The Basset Hounds we all know and love today have bloodlines that descend from England in the middle-to-late 19th century. However, the Basset breed actually got its start (best as anyone who has delved into it can ascertain) much earlier, and in France, of all places. This was in the 16th century. Now, I know what you're thinking … how can such a magnificent and flawless dog breed as the glorious Basset Hound have had its origins in France? I have to confess that it does makes things a bit more complicated for me emotionally, since I detest that snooty, has-been nation (kidding, sort of), BUT …
My love for Bassets wins out every time!
The AKC officially deemed Bassets 'worthy' in 1885 by recognizing them. I guess they didn't realize that Basset Hounds are all BORN perfect and, thus, are beyond such trifles as being "recognized" by the almighty AKC (oooh!). But I've learned to forgive such human errors.
You may be wondering why French folks would concoct such a funny-looking dog breed. The answer is pretty boring, actually (as are most things French … ok, enough!). Nobles of that time liked to hunt. A lot. But the French countryside featured a lot of dense brush and thickets. The hunters' prey (deer, rabbits, etc.) routinely escaped into nearby cover. Hunters didn't like being stymied by mere animals.
Enter Monsieur Basset Hound (say it like this: Misssssssure Bass-ay Ound). Developing a dog breed that could smell and hear just about anything from one side of the nation to the other, and who would fearlessly bound into the thickest of brush, became essential. Being low to the ground made them more efficient hunting machines.
So, now you know why Bassets are funny looking. But isn't the way they look the very reason why you find them adorable and huggable? * NOTE: If you do NOT find them both adorable and huggable, stop reading now. I mean it. Go away.
Basset Hound Characteristics
The name "Basset" is a play on the French word for 'low' – bas. The English, clever devils that they are, combined that word with the English word for how something is positioned – 'set.' Bas-set. Low set Hounds. Cool, huh?
Basset Hounds typically come in combinations of the following colors: brown, black, white, and red. So-called 'tri-colors' are the most common nowadays (brown, black, and white).
Quick! What's the first thing that comes to mind when you visualize a Basset Hound? The long ears, of course! Do you know why they were bred to possess such ridiculously long ears? I do. OK, I'll let you in on it. It was NOT primarily to improve their hearing (the common myth). It was all about picking up the prey's scent.
Imagine if you walked with your head a foot or so off the ground all the time. Now imagine having ears that dang near dragged the ground. Ears flopping back and forth with every step. Besides never getting any dates, you'd also catch a whole lot more of every scent in the vicinity with those tremendous lobes.
For a hunting dog, a finely tuned ability to pick up faint scents equals success for the master. And now you know why Bassets have those trademark ears. You must promise to use this information only for good … never for evil.
The tale continues …
Basset Hound Temperament
When you picture a Basset Hound's daily activities, what do you see? Most people imagine a lazy, sprawling, sleeping and eating machine. And that's pretty much right on target for most Bassets. Every now and then, some mutant Basset will spring forth who actually becomes delusional and thinks he's a Jack Russell Terrier, all wired up and full of pep. But those types are few and very far between, thankfully.
In terms of getting along and playing well with others, Basset Hounds are among the best. It goes back to their breeding, again. They are pack animals by nature, so docility among the pack was an especially advantageous and much sought after characteristic. Yes, individuals will vary, but you have a much better than 50-50 chance at raising a low-key, unassuming pet with this breed. And this includes how he gets along with other pet dogs. Males and females share this trait.
There is a vicious rumor floating around about Bassets being hard to train because they're stubborn and strong-willed. Slanderous! OK, actually, that's true. But nobody's perfect, and I bet you weren't exactly the model child! So stop being so critical, miss or mister high-and-mighty.
Among Basset trainers, you hear this sentence a whole lot: "Bassets are easy to train, as long as you're trying to get them to do what they wanted to do in the first place." That's as close to a truism as you'll find in the dog universe. If you adopt a Basset with the intention of making an obedient little trooper out of him, prepare yourself for years of frustration. Be happy that he's loyal and allows you to feed him and give him lots of toys. Enough said.
Some Basset Tips
First, you have to keep Basset Hounds on a diet pretty much from the time they're grown until they pass away. This is much easier said than done, as any Basset owner will attest. They have faces that just beg to be given treats for any action, including waking up, looking around, yawning, and the other major accomplishments of a typical Basset's day. Resist that urge!
Basset Hounds are naturally heavy, and it's very easy to make it worse if you don't stick to a pretty strict dietary regimen. Obesity in dogs leads to canine diabetes at an alarming rate (just like humans). This breed is particularly susceptible, so be careful. A daily walk is a terrific idea as well.
Staying with the health rant for another minute – clean your Basset's ears often! Their huge size makes them ideal breeding grounds for all kinds of nasty little critters on the insides; and the outsides tend to collect dirt, food from bowls, and water (which turns the dirt and food remnants to a mushy mess). Not exactly hygienic.
Finally, never ever, under any circumstances, let a Basset Hound run around loose outside without a fence that is well maintained. They're specialized hunters – bred to find their way into (and out of) tiny openings. And they're intelligent. That's a potentially lethal combination for your pet, especially if you live near roadways. A Basset believes he has the right to be in the middle of the road if the scent led him there. Vehicles be damned! No need to endure that kind of tragedy. Keep your Basset INSIDE (or at least behind a fence with no possibility of escape).