Gentle nature, floppy ears, smooth fur and a medium size – on many levels, the American Foxhound is the ideal companion for every dog lover, from pensioners to families with children. However, originally bred as a hunting dog, the American Foxhound has its own mind as well as a long list of high demands, all of which should be taken into consideration before making a commitment to the breed. The following article will provide you with some important insights of a breed that little is known about in Europe.
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The American Foxhound is above all designed for hunting and sustained running – it is not generally considered to be an attractive breed, as beauty is held in any real regard with the breeding of these dogs. Its build shows that physical fitness and speed were, however, of great importance. It is lean and muscular with a deep chest allowing for large lungs, which are vital for running long distances. The rough fur lies close to the skin and comes in a variety of colours, all of which are allowed by breeding standards. The ears of the American Foxhound flop forward and, unlike its English Foxhound cousin, this dog is leggier and somewhat daintier. The weight of an American Foxhound varies between 30-34kg, with a withers height of 53-63cm. However, it is not unheard of for some males to reach a withers height of 74cm and a considerably greater weight, particularly for those dogs being used for showing. There are various sub-categories within this breed, depending on the reasons for breeding, for example the “walker” and the single-coloured “July”.
A many-faceted history
The blood of many hunting dogs from a rich variety of countries runs through the veins of American Foxhounds. In 1650, British-born Robert Brooke sailed to Maryland in modern day USA with some hounds from Britain, which were still being imported as a necessity for hunting rather than purely as an accessory for the nobles. Many different lines of hunting dogs have descended from these initial “English Hounds”, which are thought to have been black-tailed Irish Kerry Beagles. United States nobility quickly began using these dogs to hunt foxes; the import of the faster red fox from Europe called for a faster foxhound, which led to an increase in crossbreeding. This breed is one of the longest standing in the United States, with some dog experts even branding it “the oldest US breed”. Indeed, George Washington, the first president of the United States (1789-1797), was a passionate fox hunter, as well as a lover of keeping and breeding dogs. His four-legged friends were known by emotive names such as “Sweet Lips”, “True Love” and “Vulcan”. In 1975, he received some French hunting dogs as a gift from General La Fayette, which he then bred with Foxhounds. They were crossed with faster Irish hunting dogs in 1830, then later with German Bloodhounds, culminating over the decades in what is now known as the American Foxhound, an officially recognised breed by the American Kennel Club from 1886. Since 1966, the American Foxhound has held a special position in the land of unlimited possibilities, belonging to the group of official “State Dogs” and known as the patron dog of Virginia. In total, eleven US states have a “state dog”, usually a breed that is closely linked to the state’s own personal history. To this day, the American Foxhound remains a many-faceted breed, with a range of sub-breeds such as the “Trigg” that, although differing in appearance, are all accepted as versions of the American Foxhound. The breed population worldwide is thought to be around 100,000.
A passionate hunting dog
Like its close relative the English Foxhound, the American Foxhound is a swift runner and an excellent hunter, particularly suited to hunting in a pack. Its job during a hunt is to chase foxes until they reach the point of exhaustion, rather than to actually kill them. When hunters imported the European red fox to the USA, they were hoping for more exciting hunts. These foxes were so much faster that it led to increased breeding efforts towards achieving the ideal American Foxhound. The native grey fox was considerably slower than the red, although this original variety was able to climb trees. Hunting dogs were particularly called upon during feudal times, when noble families transformed entire landscapes into hunting areas and indulged their passion for hunting on horseback with huge packs of dogs. The American Foxhound works well alongside horses and riders. These rambling hunts came to an end with the decline of the nobility, although the tradition of large hunts continues in countries such as France. In Great Britain and Germany fox hunting with a pack of dogs is now illegal, although hounds are still used for drag hunting and trail hunting, which involves following an artificial scent trail to imitate a real hunt. This is the primary use of British Foxhounds nowadays, whilst American Foxhounds are also used as show dogs and can, therefore, often be found at dog shows. Due to this history as a hunting dog and its great love of large amounts of exercise, the American Foxhound is only suitable as a companion dog under certain circumstances.
Strong-willed and sociable
As a hunting dog, the American Foxhound is generally fairly headstrong. These animals are bred to run far from their owners during the hunt, whilst also keeping in constant contact. The result is that these dogs are not so much shaped by humans but rather learn to follow common commands – without great enthusiasm! They are at their most comfortable in a large pack of other dogs. When confronted with strangers, the American Foxhound is generally friendly, although some may express their natural protective instincts during such encounters. The American Foxhound also has a distinctive feature that makes it easier for its owner to recognise it in the dark or from a distance – its characteristic bark, which sounds more like singing. As this bark can be heard from miles away, this breed is not recommended for built-up, noise sensitive areas. Also bear in mind that small animals are a favourite snack of these large dogs, making it difficult to keep both as pets without disastrous consequences!
