Bulgarian Scenthound

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Bulgarian Scenthound
BG Macedonia / Wikipedia.org

Bulgaria boasts two native dog breeds used for hunting. These breeds are the Bulgarian Hound (also known as the Bulgarian Barak) and the Bulgarian Scenthound (also known as the Gonche). Despite a confusingly similar name, these two breeds have distinctive appearances. Whilst the Barak has a wiry-coat, the Scenthound is smooth-coated with an echo of the Rottweiler or Dobermann about him.

The Scenthound is a medium to large-sized dog with a keen sense of smell. He has an enviable reputation for being more chilled and less aggressive than the Rottweiler, to which his appearance is sometimes likened.

The Scenthound is one of the most popular native breeds in Bulgaria, but little known outside of this country. His alternative name of Gonche is an affectionate term meaning ‘tracker’ and reflects both his use as a hunting dog and the warmth he engenders from his master.

About & History

The Bulgarian Scenthound is an old breed, established many centuries ago in the Balkans. However, as often happens with these older breeds their precise origins are lost in the mists of time. One theory is the first Gonche dogs belonged to the ancient Thracians, some 1,500 years ago. These dogs, along with those brought by the Turks, from Asia, bred together in the Balkan region to found the dog recognised today as the Bulgarian Scenthound.

This is backed up by scholars who postulate that all the scenthound breeds found in this area, came originally from Asia. Whatever the truth of this breed’s start in life, the dogs certainly made an impact. Records in artwork and pottery show dogs with a similar appearance being used for hunting by the Celts, Thracians, Illyrians, and ancient Greeks.

If the ‘when’ was 1,500 years ago, the ‘where’ was the Balkan Peninsula, and the ‘why’ was as a hunting dog. Their instinct to track and hunt is so deeply ingrained that it gives rise to their other affectionate name of Gonche, meaning tracker or pursuer.

Indeed, those early working dogs had to earn the title of ‘Bulgarian Scenthound’ by passing a test. This involved tracking a live hare and driving it back towards the huntsman. The dog had to do this not once but three times, successfully, in order to become a fully-fledged tracker. Popular in his native Bulgaria, the Gonche is little known in the world at large.


Bulgarian Scenthound Large Photo
BG Macedonia / Wikipedia.org

Think of a scenthound and you’d be forgiven for picturing the heavy, long eared awesomeness that is a Bloodhound, the long low Basset Hound, or the chunky robustness of a Beagle. However, the Bulgarian Scenthound breaks this mould in that he is all long-legged elegance.

Indeed, the Bulgarian Gonche has an appearance closer to the fine lines of a sighthound, such as a Greyhound or Podenco, rather than a more sturdy scenting breed. He has a sensibly-shaped head with a good length of muzzle, so that he can run without catching his breath. That deep chest reflects the need for a large lung capacity to power that turn of speed, as he chases after a hare.

Considered a medium-sized dog, the Bulgarian Scenthound has a good length of leg, all the better to cover the ground. And, whilst he does have an elegant silhouette, there is a hint of sturdiness about him, as befits a dog that can track for hours over rough terrain.

Then there is the Bulgarian Scenthound’s coat, which is short and smooth. This is where the mention of the Rottweiler comes in, because of the coat colouration. The Gonche is a striking black and tan dog, with a black body, tan muzzle, and points that do pass an uncanny resemblance to a Rottie. But that’s where the similarities end, because a well-socialised Gonche is a honey, more likely to lick than bite!

Character & Temperament

The Bulgarian Gonche is a hunting dog first and foremost, which is reflected is his love of following a scent. He loves working and will become firmly bonded to his master. Indeed, professional hunters that work with Gonches, often train them to individual commands so that they respond to one person and one person only.

The breed has a good-nature and when socialised well as a puppy, will get along well with strangers and other dogs. However, as will all dogs this depends on the youngster being exposed to a wide variety of sights, sounds, and experiences from a young age. This helps build his confidence and reduce anxiety, making a well-adjusted adult dog.

The Gonche’s good nature means he can make a good family dog provided his needs for plenty of exercise are met. However, once trained to hunt, that individual makes a poor pet because of a high prey drive. When considering a Gonche as a family companion, it’s best to start with a pup and then raise him in the home environment.


The Bulgarian Scenthound is an intelligent dog and highly trainable. Indeed, he thrives on having a good bond with his owner, often forged through spending time together training.

The Gonche is eager to please and thrive on mental stimulation. This makes reward-based training methods ideal for the Bulgarian Scenthound. The combination of working out how to earn that treat, along with one-to-one attention from the handler, pushes all the right buttons for a Gonche.


The Bulgarian Scenthound is a local hero, little known outside his home turf. Because of this, there is little evidence or knowledge of the hereditary health problems to which he is predisposed. With a breed as old as the Gonche, it is to be hoped that over successive generations, the fittest dogs passed on their genes and the weakest fell by the wayside.

However, the sensible owner of a dog as active as the Gonche takes certain precautions.

Parasite Control

The active lifestyle of the Bulgarian Scenthound exposes him to more than his fair share of parasites. This ranges from external parasites, such as fleas and ticks, to internal worms, such as roundworms and tapeworms.

The Gonche should be protected from these unwanted hitch-hikers by regular use of effective anti-parasite products. Even when using an acaricide (anti-tick) product, the owner should undertake a daily tick check, so as to remove these bugs before they start to feed.


Being outside, especially in rough terrain, exposes the Bulgarian Scenthound to a variety of infectious diseases. It’s therefore essential that the Gonche is vaccinated as a puppy and kept up to date with appropriate boosters.

A vet with local knowledge of where the dog goes hunting is best placed to undertake a risk assessment. This means assessing those diseases the canine is most likely to encounter, and giving vaccines necessary to protect him.

For example, protection against leptospirosis is not always necessary for town dogs. However, if the Gonche is hunting around ponds and standing water, this increases the chances of coming up against the leptospirosis organism and so vaccination is strongly advised.

Exercise and Activity Levels

For centuries, the Gonche were used as active hunting dogs capable of coping with a wide variety of terrains and hunting wild boar. This is carried forward into the modern day with the dogs need for plenty of exercise.

Ideally, this should be off leash so that the dog gets plenty of opportunity to run and track. A Gonche needs a minimum of 60 to 90 minutes of active running per day, but preferably more. One neat trick is to engage the dog’s attention with tracking games that involve following a previously laid scent. They also make great companions for canine activities, such as Canicross or Agility.


That smooth coat is low maintenance, requiring little more than a regular gloss over with a slicker brush. This helps remove shed hair and spread natural conditioning oils over the coat, for the ultimate in seal-like shine.

Famous Bulgarian Scenthounds

Loved and prized by their owners, the Bulgarian Scenthound is something of an undiscovered star, with no famous examples to be found.


At the present time, all efforts are put into maintaining the purity of the Gonche and increasing their numbers. This means deliberating cross-breeding to produce hybrids is not generally done.

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