Male Bloodhound
Other names Chien de Saint-Hubert
St. Hubert Hound

Sleuth hound

Country of origin Belgium/France or England/Scotland
Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

The Bloodhound (also known as the St. Hubert hound and Sleuth Hound) is a large breed of dog which, while originally bred to track game, was later refined specifically to track human beings. It is a scenthound, tracking by smell, as opposed to a sighthound, which tracks using vision. It is famed for its ability to discern human odors even days later, over great distances. Its extraordinarily keen nose is combined with a strong and tenacious tracking instinct, producing the ideal scent hound, and it is used by police and law enforcement all over the world to track escaped prisoners, missing people, lost children and even lost pets.



Bloodhounds weigh from 33 to 50 kg (80 to 110 lbs), although some individuals can weigh as much as 72 kg (160 lb). They stand 58 to 69 cm (23 to 27 inches) high at the withers. According to the AKC standard of the breed, larger dogs are to be preferred by conformation judges. The acceptable colors for Bloodhounds are black , liver , tan, or red. Bloodhounds possess an unusually large skeletal structure with most of their weight concentrated in their bones, which are very thick for their length. The coat is typical for a scenthound: hard and composed of fur alone, with no admixture of hair.


This breed is a gentle dog which is nonetheless tireless in following a scent. Because of its strong tracking instinct, it can be willful and somewhat difficult to obedience train. Bloodhounds have an affectionate, gentle, and even-tempered nature, so they make excellent family pets. However, like any large breed, they require supervision when around small children.



Compared to other purebred dogs, Bloodhounds have an unusually high rate of gastrointestinal ailments, with bloat being the most common type of gastrointestinal problem.[1] The breed also suffers an unusually high incidence of eye, skin, and ear ailments;[1] thus these areas should be inspected frequently for signs of developing problems. Owners should be especially aware of the signs of bloat, which is both the most common illness and the leading cause of death of Bloodhounds. The thick coat gives the breed the tendency to overheat quickly.

Lifespan and mortality

Bloodhounds in a 2004 UK Kennel Club survey had a median longevity of 6.75 years,[1] which makes them one of the shortest-lived of dog breeds.[2] The oldest of the 82 deceased dogs in the survey died at the age of 12.1 years. Bloat took 34% of the animals, making it the most common cause of death and the Bloodhound the breed to lose the most to the condition. The second leading cause of death in the study was cancer, at 27%; this percentage is similar to other breeds, but the median age of death was unusually young (median of about 8 years).[1]


Bloodhounds circa 1915

Chien de St Hubert

The St Hubert was, according to legend, first bred ca. 1000 AD by monks at the Saint-Hubert Monastery in Belgium; its origins are likely in France, home of many of modern hounds.

From ca. 1200 the monks of the Abbey of St Hubert annually sent several pairs of black hounds as a gift to the King of France. They were not always highly thought of in the royal pack. Charles IX 1550-74, preferred the larger Chien-gris, and wrote that the St Huberts were suitable for people with gout to follow, but not for those who wished to shorten the life of the hunted animal. He described them as pack-hounds of medium stature, and long in the body, not well sprung in the rib and of no great strength.[3] Writing in 1561 Jaques de Fouilloux describes them as strong of body, but with low, short legs. He says they have become mixed in breeding, so that they are now of all colours and widely distributed.[4] Both writers thought them only useful as leash hounds.

They appear to have been more highly thought of during the reign of Henry IV (1553–1610), who presented a pack to James I of England. By the end of the reign of Louis XIV (1715), they were already rare.[5][6] In 1788, D’Yauville who was master of the Royal hounds says those sent by the St Hubert monks, once much prized, had degenerated, and scarcely one of the annual gift of six or eight was now kept.[7]

Upon the French Revolution of 1789 the gifts ceased, and hunting in France went into a decline till the end of the Napoleonic wars. When it recovered during the 19th Century, huntsmen, with many breeds to choose from, seem to have had little interest in the St Hubert. An exception was Baron Le Couteulx de Canteleu, who tried to find them. He reported that there were hardly any to be found in France and those to be met with in the Ardennes had been so much crossed that they had not preserved the characteristics of the breed.[6][8]

