Most people are very familiar with the characterization of the hound dog group; however there are really a very wide range of breeds that fall within this specific category. Understanding the typical traits and temperaments of the hounds will then allow individuals to decide if this is the group that will most closely match your specific requirements for a dog. Prospective owners can then make the determination as to which specific breed and type of hound is the best option.
The term "hound" was not randomly selected for this group. It is the method by which these dogs chase or track their prey, literally hounding them either through visual means, scent discrimination or a combination of both. Generally hounds tend to be very intelligent dogs although they can also be very methodical in their actions and reactions to hunting situations. Throughout breeding programs those hounds that hunt by vision, known as sight hounds, have become leaner, faster and have incredible stamina for fast modes of travel. This is important for the dog to be able to keep their prey in visual range.
Scent hounds, on the other hand, didn't need to be as fast. They were bred to rely on their nose and ability to travel long distances at a steady pace, gradually wearing down the animals they were tracking by their relentless pursuit. Typically the scent hounds are heavier, stocker and more stoic in their temperament and physical abilities than the often more high strung and highly energetic sight hounds.
As a group most members of the hound group have always been bred for hunting ability with relatively little emphasis on size, conformity of color or adherence to a physical standard. In the last 100 years or so this trend has changed, with show lines of the hounds also emerging for a great many breeds. Typically even in show lines a very strong hunting instinct still exists with these dogs, making them a unique type of dog to own and train.
Almost all of the scent hounds and a great majority of the hounds in the sight group are outstanding pack dogs. They have been kept in hunting packs for generations, often combining various types of hounds for different hunting styles and terrain. These dogs as a group tend to be very social but they can also be slightly dominant if not properly socialized and trained from a young age.
As pack dogs they are also very attuned to their human family. Hounds tend to be gentle with children and very tolerant of kids. Since most are not highly dominant in their temperament they are also willing to listen to children and make good companion pets for kids of any age. Most breeds within the group can adjust to other animals in the house especially when raised together, however some will have a high prey drive and may not be an ideal match. Looking at specific breed traits within the dogs in the hound group will be an important consideration if other pets are in the home.
Most of the hound group are natural guard dogs and will have a very loud, pronounced type of bark that they use to alert their owner of the approach of strangers. Some hounds have the very unique baying sound that is both distinctive and typical of the breeds. This baying is often loved by the owners, but may not be as well received by neighbors and those living within moderate proximity of the hound.
Another characteristic that tends to mark the entire group is their natural level of independence. They are typically content to be by themselves for part of the day, and some will make good kennel dogs if raised in that type of environment from puppies. However, most hounds also love to be with their owners and will bond very closely with the family. Since they tend to mature and settle down energy wise within a year or two, they are good indoor dogs provided they have lots of routine exercise and outdoor time.
As a group dogs within the hound dog group will vary as to the extent they show common traits of the group. Almost all dogs within the hound dog group can be challenging to work with off leash, largely because they are inherently geared towards tracking or chasing. Most hounds of either the scent or sight variety are extremely focused dogs and are often very difficult to train to come off a track or off of chasing prey, regardless of how well behaved they may otherwise be. Generally hounds are not a good option for an off leash dog unless the owners are willing to put in routine, regular and consistent off leash training opportunities. Both types will travel for miles either chasing or tracking something, often making them very difficult to locate. It is not uncommon for a hound to also range far and wide even when not directly on a track as these dogs have been bred for long distance travel and lots of movement.
Hounds tend to be a relatively healthy group of dogs as a whole. It is probably a great deal to do with their early breeding programs that were designed to produce hunting dogs that needed to be naturally healthy and free from significant genetic defects and conditions. With the increase in emphasis on appearance in some lines, there is a slight increase in conditions such as hip dysplasia and other genetically inherited conditions that are common in the medium to larger breeds of dogs.
For owners looking for dogs with specific coat types, the hound group literally offers it all. Greyhounds and Whippets have the very fine, sleek and short single coats while the Afghan Hounds, Otterhounds and the Borzoi have the beautiful, longer flowing or wiry coats. In between there are the Beagles, Foxhounds, Basenjis and the Rhodesian Ridgeback that offer shorter, thick coats that are relatively low maintenance.
The hound group is also unique in that it has its large sized dogs such as the Scottish Deerhound and the Afghan Hound, but it also has its smaller members as well. Some of the shorter sized hounds include the Basset Hound, Dachshund, Whippet and the relatively rare Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen.