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What Were Basset Hounds Bred For? History & Origin Explained

Melissa Gunter

By Melissa Gunter

Basset Hound dog

Meeting a Basset Hound for the first time is a memorable experience. These adorable dogs are best known for their short legs, long ears, boisterous barks, and of course, their deep, loving eyes. While most people nowadays know Basset Hounds for their ability to make a home complete by being their owner’s best friend, Basset Hounds were originally used for hunting.

As part of the scent hound family, these hounds are topped only by the Bloodhound. That means these little dogs truly understand how to put their keen noses to use. But how did they make their way up the scent hound chain and become one of the best hunting dogs around? Let’s take a deeper look into the history of the Basset Hound and what they were bred for. You’ll see there’s more to these adorable dogs than meets the eye.

Where It All Began

Ancient Egypt gave us our first look at a short-legged hunting dog. While the engravings they left behind may not be actual Basset Hounds, the ancient Egyptians did show us they used some form of hound dog to help them hunt. When it comes to the specific history of the Basset Hound, however, their known journey began in France during the 1500s.

During this period, horseback hunting was reserved for people of nobility. For those without this stature, it was quite difficult to hunt with a hound and keep up on foot. Basset Hounds came into play as part of a specialized program that provided hunters with short-legged dogs with keen scents and hunting abilities they could easily track on foot.

One of the Basset Hound’s earliest ancestors was the St. Hubert’s hound. These types of bloodhounds were developed by St. Hubert of Belgium and used as gifts sent to the King of France. The St. Hubert’s hounds were often called low-set and less regarded by nobles due to them not being as fast and agile as other hunting dogs. Yet, these dogs were ideal for hunting using scents in thick brush or deep forests.

Popularity and Changes

The various breeds of the Basset Hounds that developed over the years would find themselves becoming quite popular from 1852 to 1870. This popularity was thanks to Napoleon III who had several dogs of the breed himself. After an exhibition of dogs in Paris, these low-stature hounds truly rose in popularity and fame.

Changes were on the horizon for the Basset Hound. With their newfound popularity, it was expected for the variations in the breed to be changed. It was during this period that the short-haired, low-set Basset Hound we know and love today evolved.

Basset Hound sitting on dry leaves
Image Credit: Marry Kolesnik, Shutterstock

Making Their Way

In 1880, Basset Hounds made an appearance in a dog show. This show took place in England and led to Queen Alexandria deciding she wanted these small scent hounds as part of the royal kennels.  By 1882 Basset Hounds were accepted by the Kennel Club in England. Soon after, in 1884, the English Basset Hound Club was created.

A Journey to the United States

The Basset Hound was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885. How did they find their way to the United States? George Washington is regarded as the first person in America to own these dogs. It is believed that Marquis de Lafayette is the one who first brought these hounds here as a gift for our first president. However, it wasn’t until 1935 that the Basset Hound Club of America was formed. A few years later in 1964, the current American breed standard for the Basset Hound was put into place.

basset hound
Image By: Billion Photos, Shutterstock

Pop Culture and the Basset Hound

This beloved breed is not only ingrained in history but is also a huge part of pop culture. In 1928, Time Magazine featured one of these hounds on its cover. The story that was printed alongside the adorable pup told of the 52nd annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show that was taking place that year at Madison Square Garden. The prestige Basset Hounds received from the article and the event itself is thought to be what made these hounds so popular in pop culture.

After the dog show and Time article, Basset Hounds began to truly make a name for themselves in public opinion. The one and only, Droopy Dog, a popular comic strip and cartoon featured a Basset Hound. They then began to appear in other comics, television shows and even hit movies. Even Elvis Presley sang his popular song, “Hound Dog” to a Basset Hound on television. These gorgeous hounds also make great pets for advertisements. Hush Puppy shoes and Maytag have both added to the fame of Basset Hounds by using them in their company’s logos and commercials.

Final Thoughts

If you’re a fan of the energetic, mild-tempered, cute, and short-legged Basset Hound, knowing a bit of their history only makes life with these dogs better. Yes, this dog breed was originally bred for scent hunting but has steadily worked its way into our homes and hearts. The next time your Basset Hound lets out a bellowing bark or chases something in your backyard, understand that this behavior is part of their ancestry and only intensifies how ideal these dogs are as part of our families.

Featured Image Credit: Billion Photos, Shutterstock

Melissa Gunter

Authored by

Melissa was born and raised in the mountains of East Tennessee where she spent her time writing in an old notebook and playing outside with her pets. As an avid animal lover, she has brought many into her home over the years. Currently, she is the mom of 5 fur babies. Her 2 cats, Princess and Pepper are total opposites who demand attention. Her dogs Jazzy, Whitey, and Demon are full of spunk and keep the entire family on ...Read more

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