A true coonhunter believes that the cold winter nights were not made for enjoying a warm fireplace or snuggling up inside with a hot cup of cocoa. Rather, he believes that nature wanted all men to be outside doing – yep, you guessed it – coonhunting!
And what perfect hunting companion is best suited for such adventures as the tried and true coonhound dog. Following the clarion call of hounds, no matter where the chase may lead – through woodland, over high hills, across muddy swamps and dangerous streams – is to him life’s summoned calling, his destiny, his reason for living.
The Black & Tan Coonhound
The Black and Tan Coonhound was developed specifically for tracking down and treeing raccoon and opossum. These are both nocturnal treeing animals indigenous to North America, whose names derive from the pictorial Algonquian language: Arakunem (“hand scratcher”), and Apasum (“white animal”).
Raccoons are to be found throughout the forested regions of the United States, in southern Canada, and in northern Mexico. There palates crave a variety of foods: freshwater fish and crustaceans; birds, frogs, and poultry; eggs of all sorts; nuts, fruit and maize.
The small gray ring-tailed raccoon, with its dainty white paws and comical harlequin masks, seems harmless enough – but when poultry disappears from the hen house and eggs are siphoned hollow, it’s time for a coonhunt! That’s when a proper coondog is needed.
Raccoons Are Mighty Challenges
Raccoons may seem lazy, they may look cute, and they do tend to sleep in trees all day. However, when its time for venturing forth at dusk in search of food, they become a great challenge of prey. They are thoroughly at home in the water and have been known to drown inexperienced dogs four times their size.
When a pursuer closes in, they seek refuge in trees, out of reach of the enemy. The dog to use against them must have special attributes:
– He will track entirely by scent.
– Will be a willing and vigorous swimmer.
– Able to withstand extreme cold without ill effect.
– He will be powerful, capable of going the distance, whatever that may be.
– He will be brave but not foolhardy.
– He will give voice while tracking.
– And when the quarry is treed, he will continue to give voice until the hunter arrives. From start to finish he will cooperate with this pack mates, backing up any dog that gets into trouble along the way.
The Origins Of The Black & Tan Coonhound
Sometime around 1750, colonial Virginians undertook to tailor a specialized breed of dog for the sole purpose of trapping raccoon and in opossum hunting. The Black and Tan Coonhound is founded upon the early Virginia Foxhound (similar, too, of the present-day American Foxhound), with generous mixtures of Bloodhound stock.
The Foxhound may have begun his long tenure on these shores as early as 1541, for the Spanish explorer DeSoto had “hounds” with him when he discovered the Mississippi River in that year.
In 1650, Robert Brooke brought a pack of Foxhounds to Maryland. He became the first Master of Foxhounds in the colonies. Foxhunting found instant acceptance among the more affluent members of that society. In fact, owning a pack of hounds soon became a social must. Excellent Foxhounds were imported for hunting and for breeding.
Records at the University of William and Mary disclose that a member of England’s finest bloodhounds were imported in 1607 by the Jamestown colonists. These animals were to be used, not for hunting game, but to protect the settlers against Indians – and absurd job for these animals. They track, it is generally conceded, better than any other canine, but their value as attack dogs is questionable.
A Coonhound Story Of The Hunt
A story is told of a Bloodhound who was put on the trail of the elusive criminal; he dropped his nose to the ground and set forth. Across fields, through the woods, and into towns he went, taking every detour made by his quarry.
When finally he sniffed out the cowering fugitive, he wagged his tail in greeting and licked the criminals face, as if to thank him for laying such an interesting trail.
By 1750 the Virginia Foxhound was a distinct breed and Bloodhound purity remained intact. Conditions were ripe for the development of a new variety, one especially designed for coonhunting.
Foxhounds of proven ability were used to breed to the best of the Bloodhounds. From the start, selective breeding (with occasional crosses back to Bloodhound or Foxhound stock) ultimately resulted in the Black and Tan Coonhound we know of today.
The Best Of The Best
The Virginia Foxhound has bequeathed its many virtues (pack instinct refined to teamwork; endurance; determination; and spirit). Bloodhound influence can also be seen in the Black and Tan’s size, weight, coat, color, voice, ears, stance, and gait.
Six coonhound varieties are recognized by the United Kennel Club: Black and Tan; Redbone; English Coonhound; Bluetick; Treeing Walker; and Plott. The Black and Tan is the only variety with Bloodhound heritage, and the only coonhound recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Standard Black & Tan Coonhound Description
The modern Black and Tan Coonhound is a dog of medium size with smooth, taut skin showing absolutely no wrinkles. His coat is short and close-lying. He is a very solid animal with a deep chest, strong legs and a rather heavy head. The ears measure as much as 14 inches in length; when drawn forward they overlap across the nose. In repose, his demeanor is unruffled; in motion, his power, agility and stamina are evident.
Although the Black and Tan is an established purebred animal recognized by the American Kennel Club since 1945, his breeding is still in its infancy. Breeding continues to be a hazardous undertaking because we don’t yet know enough about the background of these animals to be able to predict the outcome each time we breed.
After sixty-plus years, the Black and Tan is only ranked in the 130s of popularity among the entire list of AKC breeds. Annual registrations are below a thousand.
