Beloved for their adorably—and comically—sad, droopy faces, basset hounds are an even-keeled family dog equally happy chasing a scent trail as they are napping on a lap. But don’t be fooled by the basset hound’s short stature: This common breed is a lot of dog in a little frame. The hound’s loose, elastic skin and long floppy ears lift and trap scents from the ground, making the basset hound’s sense of smell second only to its cousin, the bloodhound. With their gentle, friendly demeanor and preference for lazing around the house, basset hounds can be great companions for children. This stubborn dog breed requires a good amount of patience but is otherwise relatively easy to care for.
Don’t the short legs fool you: Basset hounds are large dogs, weighing up to 65 pounds while only raising about 15 inches off the ground, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). The heavy-boned breed has a long body with short legs, long, velvety floppy ears, a lovable sad-looking droopy face, and an alert tail. Their large paws and low-slung build give them great stability for maneuvering over rough terrain, ideal for its employment as a scent-tracking hound. The basset hound’s skin is loose and elastic and covered in a short hard coat dense enough to insulate for hours in all weather.
The Basset Hound Club of America (BHCA) recognizes five main color patterns: tricolor of black, tan, and white; black and white; brown and white; red and white; or lemon and white. Basset hounds may also come in a rare blue, but beware as this coloring is typically associated with genetic mutations.
The basset hound is perhaps one of the most widely recognized breeds, and people love that droopy, floppy face. But these looks aren’t just meant to melt your heart. Nearly every feature on a basset hound’s head assists the tracking dog on the trail. According to the AKC, the folds in the skin help trap scents, keeping them close to the dog’s nose. The long ears drag as they walk, wafting scents from the ground up to their nose. And their droopy, slightly sunken large brown eyes? Well OK, those are mostly just for charm and, you know, vision.
Though they may not look it, basset hounds were bred for endurance and stamina on the trail. Their ability to hone in on a scent and track it for hours on end made them a top choice for small-game hunters. Though still frequently used as pack hunting dogs, today’s basset hounds are just as content with a long walk followed by lounging around the home all day. These happy pups are just looking for a warm spot to relax with their best friend—you. If you prefer to be more active, scent games are a great way to exercise your basset hound’s best skill and engage them mentally.
The basset hound has an even temper and is affectionate and loyal, according to the BHCA’s breed guide. Because they were bred as a pack dog, they get along well with other pets—dogs and cats alike—and prefer to have company at all times. They can be pretty playful when socialized with other dogs. Their calm, gentle nature and all around friendliness make them great for families with children, but don’t expect much by way of watch or guard dog. Basset hounds think everyone is their friend, so they might not be the greatest guard dogs, the AKC says. As with any breed, it’s important to properly socialize your hound from a young age. Though bassets aren’t considered aggressive, it’s important to teach children how to properly interact with dogs and always supervise them when playing with any dog.
Training a basset hound can be a slow process. The key is to be calm, patient, and always stay positive—they’re smart, sensitive pups who won’t respond well to harsh treatment. “They’re not stubborn, they’re a hound,” says Brian Kilcommons, founder of The Great Pets Resort, a boutique training facility in Connecticut. “You give them a trail to follow, they’re a rocket scientist. You do a long distance down with them, it’s a little bit more difficult. It can be done, but it takes a lot more work. The problem I have with the term ‘stubborn’ is it sets the tone for the training. Certain things are going to be more difficult to accomplish with them than others because it’s not their forte. Their forte is putting their nose to the ground, following a scent, and baying. They’re not going to be quick to take to obedience work.”
The amiable basset hound can adapt to most living situations. This low-energy breed is happy with a long, daily walk followed by plenty of R&R at home. Though they move slowly, basset hounds can be single-track minded and wander off at the whiff of a scent with no regard for their surroundings. “They’re low to the ground and they have short legs—they’re not going to take off,” Kilcommons says. “But they were bred to hunt rabbits. They’ll get a scent and all of a sudden they’re on autopilot.” It’s extremely important to keep them in a securely fenced yard or on a leash. Basset hounds prefer leisurely walks and can be a good lesson in slowing down to smell every. single. rose.
Basset hounds are prone to loneliness, and with loneliness comes long periods of howling and possible destruction. Having a companion—human or animal—for your basset hound will help keep these behaviors at bay (and your neighbors happy), the BHCA says. Because of their weight and build, basset hounds shouldn’t be required to climb too many steps, and they should always be lifted onto and off of furniture (if permitted) and into and out of cars as these repeated hard motions can cause serious health issues.
