Judging the Basset Hound

Judging the Breed

What Every Prospective Basset Hound Judge Should Know: Thoughts on Judging the Breed

by Andrea McE. Field

Today, I will touch on a few of the facts and some of the myths about the breed to help you understand Basset Hounds. I do not plan to go through the standard line by line. Rather, I will talk about how I view Basset Hounds and hopefully, you will be able to find something in my little talk that will help you formulate your own "Basset Hound philosophy."

First, let me say that I am not a breeder/judge per se and so am not afflicted with kennel blindness. I do admit to having my type preferences, but this comes from having been associated with the breed for over thirty years. I have learned that balance, proportion, and appropriate way of going influence me more than a particular "type."


Myth: The Basset is a comic hound who is better at clowning for the camera than at hunting.Fact: The Basset is an excellent small game hunter and is all business in the field.Always bear in mind that Basset Hounds are scent hounds and are happiest when out investigating smells. It is in the field that the true Basset personality is seen. The Basset, like other hound breeds can be aloof, preferring to keep his personality to himself. He can appear to be totally oblivious of his surroundings, OR he can be ridiculously happy and uncontrollably wriggly in the ring. Most Basset Hounds you will meet will not exhibit a wild love for showing. The "showing fool" in basset-dom is a one-in-a-million occurrence, but don't be taken in by his personality, he may be covering up for his lack of good conformation!The important thing to remember is that the Basset Hound should NEVER be shy or sharp.


Myth: Because Bassets are achondroplastic (dwarfs), do not expect them to move like other hounds.Fact: Bassets are athletes of the first order; capable of traversing difficult terrain with grace and agility They move as any other working hound—covering ground with purpose and economy of motion.When I first became acquainted with the breed, it was considered a fact of life that a Basset Hound moved with his nose to the ground. Handlers grudgingly condescended to this fact and showed their hounds on a loose lead. Because many felt that this natural gait put the breed at a disadvantage in the group ring, and because many judges complained that they could not properly assess front movement with the head down, handlers started teaching bassets to trot around with their heads up. Those who did not take to moving with their heads up were "strung up" by their handlers. Personally, I feel that a dog straining against a lead is not a pretty sight and its movement is just as difficult to assess as when he moves with nose down. In cases where it appears that the dog's movement is impaired by the handler, ask to see the hound gait on a loose lead. If the handler does not comply, it’s a pretty safe bet that there’s a good reason for that non-compliance other than being hard of hearing.A word about speed: Bassets move at different rates of speed, but never do they move so fast as to lose the athletic, deliberate, easy look. Unnatural speed often causes the dog to shorten his stride rather than lengthen it and the hound appears to scurry along. Maximum "reach and drive" is not obtained by speed so do not be taken in by the Basset Hound who passes by in a streak. Go for the one who takes his time and uses his well articulated joints to cover lots of ground with a minimum of effort. Always keep in mind that the Basset Hound is prized as a hunter because his slow, methodical hunting style suits those who hunt on foot.


Myth: The Basset Hound is a "head "breed.Fact: Yes, the head is important to establish "type," but a Basset does not hunt on the basis of a beautiful head.Look for a head which is neither coarse or too refined.. "Slightly domed" means different things to different people so you will find all sorts of topskull configurations. Place your emphasis on a prominent occipital protuberance and well-defined back skull. You should be able to see quite easily where the head joins the nicely arched neck. Beware the Basset skull that blends into the neck without clear definition. You are probably looking at ''broken'' head planes. Creeping in to the basset profile is the slightly arched muzzle similar to the Dachshund "ram's nose" which I hope is just a passing fad. The muzzle should be straight in profile, equal in length and parallel (or nearly so) to the top skull with a moderate stop in between.


Myth: Good fronts are a dime-a-dozen.Fact: Good fronts are as scarce as hen's teeth and not well understood.Of all the components of a Basset Hound, the least understood is the front assembly. If you think of the shoulder blade and the upper arm as being equal in length and set at right angles to each other, you are well on your way. The shoulder blades are placed well back and obliquely. The forearm is crooked to help support the mass of the chest so that the feet appear under the hound but not so far under that both legs seem to be holding the hound up as if on a pedestal. A hound with the proper balance and stance will stand squarely on the both feet with an ever-so--slight turn-out.You will not have any trouble seeing the properly laid back shoulder because you will note how smoothly the arched, muscular neck flows into the line of the withers. "Stuffy" necked Basset Hounds should alert you to one of two faults: either a neck which is too short; or steep shoulders, placed too far forward. If the hound appears to be wearing football padding under his ample folds of skin, he's got "loaded shoulders", a sure indication of an improper front.The well placed front assembly will show off the prosternum. Be sure that when you examine for prosternum you are feeling bone not skin, fat or gristle. The sternum should not overpower, but should be a harmonious component of the forequarters.Finding good fronts is like searching for the Holy Grail. When you see one you will be tickled pink and you will reward it accordingly; you won't be able to help yourself. The secret is in learning how to spot the correct one.


