The American Foxhound was one of the first dog breeds developed in the United States, if not the first. A close cousin to, and descendant of, the English Foxhound, the American Foxhound was bred to be more suited to life in the New World. These dogs are renowned for their hunting skill. During the Middle Ages, hunting with hounds became the most popular and important form of recreation among the European nobility. The sport was the most popular and developed in the nations of England and France. By the time of the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery, the sport had become a highly ritualized art form. Nowhere was the hunt more ritualized than in English foxhunts.
For most of history, the preferred quarry of the English nobility was deer. Foxes on the other hand were considered vermin, and hunting them less than noble, as such fox hunting was typically reserved for the commoner. By the 1500’s, most of England’s forests had been cleared which led not only to a reduction in the population of deer which dwell in the forest, but also to an increase in the population of foxes which are primarily field dwellers. Foxes became a major agricultural pest, and were so overpopulated that they were thought of as residents of New York City think of rats. Foxes would not only regularly kill chickens, geese, rabbits, and other small animals, but also young or ill sheep, pigs, and goats. What particularly aggrieved farmers were the fox holes, which cattle or horses would often step in and break their legs. Eventually, farmers decided to take matters into their own hands.
The first record of hunting foxes with hounds in England comes from Norfolk in the year 1534. At that time, a local farmer set out to kill a marauding fox with his dogs. However, it is likely that the practice had been going on for centuries before that. Farmers quickly discovered that a fox hunt was much more likely to be successful the more hounds were involved. Rather than a single farmer pursuing a fox with two or three dogs, groups of farmers would band together to create packs of between ten and fifty hounds. They would then take turns ridding each other’s land of foxes. These farmers used a variety of dogs in their pursuit of foxes. The most common were likely to have been random bred hounds. However, the now extinct Northern and Southern Hounds were also very likely to have been employed in the pursuit of foxes, as were Beagles, Harriers, various Terrier breeds, Sighthounds such as Greyhounds and Whippets, possibly some traditionally herding breeds such as Collies, and many mixes. These farmers were not particularly concerned with the appearance or standardization of their fox hunting dogs, provided that they were successful in the hunt. Eventually, these hunts became a form of social gathering and recreation as well as vermin eradication.
By the end of the 16th Century, the English nobility had taken notice of these fox hunts, and decided to organize their own. Rapidly, these hunts became very popular and ritualized. Within a century, they were more popular than deer hunts, although the continuing declining English deer population likely had much to do with that.
These noble hunters sought to create the ideal fox hunting dog, an animal with the scenting ability to trail a fox, the speed and endurance to pursue a fox for hours, and the tenacity to kill the quarry once caught. As records were not precisely kept at the time, it is unknown exactly what breeds were used. Writers such as the 19th Century John Henry Walsh, better known by his pen name of Stonehenge, report that the foundation stock was the Southern Hound, which had previously been employed as a deer hunter. The Southern Hound was known for being a slow hunter. The Southern Hound was mixed with some other British Hounds, most likely the Northern Hound, Talbot, and Harrier, as well as the random-bred fox hunting dogs of English farmers. The resulting animals were excellent trackers but lacked in speed and tenacity. These hounds were mixed with Sighthounds from the north of England, dogs that were then known as Gazehounds. What breeds were used is unknown, although common wisdom is that Greyhounds were used, and possibly Whippets, Lurchers, and Scottish Deerhounds as well. Finally, Fox Terriers and possibly Bulldogs were added to give the dogs tenacity when fighting with quarry.
By the time that England was colonizing the Americas, Foxhounds were breeding true and the sport of fox hunting was dominant among the British upper classes. Many well-off settlers wished to continue the sport in the New World. The first record of Foxhounds in what is now the United States comes from 1650. In that year, Robert Brooke imported a pack into Maryland. Later on, Brooke became the first Master of the Hounds in America. Settlers in the American South tended to be from aristocratic families, fox hunting was always most popular in the southern colonies. The plantation society that developed in Virginia and Maryland became the center of American fox hunting.
