American Foxhound

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult American Foxhound
Trisha Shears / Wikipedia.org

The American Foxhound is a relatively rare breed of dog that is native to America. It is a docile and easy-going dog that is generally energetic with the ability to run long distances and a natural affinity for scent hunting.

While a great companion for all of the family, and generally mild-mannered, these dogs require lots of exercise and are notorious for howling and barking, so may not suit every household.

About & History

Probably the oldest of the American hounds, the American Foxhound is a direct descendant of the English Foxhounds that were brought to America around the year 1650 by the English breeder, Robert Brooke. These English hounds were bred to several large French hound dogs the following century (and there is some speculation that other European breeds may have been bred into the line also). This breeding resulted in a dog that was lighter, faster and taller than the original breeds. In the 1830’s, the Irish hound was added to the mix to increase speed even further.

As you may have guessed from the name, these dogs were originally bred to hunt foxes. It is said that the wealthy hunters in America were not satisfied with the slow, grey, American foxes and rare, red American foxes, so imported the English red fox for better hunting opportunities; both for themselves and their American Foxhounds.

Some people speculate that the American Foxhound may have been the first dog breed ever developed in the USA, although this is difficult to confirm. Indeed, former president George Washington himself was known to be a fan and owned a pack of American Foxhounds, of which he kept meticulous records. In fact, it is a breed that is so well-loved in the USA that the state of Virginia declared it their ‘state dog’ in the 1960’s.

American Foxhounds can loosely be further classified into four types:

  1. Field Trial Hounds: This variant of the Foxhound tend to be the fastest, and are subjectively the most competitive.
  2. Trail Hounds: Those who travel cross country after a scent.
  3. Fox-Hunting Hounds: Of course, these are the Foxhounds who specifically hunt foxes. They are said to have a ‘musical’ voice, and work deliberately with less speed.
  4. Pack Hounds: These dogs typically have good stamina and work in groups. They are used by horseback riders, for example, in a hunt.

Appearance

American Foxhound Large Photo

The American Foxhounds are similar in appearance to their English Foxhound cousin, though lighter and more stream-lined. This is a handsome dog with wide-set, imploring brown or hazel eyes. Their skull is broad, with wide and flat ears which should be held close to the head. Their chest is narrower than the English Foxhound, though they have a similar well-muscled and strong back and neck. Their legs are long, straight and muscular. Their paw pads are tough and claws are hard, suitable for running on a variety of terrains. Their tail should be carried cheerfully upwards with a slight curve and short brush at the end. They have a hard, short and dense hound coat, which serves to protect them from briars and prickly brushes.

Males should measure around 56 to 63cm to the withers, while the bitch will stand slightly smaller at 56 to 61cm. Their weight is quite variable, but most dogs will lie in the range of 25 to 35kg. While conventionally tri-coloured, there are a variety of coat colours that are accepted:

  • Tri-colour
  • White
  • Blue
  • Red
  • Tan

Character & Temperament

Lively though mild-mannered, these dogs are known for having an independent streak. Described as ‘warriors’ when hunting, they have the ability to switch off their working brain when home and can make loving, family pets. Unlike other hounds, they are not traditionally good guard dogs. When outside, these dogs have great stamina, which is unmatched by most breeds. With seemingly endless energy, they can continue running for long periods of time without needing a break.

This is a breed that should not be left alone for long periods of time. An under-stimulated, under-exercised American Foxhound can easily develop separation anxiety or become destructive. As such, these dogs are well-suited to an outdoor or ‘country’ lifestyle.

While they may initially be shy around new people, they are notoriously sweet, and are known to be good with children. These dogs do particularly well with other dogs, though not necessarily with cats. Typically, they thrive when in packs, and ideally should not be kept alone.

Trainability

Like all scent hounds, their natural instinct is to follow scents when outside, so these dogs need to be trained well and from a young age if you have any hope of getting them to listen to you on a walk. Bred to follow a scent to the exclusion of all else (including a human voice!), you should beware of any off lead activity in an untrained dog with such a high prey drive.

Not known for having the longest attention spans, it can be wise to train these dogs in short sessions to increase success. They are known to have an average intelligence, and have been described as ‘stubborn’, so consistent training is key.

Health

A typical American Foxhound will live around 12 years with a life expectancy usually between 10 and 14 years old. They are known for putting on weight easily if not exercised enough, and their weight should be monitored closely as they get older.

They are notoriously healthy and hardy dogs, with relatively few genetic health issues, however, some reported issues include:

  • Hip dysplasia – Recently, hip dysplasia has become more common amongst hounds. This is a degenerative disease found in many dog breeds, caused by a malformed hip joint. The resultant grinding of bone on bone results in a high level of discomfort and pain. It is advised that all breeding parents are screened for this disease prior to mating.
  • Ear infections – Like many breeds with pendulous ears, it is important to regularly check and clean the ears to prevent infections. Ears should be thoroughly dried after any swimming or bathing, as damp ears will become infected more easily.
  • Thombocytopathy – This is a condition that leads to an increased bleeding tendency due to a defect of the blood platelets. An affected dog may be seen to bleed or bruise easily after seemingly minor trauma. Bleeding may also occur into the body cavities or joints, which can potentially be life threatening.
  • Pelger-huet anomaly – A rare disorder of the white blood cells that does not typically cause any signs or symptoms. However, the homozygous form of the disease is incompatible with life and will result in puppies dying in-utero or in a bitch suffering from still births.
  • Congenital deafness – This is a form of deafness present at birth. Extra precautions should be taken to keep these dogs safe when outside (remember they cannot hear traffic or voices calling), and they should not be used as working dogs.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Always eager to run, the American Foxhound is a breed that is said to ‘never tire’ and demands a lot of exercise. These dogs are generally very active, and live life at a high tempo. Foxhounds need a lot of room to run, and thus are not suited for apartments or confined/small gardens. If chosen as a pet to live in an urban area, it is vital that the garden is fenced in and that they are brought on multiple, long daily walks. Anything less than one hour of daily walking will not be enough for these dogs.

It is clear from the above information that American Foxhounds are not suitable for anyone with a sedentary lifestyle, and would best suit a family home in the countryside if not kept as a working dog.

Grooming

This is a low maintenance breed when it comes to their coat, and occasional grooming is recommended – about once a week. A hound glove or short brush is all that is needed. These dogs are not big shedders, and their short, dense coat tends to require minimum attention. Like all breeds with floppy ears, the dark and humid environment created within the ear canal can often lead to ear infections. Regular ear cleaning is essential to avoid waxy build up.

Due to the strength of their nails, they should be kept short. This can be achieved by regular claw clipping, as well as walking on hard surfaces, such as pavements. They do not need regular bathing, and should only be bathed when necessary.

Famous American Foxhounds

With few mainstream examples of famous American Foxhounds, this breed is not quite ready for their star on the Hollywood walk of fame just yet. Perhaps the best known American Foxhound was Tennessee Lead, a dog that was stolen in 1852 from a deer chase in Kentucky and sold on for breeding, resulting in the Walker, Trigg and Goodman strains of Foxhound.

Cross-Breeds

While the American Foxhound is recognised as a breed in its own right, it originated from crossing the original French, English and Irish hounds. One well known cross is the Treeing Walker Coonhound, descended from both American and English Foxhounds.

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