The bloodhound is a large scent hound originally bred for hunting deer and wild boar, but also used from the Middle Ages onwards for tracking human beings, and now most often bred specifically for that purpose. Thought to be descended from hounds once kept at the Abbey of St Hubert in Belgium, it is known to French speakers as the Chien de Saint-Hubert. This dog is famed for its ability to discern human odors even days later, over great distances, even across water. Its extraordinarily keen sense of smell is combined with a strong and tenacious tracking instinct, producing the ideal scent hound, and it is used by police and law enforcement all over the world to track escaped prisoners, missing people, lost children and lost pets.
Bloodhounds weigh from 36 to 50 kg (80 to 110 lbs), though some individuals weigh as much as 72 kg (160 lb). They stand 58 to 69 cm (23 to 27 inches) high at the withers. Bloodhounds have a typical lifespan of about 9 to 11 years. According to the AKC standard of the breed, larger dogs are preferred by conformation judges. Acceptable colors for bloodhounds are black, liver, tan, or red. Bloodhounds possess an unusually large skeletal structure with most of their weight concentrated in their bones, which are very thick for their length. The coat typical for a scenthound is hard and composed of fur alone, with no admixture of hair.
Temperament This breed is gentle, but is tireless when following a scent. Because of its strong tracking instinct, it can be willful and somewhat difficult to obedience train and handle on a leash. Bloodhounds have an affectionate and even-tempered nature with humans, making excellent family pets. However, like any pet, they require supervision when around small children.
Up to at least the seventeenth century bloodhounds were of all colours, but in modern times the colour range has become more restricted. The colours are usually listed as black and tan, liver and tan, and red. White is not uncommon on the chest, and sometimes appears on the feet. Genetically, the main types are determined by the action of two genes, found in many species. One produces an alternation between black and brown (liver). If a hound inherits the black allele (variant) from either parent, it has a black nose, eye rims and paw-pads, and if it has a saddle, it is black. The other allele suppresses black pigment and is recessive, so it must be inherited from both parents. It produces liver noses, eye rims, paw-pads, and saddles. The second gene determines coat pattern. It can produce animals with no saddle (essentially all-tan, but called ‘red’ in bloodhounds); ones with saddle-marking; or ones largely covered with darker (black or liver) pigment, except for tan lips, eyebrows, forechest and lower legs. These last are sometimes referred to as ‘blanket’ or ‘full-coat’ types. In a pioneering study in 1969 Dennis Piper suggested 5 alleles in the pattern-marking gene, producing variants from the red or saddle-less hound through three different types of progressively greater saddle marking to the ‘blanket’ type. However, more modern study attributes the variation to 3 different alleles of the Agouti gene. Ay produces the non saddle-marked "red" hound, As produces saddle-marking, and at produces the blanket or full-coat hound. Of these Ay is dominant, and at is recessive to the others. The interaction of these variants of the two genes produces the six basic types shown below.
Illnesses Compared to other purebred dogs, Bloodhounds suffer an unusually high rate of gastrointestinal ailments, with bloat being the most common type of gastrointestinal problem. The breed also suffers an unusually high incidence of eye, skin, and ear ailments; thus these areas should be inspected frequently for signs of developing problems. Owners should be especially aware of the signs of bloat, which is both the most common illness and the leading cause of death of Bloodhounds. The thick coat gives the breed the tendency to overheat quickly.
Lifespan Bloodhounds in a 2004 UK Kennel Club survey had a median longevity of 6.75 years, which makes them one of the shortest-lived of dog breeds. The oldest of the 82 deceased dogs in the survey died at the age of 12.1 years. Bloat took 34% of the animals, making it the most common cause of death in Bloodhounds. The second leading cause of death in the study was cancer, at 27%; this percentage is similar to other breeds, but the median age of death was unusually young (median of about 8 years).
Chien de Saint-Hubert The St Hubert was, according to legend, first bred ca. 1000 AD by monks at the Saint-Hubert Monastery in Belgium; its likely origins are in France, home of many of modern hounds. It is held to be the ancestor of several other breeds, like the extinct Norman hound, and Santongeois, and the modern Bleu de Gascogne, Gascon Santongeois, Ariegeois and Artois Normande, as well as the bloodhound. It has been suggested that it was a mixed breed, not at all uniform in type. Whether they originated there, or what their ancestry was, is uncertain, but from ca. 1200, the monks of the Abbey of St Hubert annually sent several pairs of black hounds as a gift to the King of France. They were not always highly thought of in the royal pack. Charles IX 1550-74, preferred his white hounds and the larger Chiens-gris, and wrote that the St Huberts were suitable for people with gout to follow, but not for those who wished to shorten the life of the hunted animal. He described them as pack-hounds of medium stature, long in the body, not well sprung in the rib, and of no great strength. Writing in 1561 Jaques du Fouilloux describes them as strong of body, but with low, short legs. He says they have become mixed in breeding, so that they are now of all colours and widely distributed. Charles described the 'true race' of the St Hubert as black, with red/tawny marks above the eyes and legs usually of the same colour, suggesting a 'blanket' black and tan (see Section on Colour types below). To De Fouilloux the 'pure black' were the best of this mixed breed. Both writers thought them only useful as leash hounds. They both refer to a white hound, also a St Hubert, which by their time had disappeared, having been interbred with another white hound, the greffier, to produce the king’s preferred pack hound, sometimes called the chien blanc du roi. They appear to have been more highly thought of during the reign of Henry IV (1553–1610), who presented a pack to James I of England. By the end of the reign of Louis XIV (1715), they were already rare. In 1788, D’Yauville, who was master of the Royal hounds, says those sent by the St Hubert monks, once much prized, had degenerated, and scarcely one of the annual gift of six or eight was kept. Upon the French Revolution of 1789, the gifts ceased, and hunting in France went into a decline until the end of the Napoleonic wars. When it recovered during the 19th Century, huntsmen, with many breeds to choose from, seem to have had little interest in the St Hubert. An exception was Baron Le Couteulx de Canteleu, who tried to find them. He reported that there were hardly any in France, and those in the Ardennes were so cross-bred that they had lost the characteristics of the breed. Writers on the bloodhound in the last two centuries generally agreed that the original St Hubert strain died out in the nineteenth century, and that the European St Hubert owes its present existence to the development of the Bloodhound.