Basset Fauves – learning about function

I’ve been looking at this breed for over twenty years without particularly analysing them. Having owned them for the last nine it was time I fitted together the breed standards of France and GB ( they are slightly different) and figured out how the standard helped this basset breed actually hunt. We arent allowed to hunt with dogs in the UK, but I did see a chance to learn last year. By good fortune I blundered upon a hunter, living in Finisterre, Brittany, who has used the breed on rabbit, hare and deer for three canine generations. He has no interest in dog shows but owns a share in a shoot and also hunts his fauve pack three days a week in the season. I took an interpreter, as his English is about as good as my French ( learned in school and not used much thereafter). Dagmar Kenis Pordham ( Solstrand) isnt only interested in sighthounds! She was the first person to give a basset fauve a best in show at an open show and was a great help as she knows all the canine terminology as well as admiring the breed.

What did I learn? At first sight this pack had the most superb hindquarters. As a sighthound person I had been privately wondering if my determination to own and show basset fauves with straight hocks and decent drive ( in IWs we abhor cowhocks) was as a result of forty years of conditioning by Mrs Nagle and other luminaries of the Wolfhound world . They were hard over on the subject of strong thighs and second thighs and hocks turning neither in nor out. Was I right to want the same in a scenthound breed? These hunting Fauves had the most stunning backsides –  Mrs Nagle would have approved !  I watched the massive amount of drive these rears produced, packed with muscle as they were, and determined to stay on the same track. Straight hocks producing parallel action. Nice to watch.

A 9 month puppy from the H litter
A 9 month puppy from the H litter

The next feature I admired and which was common to all these hounds was a strong neck. I havent seen much of this in hounds shown in the UK, short necks are common yet these moderate length necks were all arched. Another lightbulb moment. As in sighthounds an arch of neck provides strength and is an indicator of a well laid shoulder. These little hounds had moderate angulation, everything about them was unexagerated – yet they too had this feature of laid back shoulders and arch of neck.

I then picked up that the bitches were definitely a size smaller than the males, it wasnt at all hard to see which sex was which. Both sexes werent particularly groomed, but their harsh coats were definitely not overlong and they were of wiry texture. Talking to their owner, he said he used to use Petits but had to give them up as his hunting area was too full of the sort of stuff which catches in coats, and he was fed up grooming the burrs out of their coats when he brought them home. Ah, function as appropriate to countryside – the Brittany fields are small and thickly hedged, the woods are dense. I dont know the Vendee at all but do know the PBGV has to have as much coat as it does as it needs protection from brambles. Short harsh jackets must suit the Brittany wild areas rather better, and my man had switched to the breed appropriate to the country.

Gina 12 mths old
Gina 12 mths old

Even the smallest hound had a big capacious chest, yet in proportion, and upperarms were definitely laid back, setting the foreleg beneath the body. The set of the humerus is another key area for me in sighthounds. Good layback there adds to the shock absorbing function of the front. Clearly it matters in the endurance hunting of the scent hound too.

Now to something I had wondered about for a while, the crook. I asked this hunter if it bothered him that the forelegs on his hounds werent completely straight. He looked at me as if I was mad. Of course they had a crook, he said. This was a Basset breed ! Back in the UK there seems to be a great desire for completely straight ” beagle like” forelegs in the showrings. I’d started to breed for it. I’d  also passed the B list seminar to judge PBGVs, and know their standard allows for a slight crook ( even if you cant see it beneath the coat). Here was a pack of hunting hounds which does 10 – 13 kilometres three times a week in the season. These little hounds have great stamina and endurance and can put on bursts of speed too. I had a good hard look at their forelegs. Straight underneath the humerus they nonetheless had a slight outward turn at the pastern ( the crook). So, a completely straight foreleg and a crook at the pasterns, not huge but definitely discernable. No coat to hide it either. Another lighbulb moment. If these Basset Fauves could hunt over the country they were bred for, who was I to look for straight forelegs in another country where we dont even hunt? The standard allows for a slight crook, and surely if the hunters found straight legged hounds hunted better wouldnt they be breeding for it? They dont. So, mental note to look for straight forelegs, no bandy bone there, but a crook isnt something to have the horrors about, quite the reverse. Its a bit of a relief, as sighhounds with no ” give” at the pastern, despite their straight appearance viewed from the front, knuckle over and break down as time goes on. They need some flexibility under the pastern, and so do the basset breeds.

Heads werent an afterthought here, all the hounds had defined foreheads ( the amplified French standard describes it as looking like a Norman arch, not a dome). As a result the ears were low set, level with the eye, and long. I so admired the ears on these hounds, inward folding and no problem reaching the end of the nose when pulled forward. As you would expect, all the noses were huge – another important breed feature.

