Improving The Bloodhound

My long-standing interest and involvement with working dogs has led me recently to a keen interest in the mantrailing bloodhound. I believe the bloodhound who functions well in his task of mantrailing, to be among the most useful of all canines. There are many impressive types of working dogs, herding dogs, catch dogs, and a myriad of various hunting dogs and utility dogs etc. However, my feeling is that a dog which benefits mankind directly; such as guide dogs for the blind, or mantrailing dogs who can find lost people or escaped criminal suspects, are surely among the most elite and noble of all of the various working dogs. Therefore, the prospect of being of service to my fellow man through volunteering the use of well-trained and well-bred bloodhounds appeals to me greatly at this stage of my life.

Having been a fairly serious student of animal husbandry since the early 1980s, when I bred a “strain” of fancy rats, and then later as a breeder of working dogs, I set out to search for a pure strain of bloodhounds from which I could select my initial working stock. After several months of searching, I have come to the conclusion: sadly there are no pure strains of working bloodhounds currently in existence. I wish to give a sort of third party consultant’s view on how I think the bloodhound can and should be improved. First, what do I mean by a strain? The dictionary definition of a “strain” as pertaining to biology or animal husbandry as follows:

STRAIN = “A group of organisms of the same species, having distinctive characteristics but not usually considered a separate breed or variety.”

So, when relating this definition to canines, a strain is essentially a distinct “family” or “bloodline” within a breed, which has its own unique characteristics. Presumably, these characteristics are distinct and superior in nature than the mean average of the breed, thus making a proven animal descended from a “pure strain” or “family” more reliable in his duties. It is also likely that he will be more prepotent as a brood animal. Pure strains are nearly always highly inbred. By this process of breeding individuals within a family, any hidden recessive genes for physical or performance faults manifest themselves, and the dogs that manifest weakness of any kind, or who are at the lower end of the strain in general, are culled. Also, recessive genetic patterns allowing dogs to function well above the average of the breed are manifest, and more easily duplicated through inbreeding. This process is what I call “genetic cleansing”, as we discard the undesirable genetic garbage, and cause the most desirable traits to become dominant through our selectivity. Breeding clean gene pools or strains, and then crossing them amongst each other, is the very process by which the bloodhound evolved and was maintained as a working dog in the centuries that preceded ours. There were many pure strains in the history of the bloodhound. While it is true that some of these early breeders had an emphasis on show dogs, it is also true that they were linebreeding on proven working dogs to produce their show stock. We must remember and never lose sight of the fact that form follows function, not vise-versa. Breeding what we “think” a solid mantrailer looks like will never be as successful a direction to go as breeding good mantrailers, regardless of conformation. If we let successful working dogs become our standard, they will in general also be handsome and athletic dogs by default.

Apparently, the trait of being able to scent and trail is so very dominant in the working bloodhound, that it is not so easily lost through the careless scatterbred mating patterns that we see in large measure today. However, experienced handlers of mantrailing bloodhounds know that not all hounds are created equal. Some are able to “track” instead of “trail,” and there are several accounts of hounds both old and modern wherein the dog would trail with the head held high almost effortlessly, so as to make onlookers think that he wasn’t even on a scent trail. Certainly those “once in a lifetime” types of superior hounds with outstanding success records are what all serious mantrailers would like to see produced with greater regularity. I’m talking about dogs that can run older trails successfully, and have a greater overall intensity for their task. I’m talking about dogs that can detect the freshest scent and successfully trail, when clean and isolated scent articles may not be available. Dogs that have an athletic type of hound body in contrast to the fat, blocky show type bloodhounds we see today. An athletic body will of course allow them to endure and stay on the trail longer as well as to recover from the work quicker. A good strain should also be able to produce a hound with greater longevity, and fewer health concerns, than what we see today. The questions that are raised in pondering such an effort are “why aren’t these elite hounds produced with greater regularity currently,” and “how could one begin to produce top mantrailers with regularity?”