It was generally agreed among writers on the Bloodhound in the last two centuries that the original St Hubert strain died out in the nineteenth century, and that the European St Hubert owes its present existence to the development of the Bloodhound.[5][8][9][10]


References to the Bloodhound begin to appear in English writing in the mid 14th century, in contexts which suggest it was well established by then.[11][12] It is often claimed that its ancestors were brought over from Normandy by William the Conqueror, but there is no actual evidence for this. That the Normans brought hounds from Europe during the post-Conquest period is a virtual certainty, but whether they included the Bloodhound itself, rather than ancestors from which the Bloodhound was subsequently developed, is a matter of dispute which is probably not resolvable on the basis of surviving evidence.

In Medieval hunting the typical use of the Bloodhound was as a ‘limer’, or ‘lyam-hound’, that is a dog handled on a leash or ‘lyam’, to find the hart or boar before it was hunted by the pack hounds (raches). It was prized for its ability to hunt the cold scent of an individual animal, and, though it did not usually take part in the kill, it was given a special reward from the carcase.[13]

It also seems that from the earliest times the Bloodhound was used to track people. There are stories written in Medieval Scotland of Robert the Bruce (in 1307), and William Wallace (1270–1305) being followed by 'sleuth hounds’.[14][15] Whether true or not, these stories show that the sleuth hound was already known as a man-trailer, and it later becomes clear that the sleuth hound and the Bloodhound were the same animal.

English Bloodhound 1563

In the 16th century, John Caius,[16] in unquestionably the most important single source in the history of the Bloodhound, describes its hanging ears and lips, its use in game parks to follow the scent of blood, which gives it its name, its ability to track thieves and poachers by their foot scent, how it casts if it has lost the scent when thieves cross water, and its use on the Scottish borders to track cross-border raiders, known as Border Reivers. This links it to the sleuth hound,[17] and from Caius also comes the information that the English Bloodhound and the sleuth hound were essentially the same, though the Bloodhound was slightly bigger, with more variation in coat colour.[18]

The picture on the right was published in Zurich in 1563, in Conrad Gesner's Thierbuch (a compendium of animals) with the captions: 'Englischen Blüthund' and 'Canis Sagax Sanguinarius apud Anglos' (English scent hound with associations of blood). It was drawn by, or under the supervision of, John Caius, and sent to Gesner with other drawings to illustrate his descriptions of British dogs for European readers. It is thus the earliest known picture published specifically to demonstrate the appearance of the Bloodhound. We are told it was done from life,[18] and detail such as the soft hang of the ear indicates it was carefully observed. Fully accurate or not, it suggests changes between the Bloodhound of then and today. The collar and long coiled rope reflect the Bloodhound’s typical functions as a limer or leashed man-trailer in that period.

A brace of Bloodhounds used to find deer for the gun 1826

The earliest known report of a trial of the Bloodhound's trailing abilities comes from the scientist Robert Boyle[5], who described how a Bloodhound tracked a man seven miles along a route frequented by people, and found him in an upstairs room of a house.[19]

With the rise of fox-hunting, the decline of deer-hunting, and the extinction of the wild boar, as well as a more settled state of society, the use of the Bloodhound diminished. It was kept by the aristocratic owners of a few deer-parks[19] and by a few enthusiasts,[6] with some variation in type, until its popularity began to increase again with the rise of dog-showing in the 19th Century.[5] Numbers, however, have remained low in Britain. Very few survived the Second World War, but the gene-pool has gradually been replenished with imports from America. Nevertheless, because of UK quarantine restrictions, importing was expensive and difficult, throughout the 20th century, and in the post-war period exports to the USA, and to Europe where the population had also been affected by the war, considerably exceeded imports.[20]

