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Old European Hound Breeds

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314 – The Annual, 2014-15

Text and illustrations by Ria Hörter Courtesty of Ton Populier

On The Trail Of Lost Breeds…

 Although many breeds in the history of dogs no longer exist, their blood still runs in the veins of some of today’s breeds. We follow the trail of…

 Following a trail certainly applies to breeds in FCI Group 6 – Scenthounds, Leash (scent) Hounds and Related Breeds – that possess a great passion for game and rely on their keen noses and sense of detection.

In Europe, different names are used for scent hounds, such as chien courant (France), Bracke (Germany, Austria), Laufhund (Switzerland) and brak (Netherlands).

Various old European hound breeds share the same history as old French hounds or other breeds that have vanished: they became extinct or merged into one of today’s breeds.

Low Countries

The history of hounds is an old one, and a complicated one when it comes to their spread across Europe. In Honden bij de Romeinen en de Grieken (Dogs of the Romans and Greeks), Dutch dog writer Robert van Molen stated that, “… the Greek and Roman people did not use the words ‘brak’ or ‘hound,’ but the only way they hunted was with hounds – with the exception of the Vertrages of Arrianus.” Van der Molen’s conclusion was that, “… the works of Xenophon clearly showed that he hunted hares with relatively small hounds that – with their noses to the ground – tried to follow the scent of the prey.”

In the Low Countries – now northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands – 13th-century Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant mentioned in Der Naturen Bloeme (The most beautiful things in nature, 1207) “small hounds with long ears.” Later, King Charles IX of France; Johann Täntzer (Geheime Und Gar Rare Jager-Kunste, Oder Siebenzig Hochnutzliche Arcana [Arcane and rare hunter arts, or seventy highly useful secrets], 1631) and Johann Friedrich (Hans) von Fleming (Der vollkommende teutsche Jäger; [Current German hunting], 1719) wrote about hounds. Their successors, European dog writers like Comte Le Couteulx de Canteleu (France), Richard Strebel (Germany), Ludwig Beckmann (Germany) and Dr. Hans Räber (Switzerland), paid a lot of attention to hounds in their books. Today, about 80 breeds belong to FCI Group 6; it’s a very extended dog family. From the Polish Gonczy Polski to the French Poitevin, and from the Norwegian Hygenhund to the Italian Segugio, they share the same forefathers.

Chien De Saint-Hubert-Hubertus Hound

In FCI Group 6, the so-called Chien de Saint Hubert (Bloodhound) is well-known. Joseph Oberthur (1872-1956), a French painter, animalier draughtsman and dog writer, stated in his book Le Chien (The Dog, 1949) that the Chien de Saint-Hubert – widely known as the forefather of the Bloodhound – is at least as old as the so-called Celtic Hound, a breed in Gaelic Ireland.

“This dog [Hubertus Hound] has a heavy body, pendulous ears, a slightly curved tail and a gloomy coat colour.” At first sight, the Hubertus Hound is the spitting image of its descendant, the Bloodhound.

The origin of the Hubertus Hound lies in ninth-century France and Belgium. An established fact is that from about ad 900, Hubertus Hounds were bred in the monastery of Andage (Belgium). The puppies were sold to kings, nobility and higher clergy. After all, hunting was a popular pastime.

Legend of St. Hubertus

The Hubertus Hound was named after Hubertus (655-727), a son of Bertrand, Duke of Aquitania (France).

As the pleasure-loving firstborn son, Hubertus enjoyed hunting. Little did he realize, though, that God would use his favorite pastime to bring about his spiritual conversion. On Good Friday, he was in hot pursuit of a noble stag when, upon reaching a forest clearing, it turned and faced him. A dumbfounded Hubertus could see a crucifix suspended in the air between the antlers, and from the Crucified One came a voice: “Hubert, unless you turn to the Lord and lead a holy life, you shall quickly go down into hell!”