First let us examine why I believe the elite type of working bloodhounds are not produced with greater regularity. I firmly believe we can point to the AKC (as well as other registries) and dog shows as the primary reason that all working dogs decline in quality. I know that such a statement will chagrin some, but I believe it is the truth. If we look back to the people who promoted show dogs early in any breed’s history, they usually had the greatest of intentions in promoting their favorite breeds of working dog in a positive way. However; over time the show gradually becomes the primary focus, and the thought of breeding one’s winning show bitch to a lanky old highly accomplished mantrailer, instead of the latest and greatest show champion becomes very unappealing. After all, who in show circles or the general public would want to buy puppies out of a less than stellar looking working dog with no titles, even if the dog would truly improve the breed? It is much easier to sell the descendants of show champions than some mantrailer whose exploits are largely unknown and unpublicized. I think the very reasons the quality of dogs have declined, and will continue to decline, are “dog shows” and the “puppy business.” “Pet Quality” dogs have value to both the peddler/breeder and puppy purchaser. The selling of puppies simply promotes more selling of puppies, and that is what keeps a registry in business. Seldom do we see bloodhound people keeping entire litters that they have produced, or keeping them in tight circles of friends for stringent scrutiny, and selection, with no thought of selling any. No, the majority of any bloodhound litter today is for sale; in fact most breeders tend to line up the buyers of these dogs prior to making a mating. Yet, these same breeders seem to want to prohibit the buyers of their stock from the same type of peddling which they engage in by registering these dogs with “AKC Limited Registration.” Again, I know that this type of commentary will likely cut to the very center, and enrage some readers, but the truth usually has a way of doing that.

To make matters worse, the American Bloodhound Club is closely aligned with the American Kennel Club, and promotes its agenda, which are primarily shows, and the breeding of more show dogs. The fanciers of bloodhound today are splintered into three principle groups, and variations of the three groups—namely working dog folks, show dog folks and puppy peddlers. The ABC; like any breed organization, is a political organization, and the same type of folks that usually are drawn to the politics of the show dog circles, are also motivated towards the leadership of a breed association. Therefore, the agenda of the ABC is largely the agenda of the show dog people, and the people with no interest in shows but only in working dogs, must sit idly by with little input or representation regarding the declining direction the breed is headed in regard to working qualities. Invariably as either overall breed popularity or show involvement increases, working quality will decrease.

In fact, renowned bloodline breeder Dr. Leon Whitney stated in his book, How to Breed Dogs,“It is almost axiomatic that the more popular a breed is, the sloppier the breeding will be.” He goes on further to elaborate about the separation in the fancy in his early days with the bloodhound between those who bred and use mantrailers, and those who bred show dogs. “Now neither group was antagonistic to the other, but one group developed a hound that could live and was useful and beautiful, while the other developed a type that was fragile and beautiful according the breeders’ type of beauty. The point I am trying to drive home is this: why should the proper type not be that which is the best for the purposes for which the breed is intended?” This great philosophical chasm in the fancy between type and functionality, mingled in with a peaceful coexistence between fanciers is very similar to that we see today in the ABC. Indeed, history repeats itself.

Another real life scenario is that many of the people who are strictly working dog people have no inclination towards breeding dogs. They are happy working with one or two dogs, and when the dog gets older, they buy and train another as a prospective replacement. These people; many of them law enforcement or search-and-rescue personnel, have some of the very proven dogs that could make a big contribution to improving the breed. Yet sadly their dogs seldom or never get used in the brood pen. Other people who are accomplished in mantrailing do breed their mantrailers, yet may have limited knowledge on the subject of genetic management, let alone improvement. Often times they breed in the simple format of “mantrailer to mantrailer,” with no real regard for bloodline. In the bloodhound fancy today, I think most of the better dogs come out of such programs. While “best to best”, or “worker to worker,” is surely a step in the right direction, it is still far from putting the genetic odds into our favor and improving the breed to the fullest extent possible. One other problem that stands in the way of breed improvement is the Bloodhound Rescue movement. Every good home that is willing to take in some undocumented, unproven “rescued bloodhound” is one more home that we eliminate from taking in a dog of excellent breeding and character. If someone is desirous to own a bloodhound, shouldn’t they have the opportunity to own a good one instead of some suspect individual that is not representative of the breed in phenotype, genotype, temperament, or any combination of the aforementioned? I sure think so! The concept of Breed Rescue is, and always will be, in direct opposition to true breed improvement. Again, I am aware that this position is politically incorrect, but those who are truly interested in improving the breed will clearly see the wisdom in this viewpoint. With this short overview of some of the problems I have observed in the fancy, let us consider some possible solutions.

