Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Scent Hounds

With the recent announcement of a new Guinness World Record for the “longest ears on a living dog”, it seems like a good time to talk about scent hounds.

Harbor and his world-record ears.

Harbor, an 8-year old Black-and-Tan Coonhound, lives with Jennifer Wert in Boulder, Colorado.  He was recently recognized as the living dog with the longest ears, in celebration of his 12.25 inch left ear and 13.5 inch right ear.  See the award winning video.

However, Harbor’s ears don’t surpass those of Tigger, an Illinois Bloodhound who died in 2009.  Tigger retains his title as the dog with the longest ears ever, with his two ears’ combined length totaling 27.25 inches.  See Tigger’s story.

The scent hound group includes Fox Hounds, Basenjis, Beagles, Bloodhounds, Coonhounds, Dachshunds, Norwegian Elkhounds and Lundehunds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and Basset Hounds.  Obviously, the taller dogs in the group are going to be the ones that win awards of this type because shorter dogs would be tripping over ears that long.  Shorter dogs like the Dachshound and Basset Hound have proportionately shorter ears, although they are longer than those found on other short dogs such as the Pomeranian or Miniature Poodle.

Why do some dogs need long ears? 

Long ears on a scent hound are not just for looks, the ears actually serve an important function.  As they drag along the ground, they gather in scents and hold them around the dog’s face, allowing him or her to more fully appreciate the odors so they can track prey more efficiently.  That’s why these breeds are known for their tracking ability.

In addition to the long ears, these breeds usually have loose, wet lips that trap scent particles near the nose, and large nasal cavities used to process scents.  This processing allows scent hounds to distinguish between a rabbit being hunted and a fox that happens to cross the same path.

How do scent hounds hunt? 

In contrast to sight hounds, scent hounds don’t have to be particularly fast to aid in hunting.  While sight hounds track prey by always keeping them in sight, scent hounds can simply follow their noses so it doesn’t matter if they lose sight of their quarry.  A well-trained scent hound can follow a trail that is several days old, even if the prey runs through water.  What scent hounds lack in speed, they make up for in endurance, often following prey for long periods of time.

Larger scent hounds, with their longer legs, are usually used for horse-mounted hunters, while the shorter, slower dogs allow hunters to follow on foot.  Some scent hounds will even “tree” the quarry, allowing the hunter time to catch up.  These dogs typically howl or bay in their deep voices, keeping the prey up the tree and calling for the hunter.

Do scent hounds make good pets? 

All of the scent hound breeds are extremely lovable companions, good with children and other dogs.  However, because they are bred to hunt, many of them chase cats and other small pets.

Also because of generations of being bred to hunt, a scent hound is pretty much just a nose with four feet attached.  These stubborn dogs are often hard to train and even after successful training, they must live in a fenced yard if you don’t want to be forever chasing them through the neighborhood, following a squirrel or chipmunk.

If you live in the city, you need to know that most scent hounds are very loud.  They may bark at anything that moves, although their delightful baying is truly a joyous sound.

What do scent hounds do besides hunt? 

Just as in the movie Cool Hand Luke, scent hounds can be used to track people who have escaped from jail, as well as to find lost children or others who have disappeared.  Bloodhounds are thought to have the absolute best noses in the dog kingdom, although other scent hounds are sometimes used for search and rescue missions.

Some scent hounds put their noses to good use at airports and sea ports, checking incoming passengers and packages for contraband.  Although you typically think of a German Shepherd performing such tasks, the US Department of Agriculture uses a Beagle Brigade to find fruits, vegetables, and meats that are banned in this country, as reported in National Geographic.

If you’re not a hunter, but you want your pet dog to participate in activities that put his or her tracking abilities to good use, you might get involved in Earth Dog trials where enthusiasts challenge their dogs to follow scents into tunnels to find the den of prey.  These events are sponsored by the AKC, so you must have an eligible breed to participate.


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