The terms “dogs” and “hounds” are often used interchangeably, but the word “hound” actually refers to a specific type of dog, and certain dog breeds.
If you own a hound or are wondering if your own dog is classed as a hound type, it can be interesting to learn a little about what type of dogs hounds are, and what makes a hound in the first place.
In this article, we will explain what a hound is, and share the core traits that hounds have in common. Read on to learn more.
The simplest description of what a hound is can be explained as “a type of dog that hunts or tracks prey,” working alongside of human hunters. Today’s use of the word hound is not exclusive to dogs that actually perform roles of this type – it also applies to non-working dogs from working breeds, and even some breeds that haven’t commonly been worked in recent decades.
The role of the hound as a working dog can be contrasted with another dog type grouping, being gun dogs; gun dogs help hunters to find, flush out and collect downed prey, but they don’t actually hunt for them. Ultimately, a hound is a natural hunter; although not all hounds hunt in the same way!
There are three main sub-types of hounds, and these types are divided according to how the breeds within each sub-type works, and their core traits.
First of all you have sighthounds, which identify potential prey by visually fixating on them. Sighthounds have very acute eyesight, although it is much better able to detect movement than still objects. A sighthound might completely bypass a small prey animal nearby that is sitting perfectly still, but be able to spot and home in on a much more distant prey animal that is moving.
Another trait that sighthounds all share to some degree is a very high running speed in short bursts, which enables sighthounds to effectively catch up to, overtake, and catch their targets. This high speed gait is enabled by what we think of as the typical sighthound conformation – whilst sighthound sizes can be variable, dogs of this type have lean bodies and long, fine legs with lots of power in their hindquarters. The greyhound is perhaps the best-known sighthound breed, and the one we most commonly associate with sighthounds.
Scenthounds are the most numerous when it comes to different hound dog breeds, and as the name implies, these are dogs that hunt by scenting. Scenthounds were most commonly worked in packs rather than individually, although this is not always the case.
The dog breeds with the most acute senses of smell in the canine world are scenthounds, like the Bloodhound – and trained scenthounds can pick up even very faint scents among a lot of other smells and follow its path effectively to its goal.
Scenthounds will usually sniff out smells on the ground and surrounding obstacles, but dogs of this type with a very acute sense of smell can even follow scents on the breeze!
The physical build and appearance of different scenthound breeds can be quite variable, but many dogs of this type have long, drooping ears that actually capture scent particles from the ground to help with tracking, and they all tend to have long muzzles too!
Not all hounds fit neatly into either the sighthound or scenthound category, and many hound breeds rely on both scenting and sighting in order to identify and track prey. This generalised hound grouping reflects dog breeds that have more generalised hunting skills, with all of the drive and incentive to pursue prey and a combination of senses and skills that allow them to do so.
The Thai ridgeback is an example of a hound that uses both scenting and sight to hunt.
Hounds of different types are a hugely diverse group of dogs, with different hound breeds having originated from all over the world. This means that everything from the size, conformation, fur length and texture, temperament and behaviour can be very variable across different types of hounds, and all hounds are of course unique as individual dogs too.
One trait that all hounds share is a high prey drive, which manifests as an ability to home in or track potential prey, and the spirit and drive to pursue it and catch it. This means that owning a hound can be challenging when it comes to protecting wildlife and small domestic pets, and training a hound not to chase things and to return reliably when called can be very difficult.
It is important for all hound owners to take care to protect wildlife and other people’s pets when walking their dogs, which will mean that they often have to be kept on the lead, and only allowed to run freely within enclosed spaces. Some hound owners also muzzle their dogs to keep them from harming wildlife they might spot when out on walks, and this is something else you might want to consider too.