Purpose-Bred Hounds in the Show Ring

purpose-bred hounds

There is a natural tension between how we view show dogs and field/working dogs and dual-purpose (show and work/field) dogs.

How does the evolved morphological form relate to past and/or current function?

How and why is it that some breeds have developed different types for field/work and show?

Long before written standards were developed for the breeds (AKC, UKC, FCI, etc.) we recognize today, humans potentiated the work to be done by dogs by selectively breeding for traits that would benefit their masters. These traits included chasing down prey (the eventual meal) and catching it, or discovering its location via scent and keeping it at bay until the hunter could dispatch it, guarding the master’s family, home, livestock, or belongings, assisting the master in carting items to market or for distribution, being a second, third, or fourth shepherd as livestock were moved from location to location or kept in a variable boundary, or dispatching vermin that destroyed feed stores or could infect humans and/or livestock. The topography, climate, and culture of the region also impacted the development of breeds and this further refined breed evolution.

Today, a small number of breeds, relatively speaking and across the spectrum of purebred dogs, do the job for which they were developed decades, and sometimes centuries, ago. These jobs may have been eliminated due to a fundamental shift in the way the breed’s target work is now done, perhaps due to the advancement of machinery, technology, knowledge, or social and ethical mores. Think video surveillance cameras instead of guard dogs, all-terrain vehicles instead of herders, semi-tractor trailer insulated milk trucks instead of carting dogs, vermin traps instead of vermin-dispatching Terriers, farm raised and processed duck, rabbit, turkey, geese instead of hunted with the aid of dogs and gun (or nets), or dog-fighting which has, thankfully, been mostly eliminated due to ethical considerations and laws. Through it all, the lover of purebred dogs has, or should have, an undying respect for and dedication to uphold the form and, where ethically and lawfully able, the functional intent of the breed as developed for its original purpose.

What are the actual or perceived similarities and differences between the purebred show dog and field/work dog?

What have breeders done to breed dogs that can do the job for which they were intended, if it still exists, and if not, what simulations exist that are as close to the original intent as possible?

In this series, we will attempt to answer those questions for dog breeds in each of the groups, or clusters of breeds within groups, where appropriate. To be certain, a great deal of literature exists on the individual history of most breeds; however, the real or perceived divergence in field/work and show dogs is seldom, if ever, explored.

I am most familiar with the Hound Group, as not only did I “grow up” in that Group with Basset Hounds (for the past 45 years) and Salukis, I still own, breed, and exhibit Basset Hounds. When I say “grow up”, I mean that I was immersed in all things Hound through my association with breeders, exhibitors, field trailers of (and hunters with) breeds within the AKC-designated Hound Group.

The purpose-bred Hounds can be roughly divided into the Scent Hounds, Sight Hounds, and Multi-Sense Hounds. By Multi-Sense, I mean those that hunt by a purposeful combination of sight, scent, and hearing. The Scent Hounds can be further sub-divided into those that are traditionally hunted on foot (Basset Hounds, Beagles, Bloodhounds, Dachshunds, Harriers1, the five AKC-recognized Coonhound breeds, Otterhounds, Petit Bassets Griffon Vendeen, Grand Basset Griffon Vendeen and Plott Hounds), and those hunted on horse-back (American Foxhounds, English Foxhounds and Harriers1). To be sure, there are many more, particularly in France, which are recognized by the FCI and are hunted on foot and on horseback. However, hunting has, to a large extent, become sport rather than a necessity to modern life and nutrition.

At last report, there were 59 Beagle packs and 19 Harrier packs in the United Kingdom registered with the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles (AHMB), and there were 12 Basset packs registered with the Masters of Basset Hounds Association. Dogs from registered packs may be exhibited at any of the Scent Hound-specific shows. The Harrier was no longer recognized by The Kennel Club as of 1971, with the last Harrier registered with The Kennel Club in 1915. They are, however, still active with the AMHB. The Masters of Foxhounds Association (United Kingdom) represents 171 packs of Foxhounds that hunt in England and Wales and a further eight in Scotland. The coordination and compilations of stud books for Hounds in these packs, as well as for packs of other Hound breeds, are maintained by The Hunting Office. There are six Fellhound packs in Cumbria. Because of the terrain, mounted hunting is not feasible in the Lake District. These Foxhounds are lighter and more agile than Hounds bred by horse-followed packs and they are bred to cope with difficult terrain, thus hunted on foot. Keep in mind that in England and Wales the hunting of live mammals, namely fox, deer, hares, and mink is prohibited by the law of 2004, so hunters have had to come up with alternative scenting methods. The law does not cover the use of dogs in flushing out unidentified wild animals causing harm to your property or the environment.