Another H litter puppy showing slight crook to forelegs and the typical head of her kennel
Another H litter puppy showing slight crook to forelegs and the typical head of her kennel

How about the contents of the head? Rene was very proud of the Brevets du Chasse his hounds had achieved in hunting trials. I was there to look at a litter, and mother Diva had her qualification on deer, hare and rabbit. Groomd up I had the private thought that Diva and Gina would easily gain their titles in the UK.The hounds were quiet and responsive to their huntsman, very friendly and completely happy to dash around as a pack with no squabbles. Perfect pack hounds, and this great temperament transfers well to life as a family pet.

Perhaps I should mention the mouths, as judges have told me “mouths are a problem in your breed”. Every dog in this pack had a full mouth and perfect dentition. Stands to reason – they need their teeth for work. When I showed someone the inside of Harmonie’s mouth not so long ago they reeled in shock – such big strong teeth wouldnt disgrace a terrier. And a terrier too does a fair bit of killing with its teeth, which is why terrier judges are so very keen on big well set gnashers.

Moving along several months, and Harmonie has settled in well here. She has a page to herself in on the website. She is so intelligent and loving, I have great eye contact with her and she isnt as ” scattery” as some fauves I know, she applies herself seriously and is very obedient. Her brother Hasard is in Ireland and already on route to his title, admired for his sound action and compact body.

I learned some useful lessons at a good point from Rene, and hope to return before too long – I still have an ambition to watch fauves hunting! The littermates retained by the home kennel won best puppy at the informal pack puppy day back in the Spring, and I have my eye on what young Gina might produce one day…….


Redemption ( Am Ch Carrickaneena Slieve Gullion) and his sons

I’ve been sent some photographs of Redemption sons recently, so thought I would post them here together with some reminisces about the dog, and how these litters came about.

Dagmar Kenis Pordham was the first to use this USA import, it was her Solstrand Unity’s third and final litter and Unity had produced puppies with many of her good attributes previously. Fingers crossed her progeny inherit her longelivity, Unity’s eleventh birthday is in October 13. Arthur followed his sire in being a red brindle live wire puppy. It was next to impossible to get a halfway decent photograph of him, he was so busy and thrilled whenever humans came into view. By the time he was decently trained and behaved himself on the lead – and would get into a car- he wasnt particularly enthused by the showing idea.

Solstrand Arthur Ardfuail winning a strong open dog class Birmingham Nat May13
Solstrand Arthur Ardfuail winning a strong open dog class Birmingham Nat May13

Solstrand stud dogs have made a huge contribution to the Irish Wolfhounds of the home kennel (and too many others to list) for many generations, and it may be that Arthur’s influence will be as strong as that of its other key sires such as Kasper and Shadow ( Kilmara). Arthur has won a challenge certificate and is noted for his excellent bone and construction, yet he isnt much shown as it bores him. As a stud dog its been a different matter, his seven litters have made him top sire with a stonking number of points for 2012 based upon the wins of his progeny. He’s also kept up his kennel’s tradition of winning the Typical Head Cup at breed championship shows. Every one of his litters has contained something worth presenting in the rings, and his  son Ch Mascotts Another Stripe made a very early championship. Stripey’s sister Ch Another Dreamer has a superb career too, winning far more best of breeds, including Crufts, than girls usually do. At most shows in the UK Arthur children dominate the winning line ups, its quite usual to see four or more of them in first places with very often a handle on the big green and white cards too.

Redemption’s next litter was a litter ex one of Chris McLeod’s beautiful Brachan girls, this should have been a stunning litter as it was linebred to the famous Seplecur line belonging to Chris and the late Gordon Crane. One dog puppy stood away and was almost enough for Chippy to agree to retain ( this family of hounds is always continued through the female line). “Toedy” instead went to Germany and became a champion there. His owner Dagmar Deitrich takes a photograph every day of her beloved in one context or another, this is the dog on a recent walk freely standing.

a german champion ( etc)

Redemption’s third litter to Rainster Tolly was conceived when I was in the States watching the Dallas National Speciality, our lovely dog sitter Nina assisted Diane Redfern and we were assured Redemption needed no help whatsoever ( he was always very fast to catch his girls, and never missed !). I was interested in this combination as there was  distant line breeding to the late Maggie Wilkin’s Clonara / Clonmagara kennel through Redemption’s grandmother Alia ( Ch Ascara’s sister, by Ch Klint). The last of the Clonmagaras lived out exceptionally long lives at Rainster and are behind Tolly. A huge litter resulted, and I went to see this litter of bright golden brindles several times. Ruby returned with me as the ” stud fee puppy” and won a reserve CC as a youngster, she is a wonderful mover.

