Basset Bleu de Gascogne

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Basset Bleu de Gascogne

Often confused with its cousin, the Basset Hound, the Basset Bleu de Gascogne is a much rarer breed, with only a handful being registered by the Kennel Club. Like the Basset Hound, it originated in France as a slow-and-steady type of hunting dog with which hunters could keep pace on foot. True to its origin, today’s Basset Bleu retains a strong prey drive and an incredible sense of smell, with which it can track scent trails that are several days old. As a working dog, it is generally kept in packs, and it is extremely sociable and easy-going with other dogs. It develops a strong bond with its owners, and makes a playful and good-natured pet for people of all ages. While it is not built for speed, it does need a good deal of exercise, and is an ideal walking or hiking companion for active owners.

Like many hounds, the Basset Bleu de Gascogne has a musical voice that it is fond of using, which can create tensions with neighbours in urban areas, especially if the dog is left alone for periods during the day. Its coat is easy to care for, but it sheds steadily throughout the year, and often has a strong “doggy” odour that some owners may find off-putting. It is generally a healthy breed, but prospective owners do need to do their research before buying a pup, especially given that there are currently no UK-registered breeders, and so the few dogs that are imported each year are often not viewed in the flesh before being bought. The average life expectancy for the breed is 12 to 14 years.

About & History

The Basset Bleu de Gascogne originates from the Gascogny region of southwestern France. It is a very old breed, with a history that can be dated back as far as the fourteenth century with some certainty. While it is known to be descended from the Grand Bleu de Gascogne (a far taller dog from the same region), it is unclear whether it was developed simply by selecting particularly short-legged dogs from this breed, or whether the Grand Bleu was crossed with the more vertically challenged Basset Saintongeois. While most hounds were developed to lead horse-riding hunters after their prey, the Basset Bleu de Gascogne was specifically bred to allow commoners enjoy the sport of hunting while following their slower-moving dogs on foot. In fact, until the French Revolution, peasants were forbidden to hunt, and so the breed was in limited demand until this upheaval in French society.

While the popularity of the breed soared after the Revolution, it eventually fell out of favour in the late nineteenth century, to the extent that there is some debate whether it actually became extinct. Though the Basset Bleu’s saviour, a Monsieur Alain Bourbon, managed to produce a sustainable population of dogs in the early twentieth century, it is not entirely clear whether he did so by breeding the few survivors with Grand Bleus and Basset Hounds, or whether he actually had to recreate the breed by selecting dogs for breeding from these two breeds that bore similarities to the original pedigree. Today, the breed has a healthy population within its homeland, but it remains uncommon elsewhere. It is recognised by the Kennel Club, which registers a handful of imported individuals each year, but the American Kennel Club has not yet granted the Basset Bleu full recognition.

Appearance

Basset Bleu de Gascogne Large Photo
M.W. Reichert / Wikipedia.org

The Basset Bleu de Gascogne resembles the Basset Hound in many ways, being low-slung, with short, thick legs and a very long back. However, it is the lighter of the two breeds, and also slightly taller, meaning that it is a slightly finer, less bulky dog. It has a wedge-shaped head with a subtle stop and a skull that is slightly domed from side to side. It has a long, broad nose and large open nostrils, reflective of its great scenting abilities. The eyes are usually dark brown and convey the morose expression so typical of Bassets. The ears originate from a point just below the eyeline, and are narrow at the base, expand in the middle, and taper to their endpoint.

The breed has a long, arched neck with excess skin forming a dewlap; however, this is not so prominent as in the Basset Hound. The back is long and straight, and should be generously endowed with muscle, especially in the relatively short loin. The broad tail is set quite high on the croup, and is usually carried below horizontal in an upward curve. The chest is very deep, extending to approximately two-thirds of the dog’s height, and the abdomen has a slight tuck.

The upper limbs are thick and strong, while the lower limbs have heavy boning. When viewed from the front, some deviation from vertical is expected, with the elbows in particular often being considerably kicked out from the torso. The paws are quite large, with long toes. The Basset Bleu has a short, hard coat with white as its base colour. Diffuse black mottling is what gives it its blue effect, and other larger black patches are also seen as irregular markings. The face generally has splashes of black on either side that cover the ears.

