Hounds are true hunters that take advantage of their senses – sight and smell – to pursue their prey. These dogs would hunt alongside man from as long ago as 10,000 B.C. Though they lacked man’s weapons and logic, they more than made up for that with their speed and determination.

We now split the Hound group into Sighthounds and Scent Hounds. The earliest Scent Hound is thought to have been the now extinct St Hubert Hound, from whom many of today’s dog breeds descend. Scent Hounds have long and pendulous ears, which many claim assist in their scenting by ‘trapping’ the nearby air. The Coonhound and the Bassett Hound are some well-known examples. The remains of the very first Sighthound were discovered in Sumer, an ancient Mesopotamian civilisation. Today, all Sighthounds must have excellent vision and impressive speed. Common examples include the Greyhound and Whippet.

About

The Kennel Club describes Hounds as being ‘dignified, aloof but trustworthy companions’. Indeed, some individuals make wonderful family pets, though can be hard work. Bred for purpose, these breeds do best when given tasks to perform and require plenty of activity and instruction.

Though all Hounds have been bred to hunt, they are a distinctly diverse group of dogs with many differences from breed to breed. Some will hunt silently while others will howl and bay. Some, like the Afghan Hound, have long, silky fur, while the Beagle is short-haired. The Dachshund is characteristically short but the Bloodhound can reach heights of 70cm. The degree of variation within the Hound group is a real testament to nature and evolution.

Purpose

Hounds have been utilised for the same purpose since practically the beginning of time. Working as a team with man, they would track down, find and hunt their prey. Man would then share the bounty, cementing a bond and a partnership that would last to this day.

With individuals being used today for competitive hunting, coursing and racing, these sporty dogs continue to benefit from their heightened senses and athleticism. Of course, many are kept solely as companion animals, though often need some sort of working outlet to keep them level-headed and prevent behavioural issues.

Types

Since practically the very beginning, Hounds have been split into Sighthounds and Scent Hounds. Some will also include a third group of dogs that do not quite fit into either category and will use both their ears and eyes when working.

In each country, it is the Kennel Club that will determine in which group to assign a breed. Criteria for classification include their working ability, skills and appearance.

Sighthounds

As the name suggests, a Sighthound has superior vision and uses its eyesight to detect subtle movement and prey in the distance. Whippets and Greyhounds belong in this group. To this day, these breeds are used in a sport called ‘coursing’, whereby they will track and catch prey, such as hares by sight, not using their noses at all.

The incredible speed of the Sighthound means that they are also used in competitive canine racing. While the Greyhound is by far the most popular breed used, others, such as the Afghan Hound and Saluki, are raced in some parts of the world.

Scent Hounds

Scent Hounds rely entirely on their noses to follow a trail and could probably hunt blind-folded if asked. While they have stamina and endurance, they are not as quick as their Sighthound counterparts. As well as for hunting, their incredible talents are used for many purposes in the modern world. Beagles are often employed as sniffer dogs in airports and ports, detecting illegal substances, such as drugs. Bloodhounds are used as tracking dogs, assisting the police when searching for evidence and even missing persons.

Scent Hounds can pursue trails on the air or on ground, with different breeds being better suited to certain types of tracking, depending on their conformation and height. These dogs can be further classified into those with either ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ noses. Those with ‘cold’ noses, like the Black & Tan Coonhound, can pick up on scents that are days old.