“Their heads are hung with ears that sweep away the morning dew,” William Shakespeare wrote of the Basset Hound in Midsummer Night's Dream. “Crook-knee'd, and dew-lapped like Thessalian bulls; slow in pursuit, but match'd in mouth like bells.”
The description is apt; the Basset's long, velvety ears brush the earth, gathering scents of game to his powerful nose as he maneuvers through brushy fields, marking his progress with glorious song. His shortened legs and gay tail make him easy to follow on foot as he flushes game into the open with a relentless drive.
The Basset is often considered a clown with his baleful Emmett Kelly countenance and odd build, but he is actually quite agile and intelligent and has a reputation as a steadfast family friend. A gentle dog, he is well-suited to families with children and usually gets along well with other dogs.
The Basset's demeanor is rooted in his purpose — he was developed in France as a scent hound of uncommon talent to locate and flush a variety of game from rabbits and foxes to deer and wild boars. His name comes from “bas,” the French word for short or low-set. Descended from the Bloodhound, that super-sleuth of dogdom known then as the St. Hubert Hound, the Basset is second only to that ancestor in his scenting ability and shares the same laid-back temperament and ability to work in teams.
The Basset Hound Club of America notes that the exact history of the dog is unknown, but that the dog gained popularity among the aristocracy and the working classes in France in the late 18th Century. The English learned about the breed that was easy to follow on foot, and later both the British and the French brought the Basset to the colonies. General Lafayette reportedly gave a pair of the hounds to George Washington. Here sportsmen used the dog to trail fox, raccoon, opossum, and squirrel and to flush rabbits and pheasants.
Although the Basset came to the US in colonial times, the breed did not come into its own in this country until early in the 20th Century. In 1920, several easterners imported dogs from leading kennels in England, and development of the heavier, bigger-boned American-type Bassets began.
The Basset Hound's close-to-the-ground chassis, gay tail, and long, long ears make it a breed of distinction. The dogs should be no more than 14 inches at the shoulder, but, because of the heavy bones and muscles, can weigh between 40 and 80 pounds. They are much longer than tall, a conformation that can cause back problems if the dog is not managed properly.
The Basset head is unique. The skull is rounded, the muzzle deep, and the skin loose on the face and heavily wrinkled over the brow when the dog's head is lowered to sniff the trail.. The combination of pendulous ears, face wrinkles, and pendulous lips gathers scent towards the nose where it belongs.
The Basset's short legs end in massive paws. The front feet turn slightly outward to balance the width of the shoulders. The hind feet point forward. The coat is short, hard, and dense, and the color and pattern are that of typical hounds with tri-color (black, red, and white), red and white, or lemon and white preferred. Blue — actually a shade of gray — is accepted by the standard but is not preferred because it seems to be associated with some genetic problems.
The Basset Hound is a suitable dog for a family, apartment living, hunting, tracking, obedience, and multiple-pet households. He is extremely loyal, needs only moderate exercise, and is relatively easy to train (although he can be stubborn at times). His biggest faults as a home companion are his melodious voice, his penchant for following his nose wherever it takes him, and his slobber.
“Some Basset Hounds have a tendency to howl when left alone for long periods of time,” said Judy Trenck in her Basset FAQ on the Internet. “They will also wander away from home if not kept in a securely locked fenced area. . . . When a good scent reaches (his) nose, there's no telling where (he) will end up, and unfortunately, the Basset is not good at finding his way home.”
Trenck continued: “If you are a fastidious housekeeper and have an aversion to dog drool on your floors (and occasionally your walls), then the Basset Hound is probably not the breed for you. This is an important point, because one of the major reasons that Bassets are given up for rescue or adoption is the 'the dog drools too much.'”
Like many long-eared breeds, the Basset can suffer from yucky ears from lack of air circulation. His ears must be kept clean. Owners can get ear wash solution from the veterinarian or can use a mixture of half white vinegar and half isopropyl alcohol. The outside of the ear flaps need attention as well since they drag on the ground, in puddles, and food and water dishes.
Except for ears and drool, the Basset is an easy care pet. His short coat repels dirt and water and needs minimal brushing to remove loose hair and dirt. He needs few baths and appreciates rubdowns with a coarse cloth or hound glove.
Although he is generally healthy, the Basset is susceptible to several genetic conditions and to glaucoma, obesity, gastric torsion, panosteitis, and allergies. His long back predisposes him to disc problems and can cause problems if he is overweight, out of condition, or jumps on and off furniture. He is also subject to von Willebrand's disease, a genetic blood disease similar to hemophilia, and to elbow dysplasia.
Panosteitis is a wandering lameness of unknown cause and cure. Puppies generally outgrow the condition by two years of age.
Like other deep-chested breeds, Bassets should be fed twice a day throughout their lives to minimize chances of bloat and torsion.
They should have a daily walk and a moderate diet to avoid the problems that can come with overweight.
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