Don’t let their droopy looks fool you: There’s more to this noble breed than meets the eye. Here are a few things you might not know about the stout dogs from France.
1. Their names refers to their size.
Basset comes from the French word bas, which means low, or short. But just because they’re short doesn’t mean they’re delicate: These dogs are typically only 14 inches tall but weigh a whopping 50 to 60 pounds on average.
2. Basset hounds were bred to hunt.
French aristocrats bred these dogs from bloodhounds to use while hunting (both bassets and bloodhounds are said to be descendants of St. Hubert hounds). They were used to track a variety of animals, but especially rabbits and hares. The squat canines were tasked with scaring the animals out of the brush, allowing hunters to swoop in and nab their prey.
3. Basset hounds are the second-best sniffers in the canine kingdom.
Second only to one (the bloodhound), these dogs have a serious sense of smell. Basset hounds have more than 220 million smell receptors, and the portion of their brains responsible for the sense of smell is 40 times that of a human’s (humans, by the way, have around just 5 million scent receptors). Using their complex noses, they can take in a big range of smells simultaneously and home in on just one. Once they’ve targeted a scent, the dogs can follow it for impressive distances.
4. Their long ears serve a purpose ...
The dog’s large, floppy ears have a job to do. As a basset hound trots across the ground, its ears help waft smells directly to its face, while its dewlap (the loose skin underneath its chin) helps trap them.
5. ... And so does their short stature.
Short legs keep the dogs close to the ground—and thus, closer to the scents they’re tracking. Bassets can keep their noses on the trail of a scent without having to crane their necks like other dogs, which means they don’t tire as quickly while running through brush. Their stubby limbs also limit how quickly the dogs can travel, which, back in the day, allowed hunters to keep up on foot, instead of having to follow on horseback.
6. Basset hounds make great mayors.
Victoria the basset hound was elected co-mayor of Concord, New Hampshire, in 2011. She held the office with Nelson, a very serious-looking great Dane. Victoria made appearances in parades, traveled to neighboring towns, and raised over $1000 for the animals at the Concord Merrimack-County SPCA. She had this to say to The Concord Insider as her term came to an end: “Being the first co-canine mayor of Concord has been an amazing experience. I’ve met many wonderful people, who believe in the betterment of the lives of all canines, and, of course, the anti-squirrel movement.”
She wasn’t the member of the breed to hold such a position. In 2021, a basset hound named Murdoch was elected mayor of Littleton, Colorado.
7. Basset hounds need a lot of baths.
As a result of being so low to the ground, bassets pick up more dirt than other dogs—which means they need frequent baths if you want your house to stay clean. Additionally, their eyes need frequent wiping to prevent infection, and because those large ears don’t circulate air very well, they need to be cleaned at least once a week.
8. Basset hounds are not great swimmers.
Thanks to their stubby legs and thick bodies, basset hounds have trouble swimming. If you’re supervising one, stick to outdoor activities away from large bodies of water. While the dogs are generally happy to hang out on the shoreline, you don’t want to run the risk of them falling in.
9. Basset hounds are funny.
Basset hounds are natural scene-stealers. From Flash on The Dukes of Hazard to Sam on That’s So Raven, plenty of the charming dogs have hammed it up on television. Most notably, the breed inspired Droopy, the slow-talking cartoon character created by Tex Avery.
A version of this story originally ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2022.