A probable ancestor of all today's pedigree Bloodhounds, 1902

During the later 19th century numbers of Bloodhounds were imported from Britain by French enthusiasts, who regretted the extinction of the ancient St Hubert. They wished to re-establish it, using the Bloodhound, which, despite its developments in Britain, they regarded as the St Hubert preserved unchanged. Many of the finest specimens were bought and exhibited and bred in France as Chiens de St Hubert, especially by Le Couteulx de Canteleu, who himself bred over 300. Whatever few original St Huberts remained either died out or were absorbed into the new population.[6][8] As a result, the Bloodhound became known on parts of the Continent as the Chien de Saint Hubert, and is recognised under that name by the Federation Cynologique Internationale. Its country of origin is given by the FCI as Belgium, while the UK Kennel Club regards it as a native British breed, though accepting the European St Huberts as Bloodhounds.

In Le Couteulx’ book of 1890 we read that ‘Le Chien de St Hubert actuel’ is very big, from 0m,69 to 0m,80 (27½-31½in) high.[5] This does not accord with the 16th century descriptions of the St Hubert given above, nor with the FCI standard, but the idea that the St Hubert is much bigger (up to 0.915m, 36 in) than the Bloodhound persisted well into the 20th century, among some St Hubert enthusiasts.[21]

When the first Bloodhounds were exported to the USA is not known. Bloodhounds were used to track runaway slaves before the American Civil War, but it has been questioned whether the dogs used were genuine Bloodhounds. However, in the later part of the 19th century, and in the next, more pure Bloodhounds were introduced from Britain, and bred in America, especially after 1888, when the English breeder, Edwin Brough, brought three of his hounds to exhibit at the Westminster KC show in New York City. He went into partnership with Mr J L Winchell, who with other Americans, imported more stock from Britain.[10] Bloodhounds in America have been more widely used in tracking lost people and criminals - often with brilliant success - than in Britain, and the history of the Bloodhound in America is full of the man-trailing exploits of outstanding Bloodhounds and their expert handlers, the most famous hound being Nick Carter.[10][22] Law enforcement agencies have been much involved in the use of Bloodhounds, and there is a National Police Bloodhound Association, originating in 1962.[23]

In Britain there have been instances from time to time of the successful use of the Bloodhound to track criminals or missing people. However man-trailing is enjoyed as a sport by British Bloodhound owners, through national working trials, and this enthusiasm has also spread to Europe. In addition while the pure Bloodhound is used to hunt singly there are also several Bloodhound packs which use Bloodhounds with some degree of foxhound outcrossing to hunt the human scent.

Meanwhile the Bloodhound has become widely distributed internationally, though numbers are small in most countries, with more in the USA than anywhere else. Following the spread of the Bloodhound from Britain in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, imports and exports and, increasingly, artificial insemination, are maintaining the world population as a common breeding stock, without a great deal of divergence in type in different countries.

Bloodhounds are now coloured red, black and tan or liver and tan; however, until Elizabethan times they also occurred in other solid colours, including white, and all other hound colours.[24] It is possible that the Talbot, now extinct, was a white Bloodhound, but this is uncertain.

During the late 19th century, Bloodhounds were frequent subjects for artists such as Edwin Landseer[25] and Briton Riviere; the dogs depicted are close in appearance to modern Bloodhounds, indicating that the essential character of the Bloodhound predates modern dog breeding. However, the dogs depicted by Landseer show less wrinkle and haw than modern dogs.[10]

