Have you met Piper? You surely have if you follow me on any social media. She’s my adorable, sweet, sometimes-a-pain-in-the-butt Basset.
I love Piper. She is special and funny and sweet and goofy. I’d wanted a Basset Hound for a long time before actually getting one. If you can believe it, I’ve wanted one even before the Pioneer Woman brought them to the spotlight (yes, I have the cookie jar and the salt and pepper shakers). I still remember the first time I ever saw a Basset. I was at a flea market with my mom when I was maybe around 12 or so. As we walked among the aisles of antiques, junk, and crafts, I spotted a small, wrinkly little Basset puppy with those long ears and droopy face. I was smitten. But, Basset Hounds aren’t as common a breed as some and they don’t come cheap. It would be many, many years later before I sought one out and came home with my little bundle of saggy-skinned joy, Piper.
Never having owned a Basset — or any of the hound breeds, for that matter — I did a lot of research before bringing her home. Like many people, we’ve had dogs as a family literally since I was in the womb, and almost all of my extended family and close friends have all had dogs. I also dog sit for people and in the past I have fostered dogs and volunteered for a local rescue for several years as well. I’ve experienced a lot of different breeds either through ownership or proximity — Labradors, Pomeranians, Pitt Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Mastiffs, herding breeds, livestock guardian breeds, terriers, hunting dogs, good old fashioned mutts, and more. But somehow, hound dogs never made the list. I had a good working knowledge of the scent hound group (I actually am a bit of a dog-nerd — reading books, subscribing to magazines, googling excessively, etc), but I wanted to know what to expect from a Basset and what they needed before bringing one home. Despite this, there were traits I was not expecting and that none of the articles mentioned — and things that the articles mentioned that have not held true for me.
Part of this is obviously due to individual personality traits. Each dog is unique. Even within the same breeds, dogs have vastly varying personalities. Some are assertive, some are submissive. Some are extroverts, some are shy. Some are very typical of their breed, and some don’t inherit as much of the expected type. The list goes on, and for that reason, you have to approach every dog as an individual, not just as a member of a certain breed.
That said, after having Piper for nearly a year, I’ve learned a good bit about her as an individual and her as a breed. I’m going to share some of those typical Basset traits you’ll read about on almost every article talking about the breed, but also some that I didn’t find in any of the information I read. Now, Piper is just one Basset Hound, so your mileage may vary. Some of these things may just be her. But if one Basset can exhibit these traits, then others can, too.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Basset
1. Bassets are Food Driven
This is one of the first things you’ll read about Bassets, and my experience with Piper affirms that it is 100% true. What does it mean for a dog to be food driven, exactly? It means that they love to eat. If there’s food around, they will sniff it out and scarf it down. I have also found that Piper can lean toward food aggression, and for that reason we feed her in her crate.
The negative side of a food-driven dog is the need to constantly police what they’re eating and avoid leaving food within reach — even on counters. Yes, Piper with her stubby little legs can reach food if it’s on the edge of the counter. If the cats bring up a dead mouse, she wants to eat that, too. It doesn’t matter if she’s just had her own food, if the other dogs haven’t finished theirs, she’s eating it. Bassets are prone to being overweight for obvious reasons, and that’s very bad for their overall health and joints.
The plus side of this trait is that food can be used to bribe — er, train — them. They become much more willing to do what you want when food is involved.
2. Bassets are Scent Hounds
This one is obvious, but it’s also something that you really have to experience to understand. Piper can sniff out food better than anything. (In fact, Bassets are second only to Blood Hounds in their ability to smell.) They can also sniff out stinky stuff to roll in equally as well. I’ve never had a dog that had be bathed quite as much as Piper. Poop? Rolling in it. Dead thing? Rolling in it. Mystery stinky item I can’t even see? Rolling in it. Or, alternatively, eating it — for any of the aforementioned stinky things. If they smell something peculiar or interesting, they will spend a lot of time on it. They will follow curious scent trails. They can smell if you’ve thrown food, or even something that has touched food, in the trash.
The downside of this is twofold: One, they will follow their nose to eat things you don’t want them to eat, such as that sausage wrapper you just threw away or the butter you left too close to the edge of the counter. Two, if they find an interesting trail and are not on a leash, they will follow it and may not listen to you when you call them back. Bassets hounds need to be either well trained to commands (and supervised, obviously) or in a fence or on a leash at all times outside for their own safety.
