The Redbone Coonhound is one of six recognized breeds of Coonhound, all of which are native to the United States. The Redbone is distinguished primarily by its coat; it is the only breed of Coonhound which comes in a solid color. The Redbone Coonhound owes much of its development to a few dedicated breeders in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Redbone Coonhound is not a frequent resident of urban and suburban areas, but these dogs are a common sight in areas where they are greatly beloved for their hunting prowess and their friendly natures.
Throughout the Middle Ages, hunting with hounds was a popular sport among the nobility. It was important for forming social and political relationships, as well as for enjoyment and recreation. As the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery began, the Middle Classes began to enjoy hunting as well, in large part to emulate the nobility. These patterns continued into the Americas. For as long as Europeans have been on American shores, they brought hunting hounds with them. The first mention of hounds in what is now the Continental United States comes from Hernando De Soto, who brought a small pack with him on his missions of exploration. These dogs were used for battling humans rather than animals, however.
The British nobility and upper classes in particular were fond of hunting. Fox hunting with specially bred Fox Hounds had become a highly developed and formalized sport. Many of the British nobility strongly wished to continue this pursuit after they transplanted themselves across the Atlantic. One of the earliest records of British hounds in America comes from the University of William. In the year 1607, a pair of Bloodhounds was brought to the New World to assist in protecting early settlements from Native American attacks. The first known Fox Hounds in America were imported in 1650 when Robert Brooke imported a pack into Maryland. As was the case in England, Fox Hounds brought a certain amount of prestige to their handlers, and Robert Brooke eventually became the first Master of the Hounds in the American Colonies. Hunting with hounds rapidly became and important part of colonial culture, particularly in areas where there was a large population of Upper Class and Noble settlers. As these settlers predominated in the southern colonies of Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas, hounds were also most common in those areas.
Unfortunately, the majority of the hunting dogs of the British Isles proved ill-suited for working in the American South. Temperatures were far hotter than in England, and significantly slowed, and sometimes killed, British dogs. The hotter temperatures also meant better conditions for diseases and parasites, which can easily disable or kill dogs without the proper immunities. The terrain in America is also foreign to Britain. Wide swaths of swamp, bayou, mountains, piney woods, and sparsely populated forests covered the Southern countryside. Dogs bred for the open fields and highly developed landscape of Britain had significant difficulties working, and would often lose their quarry. Perhaps most importantly, American game species are quite different from those in Britain. Most American prey species such as raccoons and opossums will flee up a tree rather than underground as is the case with British foxes and badgers. Early American hounds would commonly lose track of an animal when it went up a tree. Also, there are many very dangerous animals in North America that were either never found in Britain or were long extinct there, creatures such as mountain lions, black bears, bobcats, wild hogs, skunks, and porcupines. Most British hounds lacked the ferocity and tenacity to pursue and battle such dangerous quarry. Conditions got more and more difficult the farther British settlers went inland from the coast.
American colonists began to develop dogs that were more suited to their new environs. They developed dogs which were more heat and disease tolerant, more capable of handling rougher and wetter terrain, and more ferocious and tenacious when dealing with dangerous game. They used English Fox Hounds as a base stock, favoring the dogs best suited for hunting in America. They also added in some Bloodhound stock, as well as French, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish hunting hounds. By the Mid-1700’s, American hounds were seen as distinct from their English ancestors, and were known as Virginia Hounds. These Virginia Hounds formed the base stock from which the American Foxhound developed, as well as five of the six breeds of Coonhound. The development of American hounds continued after independence. George Washington was highly influential in the development of American hounds, particularly through the addition of French hounds which were presented to him as a gift from General Lafayette.
As American hounds were bred primarily for working ability rather than appearance, there was considerable coat variation in Virginia Hounds. This variation was made greater by the addition of bloodlines from other European breeds. Beginning in the Late 1700’s, Scottish settlers in Georgia began to import the red-colored fox hounds which were popular in Scotland at the time. These dogs proved to be quite influential in the development of American Hounds, although fanciers of the red dogs tended to breed them exclusively with other red dogs. Prior to the Civil War, Irish immigrants brought with them red-colored Irish hunting hounds. These dogs also proved influential. Eventually, the popularity of raccoon hunting overtook the popularity of fox hunting, especially in inland areas, and these dogs became known as Coonhounds rather than Fox Hounds. Despite their name, Coonhounds were not exclusively used to hunt raccoons, and have always been used to hunt foxes, deer, bobcats, opossums, and even mountain lions and bear.
