The Southern Hound was a breed of scent hound native to England. The breed was the most traditional and possibly oldest of the British scent hound breeds, and is thought to have figured prominently in the development of all that followed it. The breed was known for its excellent nose and ability to follow trails that were several days old, and it is said that only the Bloodhound was superior in its tracking ability. The breed became extinct due to environmental factors, interbreeding with other dogs, and lack of interest. The Southern Hound is also known as the Old English Hound, traditional English Hound, and English Hound.
The Southern Hound was a very old breed that was developed centuries before written records were kept of dog breeding. As a result, almost nothing is known for sure about its ancestry. What is clear is that the breed was developed in Southern England and Wales and that it was widespread by the end of the Renaissance. However, how and when the breed was developed are matters of intense debate.
Hunting with hounds was the primary pastime of European nobility during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. At the time, the nobility were the only ones able to afford to keep hunting dogs, and in any case they outlawed anyone else from doing so. Vast hunting reserves were set aside to ensure that there was sufficient land to hunt on, at the cost of reducing a noble’s potential for wealth. Hunting became more than just a sport; it became a focal point of aristocratic society. Countless personal, dynastic, and political relationships were formed and nurtured on the hunt, and decisions were discussed and made that would impact the lives of millions. Although popular across Europe, hunting with packs of scent hounds reached its pinnacle in the nations of England and France, both of which were considered epicenters of hound breeding.
There are at several possible theories to describe the origins of the Southern Hound. The most widely held theory is that the breed is descended from hounds brought to England by William the Conqueror and his Norman armies in 1066. William and the other Normans were the descendants of Viking raiders who had settled in Northern France and had become assimilated by the French culture. At the time, the French were widely regarded as possessing the best hounds in Europe. Since time immemorial, there have been several distinct types of pack hounds in France, of which the oldest are probably the Grand Bleu De Gascogne and the various types of Griffon. While these dogs bred true, they were not pure bred in the modern sense. The monks at the Saint Hubert Monastery changed this when they began a rigorous breeding program to develop the ideal hunting dog. Located near the Belgian city of Mouzon, the monastery began to produce pure blooded scent hounds sometime between 750 and 900 A.D. These so-called Saint Hubert Hounds became very famous and sought after for their keen sense of smell. Every year, the Monastery sent a number of Saint Hubert Hounds to the King of France as a tribute, and continued to do so for several centuries. The King of France kept a few of these dogs but gave most of them away as gifts to his nobles. William the Conqueror and several of his associates acquired Saint Hubert Hounds in just this manner.
It is known that a number of Saint Hubert Hounds were brought to England by the Normans, as well as a few Grand Bleu de Gascognes and possibly the Talbot as well. Because the Saint Hubert Hound was pure-blooded, it became known as the Blooded Hound or Bloodhound. The Talbot is a matter of much great debate. Some claim that the Talbot was not a unique breed at all, but rather just a white Bloodhound. Others claim that it was a separate breed native to France. Still others claim that the Talbot was in fact an ancient British breed. According to the Norman origin theory, the Bloodhound, the Grand Bleu de Gascogne, and Talbot were crossed with each other and possibly a few local British dogs to develop a new set of breeds. Perhaps the most common of these was the Southern Hound. The Southern Hound is sometimes said to be primarily descended from the Talbot, other times the Bloodhound, and occasionally an even mixture of both. Those who believe that the Southern Hound was developed from French dogs think that it first appeared sometime between the 1200’s and 1400’s.
There is a sizable minority of researchers who believe that the Southern Hound is far older than the Norman invasion, and is in fact the original British Hound breed. This position was seemingly first taken by William Youatt in his 1852 work The Dog. There is some evidence that dogs very similar to modern scent hounds were present in England well before the arrival of the Roman Empire in A.D. 43. While possibly convincing, this evidence is far from definitive. It is quite apparent that the Pre-Roman Celts had highly skilled hunting dogs. Numerous sources describe how hunting dogs were one of Roman Britain’s major exports. Many claim that these dogs were in fact Southern Hounds or very similar breeds such as Harriers. However, these sources seem to give conflicting descriptions of the animals in question and it is more commonly believed that they were either Spaniels or Terriers than scent hounds. Those who think that the Southern Hound was developed from other British Dogs usually place its date of origin to at least 2,000 years ago, and possibly much older.
The actual truth is probably a compromise between these two positions. The Southern Hound was probably the result of crossing dogs imported by the Normans with the existing scent hound population of England. Those dogs were themselves probably an amalgamation of Celtic, Roman, Germanic, and Scandinavian dogs that freely crossed during many centuries of conquest and migration. The Southern Hound was definitely in its ultimate form by the end of the 1400’s, and probably at least 300 years earlier.
