This article is a joint effort by Moretta and Laura.
This article refers only to coonhounds, a group that includes blueticks, redticks, black & tans, redbones and their honorary member, the Plott hound. It doesn’t include Treeing Walker coonhounds, foxhounds or bloodhounds.
We’ll start with our own accounts, then move on to some generalities:
Moretta: I wasn’t always a hound person. To me coonhounds were big, loud, messy dogs who enjoyed running around on frosty mornings and chasing after other animals. I wasn’t wrong, but there was a lot more to them than that. Early on in my rescue experience, I found myself meeting a series of hounds: Striker, the magnificent bluetick coonhound who was turned into animal control because the only scent he ever caught was the scent of the local pizza parlor. There was Penny Lane, a bluetick abandoned in the woods, who would stand sniffing the breeze in a happy dream world as rabbits danced around her with impunity. There was Suzy Q, the redtick coonhound who, well, just WAS. There was Charlie, Loudest Dog in the World (he’ll get his own story). There were neurotic Plott hounds, a starved redbone, and black and tans as sweet and thoughtful as their original owners were monstrous.
Laura: Like Moretta, I didn’t set out to become a hound person, but if you’re involved with rescue in a rural area they will find you. I became a hound owner after picking up an emaciated stray dog, and then going looking for the puppies she was obviously nursing. She lead us back to eight perfectly healthy fat puppies, all of them some variety of coonhound mix. Two of them stayed with my husband and me, and I’m in contact with most of the adopters from the litter. As a litter they were a lot more “houndy” than other puppies I’ve been around. They were already incredibly vocal and way too interested in ganging up on my cats and “treeing” a visiting toy poodle on my couch at 6 weeks old. They were also excellent problem solvers, super cuddly, chew monsters and extremely adorable.
If you’re a Hyperbole and a Half fan, you’re already a little bit acquainted with hounds, and there is plenty familiar in this post to hound lovers. The incompetent first owners, the lack of motor control, the slow progress training, and the random floor licking will all ring a bell.
What You Need to Know About Hounds
- Hounds are emotionally sensitive yet oblivious. They will ignore you yelling at them at the top of your lungs, but then a harsh word or disapproving look later will cause them to cringe and slink away, heartbroken.
- Hounds desperately want to make you happy, but are frequently clueless about how they could accomplish that. Once they know what you want they might need reminders because they’re space cadets, but they’re people pleasers at heart.
- Hounds respond very poorly to punishment, and this is where their reputation for being hard to train comes from. They will work frantically for anything even a little edible. In some ways they’re less focused than other types of dogs, and the really have to be taught how to learn, but if you’re patient and have food they’re putty in your hands.
- Hounds are freakishly strong hothouse flowers. I (Moretta) used to watch my Plott hound mix Maggie, who was flattened like a frog under 60 pounds of leaden labrador, do the canine equivalent of a pushup and toss the other dog off without a thought. They can pull in a way that is hard to fathom until you have encountered it — strong enough to pull a grown human from a position on the ground to a standing one without showing any signs of exertion; strong enough to dislocate a human shoulder; strong enough to jump from the ground through a transom from a standing position. On the other hand, though, this same hound will refuse to go out in the rain to go potty, opting instead to just wait it out; or limp piteously from a brief encounter with snowy ground. Laura’s hound Huckleberry will completely ignore large gashes, but requires someone to come carry him out of any briars he may wander into. You have to make sure they aren’t doing things like cutting up their feet on hikes, and they’ll take care of making sure nothing uncomfortable is in their bed.
- Hounds are vocal. Many breeds are expected to be loud enough to carry through five miles of dense woods. Every hound has a distinct bark, an asset in hunting, but nerve-wracking in reality. The words used to describe them are telling: there are hounds that bawl, a lengthy, heartbroken sound. There are hounds that have a chop, which means that they have extremely short, harsh, hacking barks. In our experience, it’s the chop that can be hard on the human’s nerves. There are also some truly adorable tiny yawning noises and other quiet vocalizations that almost make you believe the chop isn’t that bad. AND, if you are very, very lucky, your coonhound will sing on occasion.
- Hounds are energetic and athletic. Exercise requirements will vary by breed and age, but most of them require an outlet for their digging, barking, running, and sniffing instincts. You and your close neighbors will have to have a sense of humor about their antics.
- They were bred for hunting and are prone to issues with small animals. Some people have success keeping them with cats, but others do not. Laura has to keep her cats completely separated from her hounds. Moretta never recommends placing coonhounds in homes with small animals.
- They love personal plastics. If you have earphones, remotes, sunglasses, hairbrushes or any other plastic item sitting around, chances are good your hound will attempt to eat it or at least give it a good chew.
- They have a 15-second hound delay before they hear you. Seriously. When a hound is smelling something of interest, their nose takes over all of their senses (this is not scientific observation, just a conclusion we have drawn). During those times, you may find yourself calling and calling your hound without any response. Assuming they aren’t noise adverse a whistle, clap or other more distinctive sound may be helpful to get them back from Smell Land. If not, just remember to be patient, and imagine that your command needs to go up to a satellite in space, then bounce back in order for your hound to hear it.
- Hounds OWN snuggling. They are the best cuddlers of all time. As a matter of fact, we made up a word to describe such hounds: snugglehounds. My heavy-boned, muscled Plott hound used to turn into a boneless Chenille blanket when it was time to cuddle up. They’ll also snuggle other dogs if a person isn’t available, so any non-hound housemates need to be tolerant of a lot of cuddling!
- Adult hounds tend to come with a bit of emotional baggage. Hunting dogs are often trained with immense cruelty, and hounds don’t have the emotional resilience to bounce back from some of the things that have been done to them, including liberal use of shock collars.
- Coonhounds is short for raccoon hounds. Since raccoons are nocturnal, your hound might have a tendency to be hyper-alert in the evenings or during nighttime walks. This habit can fade over time, but it can be rough, and more than one coonhound foster has complained that they didn’t understand why their foster dog would suddenly let out a loud cry at 2:00 every morning.
About Hound Owners
The best coonhound owners tend to be patient, resourceful, and have a good sense of humor. They aren’t overly attached to possessions or having good relationships with their neighbors. A good rescue coonhound owner will have self-discipline, because it’s pretty hard not to get upset when you are dealing with a cringing, terrified dog, but comforting them is often the worst thing you can do. You have to be compassionate AND dispassionate. You also have to be willing to see your dog do something that you would never imagine was even possible, and shake your head and say, “Coonhounds, man.” (This is what Laura and I find ourselves saying so often that this was the only title that made sense.)
Level of Owner Experience: Experienced, or Moderate and Willing to Learn
Level of Owner Commitment: Stratospheric