Unlike most Coonhound breeders who bred their dogs solely for hunting skill, many early fanciers of the red colored coonhounds bred for appearance as well. Peter Redbone of Tennessee was known for breeding red-coated Coonhounds, and raccoon hunters began calling any Coonhound with a red coat a Redbone. Beginning in the 1840’s a dedicated group of fanciers began to breed Redbone Coonhounds in an attempt to standardize their color and size. The most influential of these breeders was George F.L. Birdsong of Georgia who is largely credited as being the most important founder of the breed. He obtained his pack from Dr. Thomas Henry, who was himself a breeder of some renown. These breeders primarily used dogs descended from the red Scottish and Irish hounds, which at that point had bred with other American Coonhounds and Fox Hounds. It is also believed that they may have added a small amount of Bloodhound to their lines as well. As a result of these early breeders, the Redbone Coonhound was standardized much earlier than most other Coonhound breeds. To this day, the Redbone Coonhound is more uniform in coat color, general appearance, and size than other Coonhound breeds.
Once these original breeders developed dogs that bred true with regards to coat-color and size, they began to focus on hunting performance. As a result, the Redbone Coonhound has a standardized appearance as well as strong working abilities deeply ingrained within the breed. However, breeders did not stop tinkering with the Redbone’s physical appearance. Initially, Redbone Coonhounds typically had a black-saddle shaped marking on their backs. This is possibly a result of the addition of Bloodhound blood. Breeders almost universally disfavored this marking and worked to breed it out. By the beginning of the 1900’s, the saddle marking was gone from the Redbone Coonhound, leaving the solid colored dogs of today.
The breeding and standardization of the Redbone Coonhound was greatly furthered with the development of Coonhound Trials. These trials began during the 1800’s and continue to this day. These trials are organized competitions to see which handler and his dogs can capture the greatest number of raccoons. Prizes are also given for other feats, such as the largest raccoon captured and the beauty of a dog. These trials sparked a tremendous amount of competition among their participants. There were often sizable financial rewards for winners, as well as a great deal of prestige. Winning dogs were highly valued as both hunters and breeding animals. As a result, breeders began to keep much better records as well as being much more careful with the dogs they introduced into their lines. Redbone fanciers in particular have always been careful about how they breed their dogs. Redbone Coonhounds were the second breed of Coonhound to be registered with the United Kennel Club (UKC), first earning recognition in 1902, two years after Black and Tan Coonhounds were first registered. Because Redbone Coonhound breeders have always put a heavy emphasis on working ability, they have always been somewhat distrustful of the American Kennel Club (AKC), which does not emphasize working ability as much as conformation. However, this suspicion is slowly lessening, and the Redbone Coonhound was registered with the AKC’s Hound Group in 2009. The Redbone Coonhound’s parent club is the Redbone Coonhound Association of America (RCAA).
The Redbone Coonhound is most famous for its appearance in the classic children’s novel Where the Red Fern Grows. This novel details a young boy’s adventures with his two Redbone Coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann. The novel has subsequently been made into two movies and a sequel, all of which feature the breed. As a result of the popularity of Where the Red Fern Grows, there is somewhat greater public awareness of the Redbone Coonhound than most other Coonhound breeds.
Unlike most breeds of dog which are now primarily used for companionship, the Redbone Coonhound is still primarily a working breed. The dog is highly regarded as a hunter of many types of game animal both large and small, although raccoon hunting is the breed’s most common use. The Redbone Coonhound still participates in Coonhound trials with great success. However, the Redbone Coonhound is growing in popularity as a family pet. If properly exercised and stimulated, this is a role in which the breed excels due to its loving and affectionate nature and gentleness with children. While it impossible to get exact numbers, it is likely that more Redbone Coonhounds are kept exclusively as pets than other breeds of Coonhound. Redbone Coonhounds are not common in urban areas, nor are they high in the AKC registration rankings at 122. However, thousands of these dogs are used as hunting companions in rural areas, and the breed is consistently in the top ten most registered dogs in the UKC, which primarily focuses on working dogs.