The ribcage should be long and smooth and oval. However, when assessing puppies, you will often find lumps and bumps. These should disappear with maturity. The loin is fairly short and muscular. Topline is level, but you will discover that many Basset Hounds, especially bitches, are high in rear. When looking down, width at the shoulders should equal the width at the pelvis with a slight indentation at the loin. Tail set is high with no slope in croup to the base of the tail. The tail is carried gaily, you hope. A gay tail is important for its value in locating a Basset Hound in tall cover, so you do want to see it up and waving. However, if you have a so-so Basset with a gay tail, and a super Basset with a less than happy tail, go for the super Basset. You never know what might have affected the tail carriage before it entered the ring.The underline should flow gradually up from the sternum to the flank. It is sometimes hidden by loose skin which forms a "skirt".


Hips should be ample. Again the bones of the upper thigh and second thigh form right angles matching the front angulation. Bassets tend to be high on hock and so stand naturally with their hind legs well under their bodies. This is frustrating to say the least for the handler with the hound that insists on placing one foot forward, (usually the one on the judge's side), in German Shepherd fashion. The dog with the proper length of hock will stand easily and squarely with his pasterns perpendicular to the ground and his feet pointed straight ahead. Well-rounded is the key word for the hindquarters, but you will see more stringy thighs than not. Rear feet are a trifle smaller than in front, but they should not be so small as to appear non-existent. If the hock joint is so covered with wrinkled skin that you cannot determine its articulation, do not hesitate to push the skin around for a check. It is important that the Basset have strong hocks for proper rear "drive"' and to lever his body over fences, walls, and other obstacles he might encounter in the field (or obedience ring!).


The key words are "DELIBERATE" and "EFFORTLESS". Remember, this hound should be capable of an eight hour "work day" and is to be followed ON FOOT by the hunter. Therefore speed is not of the essence; ENDURANCE is. Look for an unhurried, long striding trot rather than short, quick, choppy steps. Coming and going, the Basset Hound should move in a straight line without lumbering or rolling from side to side. The topline remains level.


Myth: Basset Hounds are naturally fat and sloppy.Fact: Basset Hounds should be well-muscled and "hard" underneath the loose skin.Large or small, you should expect to find firm flesh and not fat beneath the skin. The "Pillsbury Dough Boy" look is out of place for a working hound. Overweight Bassets were commonplace a few years ago and tolerated by judges. Today, most judges want to see fit Bassets and you should penalize the ones who have not had the benefit of an exercise program.


If you anticipate a large Basset Hound assignment and you are not up to an hour or two of deep knee bends, by all means ask for a ramp! Judging Bassets can be made a little easier by using one and most superintendents will supply one as a matter of course. Be sure to request the ramp when accepting the assignment because the fact that you will be using a ramp must appear in the premium list. Most Bassets do not have a problem with ramps, but, as is always the case, there might be one who will not care for it. Judge it on the ground rather than make a case out of the situation. The proper ramp will be similar to a "Group" ramp with a "run-up ramp", and a plafform, but will not have a "rundown ramp.. This is so that you, as judge, will be able to stand directly in front of the hound to begin your examination. If the platform has the extra ramp, ask to have it removed before you begin judging.


Some handlers string up the Basset Hound's head to demonstrate the ample folds of skin. This often renders the head overdone; the ears set on too high with the flews and dewlap stretched unnaturally. Most handlers will lower the lead as you approach the dog for examination. If they do not, then ask them to so you will get a more pleasing picture of the hound's expression and conformation. Also, do not be afraid to lift the skin off the shoulders or for that matter, off any other part of the dog you want to examine more closely.Some judges feel it necessary to "drop" the fronts to assess them. If you must resort to this practice, ask the handler to lift and gently return the dogs front assembly to the ground. Don't drop the dog yourself. (Actually, a mismatched front can be seen best while the dog is suspended. If you can't see what you are looking for with the feet planted on the ground, the fault -- if there is one – is too miniscule to bother with).Disqualifying Faults. Rarely, if ever does a "show" Basset Hound exceed the 15" height limit. However, if in doubt, do not hesitate to ask for the wicket. As for distinctly long hair, if it looks like a long-haired Dachshund, worry about it. Chances are you will never see one, nor will you see a knuckled-over front.I hope this will give you a jumping off place for your lesson this afternoon. I expect you have not agreed with me on every point, but perhaps, something will stick in your mind that will help you formulate your own thoughts on what a good Basset Hound should be.