Bloodhounds are affable, docile dogs when hanging out at home and eager, relentless trackers when they’re on the scent. There’s a reason bloodhounds are famous for detective work—they have a keener sense of smell than any other breed of dog.
Owning a bloodhound takes work. As the American Bloodhound Club puts it, “They are big, powerfully built, slobber, and they eat a lot.” But if you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll be rewarded with a loyal companion who will make you laugh and love you forever. Mournful eyes, wrinkled faces, and long, droopy ears give the bloodhound the appearance of a sleepy old man, endearing them to generations of dog owners.
Bloodhounds are such effective trackers because of their wrinkled skin, and long, droopy jowls and ears—all features that help intensify scents, says Landa Coldiron, a bloodhound handler in California who specializes in finding lost pets. Even the breed’s signature droopy eyefolds play a part: The skin drops down and covers up their eyes when they have their noses to the ground, allowing them to focus their attention on the scent trail.
Bloodhounds also have incredible endurance; they’re able to cover lots of ground for a long time. Male dogs are typically 25–27 inches tall, weighing 90–110 pounds, while female ones are 23–25 inches tall and weigh 80–100 pounds. Some bloodhounds can get even larger, so be prepared: Your little bloodhound puppy is going to get big.
Bloodhounds have eyes that vary in color from deep hazel to yellow, and have a short, dense coat that comes in three standard colors: black and tan, liver and tan, and red.
Not to be confused with a basset hound, bloodhounds are much larger and heavier than their short-legged cousins.
Despite the image of the bloodhound lounging sleepily on the porch, this breed is actually quite active. Bored bloodhounds (especially puppies) will resort to chewing, digging, and destroying furniture. They love going on walks and hikes. As pack animals, bloodhounds get along with other dogs and even cats. “They’re gentle giants for sure,” Coldiron says. “They’re just not an aggressive breed at all.” Bloodhounds enjoy children, however, the American Bloodhound Club notes that the large dog can inadvertently knock over very small children.
In general, bloodhounds are not used as watchdogs. They don’t bark often, tending instead to bay (making a long “rooo” sound) when they smell something interesting. Most bloodhound owners report that their dogs are stubborn and not always the star of the doggy obedience class. However, they are intelligent and can be trained with the right techniques; start in an area with few distracting scents, and work in short, frequent sessions.
Just remember that a bloodhound can have a one-track mind. Once they’ve caught a scent, they’re going to be intently focused on that scent—whether it’s something in your garbage, a trail leading across the street, or your favorite t-shirt.
Given how large and active bloodhounds are, they do best in a home with a large, fenced-in yard. The fence should be at least 6 feet high, and secured underground, because bloodhounds dig—and if they’ve caught the scent of something interesting, they’ll go after it at all costs. “They’re escape artists,” Coldiron says. “They have wanderlust for sure.” She recommends making sure that your dog is microchipped and has some kind of ID on them.
Bloodhounds love the outdoors and enjoy hikes and splashing in water (though they are generally not built for swimming). Because of their scent drive, it’s important to keep your bloodhound on-leash at all times when outdoors. They could otherwise take off after a scent for miles and even wander into oncoming traffic.
At home, you’ll need to make sure food and garbage are secured, and that nothing edible is left on countertops—bloodhounds have a reputation as counter-surfers.
Bloodhounds have a short coat, but they will shed once or twice a year. Weekly brushing will help keep hair off of your furniture, and regular bathing will help cut down on the bloodhound’s doggy odor.
Regular grooming is also essential for bloodhound health. It’s important to wipe their eyes daily with a tissue or cotton pad to prevent crusty buildup, and clean out their ears with unscented baby wipes or a liquid ear drying solution. Check the skin folds around their face for itchiness or smell, as moisture can easily get trapped in the folds. Bloodhounds also drool quite a bit, another trait that helps them as trackers. The drool moistens whatever gives off aromas, making it easier to smell.
To keep your bloodhound active and happy, he’ll need regular exercise. Each bloodhound is a little different, and younger dogs need more exercise than older dogs. You can take your bloodhound on walks or hikes, or play a game of fetch with him.
Regular grooming is an important part of maintaining your bloodhound’s health. Because their skin and ears can easily harbor moisture, it’s important to keep an eye out for discoloration, excessive itching, and off-odors in their ears and skin folds.
You might also notice the bloodhounds are prone to having red eyes. That’s usually because the bloodhound’s skin is so droopy, it pulls the eyelids down and either causes the eyelashes to irritate the eye, or pulls the tear ducts away from the eyes. Talk to your vet to discuss your bloodhound’s eye condition and determine the best course of action.
Additionally, bloodhounds are also particularly prone to bloat, also called GDV, a life-threatening condition that occurs when the dog’s stomach becomes stretched and rotated, cutting off blood flow to the organs. It’s important for dog owners to learn the symptoms of bloat and to get their dog to the vet immediately if the condition arises.
The third-century Roman scholar Aelian mentions a hound with unparalleled scenting abilities that some historians say was an early bloodhound. This bloodhound-type dog appeared in Europe long before the Crusades, likely brought over from Constantinople.
After that, the bloodhound we know today was carefully developed by high-ranking church officials in the monasteries of Western Europe, which is where the name “bloodhound” comes from; they were dogs of aristocratic blood. Early bloodhounds were bred at the Saint-Hubert monastery in Belgium, which is why the dog is called the “chien de Saint-Hubert” in French.
It’s no accident that Saint Hubert is the patron saint of hunters. Bloodhounds were used to pick up the scent of boars and deer during medieval hunts. They’ve also been used to track down people since the breed’s early days: At times, for dark purposes (such as tracking escaped slaves) and at others, for noble ones (like finding lost children).
The modern bloodhound was recognized by the American Kennel Association in 1885, and is still employed by many police departments and detectives.