The second question I posed was “how could one produce the elite working bloodhound with greater regularity?” The answer to this is by going back to producing pure strains, just like our forefathers did. It amazes me that while the bloodhound fancy reveres Dr. Leon F. Whitney and his accomplishments as a breeder of bloodhounds, they are completely out of step from the breeding philosophy he employed successfully. Dr. Whitney stated in his book, The Basis for Breeding “Inbreeding is the great means at the disposal of the breeder to originate new breeds or purify old.” Well, isn’t that exactly what we would like to see, the bloodhound purified to the level that he once was as a working dog first and foremost? Producing pure strains is the only way to improve the breed. It only stands to reason that to try and obtain “consistency” out of continued random selection will not work. It can’t work. The very thought defies logic! We must add an element of genetic consistency to attain a greater degree of predictability to our end product. Ironically, linebreeding has largely become taboo in the bloodhound community, usually because someone heard of a bad result somewhere along the way. Invariably, inbreeding gets the bad rap. Christian Wreidt wrote the following in his book Heredity in Livestock:

“Experiments show that inbreeding in itself is not detrimental, but the genetic factors of the animal used in inbreeding alone determine whether the results are good or bad.”
(In other words SELECTION)

Folks, my formula for improving the breed are not new ideas, it is not magic, and it is not a quick fix either. The methods I hereby recommend would take years to come into fruition, and yet ultimately it would all be worthwhile. I believe there should be a three-step approach to such a restorative effort of the bloodhound: First, form a group of fanciers who are united in their effort to create a superior strain (or strains) of bloodhounds. Second, identify the best mantrailers available to the group to use as brood stock, and proceed to make limited selective breedings with those individuals. Third, retain all stock produced for assessment, completely abandon the practice of selling any dogs outside of the group for at least 10 years. Yes, I believe this is an effort that would take at least 10 years to see dependable traits becoming “set” within the family, and to cleanse the genetic garbage that lies behind the scatterbred bloodhounds of our day. Why do I say 10 years? Well, that figure was based on my own experience; moreover, based on Dr. Whitney’s writings, it seems that when others faced this dilemma with the bloodhound in the past, this is the exact same time frame it likewise took them to make progress toward significant improvement.

I again quote from Dr. Whitney’s book How To Breed Dogs: “I grew up and bought some (bloodhounds) of my own. But during the interim a change had come over the breed so that what I got were unlike the dogs I had watched with such awe twenty years before. What I bought were more like the useful dogs before the show people began to tinker with them. They had short lips, they were agile instead of phlegmatic, they were extremely alert instead of depressed. But most important of all, they were mightily better suited to their jobs.” Now how did such a transformation come about in America? It came about by the dogs being used, and selected on the basis of their usefulness. And the men who used them in trailing people and criminals, found that the show type had meagre (sic) vitality, was too slow for the purposes, were no earthly use for hunting game because of their ponderous size, were no good for pets because of their drooling lips, often made people exclaim when they saw the big red patch of skin under their eyes ‘disgusting.’ So these men who found the dogs useful bred for utility until within ten years the breed reached the greatest usefulness the world has ever come to know.”

This type of strain-breeding effort I have described would also produce hounds that were free of entropian, dysplasia, bloat, and all of the common problems the breed is faced with today, not to mention the ineffective phenotype that has been mentioned. Dogs that manifest any of these faults later in life, or produce offspring regularly with these faults simply need to be eliminated as future brood dogs. In this way, with intense dedication and devotion, I know a clean linebred bloodhound strain could improve the breed significantly, as compared to the current scatterbred bloodhound of our day. Even if the performance aspects were not improved so dramatically, though I estimate they would be, the cleansing alone from common genetic faults would be a great boon to the breed. As I stated earlier, history repeats itself. Isn’t it time that a group comes along and once again creates a pure strain (or several) to leave a legacy of working stock to the future generations who want a real bloodhound and not the show type which is so far removed from the original scent hound? I believe it is.

This article was written by TFX.

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