He may be best known as the Hush Puppy dog, but the Basset Hound is much more than an advertising icon. With his placid personality and short-statured yet noble appearance, the Basset Hound is a popular family companion, as well as a slow-paced but keen hunting dog.
The name Basset comes from the French word bas, meaning low. And Basset Hounds certainly are low to the ground. Because their bones are heavy and they are muscular, they usually weigh 50 to 65 pounds although they typically are no more than 14 inches tall at the highest point of the shoulder. In reality, they are big dogs on short legs. Their short-legged appearance is the result of a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia. Despite his large size, the Basset believes he’s a lap dog and will do his best to fit in yours.
Bassets are scent hounds, meaning that they were bred to hunt by following the scent of their prey. Their phenomenal sense of smell is second only to that of the Bloodhound.
Basset Hounds have smooth, short, hard-textured coats that are relatively easy to take care of. Most of them come in the classic tri-color pattern of black, tan, and white, but they can also be what’s known as open red and white (red spots on a white coat), closed red and white (solid red with white feet and tail), or lemon and white. On occasion you may see a gray (also called blue) Basset, but this color is considered undesirable because it’s thought to be associated with genetic problems.
Trust the French to develop such a distinctive breed, with its “jolie” appearance, jolie meaning pretty-ugly, or unconventionally attractive. The name Basset means “low” and in France it refers to a distinct level of hound by height.
Bassets probably descended from the St. Hubert Hound, the ancestor of the present-day Bloodhound, and came about when a mutation in the St. Hubert strain produced a short-legged or dwarfed hound. Perhaps the dwarf hounds were kept as curiosities and later bred on purpose when their ability to track rabbits and hare under brush in thick forests was observed.
The first recorded mention of a Basset Hound was in an illustrated book about hunting, La Venerie, written by Jacques du Fouilloux in 1585. From the illustrations, it appears that the early French Basset Hounds resembled the present-day Basset Artésien Normand, a dog breed today known in France.