Health and Care
Too many calories combined with too little exercise can lead extraordinarily quickly to weight gain in American Foxhounds. As well as a species-appropriate amount of exercise, it is important to choose a high-quality food and offer it in a suitable quantity. This breed has a genetic predisposition to the disease thrombocytopaenia, a lack of platelets in the blood that can lead to extreme bleeding even from small injuries. Some American Foxhounds are also susceptible to hip dysplasia, so be sure to check the parents’ test results before investing in a puppy. These dogs have an average life expectancy of 11 to 13 years.
A dog for hunters
It cannot be denied that American Foxhounds are excellent as hunting dogs, but they only make suitable companion dogs under certain conditions. Some experts strongly advice against keeping this dog as a household pet unless there is a hunter in the family whom the dog can accompany to work every day. The same is true of closely related breeds, such as the English Foxhound, another dog that is better suited to experienced hunter hands. The reason for this is that the dog’s extreme desire to be on the move combined with its great hunt drive is something that can usually only be brought under control through hunt dog training. A busy American Foxhound makes a pleasant day-to-day companion, but very few people will be in a position to satisfy its high need for exercise. Fans of the breed should talk to a breeder about the different sub-lines of this dog, as the show dog lines tend to be less demanding in terms of exercise than those from working lines. While the American Foxhound is a charming breed, purchasing one of these dogs needs to be a well thought out decision, as handling them correctly is demanding and challenging. In the dog world, there is a vast array of breeds better suited to life as companion dogs, and non-hunters looking for a dog can certainly find ideal alternatives to the American Foxhound. This breed is happiest living with several other dogs, with a minimum of one canine companion although more is preferable. The American Foxhound is generally friendly around children, although there is no hope of it living companionably with cats or small animals. City flats are a definite no as homes for these dogs and, even after a long day of exercise in forests and fields, they will find a way to escape any garden to frolic around town for a night of fun with other dogs! As with any dog, there are many things to consider before committing to this breed as an addition to your household. Make a checklist of everything you need to bear in mind: holiday care, regular expenditure such as pet food and veterinary visits, basic equipment such as bowls, brushes and beds, and other possible additional expenses such as unexpected illness. You also need to think realistically about the extensive time commitment you would need to make to this breed.
Easy to care for
Caring for an American Foxhound coat and appearance is simple – a weekly brush will more than suffice. It can also be useful to give the dog a quick brush on a daily basis to minimise the amount of hair brought into your home or to help the dog through a change of coat.
The best form of training is as a hunting dog
Even from the age of a young puppy, an American Foxhound’s training should be carried out by experienced hands, as there are a number of quirks involved with this breed. It is also considerably more difficult to train this dog to be obedient if it has spent more time in a pack than with humans as a puppy. Every dog of this breed requires plenty of attention, training and time in order to get used to life as a family dog. The American Foxhound is headstrong with a fierce hunting drive, so the best way to progress with this dog is to provide real hunt dog training. Training requires a great deal of patience, as this breed has a mind of its own, especially when it finds a trail to follow!
Use as a sociable working dog
The American Foxhound belongs to a group of “running hounds” and is, as the name suggests, no couch potato! It needs several hours of intense exercise every day, as during a hunt this dog would easily run at a sustained pace for five to six hours. Of course, it will happily accompany you on a leisurely jog, but this is no substitute and will not satisfy its desire to move and work. One major problem is that this dog cannot be let off the lead to really run around and work off steam, as it has such a strong hunt drive, meaning it can quickly become restless and nervous. It is often recommended that owners of this breed attend obedience training.
Where can American Foxhounds be found?
This breed is not commonly found in Europe, somewhat linked to the fact that it is mainly owned by professional hunters - very few private dog owners are likely to be able to meet the needs of this enthusiastic, energetic dog. This can make it difficult to find an American Foxhound breeder in Europe. The best line of enquiry would be to contact other dog breeders in your area and see if they know of an American Foxhound breeder. It may even be worth journeying across the pond, as you will find that breeders in the USA are much more widespread. The internet is also a great place to search for breeders. Ensure that you settle on a breeder that is already affiliated with the breed and is aware of the health of your chosen puppy’s parents. Serious breeders have nothing to hide – as a rule, you can get to know them during a visit and get a first “sniff” of your puppy, as well as meeting the parent animals. The breeder should also be able to answer any questions you may have. You should also find that the breeder will want to ask you a few questions, in order to be sure that the puppies are going to suitable homes. They will generally only give American Foxhound puppies to people with the intention of taking the dog hunting, for obvious welfare reasons. Vaccinations, health certificates and papers should all be included in the transfer. If you don’t mind taking on an adult dog, the internet is probably the best place to look. For example, there are animal welfare organisations that have dedicated themselves to rehoming hunting dogs and will undoubtedly from time to time have an American Foxhound or a close relative to place in a good home. In most cases, these will be dogs whose owners were overwhelmed by the demands or training of the hunting dog – lots of experience will be required in cases like this. If you are not a professional hunter but have been won over by the appearance and independent ways of this breed, then we recommend looking at animal shelters. There you may find mongrels that resemble American Foxhounds but are far better suited as family pets.
We wish you a lifetime of fun with your four-legged friend!
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