Unfortunately, dogs bred to hunt in England often did poorly in Virginia and Maryland. The temperatures are much hotter, especially in the summer. British dogs would easily overheat. Additionally, there was a far greater disease load, which proved fatal to many English dogs. The terrain was considerably rougher and less developed, with environments that were not present in England such as swamps, mountains, and virgin forests. The farther settlement extended from the coast, the more difficult terrain became. Finally, there were many dangerous animals common in the colonies which were not present in England, animals such as bear, wild hog, cougar, and bobcat. American dogs needed to adapt in order to survive in these conditions.
Foxes were never as common along the East Coast of America as they were in England. In fact, many believe that English settlers actually imported red foxes from Europe to increase American populations. As a result, in America the primary goal of the fox hunt has not been to kill the fox, although that does occur on occasion, usually accidentally. Instead, it has been to pursue the fox for the thrill of the chase. American fox hunters did not need a breed with the tenacity of the English Foxhound, which is supposed to kill the fox upon catching it.
Eventually, English Foxhounds became more adapted to these different conditions, both through deliberate breeding and natural selection. As a result American Foxhounds were different from those in England. American dogs were made even more different by the introduction of blood from other breeds. In America, Foxhounds were mixed with Bloodhounds, other English hounds, Irish and Scottish hunting dogs, and possibly Native American dogs. By the middle of the 18th century, American Foxhounds had become so different from English Foxhounds that they were considered a different breed entirely and became known as Virginia Hounds. After American independence, these differences continued to grow. One of the most prominent fox hunting fanciers in the colonies was the Virginia plantation owner George Washington. He is largely credited with the development of the American Foxhound as distinctively unique. He was an avid breeder of Foxhounds, as well as a fox hunter himself. After the war of independence, his friend the Marquis de Lafayette sent him several gifts of French hunting hounds. Exactly which breeds were given is unknown, but it is widely believed that these dogs were Grand Bleu de Gascognes, as well as at least one Basset breed. Washington used these French hounds in his breeding program. As could be expected, the dogs bred by a man of Washington’s stature were in high demand, and heavily influenced all later Foxhound breeding in America.
Those Virginia Hounds that stayed in the developed areas of Virginia and Maryland continued to be used primarily to hunt foxes, and were still known as Foxhounds. Virginia Hounds that moved farther south or west toward undeveloped areas began to be used primarily to hunt raccoons. These raccoon hunting dogs were further refined through selective breeding to meet these even rougher environments, as well as to chase prey up trees rather than into a burrow. By the Mid-1800’s, raccoon hunting dogs were known as Coonhounds or Fox and Coonhounds. There have always been different varieties of Foxhound present in America, although most have freely interbred. Eventually, a certain variety of Foxhound, the Black and Tan Virginia Foxhound, became known as a separate breed. By the end of the 19th Century, the names Virginia Foxhound or Virginia Hound were no longer used to describe other Foxhound varieties in America, and the breed became known as the American Foxhound.
Fox hunting in America has always been most popular in Virginia and Maryland, and the American Foxhound has traditionally been most associated with these states. In fact, the American Foxhound is the state dog of Virginia. However, these dogs have been used across the nation to hunt foxes, both for purposes of sport and vermin eradication. As the primary goal in American foxhunting has always been the pursuit rather than the kill, the sport is sometimes known as fox chasing. In the American West, Foxhounds have also been used to pursue coyotes, which are considerably more damaging to livestock than foxes. In a coyote hunt, the primary goal is usually to kill the coyote, rather than chase it. For this reason some hunters prefer breeds with more tenacity, such as Coonhounds.
While fox hunting has never been as popular in America as it was in England, it continues to have a sizable and dedicated following in this country. However, this may be changing. Fox hunting was recently outlawed in England, Scotland, and Wales. As a result, fox hunting is now probably practiced more in the United States than any other nation, although many illegal hunts continue in Great Britain.