There remains a substantial amount of confusion regarding the relationship between the Southern Hound and two other breeds, the Talbot and the Northern Hound (often referred to as the North Country Beagle). It is unclear whether these three dogs were entirely separate breeds, different varieties of the same breed, or the exact same breed. In particular, the Southern and Northern Hounds are often described as being very similar, although most writers seem to more strongly connect the Talbot and the Southern Hound. Most researchers believe that the Talbot was responsible for the predominantly white coat of the Southern Hound. The most commonly mentioned differences between the breeds are that the Southern Hound was larger, slower moving, a slower trailer, and possessed more loose skin than the Northern Hound. The Southern Hound was also considered to have the far superior voice.
The Southern Hound was very common across Wales and in England south of the River Trent. The breed was known for its extremely keen sense of smell. It is said that the dog was able to follow trails that were several days old, and that only the Bloodhound had a better sense of smell. The Southern Hound was known for its dedication, and the breed would sometimes follow the same trail for several days until it located its quarry. The breed was so attracted to the scents that it was following that it would apparently sometimes stop trailing to lick the scent from the ground. Known to be a very slow tracker, the Southern Hound trailed very slowly and methodically, exactly what is necessary to trail deer through a forest. Until the 1600’s, the preferred quarry of the British nobility was always deer, and that is the game that the Southern Hound specialized in. Southern Hounds would find a deer’s scent, and then follow the trail baying so that riders on horseback could follow. Before the invention of hunting guns, the deer would either be brought down either by a spear or arrow, and sometimes by the Southern Hounds themselves. Although definitely a deer specialist, the Southern Hound was also used to hunt a variety of other game such as wolves, foxes, and boar. The Southern Hound was greatly favored by the nobility of Southern England and Wales, and most of the region’s gentry probably kept a pack. The breed was probably used to hunt deer by every English Monarch from the 13th through 17th Centuries.
Ideally suited to its task, the Southern Hound would probably still exist today if it were not for dramatic environmental changes that took place in England. Increased knowledge of medicine, technological improvements in farming, and new crops introduced from the Americas meant that the British population exploded. Most of the wild places remaining in Britain were converted to agriculture. The loss of woodlands meant that the populations of those species which depended on them such as the deer and boar began to rapidly decline, and some went extinct entirely such as the Grey Wolf. The increasingly small area in which to hunt also made traditional deer hunting less enjoyable even when game was available. However, the transformation of woodland into open farmland was highly beneficial to those species adapted to it, especially the Red Fox. With much of England turned into ideal fox habitat and its primary predators driven into extinction, Red Fox populations exploded. Red Foxes became a major agricultural menace, killing poultry, rabbits, piglets, and the occasional sheep or goat and digging holes that broke the legs of horses and cattle.
Prior to the destruction of England’s forests, the British nobility thought that hunting foxes was beneath them. Such creatures were vermin and unworthy of providing the proper sport for young aristocrats. This meant that the British peasantry was responsible for their destruction. Beginning in the 1500’s, farmers in Northern England began banding together to hunt foxes. Although each farmer could only afford to keep one or two dogs, a group of farmers could field a pack of several dozen. The first dogs chosen for this task were Southern Hounds, Northern Hounds, and possibly Harriers as well. Eventually, fox hunts turned into major social events and were greatly enjoyed for their entertainment value in addition to vermin eradication. The British nobility took notice and began to hunt foxes themselves, using their own packs of Southern Hounds to do so.
Unfortunately for the breed, the Southern Hound proved less than ideal for the new sport of fox hunting. The English nobility came to prefer a very fast fox hunt, where most of the day was spent in hot pursuit. The Southern Hound was to be too slow of a hunter for the tastes of most fox hunters who were greatly irritated by the breed’s frequent stops and deliberate motion. Hunters sought to develop a new breed specifically designed to hunt foxes. They used the Southern Hound as a base and crossed it with Northern Hounds, Harriers, Greyhounds, Terriers, and possibly Collie-type dogs, Old English Bulldogs, Scottish Deerhounds, and Lurchers as well. Different authors are of different opinions as to how much of the English Foxhound’s lineage can trace back to the Southern Hound. Many believe that the Southern Hound is the Foxhound’s primary ancestor, while others think that it played an equal role to other dogs. The resulting breed became known as the English Foxhound. This dog was much faster than the Southern Hound, as well as being significantly smaller. The Foxhound was also considered to be more refined and standardized than its ancestor. The English Foxhound proved to be so ideally suited for fox hunting that it has remained virtually unchanged since the 1600’s.
The popularity of the Foxhound spread quickly across the British Isles. By the 1700’s, the vast majority of British hunting packs were Foxhounds. A substantial portion of the Southern Hound’s population was used to create the Foxhound, and the breeds continued to be crossed to improve the Foxhound’s sense of smell, which was considerably less than that of its ancestor. Since deer hunting had dramatically decreased, there was little need to keep Southern Hounds, and the breeding of these dogs began to decline rapidly. The Southern Hound continued to be used to hunt other creatures where a slower deliberate hunter with a very keen sense of smell is a necessity, such as otters and polecats (the wild ancestor of the domestic ferret). However, British otter hunters wanted a dog specifically suited to hunt their quarry of choice. They began to cross the Southern Hound with other dogs such as Terriers and Griffons to develop the Otterhound. The Otterhound impacted the Southern Hound in a very similar manner to the Fox Hound, but on a lesser scale. By the end of the 1700’s, the Southern Hound was a breed without a purpose and had become exceedingly rare.