3. Bassets are Stubborn
Some breeds are easily trained to basic commands like sit, stay, come, roll over, etc. And then there are the breeds like Basset Hounds. Bassets are not naturally obedient dogs; instead they are quite stubborn. It takes a lot of time — and food bribes — to teach them commands. You really have to be patient and consistent when trying to train a Basset Hound. To give you an example, I can tell Piper “no” when she’s misbehaving (getting in the garbage can, for example) and not five minutes later she will be trying it again. She will respond appropriately to the “no” and stop the behavior, but she will try again moments later hoping to get by with it. Stubborn. Another example with her is the sit command. She knows what “sit” means and will gladly do it immediately if it’s for a treat, but she often needs more reinforcement to sit if I’m not bribing her.
The cons are pretty obvious to this one. If you value dogs that are highly trainable and obedient, who respond quickly to commands and have a memory greater than that of a gold fish when told no, Bassets may not be for you. Lucky for me I’ve yet to meet any creature who can out-stubborn me. 😉
4. Bassets are Hard to Potty Train
I can see this particular aspect of owning a Basset to be a deal breaker for a lot of people. Similar to their stubbornness that makes them more difficult to train to commands, they are also difficult to housebreak. This is one of the things that I read about ahead of time — and her breeder even warned me about it, too — so I knew what to expect. To be honest, cleaning up accidents doesn’t bother me that much. Yes, it’s annoying. Yes, it was really annoying when she snuck some eggs out of the basket and then emptied her bowels on my bedroom floor. Lord have mercy, nothing has ever smelled so bad. I literally cut the carpet out of my floor and threw it away. Cleaning it would have been a lost cause. (Also, we’re going to go to hard floors anyway, so I didn’t really care about the carpet. But still.) But I have a farm — I deal with a lot of poop and pee and other bodily fluids of various natures. I’ve been peed on by my cow. Pooped on by goats. Accidentally stuck my hand in chicken poo. Ripped open amniotic sacs with my bare hands. Yeah, it’s gross, but you clean up and move on with life.
In Piper’s case, she also seems to need to pee more frequently than other dogs I’ve had. She has a habit of drinking a lot of water at one time, and also of peeing multiple times when outside instead of emptying her bladder all at once. In this case, I can also confirm that my cousin’s Basset mix whom I occasionally dog sit will do the same thing in terms of drinking a lot of water all at once. Why? Beats me.
That said, if you just installed brand new white carpets — don’t even bother with a Basset hound. First of all, they will track in mud on the ends of their long ears and drag it across the floor. Second of all, they are guaranteed to have accidents and potty training is going to take some time. Overall I would say that Bassets cannot (or will not) learn to “hold it” as quickly as other dogs I’ve known and do not learn to “tell” you when they need to go out as quickly. I also suspect that due to their strong noses they can easily smell where they’ve had an accident inside before and therefore continue to use it as a potty spot even after it’s been cleaned.
That said, Piper has made great strides in this area and we have very few accidents as long as we are attentive and pay attention to when she needs to go. Hard doesn’t mean impossible! Consistency is key.
5. Bassets Like to Chew
This one was a surprise to me, because none of the articles I read even mentioned chewing at all, yet Piper is a chewer. Yes, it’s a given that all dogs will chew as puppies when teething and most dogs like to chew at least to some extent. That’s no surprise to anyone. However, her chewing needs seem to go beyond the average amount and have lasted beyond the teething period. When not napping or playing outside, she needs stimulation or something to chew on. Otherwise she gets bored and goes looking for trouble.
This kind of behavior has slowed down as she’s gotten older, but I don’t see it completely stopping until she is a senior dog. Chewing like this can be driven by a few different things, boredom being one possible cause and a desire to eat being another. Chewing and destruction of property is not uncommon in dogs, but typically one would expect it out of certain breeds, especially those with very high energy levels, high intelligence, or need a job to do. So, breeds like Huskies, Border Collies, and Samoyeds, to name a few. I was not expecting it from the purportedly “lazy” Basset Hound (more on that below). However, Bassets are intelligent and although not as energetic as some of these other breeds, they do have energy to burn.
