I grew up in rural West Virginia. One of the most common types of dog during my childhood was the scenthound. People had beagles for running rabbits. The hardcore houndsmen kept coonhounds and foxhounds, and the really die-hard ones kept what were always called “bear dogs,” usually Plott hounds or really sharp strains of coonhound, that were used to tree bears.
A beagle was put in the playpen with me when I was of formative years. The first dog that was ever designated as mine was a beagle. Unfortunately, he came home with a bad case of parvo, and in those days, that disease was a death sentence.
5-to-10-year-old me was a fan of the hound. But I noticed something early on. Most of the coonhounds and foxhounds that I knew never were kept as pets. They were usually kept tied up to oil drums or dog houses or they were penned up in the back.
The reason for this husbandry was simple. These dogs were never kept to be obedient pets. Their job was to run the trails of the quarry, give tongue, and maybe tree it or run it aground.
The dogs themselves were usually quite docile. But they were bred to make lots of noise on the trail, and many of them made lots of noise when tied up or penned up at home. Some houndsmen broke their dogs of this behavior. Others didn’t care.
But it was deeply instilled within me that large scenthounds usually don’t make the best pets. Beagles could make decent enough pets, but one had to make allowances for their baying cries and the simple fact that they were not biddable dogs.
As I have moved on from that world, I have seen a big problem that is not being widely discussed in the dog world. Currently, adoption groups and shelters in the Northeast and West Coast are in agreements with Southern and Midwestern shelters.
In some rural parts of the country, scenthounds make up a large percentage of the dogs available, and they then get shifted to the more urban environments, where they are usually offered for adoption pretty quickly.
Most of these dogs are quite docile and social, which makes them quite attractive to potential adopters. However, the staff at urban shelters often have no idea about these dogs. For example, I know of a dog that was offered for adoption as a greyhound mix when he is actually a Tennessee Treeing Brindle, which is a sort of standardizing Plott cur.
Greyhounds don’t make much noise at all. They don’t have much activity level either. But this dog loves to bay and bark, and he needs a lot of exercise.
If adoption groups and shelters are not familiar with traditional American scenthounds and the potential problems in owning one, they will be doing the dogs and the adopters a disservice.
I ran into a older woman on Facebook. We were in agreement in politics, and she liked a lot of what I had to say about various issues. She friended me, and it was all fine.
Until I saw that she had taken in two Trigg foxhounds from Mississippi as foster dogs. They had been found wandering the edge of a swamp during hunting season, and they were taken to a pound, where they wound up going to New Jersey as potential pets. The woman was excited because the dogs would “never be forced to hunt again,” and they would love living with her small dogs and cats.
I left a comment on her page that I didn’t think this would be a good match. I told her that those dogs were never forced to hunt. They were probably going to miss not being run around the pine forests and swamps down there, and they might not be the best friends with her cats. And they might not be friends with her little dogs either.
But, of course, she didn’t want to hear it. And our short little “friendship” ended.
We see lots on social media about the problems with pit bulls and poverty and pit bulls and neophyte owners.
However, the same sorts of issues apply to hounds. I remember hearing stories of someVirginia deer hunters who would go into the West Virginia “dog trades” and buy up all the incorrigible deer running beagles. In West Virginia, dogs are not allowed to chase deer during the season, and many hardcore deer hunters will shoot a dog if they catch it running deer. In Southeast Virginia, running scenthounds on deer is a time-honored tradition, but not everyone does right by the dogs.
Beagles are a dime a dozen in much of West Virginia, and selling them to Virginia deer hunters is a good way to get rid of a dog that is no longer wanted.
But at least, Virginia deer beagles get to live lives doing something very much like what they were bred for.
Foxhounds and coonhounds in apartments and suburbia could be quite disastrous. It is one thing to have an AKC-registered black-and-tan coonhound, which you got as an eight-week-old puppy. It is another to get a Treeing Walker that has been started on raccoons or even bobcats or bear and expect that dog to fit in nicely in civilization.
The amount of exercise such a dog requires is not trivial. The sound it will make will annoy the neighbors, and if it is really been trained on the raccoon or bobcat, it will probably not be safe around cats or possibly small dogs.
These dogs not make good pets for the average dog owner. They simply don’t.
You make think I hate these dogs, but I have seen enough people trying to make adopted scenthounds into tractable pets. And no, they don’t have the potential issues that one might get into with pit bulls and BBMs.
But there are issues.
Now, a lot could be done on the supply-side of this problems. In some parts of the country, there are too many hounds being bred and offered to people who will not do right by them. If a foxhound or coonhound fails as a hunter, it is going to be a hard dog to pet out. No two ways about it, and it is incumbent upon people breeding and training these dogs to find these homes.
And no, the racing greyhounds are not equivalent. Most racing greyhounds transition better as pets than large scenthounds do. Most of them will lie around the house all day, and if you ever hear one bark, you will be lucky.
These scenthound problems go even deeper than this adoption problem. Once a large scenthound breed loses its quarry, it isn’t long before it becomes defunct. Otterhounds are one of the rarest breeds in existence. Virtually no place with otters allows them to be hunted with dogs anymore.
The dogs do have their devotees. But they have the problems of all large scenthounds. They make the noise. They aren’t particularly biddable. They have a lot of need for exercise.
How you adapt such a breed into modern existence is a good question. Either new quarry is found for the dog, and for a time, they were used on invasive American mink in the UK. But then the UK banned most forms of hound hunting, and the dogs became truly obsolete.
North American houndsmen have generally avoided all griffon hounds, such as the otterhound. All of the traditional American hounds are smooth-coated. Maybe if the dogs were found to be good at hunting coypu (“nutria rat”), they might have a future as a North American hound.
But that is an uphill battle.
The truth of the matter the otterhound’s problem is the problem of all these scenthounds. They are hard to fit into modern society.
And yes, there are people who love their dogs of these breeds, but just because you love your dogs and have no problems doesn’t meant that most people will have no problems with these dogs.
They just aren’t easy, and we need to be honest about them. Nice, docile dogs, yes. But they have real challenges.