As one of the oldest American breeds, it is unsurprising that the American Foxhound has long been registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC); which first recognized the American Foxhound in 1886. The United Kennel Club (UKC) followed suit recognizing the breed in 1905. Primarily a hunting breed, the American Foxhound is rarely kept as a companion or show dog. As a result, most American Foxhound breeders prefer the UKC, which claims to be the largest all-breed performance-dog registry in the world, as they feel it places a heavier focus on working dogs like the American Foxhound, than does the AKC. According AKC statistics for 2010, with fewer than fifty registered dogs that year, the American Foxhound was the second least most registered breed. However, there are many more purebred American Foxhounds hunting throughout the nation; they are just registered with other organizations. There is still substantial interest in the breed, and the American Foxhound Club (AFC) was reestablished in 1995. The club remains in good standing with the AKC.
Unlike many breeds which are now rarely used for their original purposes and are now primarily companion animals, the vast majority of American Foxhounds are still either active or retired pack hunters. These dogs have very high exercise and stimulation requirements, as well as being quite vocal. As a result they do not adapt well to urban environments. However, a small but growing number of fanciers are discovering that the American Foxhound can make an excellent companion for active families or those in rural areas. Although not particularly numerous, the American Foxhound remains popular with fox hunting fanciers in the United States, much more so than the English Foxhound. However, throughout the rest of the world, the English Foxhound remains the more popular dog. Like most American Hound breeds, the American Foxhound has not found many fanciers overseas remains essentially unknown outside of North America.
The American Foxhound closely resembles the more widely recognized English Foxhound, but can be easily distinguished. The breed is more lightly boned than its English counterpart, and is usually somewhat taller. These dogs are also generally thought to be have a considerably stronger sense of smell and to be significantly faster. This breed exhibits a great deal more variation than most purebred dogs, and some lines are different enough as to almost be separate breeds. Almost everything about the American Foxhound’s appearance is a result of its hunting heritage.
The American Foxhound is a large dog. The males are typically between 22 and 25 inches tall at the shoulder, while the smaller females should be between 21 and 24 inches tall at the shoulder. Some show dogs are significantly taller, especially those exhibited in AKC events. In fact AKC events allow males of up to 28 inches at the shoulders and females of up to 26 inches. While breed standards do not specify an ideal weight, most of these dogs weigh between 65 and 75 pounds. However, some show dogs may be significantly heavier, and some working lines may be significantly lighter, in the range of 40 to 45 pounds.
The American Foxhound has a long snout and nose, giving the dog the maximum area for scent receptors. The breed has long, drooping ears, which should are typically significantly longer in proportion than its English cousin. This breed has a noticeably flat skull, although there is a slight dome. American Foxhounds have some apparently extra skin around the mouth and face, which may form a few wrinkles, although not to the extent of a breed such as the Bloodhound. American Foxhounds have large, brown or hazel eyes. These eyes should have a typical sad, pleading hound expression.
The American Foxhound is a muscular breed, particularly around the shoulders. These dogs have long, straight legs which enhance their speed. The legs should be less thick than those of the English Foxhound. American Foxhounds have a long tail, which is typically held in an upright, saber-like fashion.
American Foxhounds have medium-length, hard coats. These coats come in a variety of colors and patterns, any of which is acceptable. There is a saying that a good hound can come in any color, which has been taken to heart by American Foxhound breeders. However, different lines of American Foxhound may be similarly colored. The most common coat colors are white, black, and tan, although blue, red, and dark brown are also commonly seen.
The American Foxhound differs substantially from its English counterpart in temperament. These dogs are known for being considerably friendlier with people. American Foxhounds are usually very affectionate and friendly, especially with people they know well. This breed is also known for being extremely gentle and playful with children. Most American Foxhounds are very approaching and friendly with strangers, although some may be slightly nervous or protective. Were it not for the American Foxhound’s very high activity needs and hunting drive, this breed would likely make an excellent companion for most families. However, many active families with room to allow these dogs to play are discovering that when properly cared for, an American Foxhound can adapt to a non-hunting life.
