The Artois Hound is a rare dog breed, originating in the Picardy and Artois regions of northern France. These medium sized scent hounds are also known as Chien d’Artois, Briquets (meaning small hounds), or Briquets d’Artois. Centuries ago they were called Picards or Picardy Hounds. They are one of the oldest of the native French breeds and probably the ancestor of the Beagle in England. As is the case with many hound dog breeds in existence today, the Artois are believed to descend mostly from the Saint Hubert Hound, known in England as the Bloodhound, which was developed in the early Middle Ages. Along with the St. Hubert, other hounds, as well as pointers, were probably used to create this breed.
Artois Hounds were developed in the 1400s to hunt foxes, hares, deer, and wild boar. In the hunt, Artois Hounds are used in small packs of six to eight dogs. This athletic breed is able to traverse through thickets, woodlands, and across fields. Their smallish but strong build, coupled with their great endurance, enables them to wend their way through dense thickets in pursuit of prey. Their keen sense of smell serves them well to track down, hunt, and retrieve game. In woodland areas Artois Hounds are effective deer hunters; in thickets they excel at rousting wild boar. They take advantage of their preys’ weaknesses, and use their cleverness to outsmart them, maneuvering them closer to the hunter. Their high pitched voices make them easily heard from a great distance.
For the first two hundred years of the breed’s existence, dogs classified as “Chiens d’Artois” included Basset Hounds as well as the large Picardy Hounds (Artois Hounds). But by 1600 the two types had been separated into different breed classifications and the “large Picardy Hounds” became the exclusive owners of the nomenclature “Chiens d’Artois”. They came in two varieties, large and small, with the latter type more common. The Artois Hound of the 1600s was white with fawn or gray markings.
During the reign of Kings Henry IV and Lois XIII (the late 1500s and early 1600s) the breed rapidly gained favor with the noble class. The nobility used them primarily for fox hunting and considered them as crucial to the hunt as the Wolf Hound. It was also not unusual for them to make gifts of Artois Hounds. In a letter dated August 8th, 1609, Prince Charles Alexandre de Gray wrote to Prince de Galle, to announce that he was going to “send a pack of little d’Artois dogs to the king…”. M. Selincourt, a Frenchman and avid hunter who lived during the 1600s, raved about the Artois Hounds, expressing wonder at their hare hunting prowess.
Unlike some of the larger breeds, whose numbers dwindled during the French Revolution (1789-1799), Artois Hounds actually gained popularity and were widely put to use hunting small game. Their compact size made them cheaper to feed and so more affordable during those hard times, thus the breed was able to keep their population numbers stable.
After the heydays of the 1600s and 1700s, however, the Artois Hounds faced a reversal of fortune. The 1800s ushered in a time of declining numbers and a deterioration of the breed purity in the remaining population. Beginning in the early 19th century it became a fashionable French practice to import dogs such as the English Foxhound from the British Isles for use in the hunt, instead of using French breeds. This trend caused a decline in the popularity, and therefore the numbers, of Artois Hounds. Inevitably the imported British gundogs were either intentionally or unintentionally mixed with the native Artois Hound, diluting the purity of the breed. The Normand Hounds, native to the Normandy region of France, (now extinct) were also crossed into the Artois Hounds. The Normands were taller, longer, and more elegant than the Artois, and possessed longer, scroll-type ears. As a result of these crossings, by the late 1800s, there were few Artois Hound packs remaining that possessed all of the original breed traits.
The Artois Hound of the late 19th century usually had the same colors as the modern ones—tricolor with black markings. Vero Shaw in his book, The Illustrated Book of the Dog (1881), wrote that the only principal kennels left were those owned by M. Paul Bernard of Seignelay (Yvonne) and M. Delarue-Buisson of Abbeville (Somme). Other sources cite kennels in Chantilly and those belonging to the Prince de Conde as possessing breed specimens true to the ancient type. Mr. Shaw also stated that the breed had “degenerated into harriers, in which sport they now excel all other breeds of French Hounds.”
