Nothing says “Southern,” like fried chicken and biscuits, sweet tea, or a honey-dipped, “Bless your heart.” …Well, nothing except a faithful hunting dog that will relentlessly track game not only on the ground, but up a tree. These expert tracking dogs are called coonhounds, named after the most prolific of all tree climbing animals, the raccoon. Here are our picks for the top coonhound breeds to take you “over the river and through the woods.”
The American Leopard Hound is an “old school” tree dog breed whose exact origins are unknown. Researchers think that one branch of the American Leopard’s ancestors were brought to the New World by Spanish conquistadors. Some speculate that these dogs were bred with indigenous Mexican dogs, and that they continued to develop characteristics unique to the breed we know today. Others argue that the American Leopard evolved from a combination of Spanish, Irish, French, Scottish and English hound and herding breeds.
The American Leopard gets its name from the generously spotted coats that some of them have. In addition to the leopard pattern, they can also come in brindle and solids. As a matter of fact, about sixty percent of the breed are solid-colored.
In the tree dog community, the American Leopard Hound is known as a “renaissance dog.” Because of their eagerness to please their humans, they are perhaps the most easily trained of the treeing breeds—dogs that will trail game that climb trees, holding those animals there until their hunting companions arrive. They are also valued for their fighting skills and their ability to detain prey, such as squirrels, bobcats, cougars, bears, and of course—raccoons, without getting injured. These agile canines use their incomparable agility to dodge any physical threats, and are tough enough to withstand extremely hot and cold weather.
How can a dog be both American and English, you ask? Well, you’re about to find out. The American English Coonhound—or simply, English Coonhound, is believed to be descended from the English Foxhounds brought to the U.S. in the 17thth and 18th centuries. Notable figures such as George Washington imported these Foxhounds which were used to develop a type of dog known as the “Virginia Hound,” and eventually these Virginia Hounds were bred to create the English Coonhound we know today.
These tall, lean and athletically-framed canines come in a variety of colorings including bluetick, redtick, tricolored and tricolored with ticking, but since red is the predominant coloration, they are commonly referred to as “Redtick” Hounds.
English Coonhounds tend to be very strong-willed, so they require more understanding and patience than other breeds when being trained. Their one-track mind and stubborn nature is key to their reputation as an elite hunting dog. Once in hot pursuit, they don’t give up until they’ve caught, cornered or treed their prey. English Coonhounds are also prized for their speed, stamina, and loud, resonant bark which they use to let their human hunting buddies know that they’ve caught or cornered game, or to warn them of an intruder or dangerous situation. Their long, melodious, howls and short, explosive yelps are typical of Hound breeds, and should be noted if noise will be an issue in the household or with neighbors.
5. Plott Hound
The Plott Hound is the only one of the seven United Kennel Club breeds that does not count the Foxhound as an ancestor. Instead, this dog type is descended from Hanoverian Hounds that had been bred for several generations to hunt boar and bear. Some of these hounds were brought to North Carolina by a German immigrant named Johannes Plott, who is thought to have maintained the purity of the original bloodline. This changed in 1780 when his son, Henry Plott, inherited the purebred pack.
Henry proceeded to breed the Plott Hounds with a line of “leopard spotted” dogs cultivated by a Georgia hunter. This is the only known cross with the Plott Hounds since they were first introduced to the U.S. Eventually, the Plott family decided to discontinue interbreeding. All the dogs with leopard markings were given away, and they returned to their original breeding method. Though not documented, a neighbor of the Plotts named G.P. Ferguson, is believed to have crossed other breeds with the family’s hounds in the early 1900s.
As for appearance, the Plott Hound is medium-sized with a muscular build. Its skin differs from that of most hounds, in that it is not baggy, but fits its frame like a glove. Their coats come in several varieties of brindle, including tan, red, yellow, brown, black, grey, and maltese—a combination of slate grey and blue brindle.
Like other hounds, Plotts are alert and confident, but they are exceptionally intelligent and require mental stimulation to prevent any undesirable behaviors. Its speed, endurance and ability to use a trail that is up to a week old to track a wounded animal, are characteristics that make the Plott Hound a formidable foe of the hunted.
Fun fact: In light of its long history in the state and hunting prowess, the North Carolina General Assembly named the Plott Hound the official State Dog in 1989.
Do you know of any other states with official State Dogs?
The Black and Tan Coonhound was bred in post-Revolutionary America by frontiersmen who settled in the West and South and who relied on the raccoon for food, fur and fat. Before the Black and Tan, the only available hunting dog was the English Foxhound, which was bred to run on relatively clear, flat land. So, the settlers crossed European hounds— including the Foxhound and Bloodhound—and created a hunting dog that could trail raccoons through treacherous terrain, like woods and swamps, and ultimately tree their prey. This dog became the Black and Tan Coonhound we know today.
The Black and Tan is large and deep chested, with long, muscular legs, and floppy ears typical of a hound. When relaxed, it carries its tail pointing downward, but when it is hunting or excited, it holds its tail at a right angle. Although the Black and Tan was bred primarily to hunt raccoons, its courage, perseverance, alertness, and agility also make it an adept hunter of big game such as deer, wolf, cougar and bear.
