Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated April 3, 2009)
One of the newer additions to the "official" circle of American sporting dogs is the Black and Tan Coonhound. By "official" it is meant that the breed has at last received the stamp of approval of the American Kennel Club, and has been recognized by that organization as a separate and distinct breed.
Although a newcomer to official limelight, there is nothing really new about the old-fashioned, long eared "cooner." The very word "old-fashioned," in his description, stamps him as an old-timer. For many years, night hunters in almost every section of the country where the raccoon is the object of the chase have used Black and Tan Coonhounds and preferred them to all other breeds. Generations of intensive use in coon and possum country have developed the Black and Tan Coonhound into a specialist on these two species of game. His super-bored nose, keenness on trail, and great determination to force his quarry to take to a tree or log for safety have made him the choice of many coon hunters.
There are other breeds of hounds which are known as "coonhounds" and are used almost exclusively on small furred game. Notable among these are the Redbone and Blue-ticked. There are many packs of these dogs which have been bred from the same foundation stock for many generations and whose blood might well be considered pure.
It remained, however, for a group of far-sighted fanciers of the Black and Tan Coonhound strain to practice careful, selective breeding, to keep detailed breeding records and pedigrees, and to adopt programs pointed to the improvement of their favorite breed. Through such progressive activities and aggressive promotion work, the Black and Tan Coonhound became the first breed to be officially recognized as worthy of the name Coonhound.
Of course, there are many who contend that any hound which will run and tree a coon is entitled to the appellation "coonhound," and this argument has merit. But that brings up the question as to whether the ancestors of that particular hound were proved Coonhounds and whether his progeny will instinctively take to the trail of a coon. Breeders of the old-fashioned Black and Tan Coonhound will not dispute the point and are willing to admit that many types of hounds coming from Foxhound breeding can be trained and developed into proficient cooners and many are. But, through generations of careful breeding, using only dogs of undisputed ability as trailers, the Black-and-Tan Coonhound exponents have developed a dog which, as a breed, has a natural instinct for night hunting on coons and possums.
Comparatively little has been written about the origin of the old-fashioned Black and Tan Coonhound. The first ancestor is said to have been the now extinct Talbot hound, which came to England with William the Conqueror. It is generally conceded that the foundation stock came from the old Virginia Foxhound known locally as the "black-and-tan," many of which were used in coon hunting. Most of the old Virginia Foxhounds were black and tan in color, although among them were also reds, white-spotted, and fawns. Some of these Black and Tan Coonhounds were selected for breeding purposes, not only for their proficiency as coon hunters, but the color factor also played a part. This was not a common practice among Foxhound breeders, as color has counted but little with them. These hounds, however, were developed particularly for coon-hunting and trained in this sport for years.
The general appearance of the Black and Tan Coonhound is proof positive that considerable Bloodhound blood was introduced years ago, exactly how many seems unknown. Nevertheless, the blood of the Bloodhound is most obvious. Though the characteristic wrinkles are not present, the expression is more alert, the low-hung, somewhat ponderous ears and the general make-up of the dog are indicative of that cross. In fact, the Black and Tan Coonhound is frequently mistaken for a Bloodhound by those unfamiliar with both breeds. Closer inspection, however, or a side-by-side comparison, will quickly reveal the differences.
The Bloodhound influence is also seen in the manner in which the Black and Tan Coonhound works his trail. The Black and Tan Coonhound works entirely by scent and keeps his nose close to the trail. The "breast-high" scent frequently so important to a good fox race is apparently not so interesting to the Black and Tan Coonhound, who sticks to foot-scent. The Bloodhound has undoubtedly contributed the Coonhound's nose. At the same time he has caused him to work his trail at a somewhat slower pace than that of the Foxhound, although he is fast enough for the type of game in which he specializes.
Although a specialist on raccoons, the Black and Tan Coonhound does excellent work in hunting bear, deer, bobcat, mountain lion, and other big game. Many of the "lion" hunters of the west find him of particular value in helping control these cats and other predators in the stock country.
The Black and Tan Coonhound is a hardy animal, capable of standing the rigors of winter and the heat of summer. He is able to negotiate the rough and difficult terrain over which he is called upon to work. He is a dog of great determination, his keen nose allows him to pick up and stick to the trail. His deep, musical voice is thrilling, and when he points his handsome nose skyward and lets go with his roaring "tree bark" it generally means the end for Mr. Coon.
As a general description of the Black and Tan Coonhound the male measures between twenty-four to twenty-six inches, with the female she is usually between twenty-two to twenty-four inches. As a field dog the Black and Tan Coonhound is not mature until three years of age. In temperament he is extremely affectionate, not quarrelsome with companions or with other dogs. His nature is to be somewhat shy and is equally sensitive to kindness or correction. He gives the general impression of power, agility, alertness, and ability to cover the ground with powerful rhythmic strides. The Black and Tan Coonhound is easily trained.
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