There are few breeds as recognizable in sight and sound as the bloodhound. Their droopy ears and adorable wrinkles make them an instant hit with children and adults alike, but their instinct to scent track and wall-shaking bay mean they aren’t suitable for every situation.
Keep reading to find out what it takes to own one of these outgoing and inquisitive hounds.
General Characteristics of the Bloodhound
- Other names: St Hubert Hound, Sleuth Hound
- Height: 23 to 27 inches
- Weight: 80 to 110 pounds
- Lifespan: 10 years
- Origin: Belgium, France, United Kingdom
- Colors: Red, liver and tan, black and tan
- Activity level: Moderate
- Grooming needs: Low to moderate
- Best suited for: Active families and owners
The bloodhound is a heavy-boned scent dog with loose skin, droopy long ears, and facial wrinkles. They have the best nose in the dog kingdom and have been used for centuries as trackers and now make themselves apart of many family homes.
The History of the Bloodhound
The history of the bloodhound is somewhat difficult to untangle. The United Kingdom, France, and Belgium all claim to have originated the first of this majestic breed but no definitive proof exists in any case.
What we do know for certain is that large scent hounds bred by the monks of the St. Hubert Monastery in Belgium around 1000 AD match modern bloodhounds in both physical description and hunting traits. Though there are some key differences that make it more likely these dogs served only as seed animals for the rise of modern bloods.
These dogs were used to track deer, boar, and other game through the dense forests of the area. They were so prized by the monks, that they honored the King of France with a gift of the black hunting hounds every year.
During the late 1500s, King Henry IV presented James I of England with an entire pack of the Hubert hounds, further spreading the dogs throughout Europe.
Whether the original St. Hubert dogs were true bloodhounds, or whether the breed was actually developed from that stock later on in France or the UK is impossible to say for sure. In any case, the bloodhound and their ancestors were strong scent hounds with a reputation for being able to follow scents and blood trails for great distances.
The original bloodhounds were regarded as too slow and lumbering by some huntsmen who preferred the more agile white scent hounds of the day. But the blood’s superior nose eventually won it more respect and grew its popularity throughout Europe. “Bloodhound Trials Feb 2008” by John Leslie / CC BY 2.0
Unlike the traditional hunting dog, these hounds were always kept on leash, allowing the hunters to easily follow their trail through the woods. Once the animal of interest was found, lighter, more agile pack hounds were released to flush and kill the game.
But following animal scents wasn’t the only trick up this hound’s sleeve.
As far back as the 16th century, these dogs were used to track humans. They had a unique ability to follow the trail of a single man even across rivers and well-traveled paths. In England, this ability earned them the name “sleuth hound.” Their main jobs at the time revolved around tracking trespassers, including poachers and border jumpers.
Today’s sleuth hound still spends much of its time tracking humans, both criminals and those in need of rescue. Bloods are frequently used by search and rescue teams as well as police forces.
While they make excellent working dogs, these hounds just as often find themselves in the occupation of loyal companion. Their amicable nature and gentle disposition make them great dogs for families and active individuals.
The Temperament of the Bloodhound
The bloodhound is a large dog with an even bigger bark–or rather–bay. While they need a little room to roam and are always searching for scents to follow, they can make great companion dogs in the right situation.
Because they were bred to work among large groups of other dogs and hunters, this hound must always be affable with everyone they meet. This gentleness extends to all members of the family.
These hound puppies grow fast into strong adult dogs. While most are very sweet-tempered, basic training and socialization are important to prevent these big dogs from developing bad habits. “Playing in the Park” by ann-dabney / CC BY-ND 2.0
It isn’t uncommon to see this wrinkly hound passed out like a wet rug on the porch, but don’t think that means these dogs are lazy. They were built to follow scent trails for miles on end and love to work. Companion pups will need at least one long walk each day and plenty of time in the yard.
While they do love the outdoors, be aware, these dogs are smart and driven and they aren’t likely to let much stop them from following their nose. They need a strong, sturdy fence that can’t be easily dug under. When out on the trail, make sure to use a leash as even the most obedient hound isn’t likely to respond if their nose has found something worth following.
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Because of their size and propensity to be dirty and noisy, they don’t make great dogs for apartment or city living. They enjoy long hikes, plenty of time in nature, playing with other dogs and children, and are great candidates for nose work and trailing trials.
Overall, these goofy dogs make great companions for active individuals with the means to contain their exuberant personalities. It also helps if you don’t mind a little slobber, stink, or mess.
