When Bo, an 11-year-old champion Black and Tan Coonhound, was laid to rest in October at the Underwood Memorial Coon Dog Cemetery in Tuscumbia, Ala., the Associated Press reported that nearly 400 mourners attended his funeral.
Such an outpouring of grief for one dog probably comes as no surprise to many Coonhound pet parents, who almost unanimously describe their dogs as sweet, loving and extremely social with adults, children and other dogs.
In fact, one of the only negatives they may cite is the misconception that these dogs are nothing more than loud, smelly, hunting dogs that have no business being indoor house pets.
“People think they’re stupid, wild dogs, climbing trees in the countryside,” said Anna Nirva of Coonhound Companions, an advocacy group formed last year.
Because of these misconceptions, Coonhounds – whose six breeds, all of which originated in the United States, are the American English; Black and Tan; Bluetick; Plott; Redbone and Treeing Walker – fill many animal shelters in the southern and eastern regions of the country. Even Pit Bulls, the breed most likely to be found in shelters elsewhere, are adopted more frequently in these areas than Coonhounds.
Somehow Beagles – which were also bred as hunting dogs – have managed to escape the negative stereotype. According to the most recent American Kennel Club (AKC) registration statistics, the Beagle is the fourth most popular dog in the U.S.
The AKC itself has pretty much ignored Coonhounds until very recently. While the Black and Tan Coonhound has been recognized since 1945, Plotts weren’t accepted into the AKC registry until 2006; Redbones and Blueticks in 2009; and the American English just this year. Next year, Treeing Walkers will finally receive AKC recognition.
Last September, Steve Fielder, director of the AKC’s Coonhound division, optimistically wrote in a “Coonhounds at the AKC” article, “There’s no doubt the Coonhound breeds will flourish with AKC’s acceptance.”
Coonhound Companions is working hard to make Fielder’s prediction a reality. Nirva and other members of the “Coonie-crazy team,” as its website describes them, recently spoke to i Love Dogs in an effort to bust some myths and spread the good word about these dogs.
Myth: Coonhounds are Loudmouths
Although potential adopters might fear a Coonhound would be too vocal (and Elvis didn’t help their image any by singing, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, cryin’ all the time”), many of these dogs end up homeless for precisely the opposite reason – they’re too quiet, and therefore not good hunting dogs.
But that doesn’t mean a Coonhound won’t occasionally serenade you. As Jerry Dunham, the founder of Tejas Coonhound Rescue, noted, “They tend to peel the paint when they vocalize.”
Nirva said Austin, her rescued Treeing Walker Coonhound, literally sings for his supper. “But otherwise, he’s quiet,” she added.
Emily Plishner, whose two Redbones compete in United Kennel Club events, said Coonhounds are “the most musical dogs in the world.”
Along with the singing, Plishner said these dogs have an incredible vocabulary. “They have a whole range of voices,” she said. “You can tell which neighbor is approaching just by the tone of their bark.”
While their barking might make them good watchdogs, Jean Stone, the founder of Gentle Jake’s Coonhound Rescue in Ontario, Canada, noted that Coonhounds were not bred to be aggressive. “If you’re looking for a guard dog, don’t get a Coonhound,” she advised. “They don’t have a mean bone in their bodies, and would do anything to avoid a fight.”
Truth: Coonhounds are Lookers
Not only would a Coonhound be a shoo-in to win “American Dog Idol,” but they’re also major crowd pleasers, thanks to their doggie-matinee-idol looks.
Angela Faeth, owner of Map Adventures, said that when she walks Olivia, her Black and Tan Coonhound, her dog becomes a “total guy magnet.”
And because they were bred to be good hunters rather than good lookers, Coonhounds generally have few health issues. The most common is easily treatable ear infections due to those adorably floppy ears.
“Beagles and Bassett Hounds tend to have more health problems – and more difficult personalities – than Coonhounds, yet they are more popular,” noted Stone.
Truth: Coonhounds are Happy Wanderers
When they take their Coonhounds out to meet their adoring public, pet parents must be sure to keep them on leash.
“They can quickly cover many miles,” Stone said. “In fact, some Coonhounds end up in shelters because they became lost after they were separated from their owners.”
Nirva said the popular conception that these dogs require yards with 6-foot fences “may be true for some Coonhounds, but for not all of them.” She said Austin has never left her property, even though there are raccoons roaming the neighborhood. “He’ll wander over to the driveway, but won’t go farther,” she said.
Truth: Coonhounds are Very Nosy
Because they are scenthounds bred to chase raccoons (and bears) up trees, Coonhounds have incredible senses of smell.
Faeth said that when a Coonhound’s nose is down, his ears are closed. Hale agrees: “If they’re focused on something else, it’s like talking to a wall.”
Although you might think a Coonhound would only be happy if he were hot on the trail of some varmint, these dogs tend to have an indoor/outdoor switch, and can be perfectly happy couch potatoes.
Myth: Coonhounds Smell Bad
Another persistent myth concerns H.O. – hound odor. But most Coonhound pet parents say their dogs are funk free, even if they’re only bathed a couple times a year.
Faeth said dogs that aren’t neutered or spayed, and those kept outdoors, may be more odiferous. She noted that her own dog does have a slight scent around his ears, but it’s a very pleasant musk she likes to call “hound elixir.”
Truth: Coonhounds are Social Networkers
Because they were bred to hunt in packs of two to four dogs, Coonhounds are extremely social.
“A great advantage is that you never have to worry about Coonhounds with other dogs,” Hall said. “They do really well at the dog park.”
Coonhounds also get along fine with both adults and children. If they’re raised with cats, they can even get along with them as well.
Release the Hounds (From Shelters)!
If all of these accolades have you thinking about adopting a Coonhound of your own, be sure to do your homework first (just as you should for any breed). Dunham recommends that you contact a rescue group for their assistance in finding the perfect Coonhound for you.
For more information about Coonhounds or to find out how you can help spread the positive word about these dogs, visit the Coonhound Companions website.
PHOTOS: Emily Gill; coonhoundcompanions.com