Back at home three dog puppies were retained together with one bitch. One of these dogs was a skinny and lanky puppy who moved really well – but otherwise, his brothers were always preferred to him and he never made the “cut” amongst those who chose their own dog puppies from the litter. Rory grew up – and up- and was shown as a yearling. It took him a while for his chest to drop and also for a handler to be found to match his enormous stride. Once he sorted himself out a great partnership was forged with Caroline Sheppard, who handled him to his first challenge certificates before handing him back to his ” mother” to win some more with him. Ch Rainster Rory has in turn sired some beautiful puppies and was top winning wolfhound in 2011.

The last person to use Redemption was Helga Muller, whose Temair kennel in Germany added another large litter to the tally, and Ch Germany to his list of champions.

Looking back to 4th June 2005. I took a call from Eileen Flanagan which gave me the complete shock of learning the semen I sent her back in the early 90s had finally achieved a result – and thirteen puppies on my birthday out of her best champion, how could I resist ? The boys were all entire by five and a half weeks too, all seven of them.

Redemption “stayed in the USA” as semen is stored at Carrickaneena, and he sired two litters before leaving for the UK.

I wonder now what the IW in the UK would look like today without his influence. Redemption’s long lived and heavily boned maternal Carrickaneena line has provided its legacy of better than usual strength of bone, great size and substance, brave and  trustworthy temperaments. Redemption’s sire Ch Mochras Ipse Facto was the best dog I ever bred, and for his size a superb mover with a huge chest and fabulous quarters and neck strength. Half or more of the big Carrickaneena litter achieved their USA titles and a full brother is a Grand Champion.

I have saved some A.I. doses on Redemption, but it may well be twenty years before I access it again. It will take a long time for his influence to wane, and I hope he isnt line bred to – he’s far too dominant across UK bloodlines as it is. Too many good sons from too few beautifully bred bitches. Its quite a legacy, and I am not complaining – but do see the big picture and use all the available long lived lines, not only this winning one !


Some thoughts about Irish Wolfhound puppies

Musing on the difference between breeding a litter of Irish Wolfhound puppies in 2013 compared to the litter I first bred in 1973. In those days the Club, the owner of the stud dog and the breeder of my first wolfhound councelled new breeders heavily. They had memories of the Second World War shortages followed by twenty years of breeding purely for themselves and the ( usually landowning) afficianadoes of this giant, and had gone through hard times to keep the breed. The idea that “ordinary people” might own wolfhounds did not have much attraction at this time. Accordingly, new breeders were told they should cull their litters if their bitch conceived more than six puppies on the grounds that puppies were extremely hard to sell to the right sort of homes, and that even with six puppies a new breeder should be prepared to keep most of the litter for six or seven months in case these good homes didnt materialise.

My first litter by Ch Caio of Eaglescrag ex Buckhurst Theresa was therefore culled from nine down to six. The wise people in the breed were right, the puppies were hard to sell to the right sorts of homes as we were new and in those pre internet days advertising in the newspapers ( apart from perhaps Horse and Hound) was frowned upon. Commercially prepared foods were in their infancy, we fed on hound meal biscuits, meat and lots of milk plus virol and later, Collocal D calcium supplementation ( until we realised this was overdoing it).

Now to 2013. The Kennel Club and other leading bodies decry the culling of healthy puppies. The internet is everywhere, its never been easier to publicise the arrival of a litter. Commercially made and comparatively cheap methods of dog feeding are ubiquitous, ordinary people ( like me!) are by far in the majority as wolfhound owners. So, why has it been the best part of eight years since I bred an Irish Wolfhound litter?

Time has been part of it. I was used to achieving all my targets at work within 9 or ten months and saving up all my leave in order to manage a litter every second or third year together with working full time. As I moved up the career ladder, absences of two or three months were out of the question, and saving up the necessary thousands to pay a stud fee and prepare for those first weeks of life became less of a priority than taking occasional holidays, building a new house to accomodate dogs, and so on.

Knowing too much has been another part of it. One becomes wary of breeding “this way” as an admired family line has too much cancer, or ” that way” as another has too much heart disease. Wolfhounds have never been the easiest breed to rear to adulthood, its depressing to work  with the lovely person who has bought a puppy and finds it has developed a bone growth disorder in its first year, so how one deals with disappointment and disease has to be factored in. When your puppies are as close to your heart as they are for most ” hobby breeders” you  feel for the dog and its owners, and spend hours trying to discover the best courses of treatment.