Breed standards

Descriptions of the desirable physical qualities of a hunting hound go back to Medieval books on hunting.[13] All dogs used in the hunting field were 'gentle',[16] that is of good breeding (not necessarily pure breeding), and parents were carefully chosen to maintain and improve conformation. In 1896, making some use of wording found in earlier descriptions, Edwin Brough and Dr J Sidney Turner published Points and Characteristics of the Bloodhound or Sleuth-Hound.[26] This was adopted by the newly-formed Association of Bloodhound Breeders, and ultimately became, with very little change, the 'official' breed standard of the KC and the AKC. Meanwhile, the Belgian or Dutch Comte Henri de Bylandt, or H A graaf van Bylandt, published Races des Chiens[27] in 1897, a huge and very important illustrated compilation of breed descriptions, or standards. In this French edition the Bloodhound appears as the Chien de St Hubert, although the hounds illustrating the standard are all British Bloodhounds, many of them those of Edwin Brough. The book was revised and reprinted in four languages in 1904, and in this edition the English text of the standard is that of the Association of Bloodhound Breeders, while the French text is closely based on it. However, the present FCI standard uses a quite different layout and wording. The AKC standard has hardly been altered from the original of 1896, the principal change being that the colours, 'black and tan', 'red and tan', and 'tawny', have been renamed as 'black and tan', 'liver and tan', and 'red', but the British KC [6] has made considerable changes. Some of these were simply matters of presentation and did not affect content. However, responding to the view that the requirements of some breed standards were potentially detrimental to the health or well-being of the animal, changes have been made affecting the required eye-shape and the loose skin, the most recent revision being 2008-9.

Derivation of name

Most recent accounts will say that the etymological meaning is ‘hound of pure or noble blood’. This derives from an original suggestion of Le Couteulx de Canteleu[5][8] in the nineteenth century, which has been enthusiastically and uncritically espoused by later writers, perhaps because it absolved this undoubtedly good-natured dog from suggestions of bloodthirstiness. Neither Le Couteulx nor anyone since has offered any historical evidence to support this view. Before that the word had been taken to mean, roughly, ‘blood seeking hound’. This was the explanation put forward by John Caius,[16] who was one of the most learned men of his time, and had an interest in etymology, in the sixteenth century. It is supported by considerable historical linguistic evidence, which can be gleaned from such sources as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED): the fact that first uses of the word ‘blood’ to refer to good breeding in an animal post date the first use of ‘Bloodhound’; that other comparable uses, as in ‘blood-horse’ and ‘blood-stock’ appear many centuries later; and that derogatory uses of the word ‘Bloodhound’, which any suggestion of noble breeding would sadly weaken, appear from as early as c1400.[28] Other early sources tell us that hounds were supposed to have an interest in blood, and that the Bloodhound was used to follow the trail of a wounded animal.[15][29] In the absence of anything in early usage, or any historical evidence whatsoever, to support the modern explanation, the older must be regarded as correct.

Scenting ability

The Bloodhound's physical characteristics account for its ability to follow a scent trail left several days in the past. Under optimal conditions, a Bloodhound can detect as few as one or two cells. The Bloodhound's nasal chambers (where scents are identified) are larger than those of most other breeds. The large, long pendent ears serve to prevent wind from scattering nearby skin cells while the dog's nose is on the ground; the folds of wrinkled flesh under the lips and neck—called the shawl—serve to catch stray scent particles in the air or on a nearby branch as the Bloodhound is scenting, reinforcing the scent in the dog's memory and nose.[30]

The number of olfactory receptor cells are 4 billion in a bloodhound, compared to just 12 million in a human and 100 million in a rabbit [31]

The surface area of bloodhound olfactory epithelium is 59 compared to human's 10 [31]


A common misconception is that Bloodhounds are employed in packs; while this is sometimes the case in Britain, in North America, Bloodhounds are used as solitary trackers. When they are on a trail, they are usually silent and do not give voice as other scenthounds. The original use of the Bloodhound as a leash-hound, to find but not disturb animals, would require silent trailing.

Nevertheless, the Bloodhound bay is among the most impressive of hound voices. When hunting in a pack they are expected to be in full cry. They are more likely to 'give tongue, 'throw their tongue' or 'speak' when hunting in a pack than when hunting singly, and more when hunting free than when on the leash. The quality of 'speaking to the line', that is giving tongue when on the correct scent while remaining silent when off it, is valued in British Bloodhound circles, on aesthetic grounds and because it makes it very easy to 'read' the hound's tracking behaviour. As a result special trophies for speaking to the correct line are on offer at British working trials (where hounds hunt singly), although rarely awarded.