In the 1880s, efforts to restore the original Artois Hound got underway. M. Levoir of Picardy made an unsuccessful attempt to revive the breed in the late 1800s and continuing into the early 1900s. M. Mallard, another Artois breeder, also tried, up until the beginning of WWI. He succeeded in producing pretty dogs that won many show awards; however, his Artois Hounds did not match the descriptions of the original breed. Fortunately, the twenty year undertaking of Ernest Levair in Picardy and his cousin, M. Therouanne, to restore the breed and eliminate the last of the Normand blood, was successful.
An avid dog fancier and breeder of the late 1800s, Comte le Couteulx de Canteleu, made sure that some specimens of the breed were housed in the Jardin d’Acclimatation in Paris (a zoological park and amusement center opened in 1860 by Napolean Bonaparte). He wanted the public to be made aware of their existence. One outstanding breed specimen housed there was a large Artois Hound named Antigone. Le Couteulx de Canteleu also wrote the acclaimed Manual of French Hunting (1890) in which he praised the Artois Hound, maintaining that despite the fact that pure ones were hard to find, they were still one of the best dogs for hare hunting.
World Wars I and II exacerbated the decline of the Artois Hound. By the end of WWII, the breed was believed to be one of several that had been lost for all time. But in the early 1970s, some people came to the rescue. Most of the credit for preventing the demise of the Artois Hound goes to M. Audrechy, of Buigney les Gamaches in the Somme; it took much searching before he could locate enough pure specimens. Thanks to his efforts and those of a Mademoiselle Pilat, the Artois Hound was not only saved from extinction, but was reconstituted so that the modern Artois closely resembles the original dog.
Today, when this breed is used to hunt, it is usually as a gun dog, with the hunter on horseback. More often, Artois Hounds are found as a family pet, although assuming both the roles of companion and hunter is ideal for this breed’s happiness. In fact, from the Artois’ point of view, nothing is better than tracking a scent successfully for its owner.
Although Artois Hounds remain rare, their numbers are stable enough that the breed is not in imminent danger of becoming extinct. Today around 500 Artois Hounds are registered with the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI), a marked increase since 1975. The FCI and the United Kennel Club (UKC) both recognize the Artois Hound. The UKC lists the breed as the Chien d’Artois and gave them full recognition in 2006.
Artois Hounds are considered a medium sized dog breed. According to the FCI standard, they should be 20 3/4 to 22 3/4 inches tall with an allowed variance of 1/2 inche (height is measured from ground to withers) and their weight is given as an average of 55 to 65 pounds. The UKC standard lists Artois Hounds as measuring 21 to 23 inches tall and weighing 62 to 66 pounds. These well constructed dogs should have the correct proportions as designated by the FCI. These include a ratio of between 10:10 and 10:11 for height to length of body; 5:9 for width of skull to length of head; 8:10 for length of muzzle to length of skull.
They have smooth, dense coats that lay flat against their thick skin. Artois Hounds’ coats are a dark fawn tricolor, similar to that of hares and badgers; their heads are usually fawn as well, sometimes with a black overlay. They may have a mantle or large patches of color. Colors may be any combination of tan, black, and white.
Their skulls are broad and short, rounded and flat on top with a slight occipital protuberance. They have an accentuated stop and a straight muzzle, which is moderately long in profile. Their dark brown eyes are somewhat wide set in relation to the width of the forehead. Their round eyes reveal a soft, meloncholy expression. They have long ears which are broad at the base and rounded at the tips. Their ears are set even with the eyes and hang down to the beginning of the nose, which is black with well opened nostrils. The upper lip mostly covers the lower one, giving a square shape to the end of the muzzle when seen in profile. The jaw closes in a scissors bite over strong white teeth; the upper incisors cover the lower ones with slight contact.