When a Black and Tan Coonhound has caught or cornered its prey, it summons its human with its own unique howl that is distinct from any other hound, and usually recognizable from a considerable distance.
The origins of the Treeing Walker Coonhound began in 18th century Kentucky, when John W. Walker and George Washington Maupin crossed at least two types of English Foxhounds. This canine type was simply referred to as the Walker Hound. Decades later, a stolen black and tan dog called Tennessee Lead was bred with a number of Walker Hounds, siring a new bloodline and hunting breed—the Treeing Walker Coonhound.
The coat of a Walker is smooth, fine, and can be either tri or bi-colored. White, with black and tan markings, black and white, or tan and white are all acceptable breed standards.
Walker Hounds are ideal for trailing and treeing small prey like squirrels, opossums, and skunks, as well as larger game like raccoons, cougars, bobcats, and bears.
With its sleek-frame, long legs, muscular hindquarters, and cat-like feet, this mid-sized hound was built for speed. In fact, Walker Hounds are so fast, that hunters are allowed to use them to track deer in states where dogs can be legally used to hunt antlered animals. Whereas other “cold-nosed” coonhounds will pick up a trail that is days old and slowly follow it, the Walker is not as stimulated by cold trails, and will abandon an older trail for a fresher one. This makes it the most popular choice for coon hunting competitions, as this dog is not easily distracted by the scent of raccoons that may have long since left the area.
Another characteristic that sets the Walker Coonhound apart is its ability to change the way it bays to let its human know the status of the hunt. It transforms its clear bellow into an unmistakable, steady chop when it has treed its quarry.
The bloodline of the Bluetick Coonhound is believed to have begun before the Revolutionary War, in what was to become the United States, when the Marquis de Lafayette gave several French Bleu de Gascogne Hounds to George Washington as a gift. These large, lumbering dogs were mixed with other hound breeds including the English Foxhound, the American Foxhound, the Black and Tan Virginia Foxhound, and the cur dog, to create a hunting dog with more endurance and speed, now referred to as the Bluetick Coonhound.
The Bluetick gets its name from its coloring. Its coat is white with black specks or “ticking” throughout, and black spots in varying shapes and sizes. This color combination creates the illusion of navy blue ticking, hence the name “bluetick.”
Some Bluetick Coonhounds have markings, others don’t. Those that come with markings will have brown patches above the eyes, on both sides of the muzzle, the chest, and all four legs. Hounds that are without markings have black and white fur only.
Blueticks have a voracious prey drive. If permitted to, they will tree virtually any animal that is smaller than they are, and have a “cold nose” that can pick up a week-old trail. They are athletic, sturdy, have a knack for problem-solving, and require an outlet for their natural impulses. A Bluetick that is deprived of affection or that has very little to do, may develop disruptive behaviors, like loud baying at inappropriate times.
Like the previously mentioned hounds, the Bluetick was mostly used by frontiersmen to track raccoon, but it also worked alongside other hounds in packs to subdue big-game such as wild boar, bear, lynx, and cougar.
The Bluetick Hound is (and always has been) one of the most popular dogs in Southern culture, and as a nod to this iconic hunter, in 1953, the University of Tennessee named the Bluetick Coonhound its mascot.
Coonhounds respond well to positive reinforcement training. Check out Brain Training for Dogs to learn how to use your dog’s natural intelligence to stop bad behavior.
The Redbone Coonhound is the epitome of what an elite hunting dog should be: intelligent, strong, athletic, tenacious, and capable of navigating various types of challenging terrain. And as if those qualities weren’t enough, the Redbone is arguably the most beautiful of the coonhounds, with its long, flaccid ears, wistful brown eyes, and muscular frame enhanced by a brilliant red coat…this hound has it all.
The Redbone Coonhound originated from red-colored foxhounds brought to Georgia by Scottish immigrants in the early 1800s. In the mid-19th century, the Irish Foxhound and Bloodhound were added to the bloodline to produce the Redbone prototype.
You probably figured that this breed got its name from its striking red color, but these hounds are named after Peter Redbone, an original breeder who hailed from Tennessee. And although the breed has Redbone’s name, the United Kennel Club recognizes George F.L. Birdsong and Dr. Thomas Henry as the creators of the Redbone Coonhound.
When it comes to hunting, Redbones are jacks and masters of all trades. They are capable of treeing wild boar and game, fearless when facing larger animals, like mountain lions and bear, energetic enough to track across flat land or mountains—and will swim if necessary.
Redbones tend to reach maturity at two years old, relatively slower than most breeds. During this period, they require lots of activity or they will develop disruptive behaviors like searching for food, or destroying furniture and other items. Among hounds, their problem-solving ability is unparalleled and can be contentious if the problem they want to solve is getting out of the yard or into the refrigerator. As with any scenthound, it is recommended that they be kept on a leash when being walked to prevent wandering.
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