“In the section on Associations: Modern English and Old English Foxhounds, the website for the Festival of Hunting states, “The modern English Foxhound has evolved over the last 100 years and consists of a mixture of different types, with the ‘pure’ or ‘old English type’ regarded by some as not suitable for hunting, because the Peterborough (FoxHound show) fashion had become exaggerated with too much bone.” See the following link https://festivalofhunting.com/judging/ for an idea of what judges look for at Hound shows.

In the United States, hunting packs of Beagles and Basset Hounds are registered with the National Beagle Club of America (NBC) or the Masters of Fox Hounds Association (MFHA). There are approximately 35 Beagle and 18 Basset Hound packs and one Harrier pack in the US. The Hounds of the Harrier pack are active still in the field as well as in AKC conformation shows. One Beagle pack that I know of also successfully exhibits its Hounds at AKC conformation shows.

The MFHA recognizes hunts and registers in its stud book individual Hounds of the following Foxhound breeds: American, Crossbred, English and Penn-Marydel Foxhounds, and Harriers. In order for these Hounds to be exhibited at MFHA Hounds shows, such Hounds must be registered or be eligible for registration with the MFHA. There are eight Hound shows in the US and one in Canada yearly with 136 US hunts and ten Canadian hunts listed in the most recent available register of 2017. Note that “Crossbred” is a category unto itself within the MFHA study book. The Penn-Marydel was also a crossbred at one time and has evolved into a distinct breed of Foxhound to serve the hunts of the Eastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware region.

Why all the history and data on this sub-set of the Scent Hounds? It gives us a very clear indication, if one looks at the numbers of Foxhounds hunted versus the number of Foxhounds exhibited, that the vast majority of these pack Hounds, except the Harriers, are not exhibited at AKC, UKC, or FCI shows. Why is that? Has form followed function in either realm? Are the hunters more interested in the actions or work of > the Hounds than their morphology? Or is the morphology adapted to the needs of the hunter over time and the particular terrain? Or is adapted for the show exhibitor with a single-minded purpose of developing stock for non-work exhibition?

The previous quote from the Festival of Hunting website gives us some insight as to what is occurring. The quote is reflective of the cause of, and resulting morphological shift in, some dog breeds. Doesn’t it stand to reason that when only one avenue (work/hunting or show) is pursued, the extremes at each end of the bell-curve are evidenced in the resultant dogs?

In my own breed, Basset Hounds, I have seen pack Bassets in the US exhibited at some hunting Hound shows that make me ask myself what they have been cross-bred with? They are that far in type and structure from the AKC, UKC, and FCI standards. On the other hand, there are numerous Basset Hound dual champions (field and show) on both coasts that successfully exhibit in AKC shows and are “hunted” in field trials and hunt tests. I use the term “hunted” in quotes, as field trials and hunt tests are simulations of real-world hunting where the Hounds jump the rabbit or hare and pursue it until the hunter’s gun dispatches it or it goes to ground, or the Hounds lose it. To be sure, there are working Basset Hound packs in Europe that exhibit all the type qualities stipulated in the AKC and FCI standards. Their owners have made it their mission to retain type as well as working ability, much like the breeders and owners of dual (show and field) Bassets in the US. The dual Hounds that I have seen over the years fall within that middle half of the bell curve with ¼ being on the left and ¼ on the right sides of the curve’s center, respectively. This has been an advancement, at least in my eyes, from the type and morphology of field Bassets in the 1970s and into the 80s, where the emphasis was on field performance only. The type style differences of yore have been steadily closing with time. There still remain pockets of Basset Hounds throughout the world where excesses of type: too much bone, too much skin, lower eye lid too everted showing too much haw, too low to the ground, cumbersome gait, are still found. However, there is a growing respect for the breed’s function and subsequent breeding actions taken to alleviate those excesses.

It appears to me that Beagles have gone through much the same cycle, although the percentage of show exhibitors who also field trial and/or hunt test is smaller than the percentage of Basset exhibitors. The Beagle field trailers I have spoken with seem to be more concerned with field trial ability than structure or type nuances, while still maintaining a breed recognizable as a Beagle. Here the emphasis on field trialing alone has demonstrated a significant difference in the way pack Beagles work as opposed to brace Beagles. In overcoming that difference, one sees the Beagle Small Pack Option (SPO) being utilized more frequently in field trialing than what once was. Still, the SPO remains a smaller percentage of trials than brace trials. The type style differences between the field and show Beagle are often differentiated in head properties, especially softness of expression, body depth and length, and bone. There exist pockets of hunters in the United States that still hunt their Beagles for the opportunity to put a rabbit or hare in the stew pot, and have no interest in either field trialing or exhibiting. The number continues to dwindle as habitat is lost and ready-processed variety meats are available at the grocery store.