Again, the cons are pretty obvious on this one. You must be careful to prevent the dogs from chewing something dangerous or destroying something important. I can’t say for sure if this a common breed trait or if I got “lucky” with Piper, but if she does it, it’s possible any Basset could as well — even if they apparently aren’t widely known for it. Exercise and tuckering her out by playing outside help decrease the chewing and increase the napping indoors.
6. Bassets are Hard to Distract
One thing that I’ve found with Piper is that she is very hard to distract. She absolutely has a one-track mind. If she is focused on something — be it food, a mission to sneak into the kitchen to get in the garbage can, an intriguing scent trail, or what have you — it is not easy to redirect her. There have been times when I’ve been standing only a few feet from her firmly saying “no” or “come” in my most authoritative voice possible and she has completely ignored me, whereas normally she is very responsive if she’s not focused on something else. This is part of why Bassets can be difficult to train. Before you ask, I will also say that it is not an issue of her not having respect for my authority as her human pack leader, so to speak. Like I said, she is normally quite responsive to commands — until something has her attention, and then she is simply deaf to me.
If you think about scent hounds and what they were originally trained to do, this makes perfect sense as a trait of the breed (even though I can’t say I’ve read any articles talking about it). Scent hounds were developed to find a scent trail and follow it until they find the prey — which would be rabbits, in the case of Basset Hounds. They are supposed to follow that one trail wholeheartedly without being distracted by any of the other very interesting smells that can by found in nature. They are not supposed to deviate to follow the trail of a deer, a skunk, a coyote, a fox, or anything else — just that trail for the wascally wabbit. That would most certainly require a one-track mind. I’ve also talked to others who have worked with scent hounds for hunting and been told what I expected — once they’re on the trail, you usually can’t call them off of it. My grandfather used to coon hunt frequently on mule back with coon dogs leading the way, and if they lost the dogs to the trail and couldn’t keep up, they would have to wait until morning for the dogs to return. My dad told me they would often leave a glove or article of clothing behind in a certain spot for the dogs to smell and follow back.
The biggest con with this is that it is simply a safety hazard for a dog not to respond immediately to certain commands like “come.” Imagine your dog is focused on something and running away from you and you can’t get her to respond and come back. That can absolutely put the dog in danger. I’ll reiterate here that Bassets really need to be on leash or in a fence unless they are well trained to keep them from danger, especially when they’re young and full of energy.
7. Bassets are Not Always Lazy
One of the stereotypes of Basset Hounds is that they are lazy, especially inside. While they were initially bred to be slow, so that huntsmen could more easily keep up with them on foot when trailing rabbits, slow does not equal lazy. Piper actually has quite a bit of energy. While I would not necessarily classify her as a “high-energy” dog, she does need time each day to run around the fenced yard, play with the other dogs, and work out some energy. Many days, even after a lengthy romp outside (I’m talking a few hours worth), she will still come inside and commence her typical chewing behavior for quite some time before finally taking a nap — only to wake up a few hours later and start getting into stuff again.
That said, energy levels almost always taper as a dog ages, no matter what the breed. At only a year old, Piper is still quite a young dog. I imagine by the time she’s five or so she will need much less play time and enjoy more nap time. However, I think it’s important that potential Basset owners know ahead of time that the need for exercise will outlast puppihood, which is again not something I saw addressed in any of the articles I read. Most of us know that puppies by default have a lot of energy, but based off of some of the articles I read you might get the impression that the day they hit six months old Bassets suddenly turn into lazy, sleeps-all-day dogs. That just simply isn’t the case.
Be prepared for the first few years to give your Basset Hound a lot of time to run and play in a fenced yard or to take them on frequent walks.
8. Bassets May or May Not Bark
One thing that has greatly surprised me about Piper is that she hardly ever barks. Every article I read on Bassets when doing my research pointed out that they are vocal dogs who like to bark, yet I have not seen that in Piper. The only time Piper barks, bays, or whines is when she either needs to go outside, if she wants to be let out of her crate when she’s having kennel time, or if another dog is getting too close to her kennel when she’s eating. Occasionally she will also bark playfully. She has not yet barked at the doorbell, at someone coming home, or at a stranger. I keep waiting for her to one day start barking when all the other dogs go crazy because someone has rung the doorbell, but it hasn’t happened yet — and I secretly hope she stays that way. Interestingly, my cousin’s Basset mix does not bark very much either, though he does bark at the door if someone is coming in.