Bloodhound Packs

The Coakham pack of Bloodhounds starting a human trail in England

The Medieval Bloodhound was not primarily a pack hound, but a leash hound, though there may have been packs in different places or at different times. Up to the nineteenth century, a single hound or a brace was used on deer-parks, to find deer for the gun. However, mid century two packs appeared, that of Thomas Neville, who hunted in the New Forest area, and who preferred very black hounds, and that of Lord Wolverton. Both these hunted semi-domesticated deer (‘carted deer’), which were recaptured on being brought to bay, and returned home. It was said of Lord Wolverton's hounds that he found it difficult to get them to hunt as a pack, because each liked to follow the scent on his own. Eventually many were sold to Le Couteulx de Canteleu and taken to France. At the turn of the century several packs existed briefly, following either deer, or the ‘clean boot’ - individual human scent without any enhancement such as animal blood or aniseed.[32] Since the second world war there have been several packs, perhaps most notably that of Eric Furness, who introduced a cross to a Dumfriesshire foxhound into his Peak Bloodhounds.[9] Generally Masters of Bloodhounds since then have followed the practice of maintaining a level of outcross breeding in their packs to improve speed and agility, while retaining Bloodhound type. These packs hunt the clean boot and are followed by a field on horseback.

Noteworthy Bloodhounds

Grafton was the Bloodhound in Landseer's famous painting Dignity and Impudence[7] (1839). Both dogs in the picture belonged to Jacob Bell.[25]

Mr T A Jennings' Ch Druid, known as 'Old Druid' was the first Bloodhound champion. Born in 1857 he was later bought by Emperor Napoleon III for his son, Prince Eugene Louis Jean Joseph, and taken to France. Photographs of him, of another famous hound, Cowen's Druid, and a bitch named Countess, appear in a rare book[6] from 1865 in the British Library[8], and may be the oldest photographs of Bloodhounds to have survived.

A Bloodhound named Nick Carter is frequently cited as the archetype of the trailing Bloodhound and the extensive publicity this dog received may be the source of much Bloodhound-related folklore. Born in 1900, Nick Carter was owned and handled by Captain G.V. Mullikin of Lexington, Kentucky; he is credited with more than 650 finds, including one that required him to follow a trail 300 hours old, that is 12 days.[10][22]

Ch. Heathers Knock on Wood, known as "Knotty", is one of the most awarded Bloodhounds of all time; he has received more Best-in-Shows than any other Bloodhound and is the first liver-and-tan Bloodhound ever to win a Best-in-Show. Knotty was awarded the Best-in-Show at the Eukanuba Tournament in 2005 and won the Hound Group in the Westminster Kennel Club Show in that same year. Knotty's offspring have also proven to be able showdogs and as a result of a very high amount of his puppies being awarded the title of "Champion" by the AKC, Knotty was inducted into the AKC's Stud Dog Hall of Fame shortly before his death in Spring of 2008.

On the popular 1960s sitcom Beverly Hillbillies, veteran canine actor Stretch portrayed Jed's Bloodhound Duke.

The US Army 615th Military Police Company, mascot is a Bloodhound named for the Company's pet and mascot during Vietnam named Andy.