Overall, basset hounds make great pets for myriad lifestyles. If you can provide daily walks and patient, consistent training, they will be more than happy to stick by your side. If you’re frequently away for long periods of time, you may want to reconsider a basset hound. It’s important to consider your lifestyle before committing to any dog. Talk to a breeder or rescue group about expectations to see if a basset hound is a good fit for you.
The basset hound’s short coat is low-maintenance and easy to groom, but the AKC recommends brushing weekly to keep shedding under control. Same goes for your basset hound’s eyes and face folds: They should be cleaned of any debris multiple times a week and give periodic baths to keep the skin healthy and limit the hound smell. Regular brushing is a good time to check for things like coat sheen (dull hair can mean a lack of nutrients in diet), nail length, and ear and dental health. Nails should be trimmed frequently—if you can hear them tapping against the floor, they’re too long. The Basset Hound Club of America recommends brushing a basset hound’s teeth with specially formulated canine toothpaste twice a week. This guide gives a thorough home health check-list full of how-tos, but remember, this doesn’t replace a visit to the veterinarian. Always reach out to your vet with any concerns.
Basset hounds will require extra weekly care to their ears, as their long floppy shape can prevent proper air circulation and lead to infections. “Those ears are built to trap scents,” Kilcommons says. “They also are mud flaps. You run a basset in the field, they’re going to come back with all sorts of junk in their ears because they’re dragging along the ground.” It’s important to talk to your vet about the proper way to check and clean your basset hound’s ears. Basset hounds’ eyes are also prone to collecting debris, so it’s important to clean around the eyes daily to avoid preventable health issues.
This breed’s ability to focus is second to none on the trail, but it suddenly disappears when obedience training begins. Basset hounds can be headstrong and because of this are slower to train. “They weren’t bred to walk along with people and pay attention to them. They were bred to put their nose to the ground, follow the scent, and make no noise all along the way,” Kilcommons says. “That is their genius. That is hardwired into them. To make progress with this breed, you have to turn the training into a game, where it’s something you’re doing together. Get some food, get some toys, get on the ground and play. All of a sudden, the nose is coming off the floor.”
The basset hound has a lifespan of 12–15 years. Like all breeds, the Basset Hound is prone to certain diseases. The Basset Hound Club of America strongly recommends breeders test for thrombopathia and complete a thorough opthamologist evaluation. The club recommends additional testing for elbow and hip dysplasia, glaucoma, hypothyroidism, bleeding disorders, and luxating patella. Of course not all basset hounds will encounter serious health issues, but it’s important to be aware of these common concerns when considering this breed. It’s important to purchase all dogs from reputable breeders who will introduce you to the dog’s parents and siblings. If adopting, ask the rescue for all available health history.
Because of their generally lethargic nature, basset hounds are prone to obesity, the BHCA says. It’s important to properly portion a basset hound’s food (talk to your vet about the best diet for your individual dog) and keep an exercise schedule of one long walk per day. Their floppy ears are also prone to infection. Follow your vet’s guidelines for proper and frequent ear evaluations.
The basset hound has long been a favorite breed for pack hunting small game, but it's widely believed their existence is a fluke. According to the BHCA, the dog is believed to be a descendent of the famed St. Hubert hounds (ancestors of today’s bloodhounds) and resulted when a gene mutation produced a dwarfed hound. Perhaps unintended, the short-legged breed proved useful for tracking small game—mostly rabbits—through thick, low brush.
The breed was popular with French aristocrats, who spent many hours on trail hunting. After the French Revolution, the breed became more commonplace. It most likely came to America by way of England in colonial times, and was recognized by the American Kennel Club as its 10th breed in 1885.
The loving basset hound has melted hearts across America through print and film. In 1928, Time magazine ran a cover story on the 52nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden, entirely told from the eyes of a basset hound puppy. The breed received further publicity as the jowly dog in Hush Puppy shoe ads in the 1960s. A basset hound was the pup of choice for Snowman in the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit and as Sheriff Rosco Coltrane’s sidekick Flash in the ’79–’85 show The Dukes of Hazzard. Today, basset hounds are still the preferred pack breed for hunting small game across England and France. As of 2019, the Basset Hound was the AKC’s 37th most popular breed.
- Bas is French for “low.”
- Be careful! Basset hounds’ ears are so long that they make a bit of a tripping hazard, especially for Dumbo-esque puppies.
- In 1956 Elvis Presley serenaded a basset hound with a special rendition of “Hound Dog” on The Steve Allen Show.
- Here comes the general: It’s widely rumored that after the American Revolution, General Marquis de Lafayette gifted George Washington basset hounds, but not everyone is sure they were indeed bassets.
- Speaking of Lafayette, a basset hound of the same name played a key role in chasing off a meddlesome butler in Disney’s Aristocats.