Learn more about this wrinkly hound in the above episode of Dogs101.
Health Issues Common to the Bloodhound Breed
Early death is, sadly, not uncommon for this breed. A range of health issues and increased susceptibility for certain conditions can make keeping a bloodhound healthy and happy into the double digits a challenge.
Here are some of the most common health issues seen in the breed.
- Elbow and hip dysplasia
- Ear infections
- Skin infections
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Dry eye
The characteristic wrinkles of a bloodhound may serve an important purpose during trailing, but they also make them susceptible to a number of health issues including skin and ear infections and eye problems.
By far, the most serious concern for bloodhound owners is bloat, which is the most common cause of death for the breed, just ahead of cancer. Because of their large size, and especially barrel-shaped chest, these dogs are plagued by the condition even more often than some giant breeds.
All bloodhound owners should be aware of the signs of bloat and how best to prevent the condition from happening in the first place.
Bloat occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with gas and then flips, causing blood flow to be restricted to vital organs. Without treatment, a bloating dog will most likely die within just a couple of hours.
Early signs of bloat include pacing/unease, panting, constantly looking back at their stomach, and unproductive vomiting. As vital organs lose blood supply, the system will begin to go into shock. You may notice your dog becomes suddenly listless with pale gums.
The sooner you act and get your dog to the vet, the better their chances of survival.
Because bloat is so common in bloods, all owners should take precautions to reduce the odds of it occurring. Some owners may choose to have gastropexy done–where the stomach is stitched to the abdominal wall–during their dog’s spay or neuter surgery.
Less invasive means to lower the odds of bloat include only feeding small portions of food at each sitting, never exercising your dog within two hours after they eat, and choosing quality food that limits the potential for gas build up in the stomach.
It was once thought that feeding your dog from an elevated food bowl would prevent bloating, but now we know that it can actually increase the risk.
In addition to always feeding your dog at ground level, bloodhounds require special attention to avoid them eating things they shouldn’t. These dogs are known for using their nose to get into all sorts of things from dead animals to full bags of kibble in the pantry. Taking special care to limit your dog’s access to these items will also decrease their risk.
While bloat is a serious concern for all of these wrinkly hounds, other health conditions like dysplasia and eye problems can be avoided by choosing a reputable breeder. If you are more interested in adopting a bloodhound, there are many rescues who specialize in rehoming these loveable hounds.
These hounds can come in three colors: solid red of various shades, black and tan, or liver and tan. The colored saddle of the bi-color types can cover just a small portion of the back or extend down the legs and up the neck.
Do Bloodhounds Do Well With Children and Other Pets?
While bloodhounds are typically gentle and loving with children, their large size and powerful bodies can make them a little much for younger children. They do enjoy rowdy play and can make great companions for older kids, however.
As with all dogs, it is important to socialize your hound puppy early and often. Exposing them to a variety of situations, people, and other dogs will help them grow into confident adults who will remain easy-going and carefree in all types of environments.
Because they were bred to run in large packs and work with all types of other hunting hounds, most bloods do well with other dogs. They tend to be curious and sociable when first introduced to other canines and often very playful, especially when they are young. Most will do well in a house with other dogs, but, because they are so strong, small breeds may not be the best choice as playmates.
While they are technically hunting dogs, their job during the hunt is to track the game. Rarely would they ever be involved in the actual taking down of the animal. For this reason, they don’t possess the same ingrained prey drive as other hounds and tend to do better with small animals than breeds like the foxhound or greyhound.
But their ability to peacefully coexist with cats and other small pets will depend on each dog’s specific personality and how well they were socialized as puppies.
These playful hounds usually do well with other dogs so long as they were properly socialized when they were young. “Puppy Play” by ann-dabney / CC BY-ND 2.0
What to Consider Before Bringing Home a Bloodhound
Think you have what it takes to provide the right home for one of these baying scent hounds? Here are a few more things to consider before you commit.
Bloodhounds have been known to follow scent trails for miles–sometimes hundreds of miles–without stopping. These are highly driven dogs that enjoy having a task or something to focus on. You should be able to commit to at least one long walk or a nice hike in nature every day to tire your hound out. Better yet, consider getting involved in nose work trials, dog sports, or volunteer with your local search and rescue for the opportunity to use your dog for their intended purpose and do some good for the community.
Bloods that don’t get enough attention or exercise are likely to tell you and all your neighbors about it. Even those that are perfectly content are likely to bay from time to time, so living with them in close quarters can be a challenge.