There is substantial dispute as to what became of the Southern Hound after the 1700’s. Some sources believe that the breed was entirely extinct prior to 1800. Many others, including Youatt, believed that the Southern Hound continued to live in isolated pockets of Devonshire and Wales well into the 19th Century. The Welsh apparently kept the breed to hunt polecats while the farmers of Devonshire reportedly used the breed to follow fox trails that were too old for the Foxhound to follow. Youatt claimed that the breed was still being used in Devonshire in the original manner. Each farmer kept two or three Southern Hounds and a village would band together to hunt foxes. As late as 1881, a Bloodhound breeder named Edwin Brough claimed that he possessed a pure bred Southern Hound named Clara which he subsequently added to his Bloodhound bloodlines. He apparently provided no proof of this claim, and it has been doubted. Despite these last fanciers, the breed continued to decline. Although the exact date that the Southern Hound went extinct will probably remain a mystery, even those that believe that it continued to live on well into the 19th Century agree that it almost certainly did not survive to see the 20th.
The Southern Hound has been extinct as a distinct breed for between one and two hundred years. However, the blood of this dog continues to live on in a number of breeds. The Southern Hound was directly used to develop the English Foxhound and the Otterhound, which in turn were used to develop the Airedale Terrier, all three American Foxhounds, four out of the five Coonhound breeds, and numerous other scent hounds across the world. Until very recently, different breeds of dogs were routinely crossed with each other and the Southern Hound is also thought to have factored heavily in the development of the Bloodhound, Harrier, and Beagle as well. It is commonly suggested that these breeds all get their similar body shape, coloration, keen sense of smell, determined nature, and beautiful baying calls from the Southern Hound, and possibly their tails, ears, and faces as well. Somewhat fittingly, the descendants of the Southern Hound are now most popular and numerous in the American South, and are sometimes referred to as Southern Hounds. Experts are currently divided as to whether the English Foxhound, Otterhound, Bloodhound, or Beagle is the most similar to the original Southern Hound, but unless more detailed and realistic depictions of the breed can be found this will probably remain unsolved. It does not appear that there have been any attempts made to recreate the Southern Hound, and given that hunting with dogs is now illegal in England, Wales, and Scotland (with a few vermin eradication exceptions) it is unlikely that any will be attempted for the foreseeable future.
The Southern Hound was intermediate in appearance between an English Foxhound and a Bloodhound. The breed was quite large, although the records do not indicate exactly how large. It appears that the breed was roughly the same height as a Bloodhound, although it was somewhat less thickly built. The Southern Hound was usually described as bony, but it unclear whether that meant big-boned and thick or skinny with its bones protruding. The chest of the Southern Hound was relatively wide and deep. The Southern Hound may have had slightly bent or crooked legs, but that might have been an illusion created by its methodical walking style. The Southern Hound was very muscular, and looked capable of working for long hours in the field. The tail of the Southern Hound was quite long and those illustrations that have survived of the breed show it being held in the upright, saber-like position common to other British scent hounds.
The Southern Hound had a long muzzle which provided the maximum area for scent receptors, but it was not as wide as that of a Bloodhound. The breed had long, drooping ears that were also relatively wide and thick. This breed supposedly had a significant amount of extra skin, but was not quite wrinkly. Perhaps the breed’s most distinctive feature was a large dewlap of skin on the chest. The Southern Hound had a short, smooth coat that was thick enough to provide weather resistance. It is unclear exactly what colors the breed came in. The most common colors were white with black or brown markings and tricolor, although the breed may have been found in any number of colors commonly seen in Beagles and Foxhounds.
The Southern Hound was probably very similar to a traditional pack hound in terms of temperament. Bred to hunt in large packs, the breed would have shown low levels of dog aggression. The breed was known to be singularly dedicated in its pursuit of game, willing to follow the same trail for days on end. The dog supposedly was so excited to follow a trail that it would periodically stop to lick the ground. This may actually have been a trailing technique to enhance the dog’s sense of smell or awareness, but the truth will probably never be known. Bred to work for hour after hour, the Southern Hound was capable of extreme endurance, even if it preferred to move at a slower pace than other pack hounds. The Southern Hound was supposed to attack the game that it was chasing, and so the dog would have exhibited substantial levels of aggression to non-canine animals. There do not seem to be any records of a Southern Hound being used for any task other than hunting, so it is probably safe to assume the breed did not possess strong herding or protective instincts. Since this breed was rarely if ever kept as a companion animal, nothing seems to have been written about its interactions with people, although based on similar breeds it was probably quite friendly and not particularly aggressive.