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On the Trail of the Bloodhound
In the 1600s, a bloodhound was tasked with the job of tracking down a man with whom he’d never had direct contact. For seven miles, the dog tracked the man’s scent, passing through busy market cities, never becoming distracted by the many sights and smells that crossed his path.
The bloodhound didn’t stop in his journey until he found the man in the upper rooms of a house.
This amazing story, described by the great scientist Robert Boyle is just one of the many tales of the superior scenting ability of the bloodhound. This ancient scent hound has been used over the centuries to track deer, boar, and other game, as well as to track down humans, whether escaped criminals or lost individuals. His spectacular gift for scent, along with his distinctive appearance, has earned him a solid place in popular culture.
It may require a bloodhound to sniff out the true origins of the breed, but many stories suggest that some of the earliest ancestors of the breed were taken from Constantinople to Europe, including the black scent hound ancestors that would go on to become known as the Chien de St. Huber, so named for the Saint-Hubert monastery in Belgium where they were bred as far back as 1000 AD. Some of the St. Hubert dogs ended up in royal packs in France and Britain, but it is in Britain where the bloodhound seems to have truly developed into the breed we know today.
The first written English reference to the bloodhound was in the mid 1300s, although the description suggests that the dogs were well established already. In fact, Scottish heroes, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce were said to have been tracked by sleuth hounds sometime around 1300. Sleuth hound is a Scottish term for a breed of dog very similar to the bloodhound of the time. From early on, these British bloodhounds were used for hunting game and for tracking people, although they were used almost solely for their scenting abilities. The bloodhound, even today, is not known as an attack dog.
The bloodhound may have developed in Britain, but it was in the United States that it truly came of age in terms of its working ability. The breed has become synonymous with tracking fugitives and has become a part of popular culture due to its official duties. Various law enforcement organizations use bloodhounds and in 1962, the National Police Bloodhound Association was formed.
The Nose Knows
The bloodhound’s nose is legendary, tracking not only over long distances, as with the dog first mentioned here, but also after relatively long periods of time have passed. A bloodhound named Nick Carter, born in 1900 in Kentucky, became one of the most famous bloodhounds in history. He found more than 650 people and once even followed a trail that was 12 days old.
The accuracy of bloodhounds was once so respected that evidence that they tracked was even admitted into a court of law. The reason for the bloodhound’s accuracy is the fact that the chambers in his nose that identify scents are larger than most other dogs. In fact, there are four billion olfactory receptor cells in a bloodhound, whereas a human has only five million. But it’s not just the bloodhound’s nose that makes him so effective at tracking a scent. His long, pendulous ears help prevent scents from being scattered in the air as he’s sniffing, and the folds of skin around his face and neck help to catch and trap additional scent particles, keeping the scent fresher for the dog.
The bloodhound’s sole interest is in sniffing, not attacking, so they make excellent family pets. They are low-key, gentle and affectionate, and are even suited to apartment living if given enough daily exercise. However, their focus on following a scent means that they shouldn’t be let off leash in open areas, because they can be stubborn about sticking to a scent. They are also known for pulling their owners along on walks as they trail any interesting scent.
Yet with consistent, fair training, the bloodhound is a wonderful pet. Their hang-dog facial expressions are sure to endear anyone to them, while their playful manner will be sure to put a smile on your face.
- Bloodhounds have appeared in numerous films and TV shows, including Duke on the Beverly Hillbillies, Beauregard on Hee Haw, the Bumpuses’ hounds in A Christmas Story, and Hubert (a reference to the breed’s ancestor) in the film Best in Show.
- Bloodhounds are just as popular in cartoon form, with Ladybird on King of the Hill, Trusty in Lady and the Tramp, Napoleon in The Aristocats, and McGruff The Crime Dog.
- The popular science program, Mythbusters, tested the abilities of bloodhounds on two episodes.
- Bloodhounds come in black and tan, liver and tan, or red with black or tan pigmenting.
- Bloodhounds are generally solitary trackers, rather than pack trackers, and they are usually quiet while searching. However, they have an impressive baying voice when in full cry.