The Dachshunds have been in existence in Germany since the 15th and 16th centuries, and they’ve been field trialing in the United States under the auspices of the parent club since 1935, with the addition of local breed club trialing beginning in 1964. There exist a few hunters that use the Dachshund as a blood trailer of downed game. Today, the majority of field trialing Dachshunds come from the ranks of show exhibitors and there is not a generalized discernible difference between show and field trial dogs. The coat of the long-hair variety, while in show condition, can be a hindrance in the field, collecting weeds, grasses, small sticks, and burrs. Might we be able to say that the coats of the long-hairs in show condition are excessive to their purpose of hunting smaller animals like rabbits or tracking wounded game (miniature varieties) or tracking and dragging badgers from their burrows
(standard varieties)?

The Bloodhound was originally bred for hunting deer and wild boar, and since the Middle Ages, for tracking people. Today, it can still be found accompanying riders in the hunt in the United Kingdom and hunting on foot in France, where the quarry is rabbit, hare, wild boar and deer. In the United States, the breed is primarily utilized for work in law enforcement as a tracking dog of humans. The United States’ parent club conducts various levels of man-trailing tests for Bloodhounds. Some of these dogs are the ones shown successfully at dog shows. In the early 80s, I was learning to track with my Bassets and a fellow learner was a police officer with his Bloodhound bitch. She was not what I was accustomed to seeing in the show ring, being lighter in body, substance, and carrying less skin. As I continued to track in different parts of the country, I noticed that more than some of the law enforcement Bloodhounds tended to be like the earlier Bloodhound bitch I’d seen in the 80s. Why is that? Does law enforcement tend toward using the dog that does not have a super-abundance of skin, substance, or too prominent haws? While there are a few non-profits that breed and train Bloodhounds exclusively for law enforcement use, many Bloodhounds in service come from breeders, be they show or otherwise. What is certain is that law enforcement is concerned with one thing, and that is the Hound’s ability to trail human scent until the target is found. The fact that dogs from show breeders and dogs purposely-bred by non-profits for the task are both in the law enforcement search and rescue arena tells me that there must be a smaller divergence in overall type from those bred for work and those bred for show.

The Petit Bassets Griffon Vendeen (PBGV) and the Grand Bassets Griffon Vendeen (GBGV) at one time came from the same litters, as recently as 1977, > since interbreeding between the two sizes was allowed. In 1909, the Basset Griffon Vendeen Club distinguished between the PBGV (approximately 13-15″/34-38cm) and the GBGV (approximately 15-17″/39-44cm).

Both breeds are still used in France as hunting dogs, with the GBGV used primarily on hare, deer, and wild boar, and the PBGV primarily for rabbit. In France, a GBGV can’t become a champion without a working certificate as proof of their ability in the field. The PBGV is also subject to a working trial there. There was at one time a pack of hunting PBGVs in the United States, most recently in 2000. PBGVs in the United States are active in the same hunt tests with Basset Hounds and these simulate hunting conditions.

The PBGVs and GBGVs’ coat description, in both their AKC and FCI standards, are rather similar with descriptions including harsh/hard, long and straight with undercoat and without exaggerations, beard, moustache and protective eyebrow and ear hair, and well-furnished tail. While only one of the standards (GBGV) calls for the fan of protective hair in front of the eyes, both breeds are seen with it world-wide, both in the field and in the show ring.

While show PBGVs and GBGVs do not appear to have morphologically diverged in type or structure from their hunting brethren, there is a significant difference in what is usually seen coat-wise between field and show. While its causation is man-made, both breeds generally appear over-groomed for the show ring, with some taking on the appearance of a Schnauzer trim. When one sees a PBGV or GBGV that is purposefully untrimmed, or one that hunts actively, there can be no forgetting the rustic and tousled appearance. To see PBGVs or GBGVs after a season of hunting is to witness what natural trimming caused by branches and briars does in pulling the coat on head, body, and legs. To be sure, the eyebrows, the fan of hair in front of the eyes, the covering ear hair, and harsh coat with softer undercoat is purposeful. It is not uncommon for the PBGV or GBGV to come back from a hunt, depending on the cover, with scratches on the bridge of the nose, in an arc immediately behind the eyebrows, and in front of both shoulder blades. Think about it: their heads are down and they are pushing through cover, single-minded in their maintenance of the quarry’s scent line. At what point does the conformation adjudicator penalize man-made grooming and trimming that exist solely for exhibition presentation, and which may actually be to the detriment of the Hound in the field?