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These sensitive hounds should be easy to train because they want to please you and react equally fast to a stern glare as they do to a pat on the head. They are, however, very stubborn, highly distractible, and prone to following their nose wherever it goes, whether you like it or not. Once they get their mind set on a task it can be difficult to redirect them, further complicating training efforts.
Unlike most dogs, these hounds were bred to walk their humans, not the other way around. So don’t expect your bloodhound to walk well on leash, especially if you are on the trail. Early puppy classes are a must to set up boundaries and establish good habits early on before your pup becomes too independent.
Don’t expect to let your hound roam free on hikes or walks around the park. These nose-driven dogs are likely to take off after any smell that catches their attention. “The Ref” by MJ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
While this hound does have a short, fairly easy to care for coat, they still need a lot of grooming attention. Most of your energy will be focused on keeping their big lop ears clean and free from infection. Even their large skin folds are subject to skin irritation if they get too moist and may need to be wiped down daily.
Beyond general upkeep, bloodhounds are known for their ability to get into messy–and stinky–situations. Their nose can lead them into all sorts of trouble. Because of this, they often require more frequent bathing. They also shed consistently and need their nails trimmed every six weeks.
These hounds are prone to GI issues and sensitive stomachs, so some care must be taken in finding the right food for them. Quality, protein-rich diets will help promote a healthy coat and reduce the odds of some cancers. Because of their bloat risk, you may even consider feeding a wet food, dehydrated, or freeze-dried diet to reduce the increased bloat risk associated with dry kibble. Even supplementing some canned food into their dry can reduce the risk.
Because these dogs are so heavy boned and weigh well over 70 pounds at maturity, you should only feed a large breed specific puppy food to control growth. Once your dog hits their adult size around one year, you can switch to a large breed or general breed adult food.
Purebred bloodhound puppies cost about as much as the average breed, anywhere from $700 to $1400. For a show line, you can expect to pay closer to $5000.
Overall, the bloodhound is a large dog with multiple known health issues. You should expect owning one to run up a slightly higher bill than the average breed.
While these dogs most often work alone in the search for missing persons, they were traditionally used in large packs similar to foxhounds and other hunting dogs. “The Royal Norfolk Show 29-06-2011” by Karen Roe / CC BY 2.0
10 Fun Facts About the Bloodhound
Now that you know what it takes to own a bloodhound, here are some fun facts about the breed.
- This hound has unusually thick bones and owes most of their mass to their skeletal structure.
- A bloodhound once trailed a person over 135 miles across Kansas.
- The breed almost died out multiple times and has only gained popularity and numbers in the last century, especially in the US.
- Whether the St. Hubert hound and the bloodhound are the same breed or just related breeds is hotly contested, but today’s English bloodhound is often called a St. Hubert hound.
- These hounds were used to guard the Scottish border and track raiders in the country.
- The wrinkles around the hound’s eyes serve as blinders to keep them focused on the scent while their nose is to the ground.
- Their long ears also serve a purpose by wafting scents off the ground and toward their nose.
- Ironically, given the confusion over their origin, the term “bloodhound” was given to the dogs to highlight that they were pure of blood and intentionally bred.
- These amazing scent hounds can follow smells over 300 hours old.
- Bloodhounds’ noses are so accurate that they are admissible in a court of law and many police hounds have been called upon to corroborate the prosecution’s case.
Before You Go
Wondering if a scent-obsessed hound is really the right choice for you? Here are a few more breeds worth considering.
“Bruce” by Natalie Maynor / CC BY 2.0
Sara Seitz has spent most of her life in the pet industry and has a bachelors in animal behavior from Colorado State University. Sara started working with dogs and cats as a high schooler at a rural boarding kennel. There she learned a lot about the bad and the ugly of the pet service industry. But not even the toughest day at that job would dissuade Sara from following her dream of working with animals.
In college, Sara got a job at a dog daycare and boarding facility in Fort Collins, Colorado. Her new career provided even more opportunities for learning about dog behavior than her classes did. As general manager of the daycare, Sara helped the company launch a new in-home pet sitting branch and trained to become a certified dog trainer. Between shifts taking care of peoples pets in-home and supervising dogs during playtime at the daycare, Sara organized and taught obedience classes.
Sara has always been passionate about bettering the lives of our canine companions. She soon found that advocating for and educating owners in the power of positive reinforcement training was one of the best ways to help dogs and their owners live happier lives.