The voice told Hubertus to go to Lambertus, Bishop of Maastricht (southern Netherlands). In time, Hubertus became the last bishop of Maastricht and the first of Luik (Liège), Belgium.

He died in 727, was canonized in 744, and in 825 his remains were re-interred in the abbey of Andage. The abbey and a basilica were named after St. Hubertus, as were the dogs.


It is supposed that descendants of the Hubertus Hound accompanied William the Conqueror to England from Normandy in 1066. These dogs should have had white, black, or black-and-red coats. A well-known painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, depicting The Return of the Hunters (1565), shows two couples of Hubertus Hounds in the front.

In fact, the present Bloodhound is an English version of the Hubertus Hound. Its name, which was recorded in England as early as the 14th century, refers to “full-blooded,” a high degree of purity in breeding. “Blood” might also refer to a blood trail left by wounded quarry. Any reference to bloodthirstiness is nonsense.

Tabot Hound

Breeding different types of dogs for different types of jobs – hunting, guarding, herding, tracking, etc. – began before the Middle Ages. The Talbot’s specialty was tracking, not only for a hunting party, but on the battlefield. Soldiers trying to run away had to consider the excellent nose of the Talbot following their tracks. In the Middle Ages, wars and battles were widespread over England and for these, the Talbot was indispensable.

Over the years, the Talbot was known under different names – Sleuth Hound, Lime Hound, Limer and Liam – but “Bloodhound” was also used. Some authors pointed out small differences in appearance and stated that the different names belonged to different types.

The Talbot was also used to track cattle thieves and escaped prisoners and therefore contributed to law enforcement. The breed’s excellent nose and tracking ability also made him a valued shooting dog, tracking the game then finding the wounded or dead game after it had been shot. In various European countries, the Talbot was owned exclusively by the aristocracy and those wealthy enough to maintain a valuable dog.

The Best Tracking Dogs

We know that the Talbot was much appreciated in its time. In 1615, Gervase Markham wrote in Country Contentments: “The bigger and heavier Talbot dogs, whatever colour they have, are the best tracking dogs.”

One can immediately see the close relationship of the St. Hubert Hound to its descendants, the now-extinct Talbot and the present-day Bloodhound. A heavily built, medium-sized, black or black-and-tan dog, its body a little longer than its height at the withers, the St. Hubert Hound’s heavy head and hanging flews were characteristic, and the dogs were known for their deep sonorous bark, excellent nose and somewhat slow pace.

The Talbot is considered to have been a spotted white or liver-colored variety of the St. Hubert Hound, originating from crossbreeding with other hounds, possibly French hounds. Nearly every dog writer assumes that the Talbot originated in France and was developed in the eighth century, then was taken to England in 1066 by William the Conqueror. William used the Talbot – mostly white-colored – for deer hunting.

Later, the English used him for fox hunting; they admitted that the Talbot’s nose was excellent, but that he lacked speed.

Endless Wars

The Talbot had a rather large head with long, pendulous ears, characteristics we see today in the Basset, Beagle, Harrier, Coonhounds and Bloodhound. The Talbot is considered to have become extinct sometime in the 16th century.

Three colors – white, spotted or liver – are found in the literature. More recent images show Talbots with a coat pattern like the Dalmatian – a white coat with spots.

In the early Middle Ages, various types of dogs were already being kept separate. Old miniatures and prints show a clear difference in guard dogs, tracking dogs, sheep dogs, shooting dogs, cattle dogs, etc.

The Talbot was essentially a tracking dog. In the dark Middle Ages, when endless wars were battled to the bitter end, wounded soldiers or soldiers trying to desert had to bear in mind the Talbot’s exceptional nose and tracking ability. From images of battle scenes, we know that the Talbot had this role in 14th-century England.


The medium-sized Wildbodenhund lived in southern Germany, Austria and eastern Switzerland. German dog writer Richard Strebel mentioned the breed in his book Die Deutsche Hunden (German Breeds, 1905), describing it as a “marked Hound.” One of its nearest relatives is the Bayerische Gebirgsschweisshund (Bavarian Mountain Hound).