The Otterhound is one of the rarest of breeds in the world and it is estimated that fewer than 600 exist. They are on the vulnerable breeds list in their native United Kingdom. Otter hunting was outlawed in the United Kingdom in 1978 due to the decimation in the otter population, not due to hunting, but due to loss of habitat and the introduction of chemicals in waterways that otters called home. When one examines photographs of the breed from the late 19th and early 20th century, there are scarcely any discernible differences with the Otterhound of today. Coats varied in length and thickness then as they do now. What we do not see, or smell, nowadays is the distinctly oily coat. With many Otterhounds being kept as house companions, it is no wonder the oily coat and its attendant odor are shampooed away. What continues to be valued, however, is the dense, coarse and crisp coat of about 2-4 inches in length, with a woolly, water-repellent undercoat. After the closing of the last Otterhound hunts in the United Kingdom, some Otterhounds were used to hunt mink and were also infused with Hounds that ran faster.

The most recent additions to the Scent Hounds within AKC are the Coonhounds, although they have been recognized by the UKC for decades. Hunting raccoons with selectively-bred Hounds has been a sport, and a source of pelts for clothing or sale, since the 1700s. While the AKC recognizes six Coonhound breeds: American English Coonhound, Black and Tan Coonhound, Bluetick Coonhound, Plott Hound, Redbone Coonhound, and Treeing Walker Coonhound, the UKC adds a seventh to that group, the American Leopard Hound. The Leopard Hound is in the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service.

Many Coonhounders are actively engaged in hunting with their dogs, there being slight style differences between the bench show dogs and the night hunt (hunting) dogs. There are very apparent type differences, however, between the UKC Black and Tan Coonhound and the AKC Coonhound. The UKC style Black and Tan is a smaller hound with somewhat less substance, and ears that are shorter than its AKC brothers. Most of the AKC Black and Tans that show and still hunt actively tend toward the UKC side stylistically. With a divergence of type between Black and Tans from the two registries, a tendency toward Bloodhound type within the Black and Tan Coonhound is to be avoided, both in morphology and gait.

While technique of exhibition is not the focus here, it should be noted that the inclusion of the additional five Coonhound breeds in AKC shows has also brought with it a stylistic change in the ways those breeds are exhibited in AKC shows vs AKC/UKC Coonhound Bench Shows.

Within the Coonhound breeds, the hunting dog is, generally, lighter in weight and in much harder condition than its show kin. This should not exclude superior specimens from advancing in the show adjudication process! However, when individual members of a Coonhound breed begin to exhibit type attributes consistent with one of the other Coonhound breeds or another Scent Hound breed, the adjudicator must take that into serious consideration in the reward process. The type differences in the Coonhound breeds are beyond the color and coat pattern differences.

How conscious are we of these real and perceived differences when we make our judging decisions, be they in the show ring, field trial, hunt test, or in breeding?

If there is a divergence in type or morphology, what are we doing, as breeders and judges, to close the gap?

I’ll look forward to your commentary and questions on this article, as well as the ones that follow in this series. Feel free to send your comments to info@aramediagroup.com.

  • Celeste M. Gonzalez is a graduate of the University of Florida, majoring in Animal Science and is also a Registered Quality Assurance Professional - Good Clinical Practices, Certified Clinical Research Professional, and a Certified Veterinary Technician. She works in the medical device field in clinical research and development after a long period of service in animal health, both in clinic and research. Celeste began showing dogs in 1975, while still in college, with the purchase of her first Basset Hound and began coursing and showing sight hounds with the purchase of her first Saluki the same year. She finished her first champion, a Saluki, in 1976. Participation in lure field coursing during the infancy and development of ASFA garnered her Salukis their ASFA FCh. One of her owner-trained-handled Salukis also obtained a C.D. in obedience. Salukis remained a part of her life until 1989 and she continues to be active in Basset Hounds to this day as an owner, breeder, and exhibitor. She continued to show her Bassets through her college career and began to breed in 1980. Her Jolly Time Hounds kennel has produced numerous Basset champions from a very small breeding program, including Best In Show dogs. Celeste has dabbled in tracking and field work with her Bassets and is proud of the accomplishments of her dogs that have gone to hunting and field trial homes. She is also very involved in Basset Hound health and her dogs are genetically tested for hereditary familial thrombopathia, MPS1, and primary open angle glaucoma. Celeste has judged Basset Hound and other Hound and Terrier breed specialties across the United States, including the BHCA National Specialty, and judged the Basset Hound Club of Spain national specialty in 2009. She is approved to judge the Hound and Terrier Groups.

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