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From being the face of many a brand to starring in movies and TV shows, the Basset Hound is one of the most recognizable dogs in the world. Their “hang dog” expressions, with their droopy ears and eyes, have won over the hearts of so many dog lovers, this breed is consistently within the top 40 most popular breeds in the nation. I’ve known more than my fair share of Basset Hounds in my day – in fact, my family had a Basset when I was a kid named Porky (and you’ll find out why that was such a fitting name soon). I don’t often see Bassets at the dog park, likely because these dogs really aren’t the type you need to exercise. But any time I visit a friend in the country, whether they live on a farm or just in a family home, I’m bound to meet one in the area.
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Basset Hounds are one of the oldest breeds that we know about. This breed dates back to the 7th century, when it was developed to be a hunting dog for a man named Abbot Hubert – now the patron saint of hunters and forest rangers. That’s right – the Basset Hound was bred by a patron saint. Originally they were known as St. Hubert hounds throughout France and England. The name Basset Hound comes from a French word meaning “low”, because these dogs are so low to the ground. In fact, their droopy ears hang down to the ground for a reason. When the ears drag the ground, they pull up scents and allow the Basset Hound to pick up on more smells when hunting.
The St. Hubert hound later split off into Bloodhounds and Basset Hounds, and the short-legged Basset Hound became the go-to choice for hunters of small games like rabbits. In the 19th century, the Basset Hound came to the states and after being the “spokespuppy” for Hush Puppy shoes in the 1960s, the breed has remained in the public eye as a popular family dog.
Anyone who has ever been around a Basset Hound will tell you that there’s one word that sums up this breed perfectly: silly! These dogs are clowns with great senses of humor that know how to work the crowd. If a Basset Hound ever wheedles up next to you and uses those big puppy dog eyes to get a treat, pay attention – you can bet that you’ll see them doing the same thing to anyone else around just a few minutes later. They are definite scamps, but in a lovable way.
This “helpless” expression and their constantly happy body language makes it easy for Basset Hounds to manipulate people, which is why they earned a spot on the least trainable least from my previous article. They do know that they can get away with things, and they will try to. They won’t necessarily be bad dogs, but they will try to push the limits of what is allowed. For example, you may find a Basset using their pleading eyes and their big goofy bodies to get you to “give in” on letting them sleep on the couch “just this once”.
Basset Hounds are definite pack animals, having been raised to hunt in groups. They like being around big families and lots of activity. That being said, these are lazy dogs for the most part. They like to sleep and hang out by the house. They aren’t often the type of dog that will lean a lot of tricks and be super active. Instead, they’ll want to track around the house with their nose to the ground, taking long hikes to find new scents, and then head back home for another nap. In other words, these are very laid-back dogs that are up for just about any kind of slow moving or sedentary activity.
One thing to be aware of is that Bassets can develop a sort of tunnel vision when it comes to tracking down a new smell. These dogs have been known to wander out of their yards, and even to walk straight into traffic or other dangerous situations, just because their nose was glued to a new scent. It’ll be important that you are able to keep a Basset in a well-secured area. Bassets do tend to make noise, including howling, which may not make them well-suited for apartment living.
Basset Hounds are very short dogs with short legs and heavy bodies. They tend to stand no more than 14 inches tall, but weigh around 65 pounds on average. They aren’t clumsy by any means, and they do have quite a bit of endurance, but their appearance is definitely not the graceful sportiness of many other hunting dogs. They have big heads with domed skulls and long, floppy ears that don’t tend to be very expressive. Their tails tend to be their main form of body language. They have longer tails that curve just slightly when raised, and that are typically carried around in an upright position.
The Basset Hound coat is smooth and short, and they have very loose, elastic skin that tends to droop as they get older. Bassets come in a variety of colors and markings, including black and white, tricolor, lemon and white, mahogany and white, and red and white.
It is very important that Basset Hounds be supervised when eating. These dogs will eat just because they are bored, meaning they have a tendency to gain weight very fast. You’ll need a high quality dog food, and a careful schedule that includes picking the bowl up when feeding time is over. If you must give your Basset Hound treats, make sure they are low calorie treats and that you don’t over do it.
