The breeds of hounds bred and developed in America are directly descended from British and French hound breeds with the exception of the Plott Hound. The Plott Hound was developed from the German Hanoverian Hound, with a possible small amount of Weimaraner blood in one or more of the original five imported dogs. The American Hounds are all classed as coonhounds and although some of these hounds are used for hunting larger game, they are all associated with coon hunting, particularly in the southern and eastern parts of the United States.
Within the American Kennel Club there are three breeds of American hounds fully recognized and those are the Plott Hound, American Foxhound and the Black and Tan Coonhound. Within the Miscellaneous Group, which are dogs that are pending full AKC registration, there are also coonhound breeds. Typically with the American hounds they are in the Miscellaneous Group simply because the numbers of the dogs are not high enough and they are not widely spread geographically to be fully recognized. American hounds in the Miscellaneous class include the Bluetick Coonhound, Redbone Coonhound and the Treeing Walker Coonhound. These dogs can compete in specific classes within the AKC and are also part of the FSS through the American Kennel Club until they are fully accepted in to the stud books.
There is another group known as the Foundation Stock Service or FSS within the AKC. These are purebred lines that are building up numbers and lineage in order to enter into the Miscellaneous Class and then into a specific group. Within the FSS there are two American hounds including the American English Coonhound and the Treeing Tennessee Brindle.
The American Kennel Club hosts different types of trial competitions for the American coonhounds and they culminate the yearly competitions with a 6 day competition that is held in different locations each year. These events are carefully planned and organized with no actual hunting occurring during the competition. The dogs do not physical touch or even contact any game animals and there are no firearms allowed in the competition. The dogs are evaluated on their tracking ability alone, as well as other specific features and performance factors that the judges are focusing in on.
In general there are several different competitions within the coonhound trials and owners may choose to enter their dog into one or all different types of events. Scent discrimination and tracking are a huge component of all classes, but so is the efficiency at which the dog is able to track. Dogs that constantly have to back track to pick up a scent are deducted points, as are dogs that attempt to guess where the game is going and miss the track or follow an incorrect scent trail. The dogs are also evaluated on how they handle a breaking scent, which is another track or trail that runs across the actual prey trail. Dogs that go off on these breaking scent trails are penalized in the competition.
The way that the coonhound barks is also important. Dogs that bark constantly even when not on the scent are deducted points, as are dogs that don't bark when they are moving. This is because the hunter relies on the sound that the dog makes to determine where the dog is and when they have the prey animal, typically a raccoon, in a treed position.
In most types of competitions the dogs are timed for one minute while on the trail and the number of barks or bawls are counted. Puppies are timed for 30 seconds, and these totals are factored into the score for the competition total. In addition the dog must change the type of bark to a bay when they have treed the prey, resulting in a distinctly different sound for the hunter to follow.
Trials or competitions for coonhounds are amazing to watch and a great way to find out about the sport. Keep in mind that no animals are harmed in these types of events and there is no actual hunting involved. When the prey animal is treed the hunters retrieve their dogs and the judges tally the scores, allowing the raccoon to safely slip away.
Other types of events that coonhounds can be used in include agility, obedience and bench shows. Bench shows are relatively new for the coonhounds, as this is a way to compare the dog's physical appearance and temperament to a breed standard. There is no test of the dog's hunting ability, however many of the bench champions are also field champions. In the recognized hound group American hounds there are two different lines, bench and field, but both still have hunting instincts and true hound temperaments. As a general statement the bench lines tend to be larger dogs overall and typically slightly less exercise intensive. Field lines may be more high strung and have a much higher natural prey drive than the show lines, but this is only a very general statement. Each dog within either a bench or field line will have his or her own natural tendencies and level of hunting instincts.
Agility work is ideal for many of the American hounds since it combines the dog's natural ability to think and solve problems with lots of physical activity. As all American hounds are larger medium to large sized dogs they compete with full jumps, tunnels and other types of obstacles. The hound that is used in agility needs to be very highly obedience trained and be good at following directions both close to the owner as well as at a distance. Their natural good nature and easy going temperament makes them good for these types of competitions.
Hounds are also seen in other events as well, although not commonly. Hounds and hound crosses are starting to be more common as specialty scent discrimination dogs for police and law enforcement agencies as well as private types of search and rescue services. Hounds can also be used in highly specialized jobs such as cadaver dogs and drug and bomb detection dogs. The coonhounds, with their slightly smaller bodies and size than the traditional Bloodhounds are slowing making inroads into these demanding fields.