actually serve a purpose. When the dog catches a scent, she’ll place her face to the ground. The folds form a circle around the dog’s nose so she can stay on the scent.
AKC-accepted color combinations for the breed are black and tan, liver and tan, or red. There may be a small amount of white that appears at the feet, chest or tail tip. But remember, your purebred or mixed-breed Bloodhound can be just as much fun on the trail or by the hearth.
Bloodhounds make good companions for “outdoorsy” people or families, but as long as they get adequate exercise, they don’t necessarily require a large yard and can live in an apartment.
The Bloodhound does have a long adolescence, so don’t expect to see here energy abate too much in her first three years. But she does eventually settle into a docile, sweet companion who obeys her handler’s indoor commands.
Bloodhounds live between eight and 10 years, on average. They are at some risk for gastric dilation and bloat (also called volvulous), which can quickly become fatal; if your dog begins vomiting small amounts without emptying the stomach, consult your veterinarian immediately.
Bloodhounds can also be subject to ear infections, entropion (usually of the upper eyelids), ectropion, keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye), prolapse of the gland of the nictitating membrane (“cherry-eye”) and hip dysplasia.
Bloodhounds shed heavily during shedding season, but they shed a small amount year-round as well. Weekly brushing is recommended to keep the hair under control, and a hound mitt is recommended to protect owners and hounds alike from matts, butts and other debris.
The American Bloodhound Club has a page on its website (americanbloodhoundclub.org/breeder-referral/) that lists bloodhound rescue organizations in different regions of the U.S. If you can’t find one near you, simply Google “Bloodhound Rescue” and the name of a city near you.