Estonian Hound

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Estonian Hound

The Estonian Hound is Estonia’s only native dog breed and by default inherits the title of the ‘National Dog of Estonia’. The breed was created in 1947 when Estonia was still part of the Soviet Union and the latter decreed that each country in the union should have its own distinct breed.

The Estonian Hound holds a strong resemblance to the Beagle (albeit with a longer neck and more pointed muzzle). This is because the Beagle, along with other hounds, was one of the founding breeds. Happily, the Estonians decided they wanted a family dog and selected for good-natured dogs. This means the modern Estonian hound has a reputation for being a happy, homebody that loves being part of a family, although he’s less than gregarious with strangers and unfamiliar places.

About & History

In the early 20th century, before the creation of the Estonian hound, the English Foxhound and so-called Russian-Polish Hounds were used for hunting in Estonia. These dogs then interbred to produce a dog unofficially accepted as local to the area.

Then in the 1920s, the Finnish Hound entered the gene pool, slightly changing the look of the local dogs. Someone in authority must have been unhappy with this drift because in 1934 a law was issued to establish a recognisable Estonian native dog breed.

In a twist of fate, at the same time, the number of game birds had sharply declined in Estonia. To avoid over-hunting, it was decided hunters didn’t need such large, fast hounds and could do with a smaller version. The law was therefore set that it was illegal to hunt with dogs standing taller than 45cm to the shoulder, which meant smaller dogs were selected to establish the Estonian hound breed.

It was therefore inevitable that breeds, such as Beagles, Bern Hounds, Luzem Hounds, and Swiss Hounds, would contribute heavily to the development of the Estonian hound. The latter was officially recognised by the Soviet Union in 1954. After Estonia regained independence, their Kennel Club registered the breed in 1998 and is currently working for wider world recognition.


Estonian Hound Large Photo

In terms of appearance, think ‘Beagle’ and you have a great starting point. The Estonian hound has similar colouring with white and tan and a dark saddle area. He even has the same thick but straight tail, which is often tipped with white. However, the Estonian hound does differ in that he has a longer neck and a more pointed face shape.

The Estonian is a medium-sized dog that gives the impression of being strong and muscular. Whilst he has drop ears, he lacks frown lines and wrinkles, and has an overall appearance of being alert and intelligent.

Character & Temperament

It is to be applauded that breeders selected for a good-natured dog that makes for a great family pet. In some ways, the Estonian could be considered to have almost cat-like qualities in that he’s less flexible when it comes to change than most canines. He’s happiest in a set routine and is home-loving to the point of being unsettled when travelling or away.

This lack of flexibility is also reflected in his attitude to strangers. Whilst he is gentle, well-mannered, and calm around those he trusts and respects, he’s liable to be standoffish and skittish with strangers or in unfamiliar situations. However, this shouldn’t detract from the many positive words used to describe the Estonian hound. He’s considered gentle, fun-loving, energetic, and a snuggler, which just about ticks all the boxes for a family dog. Indeed, when socialised well from a puppy, he’s likely to be accepting of other pets, even cats.

That said, the Estonian hound does have a strong prey drive, especially for foxes, hares and hoofed animals. But with diligence, an owner can train this habit out of the Estonian, as he is an intelligent and responsive breed.

Another plus point is that he’s not a natural barker. It is his habit to be silent and not bark unnecessarily, which is good news for the neighbours.


Photo of Estonian Hound puppy

The Estonian Hound is considered intelligent and highly trainable. He does have bad habits (his prey drive) but this can be reined in with appropriate obedience training. As with all dogs, he responds best to reward-based training methods, especially as he is eager to please his owner.

He is, however, first and foremost a scent hound. This means he’s easily distracted by scent. No matter what his training, if he picks up an interesting sniff, he’s liable to become deaf to his owner’s calls. Thus, it may be worth keeping him on a longline if you can’t rely on a rock-solid recall in open spaces.


As a relatively new breed, there haven’t been any official studies into the health problems associated with the Estonian hound, but the good news is they have a reputation for being a healthy breed. This may in part be due to the breed having escaped intensive breeding, with parent dogs selected for their character and hunting abilities, rather than looks.

However, given the genetic makeup of the parent breeds, such as the Beagle, Foxhound, and other hounds, the Estonian hound is likely to be at increased risk of the following health problems:

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)

This degenerative condition affects the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye and causes premature blindness. The earliest symptoms tend to be the dog loses confidence moving around at night, as his vision is worse in poor light. An affected dog may be reluctant to walk unfamiliar routes and be clumsy on stairs or jumping on furniture. Eventually, dogs with PRA will go blind.

Sadly, there is no treatment for PRA, which may mean a relatively young dog loses their sight. However, dogs do adapt to blindness and use their other senses of hearing, touch, and smell to compensate. Obviously, prevention is entirely appropriate for PRA, which means screening the parent dogs are free from symptoms before breeding.

Entropion or Ectropion

These are two anatomical problems affecting the eyelids and eyelashes. The first, entropion, refers to an in-turning of the eyelid. This causes the eyelashes to constantly rub back and forth across the cornea (surface of the eye), which is like living with grit in the eye.

The second condition, ectropion, refers to an out-turning or droopiness of the eyelid. This can lead to drying of the cornea and inner surface of the eyelid, which again is uncomfortable and irritating.

Happily, there are surgical procedures that can remodel the shape of the eyelids. These increase the comfort of that dog. To prevent the problem passing on to the next generation it’s best not to breed from that individual.


Allergies in dogs often show up as itchiness and skin irritation. The triggers can be many and varied, including dust mites, pollens, or foods. A dog with allergies will chew and lick to the point of causing skin infections, which is distressing for both dog and owner.

Unless the triggering allergen can be avoided, then controlling an allergy often requires costly medication and regular vet trips.

Weight Gain and Obesity

Hounds are notorious for their big appetites, added to which they excel at sniffing out snacking opportunities. For the unwary Estonian Hound owner, this can lead to overfeeding and an overweight dog. Portion control and adequate exercise are therefore key to the dog keeping a lean waistline.

Exercise and Activity Levels

It should be remembered that the Estonian’s origins lie with working breeds. His hound ancestors thought nothing of running all day whilst out hunting. This energetic streak is hard-wired into the Estonian hound and he does require plenty of vigorous exercise on a daily basis.

Be prepared for a minimum of one, 90-minute walk a day, but, preferably, you will want to take him out more. With this in mind, it’s a great idea to teach him to play fetch, so he gets plenty of running.

Should the Estonian hound not get adequate exercise, as with any dog he’s at risk of developing bad habits. That surfeit of energy has to find an outlet somehow, which may be chewing your furniture or digging up the yard.


The Estonian hound has a short coat and little undercoat. He’s an average shedder and brushing a few times each week serves the dual purpose of removing shed hair and conditioning his coat. Bathing is not required regularly unless he gets muddy or dirty.

Famous Estonian Hounds

A star in the making is Amy, who is an Estonian hound from… ahem… Estonia.


Rather than consider Estonian hybrids, it’s more appropriate to think about reverse engineering this hound, and how he is really a hybrid that has become established in its own right. The parent breeds of Beagles, English Foxhounds, and other assorted hounds were all blended together to establish this charming breed.

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