The Basset Hound is a short-legged breed of dog of the hound family, as well as one of six recognized Basset breeds in France; furthermore, Bassets are scent hounds that were originally bred for the purpose of hunting rabbits and hare. Their sense of smell for tracking is second only to that of the Bloodhound. The name Basset is derived from the French word bas, meaning “low”, with the attenuating suffix -et, together meaning “rather low”. Basset Hounds are usually Bicolors or Tricolors of standard hound coloration.
Bassets are large, short, solid and long, with curved sabre tails held high over their long backs. Everett Millais, founder of the modern Basset Hound, is quoted as saying “Oh, he’s about 4 feet long and 12 inches high.” in reference to his French basset. An adult dog weighs between 20 and 35 kilograms (44 and 77 lb). This breed, relative to size, is heavier-boned than any other.
This breed, like its ancestor the Bloodhound, has a hanging skin structure, which causes the face to occasionally look sad; this, for many people, adds to the breed’s charm. The dewlap, seen as the loose, elastic skin around the neck, and the trailing ears which along with the Bloodhound are the longest of any breed, help trap the scent of what they are tracking. Its neck is wider than its head. This, combined with the loose skin around its face and neck means that flat collars can easily be pulled off. The looseness of the skin results in the Basset’s characteristic facial wrinkles. The Basset’s skull is characterised by its large Dolichocephalic nose, which is second only to the Bloodhound in scenting ability and number of olfactory receptor cells.
The Basset’s short legs are due to a form of dwarfism. Their short stature can be deceiving; Bassets are long and can reach things on table tops that other dogs of similar height can not. Because Bassets are so heavy and have such short legs, they are not able to hold themselves above water for very long when swimming.
The coat of a Basset is medium-short, smooth and hard, and sheds frequently.
Any true hound color is acceptable in Basset Hounds, and no one color is preferred over any other.
The source of color is the E Locus (MC1R), which has four alleles: EM, EG, E, and e. The EM, E and e alleles are present in the Basset Hounds. The E allele allows for the production of both red and black pigments, so is present with the majority of color patterns in Basset Hounds.
Red and Lemon colors are caused by the e allele of MC1R. The e allele is recessive, so red and lemon dogs are homozygous e/e. Lemon dogs are lighter in color than Reds, but the genetic mechanism that dilutes phaeomelanin in this instance is unknown. No black hairs will be present on either Red or Lemon dogs. If there are any black hairs, the dog is officially a tricolor.
The EM allele produces a black mask on the face that may extend up around the eyes and onto the ears. This pattern is most easily seen on Mahogany dogs, although any Basset color pattern may express the EM allele, except for “red and white” or “lemon and white” due to e/e.
Many Bassets have a clearly defined white blaze and a white tip to their tail, intended to aid hunters in finding their dogs when tracking through underbrush.
The Basset Hound coat is naturally oily, giving off a distinctive “hound scent,” which is natural to the breed.