The Redbone Coonhound generally resembles other breeds of Coonhound, and other large hunting hounds in general. The breed is distinguished by its sold red coat. Years of breeding for appearance as well as type have led the Redbone Coonhound to be more uniform in color and size than most other breeds of Coonhound.
The Redbone Coonhound is a medium to large sized dog. Males should be between 22 and 27 inches tall at the shoulder. The slightly smaller females should be between 21 and 26 inches tall at the shoulder. Dogs which are closest to the center of this range are most preferred. Unlike many breeds, the Redbone Coonhound breed standards do not specify desired weight ranges. However, the dog’s weight should be proportionate to its body size. Most Redbone Coonhounds weigh between 45 and 70 pounds. Dogs may be slightly underweight if kept in hunting condition.
Redbone Coonhounds have short, smooth coats. Their coats should be a solid red color. Some dogs have small amounts of white around the feet which is acceptable. Originally, many Redbones had a black saddle-shaped marking on their backs. This has since been eliminated from the breed.
Redbone Coonhounds have long snouts and noses, which increase the area available for smell receptors. The breed has the long drooping ears typical of hound breeds; however not nearly to the extent of breeds such as Bloodhounds or Basset Hounds. Some Redbone Coonhounds have ears that are significantly longer than others. It is said that drooping ears buffet smells toward the nose although there is little scientific evidence of this. Redbone Coonhounds have some seemingly extra skin around the jowls, head, and neck, but to a much lesser extent than is the case with many hound breeds. These dogs have dark brown to hazel eyes, although darker eyes are preferred. Redbone Coonhounds have the sad, pleading expression that many hounds are famous for.
Redbone Coonhounds are quite muscular dogs. They are a working breed and should always appear as such. These dogs are known for having thick bones for their size, making them appear even stronger. Redbone Coonhounds have comparatively long tails, which are often held in an upright, saber-like position.
Redbone Coonhounds are known for being very friendly and affectionate towards people. Even Redbone Coonhounds used as hunting dogs are very often treasured family pets. In particular, Redbone Coonhounds are known for being affectionate and gentle with children, with whom they frequently become close companions. If properly exercised and stimulated, Redbone Coonhounds can make a wonderful and affectionate family companion animal. These animals can be so affectionate that they may become inappropriate greeters, jumping and slobbering on you and your guests. This can be resolved with simple training.
Redbone Coonhounds were bred to hunt in packs with other dogs. This means that they generally get along well with other dogs. It is always important to socialize and carefully introduce new dogs. However, if you want to introduce a dog to a home with existing canine residents, a Redbone Coonhound may be an ideal choice. Some Redbone Coonhounds will exhibit dominance behaviors and bullying, particularly when sorting out social standing with new dogs. Like all breeds, unneutered male Redbone Coonhounds may exhibit aggression towards other male dogs. One potential problem exists with Redbone Coonhounds and small dogs. Some Redbone Coonhounds, particularly those who have been used for hunting, may mistake small breeds for prey and pursue and attack them.
The good nature and friendliness which Redbone Coonhounds show towards people and other dogs does not extend to non-canine animals. These dogs were bred to hunt, and they excel at doing so. Redbone Coonhounds tend to have a very high prey drive. If you have non-canine pets, a Redbone Coonhound may not be a good option for you. It is probably not advisable to bring an adult Redbone Coonhound into a home with non-canine pets. This is not to say that a Redbone Coonhound cannot live with the family cat if raised together and properly socialized. Just be aware that even if your Redbone Coonhound is best friends with your cat, it may stalk and kill your neighbor’s cat.
Like many hound breeds, Redbone Coonhounds are notorious for being difficult to train. These dogs are known for having selective obedience, and for doing what they want rather than what their owners want. It can be very difficult to get a Redbone Coonhound to do something which it does not want to. This does not mean that training a Redbone Coonhound is impossible. There are thousands of well-trained Redbone Coonhounds. It does mean that you will have to spend extra time and effort, as well as showing extra patience when training these dogs. Be aware that you will probably never get these dogs trained quite as well as you like, and even the best trained Redbone Coonhounds may exhibit willfulness. If you want a dog that will do tricks for you, a Redbone Coonhound may not be the best option. Redbone Coonhounds are highly food motivated. Any training program you intend to use with the breed should heavily rely on treats.
