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The Bloodhound is a large scent hound, originally bred for hunting deer, wild boar and, since the Middle Ages, for tracking people. Believed to be descended from hounds once kept at the Abbey of Saint-Hubert, Belgium, it is known to French speakers as the Chien de Saint-Hubert.
This breed is famed for its ability to discern human scent over great distances, even days later. 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, and lost pets.
Bloodhounds weigh from 36 to 72 kg (80 to 160 lbs). They are 58 to 69 cm (23 to 27 inches) tall at the withers. According to the AKC standard for the breed, larger dogs are preferred by conformation judges. Acceptable colors for bloodhounds are black, liver, tan, and 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.
This breed is gentle, and 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 them excellent family pets.
Compared to other purebred dogs, Bloodhounds suffer an unusually high rate of gastrointestinal ailments, with gastric dilatation volvulus (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.
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). In a 2013 survey, the average age at death for 14 Bloodhounds was 8.25 years.
References to bloodhounds first appear in English writing in the early to mid 14th century, in contexts that suggest the breed was well established by then. It is often claimed that its ancestors were brought over from Normandy by William the Conqueror, but there is no actual evidence for this. That the Normans brought hounds from Europe during the post-Conquest period is virtually certain, but whether they included the Bloodhound itself, rather than merely its ancestors, is a matter of dispute that probably cannot be resolved on the basis of surviving evidence.
In Medieval hunting the typical use of the Bloodhound was as a ‘limer’, or ‘lyam-hound’, that is a dog handled on a leash or ‘lyam’, to find the hart or boar before it was hunted by the pack hounds (raches). It was prized for its ability to hunt the cold scent of an individual animal, and, though it did not usually take part in the kill, it was given a special reward from the carcass.
It also seems that from the earliest times the Bloodhound was used to track people. There are stories written in Medieval Scotland of Robert the Bruce (in 1307), and William Wallace (1270–1305) being followed by ‘sleuth hounds’. Whether true or not, these stories show that the sleuth hound was already known as a man-trailer, and it later becomes clear that the sleuth hound and the Bloodhound were the same animal.
In the 16th century, John Caius, in the most important single source in the history of the Bloodhound, describes its hanging ears and lips, its use in game parks to follow the scent of blood, which gives it its name, its ability to track thieves and poachers by their foot scent, how it casts if it has lost the scent when thieves cross water, and its use on the Scottish borders to track cross-border raiders, known as Border Reivers. This links it to the sleuth hound, and from Caius also comes the information that the English Bloodhound and the sleuth hound were essentially the same, though the Bloodhound was slightly bigger, with more variation in coat colour.
The adjacent picture was published in Zurich in 1563, in Conrad Gesner’s Thierbuch (a compendium of animals) with the captions: ‘Englischen Blüthund’ and ‘Canis Sagax Sanguinarius apud Anglos’ (English scent hound with associations of blood). It was drawn by, or under the supervision of, John Caius, and sent to Gesner with other drawings to illustrate his descriptions of British dogs for European readers.
It is thus the earliest known picture published specifically to demonstrate the appearance of the Bloodhound. We are told it was done from life, and detail such as the soft hang of the ear indicates it was carefully observed. Fully accurate or not, it suggests changes between the Bloodhound of then and today. The collar and long coiled rope reflect the Bloodhound’s typical functions as a limer or leashed man-trailer in that period.
The earliest known report of a trial of the Bloodhound’s trailing abilities comes from the scientist Robert Boyle, who described how a Bloodhound tracked a man seven miles along a route frequented by people, and found him in an upstairs room of a house.
With the rise of fox-hunting, the decline of deer-hunting, and the extinction of the wild boar, as well as a more settled state of society, the use of the Bloodhound diminished. It was kept by the aristocratic owners of a few deer-parks and by a few enthusiasts, with some variation in type, until its popularity began to increase again with the rise of dog-showing in the 19th Century. Numbers, however, have remained low in Britain.
Very few survived the Second World War, but the gene-pool has gradually been replenished with imports from America. Nevertheless, because of UK quarantine restrictions, importing was expensive and difficult, throughout the 20th century, and in the post-war period exports to the USA, and to Europe where the population had also been affected by the war, considerably exceeded imports.
During the later 19th century numbers of Bloodhounds were imported from Britain by French enthusiasts, who regretted the extinction of the ancient St Hubert. They wished to re-establish it, using the Bloodhound, which, despite its developments in Britain, they regarded as the St Hubert preserved unchanged. Many of the finest specimens were bought and exhibited and bred in France as Chiens de S. Hubert, especially by Le Couteulx de Canteleu, who himself bred over 300.
Whatever few original St Huberts remained either died out or were absorbed into the new population. As a result, the Bloodhound became known on parts of the Continent as the Chien de Saint-Hubert. In the mid 20th century the Brussels-based FCI accepted the claim of Belgium to be the country of origin. There are now annual celebrations in the town of Saint-Hubert, in which handlers in period dress parade their hounds. In Britain the bloodhound has continued to be seen as a native breed, with European St Huberts being accepted by the UK KC as bloodhounds.
In Le Couteulx’ book of 1890 we read that ‘Le Chien de St Hubert actuel’ is very big, from 0m,69 to 0m,80 (27½-31½in) high. This does not accord with the 16th century descriptions of the St Hubert given above, nor with the FCI standard, but the idea that the St Hubert is much bigger (up to 91.5 cm, 36 in) than the Bloodhound persisted well into the 20th century, among some St Hubert enthusiasts.
When the first Bloodhounds were exported to the USA is not known. Bloodhounds were used to track runaway slaves before the American Civil War, but it has been questioned whether the dogs used were genuine Bloodhounds. However, in the later part of the 19th century, and in the next, more pure Bloodhounds were introduced from Britain, and bred in America, especially after 1888, when the English breeder, Edwin Brough, brought three of his hounds to exhibit at the Westminster KC show in New York City.
He went into partnership with Mr J L Winchell, who with other Americans, imported more stock from Britain. Bloodhounds in America have been more widely used in tracking lost people and criminals – often with brilliant success – than in Britain, and the history of the Bloodhound in America is full of the man-trailing exploits of outstanding Bloodhounds and their expert handlers, the most famous hound being Nick Carter. Law enforcement agencies have been much involved in the use of Bloodhounds, and there is a National Police Bloodhound Association, originating in 1962.
In Britain there have been instances from time to time of the successful use of the Bloodhound to track criminals or missing people. However man-trailing is enjoyed as a sport by British Bloodhound owners, through national working trials, and this enthusiasm has spread to Europe. In addition, while the pure Bloodhound is used to hunt singly, bloodhound packs use bloodhounds crossed with foxhounds to hunt the human scent.
Meanwhile, the Bloodhound has become widely distributed internationally, though numbers are small in most countries, with more in the USA than anywhere else. Following the spread of the Bloodhound from Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, imports and exports and, increasingly, artificial insemination, are maintaining the world population as a common breeding stock, without a great deal of divergence in type in different countries.
During the late 19th century, Bloodhounds were frequent subjects for artists such as Edwin Landseer and Briton Riviere; the dogs depicted are close in appearance to modern Bloodhounds, indicating that the essential character of the Bloodhound predates modern dog breeding. However, the dogs depicted by Landseer show less wrinkle and haw than modern dogs.
St. Hubert Hound, Chien St. Hubert, Sleuth Hound
Male: 25-27 inches (63-69 cm)
Female: 23-25 inches (58-63 cm)
Male: 90-110 pounds (41-50 kg)
Female: 80-100 pounds (36-45 kg)
Black & Tan
Liver & Tan
Average $800 – $1200 USD
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