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The Development of Basset Hounds in France and England

The Development of Basset Hounds in France and England

The development of Basset Hounds, a breed distinguished for its distinctive short legs and long ears, is a fascinating journey that spans across France and England.

In France: Origins and Early Development The story of Basset Hounds begins in France. The first mention of a “Basset” dog dates back to 1585 in “La Venerie,” a hunting text by Jacques du Fouilloux. The name “Basset” itself is derived from the Latin word “bassus,” meaning low, with the French diminutive “-et” added. These early Basset dogs were used for hunting foxes and badgers. It’s believed that the Basset type originated from a mutation in the litters of Norman Staghounds, descendants of the St Hubert’s Hound. Short-legged dogs like these were highly valued for hunting on foot, especially before the French Revolution when horseback hunting was restricted to the aristocracy.

Basset-type hounds gained prominence during Emperor Napoleon III’s reign (1852–1870). In 1853, Emmanuel Fremiet, a renowned animal sculptor, exhibited bronze sculptures of Napoleon III’s Basset Hounds, significantly raising their profile. By the 1863 dog exhibition in Paris, Basset Hounds had garnered international attention.

The controlled breeding of Basset Hounds in France began around 1870. Count Le Couteulx of Canteleu and Mr. Louis Lane played pivotal roles. Le Couteulx developed the Chien d’Artois, a utilitarian type with straight front legs, while Lane developed the Basset Normand, characterized by crooked front legs. These types were bred together to create the Basset Artésien Normand.

Transition to England: The Influence of Everett Millais The introduction of French Basset Hounds to England began in the 1870s. By the 1880s, selective breeding in England led to a heavier Basset type. A key figure in this transition was Everett Millais, often referred to as the father of the modern Basset Hound. In the 1890s, he bred a dog named Nicholas, likely a Basset Artésien Normand, with a Bloodhound to create a heavier Basset type in England. This breeding was notable for its use of artificial insemination and resulted in a litter delivered by caesarean section. These pups, combined with French and English Bassets, contributed to the development of the breed in England. The first breed standard for the Basset Hound, as we know it today, was established in Great Britain at the end of the 19th century and updated in 2010.

Millais’ contributions were significant. He was the first to exhibit a Basset Hound at a British dog show and a founding member of the Basset Hound Club. His approach to dog breeding was scientific, focusing on areas like artificial insemination, rational breeding, and disease control. He aimed to bring a more systematic approach to breeding and campaigned for the reform of dog shows, which sometimes put him at odds with the Kennel Club.

In summary, the development of Basset Hounds is a story of careful breeding and cultural exchange between France and England. Starting as a mutation in French hunting dogs, the breed was refined and popularized through aristocratic hunting practices, international exhibitions, and dedicated breeders like Millais. The Basset Hound’s journey from French forests to English show rings illustrates a remarkable evolution driven by both functional needs and aesthetic preferences.

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