The Basset’s long, heavy body and short legs make this breed easy to follow on foot, and give it an edge in dense cover. The Basset Hound has heavier bone, in proportion to total size, than any other breed. This dog’s thick, tight coat protects from brambles without becoming caught in them. It is speculated that the long ears may stir up ground scent, and the wrinkles trap the scent around the face. The large muzzle gives ample room for the olfactory apparatus. Such room would not be available in a miniature dog; only a large dog with shortened legs can combine the short height with large muzzle size. The Basset’s movement is smooth and powerful; they tend to move with nose to the ground.
The first mention of the “Basset” dog is found in a sixteenth-century text about badger hunting. Dwarfed short-legged specimens occur in many breeds and have been known since ancient times, but it is difficult to know at what point such dogs were purposefully bred and which ones led to the present Basset Hound. There is, in fact, evidence that dwarfed hounds existed alongside full-sized hounds as long ago as the fifth century a.d. in France.
The word Basset is derived from the French bas meaning low thing or dwarf, so that definitive evidence of the breed may be hard to follow. Short-legged dogs were used by the pre-Revolutionary French for hunting at a slower pace, but most of these dogs were dispersed, and their fates undocumented, during the French Revolution. The history becomes clearer after the Revolution, when greater numbers of commoners took up hunting, often aided by guns. They needed a dog that they could follow on foot, but that still had great scenting ability and strong heavy bone—in essence, a short-legged version of the pack hounds popular with the aristocracy. Because the Basset could not pursue quarry at speed, the quarry was less likely to be on the run and thus presented an easier target for the gunman. The dogs would hunt all mammals but were especially suited for rabbits and hares.
Four different versions of short-legged hounds were created, with the Basset Artesien Normand most closely resembling today’s Basset. In the late 1800s (and again in 1930), crosses with Bloodhounds were made to increase size; the results were then tempered with subsequent crosses to the Artesien Normand.
The first Bassets were brought to England and America in the late 1800s, and interest in the breed grew gradually. In 1885, the Basset Hound became one of the first breeds to be AKC recognized. By the mid 1900s, the Basset’s droll expression had won a place in advertising and entertainment and in many new pet owner’s hearts.
The Basset Hound is among the most good natured and easygoing of breeds. This breed is amiable with dogs, other pets, and children, although children must be cautioned not to put strain on this and all dogs’ backs with their games. The Basset is calm inside, but needs regular exercise in order to keep fit. They prefer to investigate slowly, and love to sniff and trail. These are talented and determined trackers, not easily dissuaded from their course. Because of this, they may get on a trail and follow it until becoming lost. This dog tends to be stubborn and slow moving. Bassets have a loud bay that they use when excited on the trail.
The Basset needs mild daily exercise, which can be satisfied by walking on leash or playing in the yard. The coat needs only minimal grooming, but the face may need regular cleaning around the mouth and wrinkles to combat odor. Bassets tend to drool.