The Wildbodenhund was an elegantly built dog, black-and-tan or yellow, with heavy, smooth ears. It resembled a more lightly built Hubertus Hound.

The Wildbodenhund was never recognized as a separate breed and disappeared after 1905, but its blood still runs in the veins of the Jura Laufhund, the Bavarian Mountain Hound and the Tiroler Bracke (Tyrolean Hound).

Thurgauer Laufhund

The now-extinct Thurgauer Laufhund, an old hound breed from Switzerland, was named after Thurgau, a northeast canton in that country. Its coat came in reddish-yellow; brownish-red with a white blaze, white legs and a white tip on the tail; but also in solid reddish-brown.

Richard Strebel searched for a long time before he found a decent Thurgauer to illustrate in his book Die Deutsche Hunden (1905).

At the end of the 19th century, French dog writer le Couteulx de Canteleu had stated that the Thurgauer belonged to the “Hubertus line,” but Strebel was not so sure. The Thurgauer was significantly lower on leg and more refined in head than the dogs from the “Hubertus line.” By 1909, the breed no longer existed.

Aargauer Laufhund

The heaviest Swiss Laufhund, the Aargauer Laufhund – also described as Aargauer Hurleur or Aargauer Meutenhund (pack hound) – was named after the Swiss canton Aargau and could be found around the city of Lucerne and in the Swiss Jura mountains.

The Aargauer resembled the Hubertus Hound, especially around the head with its folds and large occiput.

At the end of the 19th century, its coat color was reddish-brown with a black saddle and sometimes white markings, but also solid yellowish-brown or solid reddish-brown. Richard Strebel was of the opinion that the Aargauer was a kind of a transitional breed between the Hubertus Hound and the Bloodhound. He described the Aargauer as having a grave, melancholic expression and kind temperament. The breed was very attached to its master. Its deep voice could be heard from a long distance.

In the 1890s, the Aargauer Laufhund was threatened with extinction. By the beginning of the 20th century, the breed had disappeared from the fields and show rings.

Southern Hound

The Southern Hound, a kind of Bloodhound, possibly a descendant of the Talbot, was described by British dog writer William Youatt as a heavy dog with a square head, long ears, a deep chest and long bony body. Like other hounds, it had a deep, melodious voice. In The Dog (1852) Youatt stated that the Southern Hound may have existed in Britain since ancient times; others were of the opinion that the breed arrived from France with the Normans.

In the 18th century, the Southern Hound was still used as a working dog south of the River Trent, a major river in England that flows through five counties. The Holme Valley pack hunted with Southern Hounds until 1928 when, due to the lack of new bloodlines, the pack switched to Beagles. Another pack, the Penistone Harriers, stopped using Southern Hounds in 1939; the Colne Valley pack carried on until 1951. The last Southern Hounds were given away to otter hunts.

When fast Foxhounds were developed, the days of the Southern Hound were numbered. If dog writer Vero Shaw is correct, today’s Otterhound is a descendant of the Southern Hound.

Many other European hound breeds disappeared, seven in Germany alone, including the Siegerländer Brack (an area in western Germany) and the Hannöversche Heidbracke (around the city of Hannover, northern Germany). But, due to limited space, it has not been possible to include them all here, or to explore the background of every scent hound breed in FCI Group 6.

We have tried to find the names of all photographers. Unfortunately, we did not always succeed. Please send a message to the author (riahorter.com) if you think you are the owner of copyright.

Ria Hörter is a dog writer from The Netherlands. She is the contributing editor of various Dutch dog magazines and works for the Dutch Kennel Club. She was nominated twice in the annual Dog Writers Association of America writing competition for her articles in Dogs in Canada. In April 2014, she was awarded the Dutch Cynology Gold Emblem of Honour by the Dutch Kennel Club.

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