Given that so many sources talked about the hound-dog howling of Basset Hounds and warned that they were not quiet dogs, I can’t simply write that off as misinformation. What I can say, however, is that perhaps it is not actually a given that your Basset will bark. Like I mentioned earlier, individual variance always comes into play. While it would make sense for scent hounds to bark — they’re supposed to bay as they follow their prey to help the humans keep up with them on the trail — not every single one may be prone to barking a lot.
9. Bassets are Not Good Guard Dogs
Bassets are not the dog for you if you’re looking for a dog who can help keep your home safe. Piper, in addition to not being prone to bark at potential “threats” like pizza delivery boys, is most certainly a lover and not a fighter. She has a very congenial personality and thus far has gotten along with anyone she’s met and not barked at strangers. Sometimes when I take her out for a ride she will even try to climb into the driver’s seat to say hello to the drive-through workers. She is the quintessential happy-go-lucky, good natured ol’ hound dog. She loves every dog or cat she ever meets, too. And how scary would a Basset be even if it were barking ferociously at you? Not very.
This is another thing that I think can be traced back through their original development as a breed, though I cannot verify it for certain of course. Basset Hounds and other hunting dogs often have to work in groups of unfamiliar dogs and around unfamiliar people. Hunters often like to gather together with their hunting buddies to go on group hunts or to share how their hunt went afterward if they were hunting nearby but separately. It would not work at all for a hunting dog to be aggressive toward other hunters or their dogs. I grew up around a hunting environment — many of my family members are avid hunters who often use dogs, and my dad’s dad owned a game bird farm and hunting preserve and bred Pointers (my cousin now works the bird business) — and I can honestly say that I have never met a retriever, a pointer, or a setter who behaved in any way aggressively to strange people or strange dogs. I’m not saying that it’s never happened of course, but just that it seems to be most common for these breeds to get along well with others.
All that is to say that if you want a dog for your family that will intimidate intruders, a Basset is probably not a good choice. On the other hand, this could be a definite pro if you love to entertain and want a dog who will not frighten your guests.
10. Bassets are the Cutest Breed
And last but not least, the indisputable fact is that Basset Hounds are by far the cutest breed in existence. Don’t even bother arguing about it.
In all seriousness, Basset Hounds are wonderful dogs. They are adorable because of their long ears, saggy skin, and stubby little legs, but it’s more than that. They always greet you a wagging tail. Their facial expression is often one of utter, hilarious deadpanning, as if to say, “do I look amused to you?” And when they’re not deadpanning, they look goofy as all get out. They will snore when they sleep and try to lick your face when they wake up. They will be convinced that yes, they are a lap dog, even if they’re entirely too big for your lap. They love play but also love to cuddle. All in all, there’s a very good reason that the Basset breed has been a loyal companion to humans — rabbit hunters and non-hunters alike — for so many years. (Fun Fact: The first time a dog is described as a “basset” appears in text in 1585 in La Venerie by Jacques du Fouilloux.)
Despite her frustrating quirks, I’m certain that Piper is just the first of many Basset Hounds I will own in my life. The truth is that no dogs are perfect and all dogs have traits that can be difficult, but learning to cope with and work around their flaws is all it takes to have a successful dog-owner relationship. It’s just important to know what to expect in a breed before bringing it home, and to know what traits your personality is going to jive with and which ones it simply can’t tolerate. There are breeds that are right and wrong for everyone; Bassets may or may not be for you, but they’re right for me.
I kind of even want another one, but I’ll refrain. . . for now. 😉
*Friendly reminder that I’m not a professional or an expert, and the info here is based on my own research and experience. Your mileage may vary, and as always you are encouraged to do your own further research as well. If you’re really struggling with your dog (Basset or not) and getting to the end of your rope, reach out to a trainer or veterinarian for assistance before throwing in the towel. Also, there’s no way to include all the information you need to know about Bassets in one blog post, so again — do continued research! There’s more to learn than what I can give you in a single 10-point post. Good luck!