The Bloodhound is perhaps one of the best known of the hound group of dogs but also the most misunderstood. These dogs are often considered to be very difficult to train, stubborn and may even be categorized as very lazy, disinterested dogs. In reality the Bloodhound is a wonderful, personable dog that truly loves his or her human family but also is playful, active and highly intelligent. They do need firm, consistent training and can be independent, but with the right owner they are an outstanding family dog as well as a true hound.
The Bloodhound has been bred for generations to be an outstanding tracker. While not built or developed for speed, they have been bred to track over any type of terrain. This goes back to the earliest development of the breed, which was with the Monks of St. Hubert Monetary in Belgium. These first dogs were heavy and very large and thick through the body, but with much shorter legs than the modern representatives of the breed. These all black hounds were annually given as gifts from the monks to the French royalty from about the year 1200. These dogs were kept in the King's kennels, and although they contributed genetically to many of the French hound breeds they were not selectively bred outside of the monastery.
In about the end of the 1700's, the gifts of the St. Hubert hounds from the monastery where no longer considered to be the best hunting hounds as the French had developed their own unique hunting breeds. The less athletic and lower bodied St. Hubert Hounds of the day simply didn't match up to the needs of the French royalty. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars there were few if any purebred St. Hubert Hounds available in France.
There were, however, St. Hubert Hounds that had been crossed with other hounds in England since the early 14th century. These dogs were much desired for their cold nose, which refers to the ability to track on an old scent rather than having to rely on a fresh scent. They were used differently than the other types of faster hounds and were typically kept on a long leash or lead, with the games keeper or other servant of the royalty or lord walking with the hound. When the cold trail was traced to the area where the stag, deer or boar was hiding or resting, the faster pack of hounds would be called in for the chase or hunt. This way the lord only had to get involved in the exciting part of the hunt. The dogs were very prized for their scenting ability and their speed was never an issue.
The term sleuth hound was also used for these descendants of the original St. Hubert Hound. There are many stories, although not all likely to be factual, about revolutionary leaders in Scotland and the surrounding areas being tracked using Bloodhounds or sleuth hounds. These leaders included Robert the Bruce and even the William Wallace, the main character in the movie Braveheart.
In much later times the Bloodhound was used as a dog that tracked poachers and thieves on royal land and hunting reserves. Again this was mostly in the United Kingdom, however there were also a considerable number of sleuth hounds or Bloodhounds exported to the developing area of the United States.
The Bloodhound began being used in police and military work in the United States in the early 1800's. They were often used to track slaves and Native Americans that were considered to be attempting to escape. Although used for this horrific type of work the Bloodhound was not aggressive towards the humans he or she was tracking but rather was used because of their tenacious behavior and ability to scent even through water. During the Civil War both sides used Bloodhounds in tracking other soldiers, often traveling for days on the scent. The ability of the Bloodhound to almost infallibly follow a trail without crossing or confusing the desired trail with others is legendary in this type of hunting and tracking of humans.
In both World War l and ll Bloodhounds and other types of hound crosses were used as mine detection dogs and they continue to be used as bomb and drug dogs, very effective in detecting minute amounts of drugs or chemicals. Often the noses of the Bloodhounds are more reliable that very expensive drug and chemical detectors that are incredibly expensive.
Modern Bloodhounds are still used in their traditional hunting role as well as for competitive tracking types of events. They work differently from other scent hounds as they tend to be able to weave back and forth across the last known area of scent to pick up the trail. They tend to move in natural tight S-shape, doubling back over the track to get reoriented on the scent. They are also highly capable of climbing over or pushing through dense brush, natural obstacles or even blockages in the track. The ability to scent in water, while not as strong as some of the French breeds, namely the Otterhound, is still highly regarded.
Bloodhounds are fearless and tireless and they will track until either the trail ends or becomes so cold they cannot scent any further. This is typically done completely by instinct with very little actual training required to get the Bloodhound to follow his or her nose. Their slower pace is also an advantage when tracking for the police or military since the officers can easily keep up with the dogs regardless of the environmental situation the dog is tracking in.
Working Bloodhounds may also be found in prison systems, search and rescue operations and specialized types of search groups such as those that focus on finding cadavers. They are also used in competitive types of trails that are set up to test the dog's ability to track through a variety of settings and with progressively colder and older trails. Typically working dogs will also be used in competitions to continue to increase the skill level of the Bloodhound through a variety of challenging yet controlled situations.