Artois Hounds have moderately long necks with little dewlap, oblique muscular shoulders, and broad backs. The loin is slightly arched and the hips give a bit of an inclination to the well muscled croup. Their chests are both broad and long, let down to elbow level. They have well sprung ribs and full flanks. Their hindquarters, when viewed from the back, show the point of the buttock, middle of leg, hock, metatarsal, and foot on the same vertical line. They have powerful, long tails that they hold in a sickle like shape, never allowing them to fall forward. The hair on the tip of the tail is longer and coarser than the rest, and stands out like ears of grain.
Their forearms are strong and strait; the hind legs are parallel. They have well muscled thighs, strong hocks that are moderately angulated, and short strong metatarsals. Their feet are slightly elongated with black pads, which are tough and compact. The Artois Hound moves with an easy, even gait.
Artois Hounds, while renowned for their fine hunting abilities, also make great family dogs because of their affectionate and even tempered nature. They are extraordinarily athletic, but remain relatively calm indoors. However, these happy, high energy dogs do best in active households. This is an independent breed, but one that thrives with a stable, loving human family.
Artois Hounds are friendly and sociable with all members of their human family, but they devote themselves to only one or two members, showering them with affection, while remaining more reserved toward the rest. These dogs are good with children and enjoy initiating games with younger family members, but on their own terms. They like rough and tumble play, but will feel free to just stop if they grow tired of the game.
Artois Hounds are brave and loyal, barking when they become aware of anything suspicious. However they are less than optimal watchdogs, because they lack the exceptional alertness found in some other breeds, such as the German Shepherd. When the Artois does want to get your attention, its high pitched call is audible from more than a mile away.
Artois Hounds thrive on lots of exercise; without an adequate amount on a daily basis, they may become restless and difficult to handle, due to their own intense frustration. A daily pack walk is always a must for the Artois’ physical and mental well being, but in addition, your dog will love to go on a jog or hike with you. Artois Hounds also need space to run and play outdoors, as they are bred to be active and work outside.
The Artois Hound is wired to chase prey and hunt; therefore never allow your dog off leash in an unenclosed area (unless you are actually hunting), because your Artois is likely to run off following a scent or chasing a moving object. Artois Hounds can live in apartments, but will fare better in a home with a small, enclosed yard, or in the countryside.
Artois Hounds are not a good choice for first time dog owners or for those inexperienced in canine training. The owner of this breed must be comfortable taking on the role of pack leader and able to devote the necessary time and energy required for training. Even though Artois Hounds are intelligent, training them is challenging because they are independent, and even given to stubbornness. Incorporating motivational techniques into short, fun sessions, with a generous amount of encouragement, is the best approach to take with the Artois Hound. Firm and consistent training and reinforcement is imperative, but always combined with a patient, gentle approach. Exhibiting harshness or aggressiveness toward your dog will only cause it to resist learning from you, becoming even more obstinate. The good news is, once a bond is established between your dog and your dog’s trainer (whether the person is you or someone else) there is almost no limit to what your Artois can achieve!
Both male and female Artois Hounds are strong-willed, but the males are more dominant personalities and will try to be the pack leader of the household—particularly over any other dogs. But with proper socialization from an early age with people, pets, and dogs, they will co-exist peacefully. Artois Hounds prefer to avoid conflict and rarely get into serious fights with other canines. They generally get along well with non-canine household pets.
Artois Hounds do not require extensive grooming. Their short, smooth coats need to be brushed on a regular basis, at least once a week. It is best to use a stiff brush, such as a rubber, wire, or hard bristled one.
Bathe only as needed; wiping your dog down with a damp towel is usually sufficient to removed mud or dirt from the coat. If your Artois Hound needs a bath, use a dry shampoo, if feasible. When a wet bath is unavoidable, use mild soap and warm water.
This breed is prone to toe nail and ear infections. Keep their toe nails trimmed as a preventive measure. Check and clean your dog’s ears once a week; if an ear infection does develop, have it treated by a veterinarian immediately.
Artois Hounds have no major breed specific genetic health problems. They are a hardy, healthy breed and enjoy a life expectancy of twelve to fourteen years.
Other possible health concerns: