Judging the Bloodhound...By Camille McArdle, DVM
Dr. Camille McArdle is a Minnesota veterinarian and Bloodhound breeder-judge. Under the “Citation” prefix she has bred champions in both Bloodhounds and Basset Hounds. She firmly believes that show dogs should be physically and mentally capable of doing the job they were originally developed to do and has placed many of her dogs in working homes. Dr. McArdle is presently mentoring a new officer and hound team in Minnesota.
Judges who come from a sighthound background or judges who are used to tidy and compact breeds like the Dachshund or Beagle are presented with an entirely new challenge when they take on the Bloodhound. This breed seems massive and sloppy in comparison, a combination of characteristics that would be selected against in most of the other hound breeds. But this dog with all his drool is a unique blend of size and athleticism; he can only be evaluated with his original purpose in mind.
The very first sentence of the Bloodhound breed standard sets the scene for judging this animal: “The Bloodhound possesses, in a most marked degree, every point and characteristic of those dogs which hunt together by scent.” The underlined phrase is the key. Of the scenthounds the Bloodhound has the most size, the most power, and the most skin. He is the ultimate trailing machine.
Consider the job of a pack of Bloodhounds. Whatever their quarry, they will tirelessly follow a specific scent wherever the breeze moves it. Noses down, on a lope more often than not, the hounds plunge through briars or streams, maneuver uneven footing, and scramble over obstructions. They may do this for many miles. This requires both toughness and flexibility. These hounds have to be powerful and determined, but sensitive enough to differentiate a single scent from all the others. Form must follow function; without the proper conformation the dog will fatigue early or break down.
When judging the Bloodhound then, first stand back and appreciate the entire dog. Do you see a dog that is “…very powerful and stands over more ground than is usual with hounds of other breeds”? Your overall impression should be one of strength and substance. A racy outline or lack of bone should not be rewarded. Instead, the body outline you want to see is deep and slightly rectangular, with a well-sprung chest, well-let-down between the forelegs, and with minimal tuck-up.
The powerful outline is no excuse for coarseness, however. The skin should be surprisingly loose and velvety, especially around the head. The ears are long, low, and soft. The deep lip continues into loose folds of skin, the flews, which themselves merge into folds of dewlap under the jaw and neck. This excess skin – and the slobber that accumulates on it – helps to trap the scent particles. The pendulous ears, far longer than the muzzle, sweep the scent toward the large nostrils.
As the dog lowers its head wrinkles will form over the eyes, yet as it looks up the skin slides smoothly rearward. This “superabundance” of skin also protects the eyes from rough vegetation and brambles. The skin easily stretches if snagged, pulling the offending branch along with it until the skin is able to slide off and catch up with the dog. A well-made bloodhound almost never suffers lacerations, no matter how rough its territory.
The gait is also loose but, again, not sloppy. The standard describes it as “elastic, swinging and free”. Such movement can only be achieved by the right balance of angulation front to back, as well as a long enough upper arm and second thigh to permit freedom of reach and drive. A dog so made can go for hours as long as he also has well knuckled up, thickly padded feet for shock absorption and the deep and well-sprung chest to allow good lung and heart function.
A Bloodhound working in varying terrain must be tremendously flexible. It traverses uneven ground with its nose down, so the neck must be long enough and the shoulders loose and laid back enough to permit this sort of posture while moving. Moving toward or away from you the legs converge toward the midline. From the side the gait should appear effortless, without stiltedness or excess lift. A level topline and strength over the loin also help to propel this hound tirelessly. The topline is continued to the relatively level croup, with the tail carried up in a scimitar shape but not forward over the back. If you have found the structure that permits flexibility and endurance, you are halfway there in identifying the best Bloodhound. Next are the aesthetic features that put the frosting on the cake of breed type.
The skull is narrow, relatively flat at the sides, and sporting a pronounced occipital peak. Skull planes, viewed from either the side or from the top, ideally are parallel. The standard describes the expression as “noble and dignified, and characterized by solemnity, wisdom and power”. The weight of the skin pulls the eye rims into lozenge or diamond shapes and usually exposes varying amounts of pink haw. Many Bloodhounds will be somewhat cross-eyed but the eyes should still appear deep. Round bug eyes severely detract from the desired expression. High-set ears are likewise undesirable.
The reality in judging this breed is that you will rarely find what you are looking for in the classes. Bloodhounds, especially the males, mature in excruciating stages. The puppies are leggy and loose, as if held together by huge elastic bands. Growth spurts seem to coincide with the closing of entries, resulting in awkward imbalances and high rears with no length of body. Bloodhounds are sensitive and reserved. They do not enjoy the noise of indoor shows and some demonstrate this by pulling into themselves. Others are just goofy and strong enough to drag the handler around the ring. You have to have patience as a judge and be observant enough to find what you can during those rare moments of control.
The Best of Breed class offers you better opportunities for evaluation, but the owner-handlers, abundant in this breed, are not always skilled at presenting their hounds in the best light. Be patient with them.
Do not fault Bloodhounds that want to move with their heads down. They are being Bloodhounds!! Instead, fault the handlers who try to show them to you by racing around the ring with the head cranked up high. Slow these people down so you can see the hound move at its correct pace. Bloodhounds are endurance dogs, not sprinters.
If you plan to judge this breed, please be patient with the puppies as well as with their owners. The pups may appear silly but remember that they are very sensitive. One bad experience in the ring can turn a pup off from showing forever.
Indeed, a good judge of Bloodhounds will be blessed with a strong understanding of the breed’s original function as a scenthound of large game in tough environments. He or she will also need a good sense of humor, the patience of a saint, and a good supply of Handi-Wipes!
This article, along with the following sidebar, originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of SIGHT & SCENT magazine.
Disclaimer: This article is provided by the American Bloodhound Club purely as the personal opinion of the author for informational purposes only. The American Bloodhound Club, it's members and the author make no warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of this information or will be liable for any loss, damages, claims or injury that accompany or result from any use of this material. This article may not be copied or distributed without the inclusion of this disclaimer.