Basset Fauve de Bretagne

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

The strong tradition of hunting in rural France has resulted in the country producing a large number of hound breeds, of which the small Basset Fauve de Bretagne is one of the more popular. This good-natured, charming dog is set low to the ground (hence the “Basset” tag – meaning “low-set”), allowing it to avoid the worst of the thorny vegetation that covers much of the land over which it would hunt small prey – most commonly rabbits. As much as it is an able and keen hunter, it is also gaining popularity as a pet, and it is known to be a very suitable breed for children. Though it most often hunts either alone or as one of a pair, it is a sociable creature that should get along well with other family pets, including smaller animals, as long as it is introduced to them at a young age.

As is typical of many hounds, who are often required to exhibit a certain degree of independence, it can at times appear stubborn, and is certainly capable of getting into mischief if left alone for long periods – the Basset Fauve de Bretagne is a known chewer, and can run into trouble by swallowing things it shouldn’t. Its wiry coat, another adaptation to its native scrubland, takes a little work to maintain, requiring occasional professional grooming, and this working breed also needs a significant amount of exercise to keep it happy and healthy. Speaking of health, the Basset Fauve de Bretagne is all but free from inherited illness, in the United Kingdom at least, and has an average life expectancy of 11 to 13 years.

About & History

Brittany, in northern France, has long been a producer of some top-quality hounds, with King Francois I known to have had a pack of Brittany hunting dogs in the early sixteenth century. However, these were of a much larger type, and resembled the now-extinct Grand Fauve de Bretagne, which stood around twice the height of the Basset Fauve (the word “fauve” meaning tan, or tawny – a reference to the breed’s usual coat colour). At this time, hunting was the preserve of the aristocracy, but by the end of the eighteenth century, in the wake of the French Revolution, peasants were taking up the pursuit in ever-greater numbers. These commoners, being unable to afford horses, needed smaller, shorter-legged dogs that they could keep pace with on foot, and through selection for such traits the Basset Fauve, and its larger cousin the Griffon Fauve de Bretagne, were born.

These breeds inherited the Grand Fauve’s keen sense of smell, enthusiasm for the hunt, and stoicism, making them ideally suited to the travails of pursuing game through thick, thorny scrub, and the fact that the Basset Fauve has changed little in the past couple of centuries is testament to its suitability to its role. Although the breed was extremely popular in northern and western France in the early twentieth century, it mirrored the decline seen in many other breeds in the wake of the Second World War, and it seems likely that some crossing with other breeds like the Basset Griffon Vendeen occurred to re-establish a healthy population; however, this is denied by several of the breed clubs. It is also rumoured that the Wirehaired Dachshund may have been used as an out-cross in the 1970s to refine certain physical traits. Over time, the Basset Fauve de Bretagne recovered from its mid-twentieth century losses, and in France it has been second in popularity only to the Beagle for foot-hunting since the 1980s. The first Basset Fauves to be imported to the United Kingdom arrived in the early eighties, with the Kennel Club recognising the breed in 1991, and it has slowly, but steadily, gained a following here, with a growing number of breeders contributing around one hundred new registrations each year.

Appearance

Basset Fauve de Bretagne Large Photo

The Basset Fauve de Bretagne is a small, compact dog with a scruffy, wiry coat. For a Basset, it has a relatively short back, yet it retains the typical rectangular shape when viewed from the side. It has a somewhat domed, broad skull, a moderately pronounced stop, and strong, wide jaws and muzzle. The large, open nostrils hint at its excellent powers of scenting. Its hazel-coloured eyes are lively and intelligent, and it has low-set, pleated ears that extend just short of the nose when the head is lowered.

The Basset Fauve’s neck and back are reasonably broad and well-muscled, and though it has short legs, these should be free from the marked crookedness often seen in other similar breeds. The upper limbs have well-developed muscling, and the lower limbs have strong bone. The tail is set on high, and is held upright when the dog is alert, a feature that allows a hunter to keep sight of his dog through the undergrowth.

Likewise, the coat is ideally suited to the dog’s working environment. Extremely dense, harsh, and lying flat to the skin, it can resist most thorns and sharp twigs, and does not cling to seeds or other loose materials. It is usually a solid fawn or wheaten colour, though it will be slightly darker on the ears, and may have a small white spot on the chest. The Basset Fauve de Bretagne ranges in height from 32 to 38 cm, and in weight from 16 to 18 kg.

Character & Temperament

Courageous, tenacious, and stoic in the field, the Basset Fauve is also a gentle, cheerful, and friendly dog, making it an excellent choice as a pet. It is more eager to please than some other hounds, and is therefore a more malleable character that can adapt to different living situations and is usually willing to accept other pets in the home.

However – be warned – the neighbour’s cat or rabbit will certainly be considered fair game, as the Basset Fauve de Bretagne is still bred primarily as a hunter, and it has a strong prey drive that it will direct towards unfamiliar smaller animals. Its patience and gentle nature mean it is an ideal children’s pet, but it does need adequate exercise to prevent it being too boisterous or giddy.

Trainability

All hounds can be stubborn at times, but the Basset Fauve de Bretagne is generally willing to follow its owner’s commands, especially if basic obedience training is started at a young age. However, one area in which this, and other scenting dogs, is unreliable is recall – if allowed off the lead, the Basset Fauve will lose itself in a scent trail, and will be oblivious to its owner’s calls until it has followed it to its source.

Health

It is claimed that the breed is free from inherited health problems in the United Kingdom, although epilepsy has been reported as a familial disorder in continental lines. The most recent health survey conducted by the Kennel Club in 2014 did not identify this neurological condition in any of the dogs surveyed, although the sample size of 49 individuals was rather small.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Despite its short legs, the Basset Fauve de Bretagne needs to be given plenty of exercise. It is a dog that was traditionally worked for many hours, several days a week, and non-hunters should be prepared to lace up their walking boots and take their Basset into woodlands or other “wild” areas to allow the dog exercise both its nose and its limbs at least once a week. More important, however, is a well-established daily routine of one to two hours’ walking. Any less than this will leave the Basset Fauve restless and hyperactive, and more likely to expend its energy in destructive behaviour or excessive barking.

Grooming

The wiry coat sheds a reasonable amount, and needs to be brushed at least every other day. On average, owners should expect to give the Basset Fauve a bath around once every six weeks to keep odour from the skin and hair to a minimum, and it benefits from hand-stripping several times a year. Although an experienced owner can do this process, most prefer to have a professional groomer strip older hairs from the coat using a specialized comb. This promotes new hair growth by stimulating blood flow to the follicles, and is recommended for most wirehaired breeds.

Famous Bassets Fauve de Bretagne

It’s surely only a matter of time before the charismatic little Basset Fauve de Bretagne finds its way into celebrity circles, but at the moment, it is keeping a low profile.

Cross-Breeds

Apart from the disputed crossings that may have occurred between the Basset Fauve de Bretagne, the Basset Griffon Vendeen, and the Dachshund, the breed has rarely been mixed with others, and it has no common hybrids at the present time.

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