The Field Trial Hound

The Field Trial Hound - by Marge Skolnick

(article reprinted from Tally-Ho)

In this and in the next one or two issues of T-H I'd like to outline some of the things we'd like to have in our field bassets in both physical characteristics and performance quality in the field.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: To get a good mental image of what the running basset should look like, read over the standard for the breed. This can be found in the leaflet published by BHCA and its education committee. Here I would like to add a few comments on how this structure affects the running and trailing hound.

You should, of course, start with a hound that is slim and well muscled, healthy and free of disease. Your hound can do his best only in that kind of condition.

A key factor in endurance is a well angulated rear, muscled for drive. When the head is carried low with nose to the ground for trailing, greater propulsive force comes from the hind limbs.

The front structure should have deep and ample rib spring with the chest well supported by forelimbs. Hunting posture requires the forelimbs to support considerably more than half the weight of the body. For the chest to be supported, the legs must drop from under the chest and not beside it or at the outside of it. Part of the support necessarily will require the feet to turn out slightly. A good powerful front structure without the strong driving rear may enable the dog to have plenty of initial speed, but on the long run he may at least figuratively fall on his face. A chest might be too deep as well as too shallow, but it can't be too deep provided that: 1. It is well supported by the legs and 2. It is balanced with the rear. The solution is not to have a more shallow ribcage, round and tubular rather than oval, since this will tend to interfere with the free action of the legs. The feet should be well up on thick pads to take the shock of the heavy weight pounding along on an arduous run. A strong and well muscled neck with some length is desirable for a dog carrying the head low to scent. Too short a neck may be a result of loaded or steep shoulders.

We have patterned the basset head after that of the bloodhound and we want our "feller" to have a good "smeller" too. We have heard it said that the loose skin, dewlaps and long ears contribute to "sweeping in the scent". We can't really prove or disprove that, although very tight and dry dogs also seem to have sometimes exceptional scenting abilities. However, we would like everyone to know at a glance that we are running bassets and not beagles or some other breed. It is also well to remember that the qualities of loose skin, pendulous ears, lip and dewlap, eye showing hew, although breed characteristics, should not be exaggerated. Excesses which might result in unhealthy or nonfunctional hounds must be avoided, just as limits are set in some breeds on coat length.

What sort of proportion should our hounds have? What leg length? How heavy? How long in body? Why was the basset bred for short legs? The answer to the last question is obvious --to slow him down. What limitations should be placed on this? We do not want our hound to lose the game on account of fatigue. There is a limit to how low we want him to be and the same reasoning applies to how heavy we want him to be. Our standard asks that "The distance from the deepest point of the chest to the ground, while it must be adequate to allow free movement when working in the field, is not to be more than 1/3 of the total height at the withers of an adult basset." Body length should be measured from the front of the brisket (not from the forelegs) to the base of the tail to evaluate the total body length. If the forelegs are forward of the deepest part of the chest, the hound might actually appear longer than one with proper supportive placement. Also, true proportions are apparent on a slim, well-muscled hound, whereas the proportions of length, bone, overall size may be quite changed by fat and skin.

If our basset as described so far has the proper rear, front, muscles, and proportions, he is going to move well and effortlessly and that is going to be our most important test of his structure.

How is it that some of our hounds that fall far short of the ideal in structure manage to ran rather well, indeed well enough to become field champions? First of all, it is certain that such a hound has the right characteristics for performance (which you can read about in your next T-H issues) especially that of desire (sometimes called heart), and he has this strong enough to overcome his physical handicaps. Still, in the long run (I mean literal long run), if he must compete with another hound of equal ability but better physical endowment, he will wear out. Those longer runs in second series and absolute winner contests will be his nemesis. With compensatory muscle development and plenty of "heart" you may get a fair athlete, perhaps a field champion, but the work will be harder and the risks higher. We owe it to our hounds to breed the best bodies we can. This may take some selection and time. Top show or field dogs are seldom "one generation wonders". With this in mind we should not become discouraged by remarks criticizing the appearance of "all" of the field bassets. All show bassets are not equally good either, none are perfect and very few are put to a field test.