What is a Scent Hound?

There probably isn't a dog owner out there who hasn't sat back and watched as their beloved canine friend caught wind of a scent and indulged the moment. All dogs are built with impressive sniffers, equipped with up to 300 million olfactory receptors (people have about five million, for comparison), with some capable of sniffing out seemingly-scentless things like bed bugs and even cancer. While all dog breeds are blessed with a nose that won't quit, some are especially adept at sniffing, relying on their sense of smell over sight even more so than the average canine. These dogs are classified as scent hounds, and they have an impressive history with humans.

Basset hound smelling flowers
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What are scent hounds?

Scent hounds are types of dogs who hunt by using their sense of smell over their sense of sight. According to the American Kennel Club, many people believe that scent hounds were brought to Britain by Phoenician traders around the sixth century BC, where they were used by British soldiers as "war dogs," fighting side by side with their two-legged counterparts. The Celtic people were the first to use these dogs as hunting partners after noticing how well they navigated the world around them by following their noses. Over the years, selective breeding with certain sighthounds, which are built slightly smaller and slimmer than early scent hounds, produced the perfect specimen for hunting game — fast, strong, built for endurance, and unmatched in their ability to track game.

Common characteristics

Scent hounds are also known for having long, flopping ears, some of which drag on the ground behind their powerful noses. These ears are definitely adorable to look at, and also serve a great purpose in assisting these dogs with their duties — Animal Planet explains that these dangling auricles actually sweep scent particles up off the ground and toward their noses. Their snouts feature nostrils that rests deep within their noses to help them translate and differentiate scents, and they also have loose jowls which are often moist to the touch, which is also used to help them pick up certain smells off the ground.

The beagle dog sitting in autumn forest. Portrait with shallow background
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Scent hounds also tend to have bodies that rest low to the ground, making it that much easier for their powerful noses to track a scent. They aren't the fastest hounds, an honor reserved for the sight hound group, but the can run for long distances, staying focused on the task at hand the entire time. Additionally, these dogs are known for having a heavy bone structure, and thick, tough skin which helps them navigate wooded areas at high speeds without becoming injured.

Popular scent hound breeds

One of the most well-known scent hounds is the bloodhound, a comically-cute canine built with long, floppy ears, a drooping face, and known to slobber. While somewhat disarming in their looks, their ability to find and follow a scent trail is incomparable, which is why these dogs are so often used by law enforcement to search for missing persons over large distances. Like their fellow scent hounds, bloodhounds were initially bred for hunting in packs, stemming first from English Foxhounds before eventually evolving into what are now known as Coonhounds, named for the raccoons they would assist in capturing.

Beautiful Bloodhound puppy at 5 months.
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Coonhound dogs, which were established in North America, and are known to "tree" their prey, or, chase them down and run them up a tree after sniffing them out. These dogs are commonly found in the Southeast region of the United States, where they're still used to hunt, although many are kept as house pets for their generally sweet and mellow demeanors. Popular scent hounds also include Treeing Walker Coonhounds, Bluetick Coonhounds, Redbone Coonhounds, Plott Hounds, Basset Hounds, Beagles, and Black and Tan hounds, according to VCA Hospitals. Additionally, the American English Coonhound and American Foxhound are rare but celebrated treeing hounds, and are some of the earliest American scent hounds around.