Redbone Coonhounds were bred to track game for hours on end without giving up. This instinct is still very much in the forefront of the breed’s mind. Redbone Coonhounds will get on a trail and they will follow it. Once they start it can be difficult, if not impossible to call them back. These dogs are quite fast and dedicated, so it is imperative that you keep a Redbone Coonhound on a leash whenever it is in an unfenced area unless the dog has been extensively trained. If a Redbone Coonhound is in a fence, make sure that that fence is very tall, very secure, and in some way prevents the dog from digging out. Coonhounds in general are notorious escape artists. These dogs are intelligent problem solvers, as well as being very strong and agile. Many Redbone Coonhounds are able go right over six-foot fences, or alternatively go through or under them.
Redbone Coonhounds are working dogs. They can track game for hours on end, often solving complex puzzles to do so. This means that they need plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. Bored Redbone Coonhounds may become destructive, masters of escape, very vocal, or a combination of all three. These dogs have the physical abilities and mental capacity to do some damage to your possessions. Additionally, these dogs love food and will do whatever it takes to get at it. You will definitely want to store all food in a secure place. Otherwise, your Redbone will find a way to get at it.
One aspect of the Redbone Coonhound which may cause some potential owners with difficulty is the breed’s voice. Redbone Coonhounds are a very vocal breed, and the noises that they make can be deafeningly loud. Redbone Coonhounds were bred to bay while hunting. This lets their handlers know when the dogs are on the scent, as well as when they have cornered their prey. Some raccoon hunters claim that their dogs’ voices can be heard from miles away. While useful for hunting, these vocalizations can be quite problematic in a city or a suburb. Well-exercised and stimulated Redbone Coonhounds will bay less, but they will still bay on occasion. Bored or nervous Redbone Coonhounds may bay for hours on end. This breed may lead to noise complaints. If you are considering getting a Redbone Coonhound you should do research on the sounds which the breed makes.
Redbone Coonhounds have low maintenance coats, which should rarely if ever require professional grooming. However, these dogs are shedders. Some Redbone Coonhounds are profuse shedders. There will be coarse fur all over your carpet, furniture, and clothes. Many Redbone Coonhounds possess a strong “doggy” odor that is unpleasant to many. Some Redbone Coonhounds drool, although no to the extent of breeds such as the Bloodhound or Mastiff.
Redbone Coonhounds do require extra attention be paid to their ears. The long drooping ears of the Redbone Coonhound are prone to collecting dirt and infection, so it is important to regularly clean them. It is best to start ear cleaning from a very young age, to avoid difficulties with powerful and willful adult Redbone Coonhounds.
In general, the Redbone Coonhound is a healthy breed. Life expectancies for the breed are comparable to similarly sized breeds at 10 to 12 years. Redbone Coonhounds were developed for hunting purposes, and dogs with health problems would have been excluded from bloodlines. This does not mean that the Redbone Coonhound is immune from health defects. The breed does suffer from several health problems.
The most serious common health defect in Redbone Coonhounds is Dysplasia of the hips and elbows. Dysplasia occurs when a joint is malformed. Eventually, this can cause severe arthritis, and even lameness in extreme cases. Studies conducted by the Canine Orthopedic Foundation of America have found that as many as 16% of Coonhounds suffer from dysplasia. The condition has genetic links, and may be inevitable in certain dogs. However, there are environmental factors which may lower the age of dysplasia’s appearance, as well as the condition’s severity.
Redbone Coonhounds are also susceptible to over-eating. Like many breeds of hound, Redbone Coonhounds were originally kept as pack hunters and often had to compete with many other dogs for food. This means that they will often eat as much as they can, whenever they can. Some hounds have been known to eat until their stomach’s rupture. It is very important to carefully regulate the diet of your Redbone Coonhound, as well as making sure your dog is properly exercised.
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 common health problems found in Redbone Coonhounds include: