Basset Griffon Vendeen

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Basset Griffon Vendeen

Although they were grouped under a single name for most of their history, there are actually two breeds that fall under the Basset Griffon Vendeen designation: the Petit (PBGV) and Grand (GBGV), with the PBGV being slightly the more common in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Until the 1950s, they were distinguished solely on the basis of height, and indeed they continued to interbreed even after the division between the two was made. As such, they share many common features, and will be discussed together here. They were developed as hunting dogs in the Vendee region of France, where their enthusiasm for following scents, along with their long and low body shape, made them a perfect fit for rabbit and hare hunters working the thick, scrubby undergrowth of the area. Now usually kept as pets, their jovial temperament and sociability combined with their tussled appearance make them amusing and appealing companions.

While being extremely friendly, they are also known for their independence, and are not clingy dogs, so are suited to homes in which they may be required to spend time outdoors. However, they also have fantastically loud voices, and a braying howl that can be heard in response to other dogs or out of boredom, a feature that can cause un-neighbourly tensions to arise in urban settings. The rough and wild-looking coat provides protection against thorns and wire, and takes little work to maintain, but it does shed reasonably heavily. Like many other hounds, the PBGV and GBGV can be a challenge to train, and so are not recommended for novice owners. With a number of common inherited illnesses, these are breeds that should be researched carefully by prospective owners, but in spite of these problems, they enjoy a life expectancy of around 12 to 13 years on average.

About & History

The Basset Griffon Vendeen has been recognised as a type, if not a pedigree, in Western France since at least the sixteenth century. There, it was often kept in packs for the purpose of hunting rabbits and hares through the rough, dense undergrowth of the region. The low-slung, long-backed shape of the dog reflects this origin, as it was ideally made to weave its way between vegetation on uneven ground while its keen nose tracked its quarry. However, this was not a dog that was expected to kill; instead, it would flush the prey from cover to allow its master take a shot. While the BGV may not have been tall enough for it to be seen amidst tall grasses and the like by its human companion, its thick, upright tail served the purpose of keeping the dog’s location visible.

Towards the second half of the nineteenth century, concerted efforts were made to standardise the BGV, with the result that an official breed standard was published in 1898. Within this, both Petit and Grand forms of the breed were recognised, but distinguished only by their height. It was not until the 1950s that the PBGV and GBGV were officially separated, and several decades later that the practice of interbreeding the two pedigrees ceased. For this reason, there remains much overlap between these two breeds.

Appearance

Basset Griffon Vendeen Large Photo

Today’s PBGV and GBGV are differentiated not only on the basis of height, but also proportions, with the Petit having slightly lighter bone stock and muscling, while retaining many of the features of the larger hound. Both are compact dogs with an elongated back and strong bone structure. They carry themselves proudly, to the extent that their upright body posture is often mistaken by other dogs for a domineering attitude – something that can occasionally spark arguments. They have a domed head, with an appreciable furrow between the eyes, and a broad muzzle that is slightly longer in the GBGV in proportion to the skull. The long-haired ears are set below eye level, and reach the tip of the nose when the head is held down. The eyes are large, with an intelligent expression, and the whites should not be visible.

The neck is long and stocky, well set into the shoulders, and leading to a strong, elongated back. A muscular arch at the loin may be appreciated. Though the chest is not overly broad, it is deep, reaching to the level of the elbows, and the abdomen has a slight tuck. The relatively short tail is one of the distinguishing characteristics: described as a “sabre tail”, it is carried vertically upright most of the time and is quite thick along its length. The limbs are very powerful for such a compact frame, with thick forearms and lower hind legs leading to moderately large, oval paws.

The coat is coarse and hard by design, and provides ample protection in thick brush. Unlike many other breeds, it does not thin noticeably on the belly or groin, as these are sensitive areas that need this cover when the dog is pushing through rough vegetation, and it grows to several inches in length. It is particularly long around the face, where it forms a comical moustache and massive eyebrows. The recognised coat colours are as follows:

  • White and black
  • Black and tan
  • White and orange
  • Tricolour (fawn, black, white)
  • Fawn and black

For the PBGV, the average height ranges from 34 to 38 cm (13–15 in) at the withers, with weights varying from 14 to 18 kg (31–40 lb), while the GBGV stands 39 to 44 cm (15–17 in) tall, and weighs 18 to 20 kg (40–44 lb).

Character & Temperament

Basset Griffon Vendeens were bred to live in groups, and this is reflected in their sociable, friendly personalities. They are very slow to become irritated, and tolerate the company of other dogs very well. Their jovial nature is conveyed by the comically exaggerated eyebrows, which twitch in response to every change in facial expression, allowing the breeds a great capacity for non-verbal communication. However, they are equally capable of vocalisation, and are particularly fond of their unusually deep and loud voices.

Like other hound breeds, they tend to bark and howl at the drop of a hat, sometimes to excess. These fun-loving dogs enjoy playful interactions with their owners, although they may become “mouthy” when excited, and so may play a little too rough for young children. When there’s nothing too exciting going on around the home, they have the independence to amuse themselves, and are not clingy breeds. Like all hunting breeds, care must be taken when introducing Basset Griffon Vendeens to smaller pets, including cats, and they should never be left alone together.

Trainability

These are not dogs that excel in the obedience arena, and owners must be prepared to spend a great deal of time and effort in teaching even the basics, not because the PBGV and GBGV lack intelligence, but simply because they are easily distracted and inattentive students.

Health

Making sure to buy a puppy from a responsible breeder who is willing to disclose a complete medical history for his dogs is the best way to avoid running into any of the following problems. However, even dogs with good genes do develop illness, with these being the most common in the two breeds:

  • Epilepsy – Often inherited, signs of seizure activity are generally seen in the first one to five years of life.
  • Hernias – Both breeds are prone to congenital hernias, which are weaknesses in the muscular abdominal wall. Affected pups will have visible and palpable lumps of soft tissue in the groin or around the umbilicus.
  • Hypothyroidism – Thyroid underactivity in middle-aged dogs usually manifests as weight gain and lethargy, combined with hair thinning and cold intolerance.
  • Intervertebral disc disease – Degeneration of the shock-absorbing discs of the spinal column, most commonly causing back pain, but occasionally seen as hindlimb paralysis.
  • Otitis externa – Both breeds have turned-in ears that suffer reduced aeration of the ear canals. As a result, yeast and bacterial overgrowth and ear infections are common. Best prevented with regular cleaning.
  • Steroid-responsive meningitis – An inflammatory condition affecting the tissues surrounding the spinal cord, usually localised to the neck region. Signs are seen in young dogs, and are predominantly related to severe neck pain. As the name suggests, this debilitating illness responds well to steroid treatment, and affected dogs generally outgrow the problem within a few months.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Basset Griffon Vendeens are energetic dogs with a great deal of stamina. As well as being allowed regular access to an enclosed garden, they need at least one hour of walking or jogging each day. Unfortunately, they cannot be trusted off the lead in open spaces, as their keen noses will quickly lead them astray and render them deaf to their master’s attempts at recall.

Grooming

The spectacularly messy-looking coat is easy to care for. Weekly brushing or combing of the twisted hair is usually enough to prevent serious matts developing, and it should be washed only when necessary – which is generally when the dog finds something very smelly to roll around in. Trimming is not advisable, as it can damage the wiry hair shafts. Weekly ear cleaning with a proprietary oily solution will help to remove excess wax and debris and prevent the occurrence of ear infections.

Famous Basset Griffon Vendeens

The most famous member of the Basset Griffon Vendeen family of recent times is Soletrader Peek-a-Boo, known to her friends as Jilly, the PBGV who won the prestigious Best in Show title at Crufts in 2013.

Cross-Breeds

Apart from still occasionally been bred to each other, there are no well-recognised PBGV/GBGV hybrids at this time.

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