History and Development
It is exceedingly difficult to pinpoint the exact period when the Basset evolved. Short-legged dogs which could be called “basset-type” were shown on wall paintings in Egyptian tombs around 2,000 B.C., and from that era until the Middle Ages various chroniclers have mentioned low-set, long-bodied dogs. However, one cannot be certain that these were Bassets. The first recorded mention of the word “Basset’ is found in Jacques du Fouilloux’s Venerie de Jacques du Fouilloux published in France in 1585. Therefore it this date is accepted as the beginning of the modern Basset, and if the earlier recordings of low-bodied dogs are dismissed as not relating to true Bassets, then the breed is undoubtedly of ancient origin. Not many breeds have four centuries of authenticated history behind them. Du Fouilloux writes of the breed being employed as badger dogs and of them going to earth in the style of terriers. He draws attention to two types of Basset, the rough-haired variety and the smooth-coated type, and states that they originated in Artois and Flanders. Modern canine historians do not disagree with this opinion and are unanimous in considering the northern French departments as the homeland of the breed. The two French hound authorities Leon Verrier and Alain Bourbon, whose works on the Basset remain classics, support the theory that the first Basset appeared in a litter of normal-sized hounds: to all intents and purposes, a freak. By retaining the Bassets (French for dwarf, or low-set) and breeding from them, the French bound men eventually established a standardized type of dwarf hound. They corresponded in all points to the parent breed except, of course, in length of leg. It should be pointed out that the reverse procedure has occurred where a normal-sized hound has been born into a litter of Bassets.
In du Fouilloux s time the Basset was being used as a terrier, but in the 17th century it was held in high esteem as a gun-dog. The low stature of the breed allowed it to penetrate dense cover and flush out game. The Basset s conformation was such that they were unable to pursue the game with speed and therefore being unhurried the flushed game presented an easy target for the waiting sportsmen and their unwieldy weapons. Hare, rabbits, deer, fox and occasionally wild boar were the Basset’s quarry at that time and it is still the same in France today.
The Bassets of various types (i.e. Artois-Normands, Gascons, Vendeens and Fauve de Bretagnes, dealt with elsewhere in this book) rapidly gained favor in France and the surrounding countries as a dependable sporting dog, and were also docile enough to be recommended as an ideal breed for the fair sex. The Basset was eventually imported into England in 1866 and there it became known as the Basset Hound. They were described as being “long, low hounds shaped much like a Dachshund, with crooked forelegs at the knees and with much more bone and longer heads than on Beagles. They were not the dark tan color of Dachshunds but the color of Foxhounds with a certain amount of white about them”. Two hounds, Basset and Belle, were imported by Lord Galway and it is from this pair of tricolor hounds that the breed in Britain is descended. Sir Everett Millais was another early importer and it was he who experimented with the Basset-Bloodhound cross and thus established a distinctly British type of Basset. The infusion of Bloodhound gave the Basset Hound substance of body, more bone and developed a wrinkled skull and deep-set eye thus evolving the sad reposeful expression which is the hallmark of the breed to the layman.
Basset Hound: Color
Bassets come in many colors. The tricolors are in varying patterns of black, white and tan; on some the white is splashed with black mottles or spots. The bicolors range from pale lemon and white through to mahogany red and white. Sensibly there is no rigid ruling for color and therefore “no good hound can be a bad color”.
Basset Hound: Care
Opportunity for exercise, ample living space and firm but sympathetic handling are needed if one’s hounds are to be happy. If the hound is to grow and mature into a healthy Basset then the diet also must be adequate and correct in content. The breed when developing is almost a contradiction, Basset puppies grow at an enormous rate and are massive animals at six to eight months, and yet it is true to say that the breed is slow to reach maturity, continuing to develop for at least two years. Therefore, tins rapid and sustained period of growth must be assisted by a diet rich in protein and vitamins. Only the best quality meat and meal should be used and the diet can be varied by using fish and feeding liberal quantities of eggs, honey and all the other dietary additives associated with growing livestock – cod liver oil, calcium plus vitamin D, iron etc. On reaching maturity the Basset Hound is quite content with one good meal daily. Of course, in-whelp or nursing bitches need additional meals containing extra protein and vitamins. Bassets usually are good mothers and produce about eight puppies per litter.
The signs of correct feeding are readily apparent, the coat is glossy and clean, eyes sparkle and the hound is alert and ready for food or exercize. The smooth coat of the Basset needs little attention other than a daily brush and comb, and seldom needs washing. Despite the length of ear the breed is not prone to ear-disorders, but they should be kept clean, and like eyes and nails, checked regularly- The Basset puppy should not be exercized or allowed to run up and down steps or stairs; strains and dislocations of the front legs are the chief dangers to the immature youngster. Properly supervized exercize can commence at six or eight months.
Basset Hound: Character
The Basset Hound is today one of the most popular of all hound breeds, never before in its history has the breed been so popular. Many are kept as companions, but it must never be overlooked that they are true hounds in every sense of the word. In Britain their role is hare-hunting and this instinct for the chase is far from latent. Consequently, the pet hound must be catered for with this in mind. The Basset should never be kept in cramped quarters or confined to the house, and ample exercize for the adult hound is i prime necessity. It is cruelty to enforce a life of inactivity on any sporting breed. Some patience is needed in house-training Bassets, for one must allow time for commands to penetrate and be mulled over awhile inside that unique skull. The Basset seldom obeys commands immediately in the way a terrier or gundog will. I think it is true to say that they are happiest and easiest managed when in the company of other hounds.
The Basset Hound rapidly settled into the mould cast by Millais and the breed in Britain gradually became different in some points, especially size and weight, from its French ancestors. In France today the nearest equivalent of (he Basset Hound is the Basset Artesien-Normand, and both ire regarded there as different breeds. To emphasize the differences the ruling body for European canine affairs, the Federation Cynologique Internationale, has adopted the American Standard for Basset Hounds.
This calls for a heavier type of hound than does die official British Standard. In general the Basset in America is much bulkier and deeper in the chest than the type favored in Britain, and also the American Standard docs not insist on such points as crooked fronts and fine textured and inward curling ears as do the British and French. But despite these differences the Basset remains basically the same – a low and long-bodied hound.
To many people the Basset has a comic, sorrowful head and a bizarre body, but lovers of Basset Hounds see them only as aristocratic hounds with a somewhat superior appearance. The skull, being of medium width, and with some dome and the occipital bone developed, is handsome enough without the long low-set ears and the kind, deep-set, dark expressive eyes. As a whole the headpiece of the Basset is one of the finest in the canine world. The neck is long and muscular, and the dewlap on the throat should be apparent. Understandably, the stature of the breed must be low, never exceeding 15″ at the shoulder. The low-set body, descending well in the chest is substantial and strong, well rounded in the ribs, firm over the loins and well endowed with muscle especially in the hindquarters. A mature hound weighs on average 55 lbs., and it is essential that this weight is supported on sound and strong legs and feet, therefore heavy bone and firm pads are required. Any unsoundness in the limbs and feet is penalized. The Basset Hound is not a gay dog and when mobile should move at a steady and determined pace with the tail carried up in true hound fashion. Balance is important in any breed but in a Basset it is essential. In a breed which verges on the abnormal it is easy to over-emphasize certain features, be it skull or length or size. This must be avoided and undue exaggeration of any point is a bad fault.
Selections from the book: “The World encyclopedia of Dogs” (1971)