The American Foxhound is tends to be good with other dogs. This breed has worked as a pack hunter for centuries, often in groups of 50 or more. If you are looking to add a dog into a household with existing canine residents, an American Foxhound may be an ideal choice. However, it is always important to be careful whenever introducing new dogs to each other. As is the case with all dog breeds, unneutered male American Foxhounds may show aggression towards each other, particularly in the presence of a female dog in heat.
The American Foxhound was bred to chase a fox, but not to kill it. Additionally, the breed has always worked closely alongside horses. As a result, members of the breed tend to show lower levels of aggression towards non-canine pets than is typical of a hound. If you want to introduce a dog into a home with other animals, an American Foxhound is one of the best options available to you in the hound family. However, these dogs were bred to chase small mammals. This means that they may very well bother the family cat, or those of your neighbors. Also be aware that some of these dogs may have a significantly higher prey drive than others. Socialization should begin as early as possible. It may not be advisable to introduce an adult American Foxhound into a home with non-canines, especially one with a hunting background.
The American Foxhound will provide some training difficulties, although not to the extent of most hounds. These dogs were bred to pursue game for hours, and as a result they have become stubborn and slightly willful. You will definitely have to spend extra time and effort into training an American Foxhound. Even when well-trained, this breed may exhibit selective hearing and obedience. If you are looking for an incredibly obedient dog, this is probably not the best breed for you. However, these dogs are noticeably easier to train than most scent hounds, and will give you somewhat better end results.
American Foxhounds can be extremely difficult to call back once they get on a scent. These dogs were bred to follow scent trails, and they love to do so. Once they begin to track something, they are not likely to return to your calls. As these dogs are extremely fast and have great stamina, they may end up miles away from where they started. They may also focus so much on their goal that they end up being the victim of a traffic accident. Because of this, it is important to keep American Foxhounds on a leash at all times unless they are extremely well-trained. Also, any outdoor space which you allow an American Foxhound to run off-leash in must be extremely secure. Many of these dogs are able to scale a six-foot fence with surprisingly little effort. These dogs are also more than strong and intelligent enough to go under or through fences that they cannot get over.
The biggest problem for most families who would want to own an American Foxhound is the breed’s activity requirements. These dogs are meant to run at high speeds for great distances. They are some of the canine world’s greatest athletes. This means that they will not get by with a twenty minute walk every day. This breed needs a tremendous amount of exercise. If inadequately exercised, almost every American Foxhound will become very destructive, very vocal, and develop separation anxiety. If an American Foxhound is not exercised, this strong and powerful dog will probably destroy most of your furniture.
One aspect of the American Foxhound that makes the breed difficult to keep as a companion animal in urban areas is the breed’s voice. The American Foxhound was bred to have a loud, melodic bay, which is much beloved by hunters and has even been added to popular music. These dogs are very, very loud. They are also one of the most vocal breeds of dogs in the world. The most well-exercised and kept American Foxhound will make regular noise. An American Foxhound that becomes bored may bay for hour after hour. American Foxhounds kept in urban areas will almost certainly lead to noise complaints.
The American Foxhound has a coat that is extremely low maintenance. This breed requires regular brushing, but should never require professional grooming. This does not mean that the breed does not shed. The American Foxhound is considered an average shedder, and will shed less than many hound breeds. However, these are large dogs, and their white-length fur will easily show up.
Special care must be given to the American Foxhound’s ears. As is the case with many droopy-eared dogs, the American Foxhound’s ears can collect dirt and grime. Dirty ears will often get chronic ear infections. As a result, and American Foxhound’s ears must be regularly cleaned, a process that should begin at a young age.
The American Foxhound is a very healthy breed, especially for a dog of this size. The average life expectancy for an American Foxhound is 11 to 13 years, quite long for a large dog, especially considering that most of these animals are working hunters. The American Foxhound has been bred almost exclusively as a working animal for centuries. Any health defects would have been quickly eliminated by breeders. This does not mean that the breed is immune to health problems, just that there is a comparatively low incidence of genetically inherited disorders. One of the most common genetic disorders in American Foxhounds is thrombocytopathy. This is a disease of blood platelets. However, this is still a minor problem.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
Other health problems suffered by American Foxhounds include: