There are three breeds recognized (or about to be, in the case of the Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen) by AKC that have the word “Basset” as part of their name. The French call any breed that is under 18 inches at the shoulder a “basset.” The most familiar of the three in this country is the Basset Hound, one of the more popular AKC breeds. All the bassets were bred primarily to hunt rabbit and hare, although they can be used on other game as well.
Unique among the French hounds, many of which come in three sizes, the Griffons Vendéens come in four sizes: the two basset breeds plus the larger Briquet (about Springer Spaniel size) and the large Grand Griffon (about Otterhound size). Only the Petit and the Grand exist in numbers in the United States, but understanding all four sizes helps in the understanding and judging of either breed.
Each of these breeds was developed for somewhat different uses. The Basset Hound hunts in more open territory than the Griffons Vendéens, whose coarse coat protects them in the briar and bramble of their home territory in France. The Petit was developed to hunt rabbit and hare, while the Grand adds wild boar and sometimes roe deer to the mix. Hunting with the Petit and the Basset is done exclusively on foot — in fact, their shorter legs were probably developed so that poorer folk who couldn’t afford a horse to ride on the hunt could use the determined hounds and keep up with them on foot. Like most scenthounds, the Bassets “give tongue” (bark) when on a scent. Because the Petit is still faster than most humans on foot, the breed standard asks for a “good voice, freely and purposefully used.” The hunter tracks the dogs’ whereabouts through sound. Originally, they all hunted to provide food for the table.
Unlike most older breeds, the Petit and the Grand, which are currently considered two different breeds, indeed have differences in type. Until about 1975, both appeared in the same litter. Their specific breed was not determined until the pups were about a year of age and were evaluated by an expert member of the Club du Griffon Vendéen, the parent club. Because of this, it is vitally important to breeders and judges to have a thorough understanding of the correct type for each breed.
The Griffons Vendéens have ancient roots going back many centuries. Scenting hounds can be traced back to Roman times, when the troops of the Roman Empire crossed into Gaul, bringing the dogs along with them. These dogs were crossed with the native scenting hounds called Segusien (meaning “scent”) Hounds, or Chiens Segusiens. Numerous French Hounds were developed over the centuries from this root stock. One, called a Chien Gris de St. Louis (identified with Charles IX in a French book published in 1625 titled La Chasse Royale), is quite possibly the root stock for the French Hounds called Griffons Vendéens. It is thought that Otterhounds may also go back to similar roots.
Royalty in the Middle Ages hunted on horseback. Peasants could not afford horses to ride and hunted primarily to fill their larders at home. They needed hounds that were slower than the long-legged Grands Griffons and so bred down the dogs to create the shorter-legged Griffons Vendéens. Thus, the four breeds of Griffons Vendéens were born — the Grand Griffon (about Otterhound size), the Briquet (about Springer size), the Grand Basset (15.5 to 18 inches at the shoulder) and the Petit Basset (13 to 15 inches at the shoulder in the US, 13.5 to 15 elsewhere).
Now, let’s compare the three breed standards to see just where these two French breeds are the same and where they should not be so similar, while keeping the Basset Hound’s uniqueness in mind as well. I will forego repeating the breed standards here, trusting that if you are interested in learning more about the breeds, you will have already spent time reading all three standards. If you have not, please go back and do so before reading the rest of this article.
There are significant differences between the Griffons Vendéens and the Basset Hound. The Basset Hound is an achondroplastic breed, with his crooked front legs wrapping around the deep chest, while both the Petit and the Grand Bassets are not achondroplastic and do not have wrap-around fronts. Further, there are also substantial structural differences between the Petit and the Grand Bassets (the only two breeds seen in the US) and the Basset Hound. The Basset Hound is a long, low-to-the-ground dog, “heavier in bone, size considered, than any other breed of dog…” Neither of the Griffons Vendéens should in any way resemble the typical Basset Hound silhouette. Generally, the Grand Basset is taller, with longer muzzle, ears, legs, body and tail — he is basically longer everywhere in comparison to the more compact Petit Basset. The Basset Hound’s long body helps him stand out as different. Knowing the different hallmarks of the two Griffons Vendéens breeds and their differences from the Basset Hound will be invaluable in assessing them in the ring and for the whelping box.
With this understanding, look at the photo of the four Griffon Vendéen breeds. First, notice that the Grand Griffon is a longer-bodied, more rectangular dog, while the Briquet is noticeably more compact with shorter ears and tail than the Grand. It is probable that the Grand Basset is bred down primarily from the Grand Griffon, while the Petit Basset is bred down from the noticeably more compact Briquet. Also the head of the Grand Griffon has a longer muzzle (in comparison to skull length) than the Briquet, whose muzzle is a bit shorter from nose to stop than from stop to occiput. The same is true in the corresponding Basset Griffon Vendéen breeds.
The size of the two Griffon Vendéen breeds is one minor defining characteristic of each, as both breeds can be around 15 inches in height. The Basset Hound falls inside of the Petit requirements, with a preferred height at the withers of 14 inches, with a maximum height of 15 inches. Dogs over 15 inches are disqualified. The Petit Basset is 13 to 15 inches at the withers, with adult dogs over or under this size disqualified. A puppy is permitted to be less than 12 inches tall until it has reached 1 year of age, but may never be more than 15 inches tall no matter its age. The Grand Basset is “typically 15.5 to 18 inches” tall. There is no disqualification for size in the Grands. Only in Grands is there a difference in size between the genders, with bitches tending to be a bit smaller than males.
The heads in each breed are distinctive to that breed, though in the Griffons Vendéens, those distinctions may not at first be obvious to the casual observer. The similarities are numerous, however. Both Griffon Vendéen breeds have a characteristic beard and moustache, and both breeds are similar colors. Noses on both should be large with wide-open nostrils to allow full access to scent and solid-colored, colored black except in brown dogs where a brown nose is permitted.
Eyes on both breeds are somewhat oval or almond in shape, not round; large and dark, showing no white, and pigmentation around the eyes should be dark. The stop is well defined in both breeds. A scissors bite is preferred, though a level bite is not faulted. The underjaw should be well developed.
The Basset Hound’s distinctive eye has a characteristic sad, soft expression with prominent haw. Eyes should be dark, never protruding. Noses are uniformly large, characteristic of scenthounds.
The Basset Hound’s head is large and narrower than what is wanted in the Petit. The muzzle should be equal in length from stop to nose as from stop to occiput, with parallel planes.
The major differences in Griffons Vendéens heads? Generally speaking, the Grand head is longer in many aspects when compared to the Petit’s head and is narrower. In a Petit, the muzzle should be a bit shorter from nose to stop than from stop to occiput, and straight. In the Grand, the muzzle is preferably slightly longer from nose to stop than from stop to occiput. Further, in the Grand, the bridge of the nose is slightly Roman.
The ears on the Petit are shorter than what is desired on a Grand, with the leathers reaching almost but not quite to the tip of the nose (remember the muzzle is shorter on the Petit than the Grand). Short ears and tail are prized in the Petit. The Grand’s ears are described as reaching “at least to the end of the nose;” they are noticeably longer. An ear that is distinctly long on a Petit is a fault, as that’s a Grand characteristic. Both breeds should have a nice turn at the top of the ear and should be “supple, narrow and fine, ending in an oval shape” and should be covered with long hair. Hair should not be stripped from the ears and exposing the skin in either breed.
The differences in skull structure are noticeable as well. The Petit skull is “domed, oval in shape when viewed from the front.” It is broader between the ears than the Grand head, which is narrower and longer than the Petit’s. The Grand standard points out that the skull is “not heavy, and not too wide. It is longer than wide.” Both breeds ask for a well-developed occiput. The Grand head presents as long and narrow in comparison to the correct, slightly domed Petit head.
Basset Hound heads are distinctive. A broad, flat skull is faulty; rather, a narrower domed skull is desired with a “pronounced occipital protuberance.” The muzzle is long, as described earlier, with parallel planes. Unlike the Griffons Vendéens, one of the distinctive features of the Basset Hound is the skin, which should be “loose with distinct wrinkles over the brow when the head is lowered.” The dewlap is very pronounced as well. The loose skin extends to the legs and body as well. Ears are extremely long (much longer than the Grand Basset) and have a slight curl inward due to a turn of the ear at the top. This is used to channel scent to the nose as the dog moves. As with the Griffons Vendéens, a high-set or flat ear is quite faulty.
Legs and Shoulders
The additional height on a Grand Basset comes from longer legs. In a Petit, a slight crook on visually straight front legs is permitted. Determine this by running your hands down the front legs. Any crook at all on a Grand is faulty (the standard specifically says “legs straight”). Both breeds should have well-boned legs. Spindly legs on a Petit are undesirable. Shoulder layback is desired in both breeds as is a balanced length and return of upper arm. The Petit standard indicates that slightly more than half the length from withers to ground should be in the distance from elbow to ground. Short legs are not desirable in a dog that has to hunt on rough, obstacle-filled terrain. In both breeds a straight backline from withers to rump is desired, with a slight rise over the well-muscled loin.
The Basset Hound, however, is not meant to hunt in the same terrain as the Griffons Vendéens. It requires “forelegs that are short, powerful, heavy in bone with wrinkled skin. Knuckling over of the front legs is a disqualification” in the breed. A very deep chest is required in the Basset Hound. The standard specifies that “the distance from the deepest point of the chest to the ground, while it must be adequate to allow free movement when working in the field, is not to be more than one-third the total height at the withers of an adult.” The front wraps around the deep body.
Body proportions are different in the three breeds. The Petit standard calls for a body that is “muscular, somewhat longer than tall … Compact, casual in appearance.” Though not square, the Petit should not appear excessively rectangular in profile. The word “compact” is there for a reason. The loin is “short, strong and muscular.” The Petit should never look long and low like a Basset Hound! Again, one of the defining differences between the Petit and the Grand is body length. The Grand body is described a bit differently than that of the Petit: “Ribs well sprung extending well back. Loin well muscled and of moderate length [compared to the Petit’s ‘short’ loin].” The Grand Basset has a much more rectangular outline, accented by the longer head and ears on one end and the longer tail on the other, with the longer loin adding length to the body. The Basset Hound’s body is longer in proportion than either of the Griffons Vendéens and, of course, the legs are significantly shorter. In all three breeds, the rib cage should extend well back. The ribs on the Basset Hound are more round than on the Griffon Vendéen breeds.
Tails and Toplines
In addition to the differing ears and legs, the tails of the two Griffon Vendéen breeds are distinctively different. The tail on the Grand is described as “rather long,” while the tail on the Petit is “of medium length.” Indeed, along with the heads, ears and legs, tail length is one of the cardinal factors in differentiating the two breeds. The Basset Hound tail falls somewhere between the two Griffon Vendéen breeds in length. The tails of all three are thicker at the base than at the tip and are carried slightly behind the body, bent like the blade of a saber.
Toplines on all three breeds are level, with sagging or roaching toplines faulty in the Basset Hound and undesirable in the other two breeds. The slight rise over the loin mentioned in the Griffons Vendéens standards is not mentioned in the Basset Hound standard.
Coats and Colors
Coat and the presentation of the coat has been an ongoing issue in the Petit and is probably destined to become an issue in the Grand as well. Both breeds call for a double coat (softer undercoat with protective harsher outer coat) and not much in the way of feathering. Both are rustic-type breeds and should not be shown with obvious and extensive trimming, scissoring or plucking of the coat. Both standards ask evaluators to seriously penalize any deviation from the desired casual and rustic look. Deviations should be progressively faulted the further the dog differs from the desired ideal appearance. Neither breed should be stylized in such a way that it resembles another breed. The coat in the Basset is “hard, smooth, and short, with sufficient density to be of use in all weather. The skin is loose and elastic,” a distinctive part of the breed. “A distinctly long coat is a disqualification.” Grooming is, of course, not an issue in Basset Hounds.
It is interesting to note that there used to be wirehaired Basset Hounds in England a long time ago. I have drawings of several in my collection. The bodies on these dogs resemble the Basset Hound as we know it today and are clearly not that of the Griffon Vendéen breeds.
Allowed colors in both Griffons Vendéens are tricolor and bicolor (two colors), as well as Black and Tan in Grands (with a solid-colored coat being a disqualification). In Petits, white with any combination of lemon, orange, black, sable, tricolor or grizzle markings are permitted. Black and Tan is not a permitted color in this breed. Basset Hound color is “any recognized hound color,” and “the distribution of color and markings is of no importance.”
All three breeds are meant to gait well, as befits their hunting origins. All move well and freely, with the longer-legged Petit and Grand moving at a faster pace than the Basset Hound. Neither the Petit nor the Grand Bassets should be raced around the ring at breakneck speed, however. The gait on a Basset Hound should be smooth, powerful and effortless. Ideally, the breed should not plod around the ring. Although its short legs are not made to keep up with the longer-legged breeds when moving, it should move freely and athletically. All three breeds have a tendency to lower their heads to pick up scent as they move and can move quite well that way, though handlers today tend to keep the heads up. Movement faults common to many breeds are just as faulty in these breeds.
Photos courtesy Vivien Phillips, Kitty Steidel and the author.
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