The Bloodhound is certainly not one of the most common breeds of dog seen today in the UK, but they are nevertheless instantly recognisable, even to people who have never before seen one in the flesh!
While the popularity of Bloodhounds in the UK has fallen exponentially over the last couple of decades, these dogs are still uniquely valued across the world for their working prowess, thanks largely to their superior scenting ability, which is far better than that of even their closest competitor, and also their tenacity and endurance when following a scent.
The Bloodhound hunts by following airborne scents in a way that few other dogs can even attempt, and they are actually the oldest recognised breed of sporting/working dog in the world. As part of the celebration of the Bloodhound and their unique abilities, as well as to raise awareness of the breed and let them show off their talents, The Kennel Club runs regular organised competitions for the breed, called Bloodhound trials, which are well worth looking into if you own a dog of the breed, or are considering buying one.
In this article, we will look at Bloodhound trials and what they involve in more detail. Read on to learn more!
Bloodhound trials are organised competitions run under the guidance of The Kennel Club, which are designed to test and challenge the breed’s scenting ability, endurance and ability to follow commands.
Trials are run in rural areas, and involve a human scent being laid by a runner over a course, called a “line,” which can be up to three miles long. Up to two hours after the scent has been laid along the predetermined course, the competing dog is set after the trail, and at the conclusion of the trail, they are expected to identify the person whose scent they followed from among a group of people, and definitively mark them out my placing their paws on the person’s chest!
The competing dog will not see or meet the runner that they are tracking until they find them at the end of the course, and will identify their scent initially from an item of clothing or fabric attached to a flag at the beginning of the course. The runner then walks the course along the set line to the end, where they wait along with two other unrelated people to further challenge the dog at the finish to pick the right runner!
The best Bloodhounds will pick up the scent quickly and follow it at a reasonably high speed, a skill that becomes ever more competitive at the higher levels of competition. In senior competitions for the best proven dogs, the dogs work entirely off the lead, and the handler and stewards can often find it challenging to keep up with the dog as they head off in pursuit of the scent!
While underway along the line following the scent, competing dogs are encouraged to “speak to the line,” which means barking to indicate to the handler that they are honed in on the scent and the correct course.
Only purebred Bloodhounds that are registered as such with The Kennel Club are eligible to compete in Bloodhound trials, but the trials can be very entertaining and fun to watch for all dog owners.
Bloodhound trials run at different levels of skill, going from novice and junior through intermediate to senior, with senior being the most complex and challenging course that is designed to test out the skills of the very best Bloodhounds at the event.
The courses and obstacles along the way get ever more challenging as the level of competition rises, with the intention of weeding out the poorer dogs and encouraging them to up their game!
The type of areas commonly used for bloodhound trials can include open country, wooded areas, moorland or farm land, and the ideal course should include a range of challenging obstacles designed to throw the dog off the scent, including fences, roads, walls and ditches, as well as potentially water, which can be one of the biggest challenges for the dogs.
A good working Bloodhound will pursue the scent to the exclusion of all other stimulus, and will not be put off their goal by complications and diversions!
Bloodhound trials involve the skill of air scenting, which is referred within the sport as hunting, as opposed to tracking, which involves scenting a trail along the ground. Air scenting makes it harder to pick up and keep track of the scent, but also means that the dog can move more quickly over the ground.
Bloodhound trials are organised by a combination of The Kennel Club and the two approved Bloodhound breed organisations, being The Bloodhound Club and the Association of Bloodhound Breeders respectively.
Four Championship trials are held each year, with smaller events and qualifiers held at other times. In order to be able to compete, your dog must be registered with The Kennel Club and formally entered prior to the trial’s start. For more information, check out the Kennel Club website.