At present they vary in coat and confirmation from region to region. For example, a Black and Tan born in the Midwest in winter may have a thick heavy coat, while one born on the West Coast will probably have a slick, very close coat. (The standard asks for a short, dense coat).
Litter mates often show wide variance, one from the other, and the matter of head shape – which may be sharp and slender or wide and flat. (The standard asks for a substantial, domed head). Other variable points within the breed are size, feet, ears and eyes.
Breeders Working Hard To Make The Standard
Breeders in several states (Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, and California, to mention a few) have worked together to standardize the Black and Tan.
Enthusiasts understand that the only way to develop the standard type of dog is to ship brood females to other reputable breeders to improve the stock, and then ship the pups.
One dedicated lady sent her fine California-bred female East for service. Of the resulting seven-pup litter, six were shipped to other breeders: two to Michigan, one to Massachusetts, one to New Jersey and two to California breeders in other parts of the state.
When Bad Dog Show Judges Hurt The Standard
The name of breeding game is ongoing perfection. The object is always to improve the stock. As long as unworthy dogs are awarded points at dog shows, faults and variances in a breeds will persist.
Everybody wants to breed a champion. Ordinarily, this is wise; to do so usually improves the quality of the litter. But what if the dog bearing that title falls so short of the standard that its championship is not deserved? Doesn’t this perpetuate faults and variances?
When only a few dogs of the breed are entered into a show, there may not be four among them worthy of becoming champions. But the judge has four ribbons; too often he feels that all four must be awarded.
This is not so. Any AKC judge can withhold any ribbon he wants to. If he would but exercise his prerogative, unworthy dogs would not capture points, and Black and Tan breeders everywhere would bless him.
The United Kennel Club sponsors, annually, a series of licensed night hunts. Owners interested in competing in its trials register their animals with the UKC. The same animals may also be registered with the AKC (if their parents were so registered); however, neither club recognizes the registration with the pedigree of the other.
One very successful breeder and enthusiast of the Black and Tan Coonhound says:
“A good coonhound doesn’t really mature for four or five years. They reach full growth in a year, but they don’t fill out and grow up mentally for several years more. Their life span is from twelve to fifteen years”.
He goes on to say:
“I don’t think they see so well, especially in the daytime. I’ve had them come up to me, and they look like they are straining to get their vision. They are kind of peering at you, like, where are you?”
In estimating the character and personality of a dog it is valuable to examine the traits of his forebears, for their blood still courses in the veins. Since the Black and Tan is evolving from deliberate matings of two varieties of hound, we need to look no further.
Hounds work in packs; they are less symbiotically attached to humans, by the very nature of their role in life, than any other types of canines. Through the centuries they have kept in twos, threes or more kennels, rather than individually at the fireside. The individual Black and Tan is malleable, to a degree, when he is very young.
They make good house pets if they’re raised in the house, but if they’re not socialized from the age of six or seven weeks, the dogs are extremely hard to make up with.
One of the desired qualities in a coonhound is his clear, resounding call with variations in volume and pitch – he was carefully bred for it. If he’s left alone in the kennel for a long time he’s going to be noisy. He needs attention and diversion to keep him sound in mind and body.
Another desired coonhound characteristic is his ability to be self-directed; to solve his own problems on the trail. He thinks and acts like a hound, not like aworking dog, or a sporting dog, or a Terrier.
Raising A Black & Tan Coonhound – What To Expect
For obedience work these dogs are very hardheaded. This is not to say they cannot learn; there are a few competing in obedience trials, and some have earned CD’s and CDX’s.
A Black and Tan, then, responds to his environment. He is apt to give love in just about the same measure as he received it during his most impressionable weeks (week eight through week twelve), and from that point forward.
He can be trained to obedience work, but only at the cost of great patience. He will probably be quiet most of the time if he lives in the house. If he sleeps outdoors, he will almost surely bark at the moon.
He needs no training to hunt, except perhaps from his pack mates. His Bloodhound nose, his Foxhound love of the chase, his own inimitable call – all systems are operable. And when the daylight wanes away he comes into his own at night.
When they are at work, the Black and Tan will go after any animal that’ll go up a tree. People use them for bear, cougar, bobcats, as well as raccoon. You can work a single coonhound (unless the dog is very young; young ones should never hunt alone), but normally they’re hunted in packs of three to six. For one thing, going after some of the bigger animals does most of the tracking and bugling; the others back him up.
They give voice as they track. When they are trailing, it will be a sort of softer tone, you could say. When they’ve actually treed, they give out with either a bawl, bugle, or yodeling – they have various calls. With a little practice you can tell which dog is doing what. No two of them have the same sound.
A good many hunters mix their packs. The Bluetick is fairly closely related to the Black and Tan, and a lot of hunters use this mix. In the winter of 1975 a group of Canadian hunters treed and killed eight cougars using a mixed pack.
These dogs are not like a sporting dog to be pointed and shot over. Normally, the hunter will call the dogs back out of the way before he shoots. As a dog to tree animals, hold them at bay, and communicate this accomplishment to his owner, there is no other hunting compliment that compares to the Black and Tan Coonhound.