The Black and Tan Coonhound has a long history of being a hunting dog. The original ancestor of the modern Black and Tan is the St. Hubert Hound, which is now more commonly referred to as a Bloodhound. These larger hounds were bred by the Belgian monks of St. Hubert, hence their name, and were famous for their ability to track regardless of the terrain, weather and conditions. They were not extremely fast dogs but they were tenacious and would never give up on a trail as long as there was any scent to follow. They were also incredibly smart problem solves and would often think their way through obstacles and possible blockages in the trail using very methodical and highly intelligent strategies.
The Monks, in about 1200, started sending a breeding pair of dogs to the King of France as an annual gift. From this yearly gift the hounds slowly spread all over Europe and the United Kingdom, resulting in a large number of hound type breeds developing at approximately the same time in various locations. It is recorded that a white hound, which came to be known as the Talbot Hound, was very popular in parts of England in the early 1500s. This hound was crossed back to the French St. Hubert Hounds, resulting in a very strong hunting dog that was capable of hunting animals of all different sizes from large stags to smaller mammals. Although the Talbot Hound was a popular dog at the time, by the 1900s the breed was completely extinct, however their genetics passed on through the crosses with the Bloodhound varieties of dogs in England. These larger sized Bloodhound crosses came over to the United States with the first settlers and explorers, along with another early ancestor of the modern Black and Tan Coonhound.
In the southern and eastern parts of the United States hunting through the rugged mountainous areas required dogs that were easy to track because of their vocalizations as well as their skills as outstanding trackers and treeing dogs. The English Foxhound was brought into the area and crossed with several hound varieties, resulting in a heavier bodied, more coonhound type dog known as the Virginia Foxhound. In the early part of the 1700's the Bloodhound crosses were carefully bred with specific types of Virginia Foxhounds to produce a highly specialized type of dog. Early breeders, mostly scouts and hunters, wanted a uniformly colored black and tan dog with a distinctive trailing ability, a "cold nose" and a clear voice while on the trail.
The result was the Black and Tan Coonhound, one of the few recognized American breeds within the hunting group of the American Kennel Club. The goal of the field Black and Tan Coonhound breeders continues to be breeding with an emphasis on hunting ability and performance as opposed to a show type of breed standard. Show lines focus more carefully on adherence to the breed standards, but the hunting ability of even show lines is still evident.
One reason that the Black and Tan Coonhound has continued to be such a popular hunting breed in the United States is that they do continue to have one of the best cold noses within any hunting dog breed. Cold nose refers to the dog's ability to scent on an old trail, rather than on a fresh trail which is known as a hot nose ability. Being able to scent an older trail means that the dogs are more likely to be able to track game even if the track was made hours ago or under wet or snowy types of weather conditions.
In addition to having an outstanding nose these dogs also have incredible stamina. They simply do not give up on a track and will follow the trail as far as it goes, regardless of how far they have to travel. They are not delicate dogs and can stand cold winter conditions as well as the blazing heat of the summer. These dogs are not aggressive by nature but are capable of hunting small and large predators such as bear, coyotes, mountain lions as well as larger game animals such as deer and stag. They can be trained to hunt as single dogs or in packs, and each will have a distinctive, musical type of baying vocalization while on the trail. Hunters can distinguish different dogs on the trail based solely on their different vocalizations.
The Black and Tan Coonhound can make the adjustment to living indoors although they are not typically considered a great match for city living. They are not a dominant dog and often are slightly timid of new settings and people, so city life can be somewhat overwhelming for some members of the breed. Puppies from show lines that are raised in more urban areas often do very well, but they will bark and bay and do have a tendency to roam and track, often putting them at risk if they ever get outside of a fenced yard. Like all hunting breeds they are highly focused when on a scent and don't seem to have any traffic sense, often resulting in the dog simply running out into the path of oncoming vehicles.
Overall the Black and Tan Coonhound is a calm dog that loves to be around the family. They are good with kids although lots of loud noises and sudden movements can be somewhat frightening to a dog that is not socialized around children. They are gentle dogs and tend to get along well with other canines and house pets when properly socialized. They are not recommended for households with rodent types of pets including rabbits. Often the Black and Tan Coonhound is found as a farm dog where they are able to roam and wander but still have lots of human contact and interaction.
There is very little hunting training that is required to get the Black and Tan Coonhound started on scenting and tracking. Most will do this automatically, often starting from puppies. Working with a hunting club or experienced coonhound owner can help develop the natural skills of this true hunting breed.