Then there are the advances in vetinerary medicine and the testing regimes to which the good breeders subscribe. If you breed a puppy with PSS ( liver shunt) its now possible to have the puppy operated upon, and at a substantial cost to the breeder.Its very rare indeed for a novice owner to buy a UK bred puppy which will need the thousands spending on it to save its life. Some insurers will pay out, but not all, and hardly any support the breeder with a payout. You cant predict PSS, but you can ask stud dog owners if their male has produced it and avoid using them if you think there may be cases in your bitch’s background. Its an expense to be born in mind – as if you cant raise the funds to do the shunt operation, the honourable alternative is for the breeder to have the puppy put down. Most of us cant bring ourselves to do this without giving the puppy a chance.

Heart testing, another worthy advance – but at what cost? My hounds have been in the scheme for over 25 years. Stud dogs have been tested annually and withdrawn from stud if they develop dilated cardiomyopathy, as some have. Checking all hounds for heart health has to be the right thing to do, particularly where a bitch may be put into whelp appearing normal but then die as the full range of tests didnt pick up the enlarged heart which carrying a litter will tip over the edge – it has happened, fortunately not here. Yet such a high proportion of the breed seems to carry the risk of heart disease. I’ve spent over forty years hunting down the long lived family lines, and even so have sadly ceased breeding from three families developed over generations as they failed in one health related department or another.The saddest time was having three female littermates living between 9 and 12 years and none of which were bred from because of the perceived PRA risk at that time.

My personal decision around heart disease ( stating the obvious) has been to try to steer towards lines where this problem is less prevalent.To only work with people who are honest and open and have long and knowledgeable careers within the breed. There are breeders, admittedly a handful, who wont breed a bitch until she is over five – as by middle age a dog not having DCM will probably not develop it for rather longer, if at all. Rather this  than breed a bitch at two and have her develop something at four which a percentage of her progeny will have to deal with in their turn. Using A.I. from males which lived long and healthy lives must be a better idea than using this years top sire or top winner. Pernille Monberg in Denmark was probably the first breeder to mark up her hounds’ pedigrees with ages and causes of death, plus their siblings and ancestors, and breed actively for longelivity. She has scoured the world for A.I. from long lived sires and used it on the healthiest of female lines with long lived histories. She can point out rapid advances of health and lifespan as a result of concentrating on increasing lifespans of her hounds  first, and ahead of show wins ( see Kennel Wolfhouse for some further information).

Breeders in 2013 can look at the Kennel Club’s website to ensure they arent breeding any more closely ( inbreeding) than the breed norm. Find this under ” mate select”. The last breed bottleneck was as a result of breeders world wide focussing upon Quincy of Kilmara and his superb siblings. I suspect the UK may be heading for another one as a result of the dominance of the sons of Am Ch Carrickaneena Slieve Gullion within the breeding community here. Yet this American only had three litters here! Fortunately the dog has long lived lines behind him, but breeders need to forget about the show wins and look around  for other families to keep up the genetic variation. Some other breeders are too prone to inbreed within the family they like and trust – nowadays the KC Health advisers would tell them to cease, as its not healthy for a breed which is already a closed population stemming from a tiny handful of hounds. Across all pedigree breeds the results of the closest matings ( brother/ sister, father/daughter) cannot be registered. Its a start.

Looking at my two eight year old ( castrated) dogs and the only possible bitch I have to go on with, Ruby who will be five in June, I still wonder whether I should breed. Keener and younger breeders are producing more than enough for the “market” to bear. I hear its as hard as ever to find good homes for puppies – one breeder reports she turned down six and accepted just one she thought had the right facilities and time for a puppy. There are some disgusting puppy farms masquerading as caring breeders. Their websites look marvellous, they have a huge web presence. They make no secret that they dont particularly love the breed, their interest is purely commercial. They  churn out nondescript litters from over used sires and sell to anybody, sometimes paying lip service to health testing and usually being uncontactable as soon as the money has changed hands. No doubt they sell to people the hobby breeders would reject – but its still one marketplace, they will also sell wolfhounds to the nice homes the hobby breeders who have occasional litters would like to find.

Looking back to that generation of breeders in the 70s, often with farms and space to spare, with staff as often as not and with leisure time to enjoy dog shows….. it seems a different world. Looking forward, many of the hobby breeders of my age group and older are thinking of retiring, the demographics arent in favour of the ( mainly ageing) group of people breeding for themselves, the show ring and in pursuit of the beautiful well made healthy hound – with no notion of making a profit from them. If too many of us are discouraged, will the breed have much of a future with the commercial breeders as the only ones prepared to supply a market – while there is a profit in it for them? I do hope this is a pessimistic outlook.

Will I breed from Ruby? its still a maybe. As she will be five and a half, it may be nature will decide for me and she wont conceive.

Looking for a puppy? Try the link to – as these are the ” good guys”, the site does not accept commercial breeders.