Although the breed standard specifies that Basset Bleus should be between 30 and 38 cm (12–15 in) tall, many otherwise good examples of the breed are several centimetres taller. The average weight range for males is 18 to 20 kg (40–44 lb), and for females is 16 to 19 kg (35–42 lb).

Character & Temperament

The Basset Bleu is a playful, sociable dog that gets along well with almost everybody. It is not an aggressive breed, and does not do well as a guard dog: although it will bark in its characteristic, sing-song way, it is far too friendly to threaten anyone. It is a gentle and loyal pet, and makes excellent company for children. However, it does also exhibit the independence of other hound breeds, and it will decide when it has had enough attention to find somewhere quiet to have a nap. Because of its strong hunting instincts, it can never be fully trusted with smaller pets, and any outdoor space that it has access to must be securely fenced to contain any sudden urges to pursue a scent trail.

Trainability

By their nature, Basset Bleu de Gascognes are independent, bred to lead the hunt rather than follow commands, and this is reflected in the challenge posed by training. While an owner may be giving instructions that he believes to be clearly understandable, the Basset’s sensitive nose and ears are usually too busy with other distractions for the dog to pay too much attention.

Training this breed takes a great deal of persistence and patience, and anyone looking to acquire a dog for obedience trials would do well to pick a more attentive pupil.

Health

The Basset Bleu suffers few breed-related health problems, but the following conditions do occasionally arise:

  • Arthritis – The breed’s short, often bowed legs put pressure on the joints, which can lead to an early onset of arthritis in middle-aged dogs. This may be seen as stiffness after lying down or reluctance to exercise, and should be addressed with medications or supplements under veterinary guidance.
  • Gastric dilatation/volvulus – Like many other dogs with a very deep chest, the Basset Bleu may suffer a twisting and bloating of its stomach. This problem occurs over a very short space of time, and can be seen as rapid abdominal swelling. Avoiding exercise after eating is thought to reduce the incidence of this life-threatening condition.
  • Intervertebral disc disease – Degeneration of the shock-absorbing discs between the bones of the spinal cord, causing nerve compression, pain, and sometimes, paralysis.
  • Otitis externa – The long, pendulous ears produce a lot of wax in a poorly ventilated, damp, and warm environment that is perfect for the growth of bacteria and yeast. As a result, ear infections are common. Regular cleaning is recommended to prevent and detect such problems.
  • Patellar luxation – Likely to be seen in dogs with particularly bowed hindlimbs, this condition is also known as a “slipping kneecap”, and involves the movement of the kneecap outside the groove in which it should glide. This can cause lameness and discomfort, and may need surgical correction if severe.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Basset Bleu de Gascognes need a surprising amount of exercise. They are a slow-and-steady type of dog that do best with long walks or hikes, and should be allowed a minimum of one hours’ activity each day. Once provided with this, they are relaxed dogs in the home, and will spend much of their time napping unless called upon for a game.

Grooming

Because the coat is short and hard-wearing, it does not need much brushing – once a week is generally enough. However, it can get quite smelly due to the high oil production of the Basset Bleu’s skin, so it may need frequent washing. The use of antifungal shampoos may help control the odour by keeping the numbers of skin-dwelling yeast under control, but these are prescription-only products, and so veterinary advice should be sought on how often they should be used.

The thick nails need frequent clipping, and as they are generally black, care should be taken not to cut them too short, thereby cutting the blood vessel that runs down the centre of each. As mentioned above, the greasy ears must be washed out regularly with a suitable cleaning solution.

Famous Basset Bleus

More likely to be found sniffing its way through a hedgerow than in the limelight, the Basset Bleu de Gascogne is a low-key breed that has not yet found fame.

Cross-Breeds

Nowadays, Basset Bleus are rarely crossbred. However, the breed was instrumental in the creation of the Bluetick Coonhound in the United States in the early part of the twentieth century, by crossing it with various Foxhound breeds.

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