Fictional Bloodhounds

In popular culture

  • A Bloodhound is seen when Big Daddy went outside while they were putting new light bulbs in the porch light in a 1958 classic movie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
  • The Bloodhound is seen in the 2009 film, Hotel for Dogs.
  • Bloodhound featured in Christopher Guest film, Best in Show
  • A pack of Bloodhounds are used to track down Paul Newman's character in Cool Hand Luke.
  • A Bloodhound is seen while Lennie and Eli are tracking down the title character in the 1991 film, Bingo.
  • A Bloodhound is seen as part of the dog pack in Secondhand Lions.
  • The Bloodhound is seen in The Borrowers (1997 film).
  • Lightning the Bloodhound is seen in Racing Stripes, voiced by Snoop Dogg.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Kennel Club/British Small Animal Veterinary Association Scientific Committee. 2004. Purebred Dog Health Survey. Retrieved July 5, 2007
  2. ^ Dog Longevity Web Site, Weight and Longevity page. Compiled by K. M. Cassidy. Retrieved July 5, 2007
  3. ^ Charles IX (1625) (in French). La Chasse Royale. Retrieved September 27, 2009. 
  4. ^ du Fouilloux, Jaques (1561). La Venerie de Jaques du Fouilloux [1]. 
  5. ^ a b c d e de Canteleu, Le Couteulx (1890). Manuel de Vénerie Française. 
  6. ^ a b c d e de Canteleu, Le Couteulx (1865). La Vénerie Française à l'Exposition de 1865,à l'Union de Tous les Chasseurs de France. 
  7. ^ Buchanan-Jardine Bt MFH MBH, Sir John (1937). Hounds of the World. 
  8. ^ a b c d Brough, Edwin (1902). The Bloodhound and its use in Tracking Criminals. 
  9. ^ a b Lowe, Brian (1981). Hunting the Clean Boot. ISBN 0713709502. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Brey, CF; Reed, LF (1978). The Complete Bloodhound. ISBN 0876050526. 
  11. ^ Anonymous (c1350). William of Palerne or William and the Werwolf (line 2183). 
  12. ^ Anonymous (c1350). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (line 1436). 
  13. ^ a b Turbervile, George (1575). The Noble Art of Venerie or Huntyng [2]. 
  14. ^ Barbour, John (1375). The Bruce. 
  15. ^ a b Henry the Minstrel (Blind Harry) (1470). The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace. 
  16. ^ a b c Caius, John (1576). Fleming, Abraham. ed. Of Englisshe Dogges [3]. 
  17. ^ Boece (Boethius), Hector (1536). Bellenden, John. ed. The History and Croniklis of Scotland. 
  18. ^ a b Ash, Edward C (1927). Dogs, their History and Development (2vols). 
  19. ^ a b Boyle, Robert (1673, pub 1772). Birch, T. ed. On the Strange Subtilty of Effluviums/Of the Determinate Nature of Effluviums. 
  20. ^ Kennel Club Breed Record Supplements
  21. ^ Master of the Hounds Article on Christiane Barnard, American Bloodhound Club Bulletin summer 1989
  22. ^ a b Whitney, Leon F (1947). Bloodhounds and How to Train Them. 
  23. ^ Tolhurst, William D (1984). Manhunters! Hounds of the big T as told to Lena F Reed. 
  24. ^ Topsell, Edward (1607) The History of Four Footed Beasts
  25. ^ a b Treuherz, Julian (1993). Victorian Painting. 
  26. ^ Daniel, F W (1995). The Association of Bloodhound Breeders 1897-1995. 
  27. ^ de Bylandt, Comte Henri (1897 & 1904). Races des Chiens. 
  28. ^ Anonymous (c1400) Alliterative Morte Arthure (line 3640)[4].
  29. ^ Jesse, George R . (1866) Researches into the History of the British Dog in two volumes.
  30. ^ "Underdogs ~ The Bloodhound's Amazing Sense of Smell | Nature". PBS. Retrieved 2011-08-17. 
  31. ^ a b Shier, D., Butler, J. and Lewis, R. Hole's Human Anatomy & Physiology, Boston: McGraw Hill, 2004
  32. ^ Brough, Edwin (1907). Read, Tony. ed. Bloodhounds, History, Origins, Breeding & Training (excerpted from the Kennel Encyclopaedia of 1907) ISBN 978-1-4067-8733-7. 

Further reading

  • Boitard, Jean-Pierre, Le Chien de Saint-Hubert, éditions Artémis 2002. ISBN 2-84416-155-3
  • Dalziel, Hugh. British Dogs Ch IX
  • Fogle, Bruce (2000). The New Encyclopedia of the Dog. Dorling Kindersley (DK). ISBN 0-7894-6130-7. 
  • Reed, Lena and Brey, Catherine F. (1991). The New Complete Bloodhound. Howell Book House. ISBN 0-87605-077-1. 
  • Tweedie, Jan (1998). On the Trail!: A Practical Guide to the Working Bloodhound and Other Search and Rescue Dogs. Alpine Publications. ISBN 1577790057. 

External links

Media related to Chien de Saint-Hubert at Wikimedia Commons

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