Basset Hounds don’t need a lot of grooming. They do tend to grow long, strong nails, so a weekly trim with a pair of nail clippers or a grinder will be important to keep their feet in good condition. You may want to have styptic powder on hand if you do this yourself, in case you nick the quick. They’ll need occasional baths to keep their coats looking shiny, and regular dental care to prevent oral health issues. Basset Hounds only shed a small amount, and don’t tend to need more than weekly brushing.
One thing to keep in mind is that Basset Hounds do tend to have a signature smell. They have an oily coat that was designed to be good for keeping them dry when tromping through damp underbrush. This oil has an odor that can’t really be covered up or gotten rid of. Additionally, many Bassets are known for drooling or slobbering because of their droopy lip folds.
One thing that a Basset will need is regular cleaning of his ears. When dirt or moisture get into those floppy ear folds, they can become infected and fester. Giving your Basset Hound’s ears a check over and cleaning at least once a week is important. You can use a pet ear cleaner if your dog tends to get very red and irritated in the ear folds.
Despite being a very lazy breed with a mild energy level, these dogs still do need some exercise to keep them in good shape. They may not be running laps at the dog park, and they may ignore all your attempts to train them to play games. But daily walks should be easy enough to convince them to enjoy. They’ll like exploring all the new smells, especially if you can walk in new areas every now and then. The longer your daily walk can be, the better, or split it into two walks if need be.
Basset Hounds tend to live between 12 and 15 years, but they, like all pure bred dogs, have a tendency to develop certain health problems more than mixed breed dogs. For Basset Hounds, those include:
The majority of Basset Hounds are very healthy dogs, but these are some conditions that the Basset may struggle with more than others, statistically speaking. It’s a good idea to have your vet keep an eye on your Basset as they get older, especially watching the joints and eyesight for any signs of poor condition.
As pack dogs, Basset Hounds really are great with both other pets and kids. They have always been considered great playmates for kids because they are patient and willing to just walk around and nanny a child. You do want to make sure that kids know not to jump on a Basset Hound’s back or pick him up around the middle – they can suffer from disc issues should their backs get any more strain put on them. Some Bassets can get a little bit protective of their food at times, especially if you are keeping them on a strict diet, so be sure to watch out for that kind of behavior as well.
Otherwise, there’s no reason why a Basset wouldn’t be a good addition to a family with kids or other pets. Bassets are not typically known to have any other temperament problems, and are usually happy with playing second fiddle to a more dominant dog. Unlike many other small game hunting dogs, Bassets also tend to get along with cats just fine.
If you’ve read all this and have fallen in love with the Basset, you aren’t alone. Many people think these dogs are the best breed to own for a family. Here are a few other things to be aware of when considering adopting a Basset Hound:
Do you have a lot of stairs in your house? As your Basset gets older, this could be very hard on his back. Some Bassets cannot walk up even one flight of stairs as they get older due to the strain on their discs.
Do you intend to leave your Basset outside without much interaction? Bassets like to be with their people, and tend to get lonely easily. They won’t be quiet about it, either. Your neighbors will be able to hear the howling of a lonely Basset, so be sure that’s something you won’t mind if you must leave them outdoors during working hours.
If you have always really loved the classic appeal of hounds, but have found the idea of having an energetic sporting dog to be a bit overwhelming, then yes, the Basset Hound may be right for you. These dogs combine the slower pace of other breeds, with that lovable “classic family dog” feel that so many hounds have. While you can’t expect much in the way of fancy tricks and obedience, you can expect that the Basset will become a source of amusement and affection every single day. For many families, that’s exactly what they want. After all, it takes lots of time to be with a dog who does fancy tricks and needs specific types of game play.
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At the end of the day, the silly and sweet Basset Hound makes a great family pet for a family that can get out for a daily walk and doesn’t take life too seriously. You’ll need to be a laid-back kind of person, who can still manage to keep a strict feeding routine, to really click with a Basset Hound. If the occasional slobber, some stubborn antics, lots of naptimes, and the tendency to howl doesn’t bother you, then there’s no reason why you wouldn’t fall in love with a Basset. He’ll be your very own family mascot and love every minute of it.