By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
Dignified, handsome and seemingly solemn, the dogs known as the Basset Bleu de Gascogne can also have a slightly amusing, endearing appearance, possibly because some of their features seem inconsistent with others. True Basset Bleu de Gascognes, which translates to Blue Gascony Basset, are a rare breed (maybe even the most rare) of French hound and close cousins to basset hounds.
Both have a deep, baritone bark and their skin doesn’t hang quite as loosely as their relative, even though both dogs originated in France.
In addition, these dogs with the more French-sounding name have slightly lighter bodies that sit slightly closer to the ground than other dogs of comparable girth. Both bassets are considered medium-sized, but the Basset Bleu de Gascogne’s legs are longer by an inch, giving them the average height of 15 inches at the shoulder. One of the most evident differences between regular basset hounds and Basset Bleu de Gascognes is their coloring.
The former has a short, smooth coat with solid coloring in tan, black and white or lemon and white, while the Basset Bleus have short, dense coats with a black base coat along with wide patches of beautiful mottling and ticking, giving their coats a blue cast. You’ll also note tan markings on their faces and legs.
One of the most endearing characteristics in Basset Bleus is their chest-long ears, which fold forward, giving them a winsome look to balance out their long, square faces. These are used in their scenting abilities, as they sweep smells from the ground upward toward their noses.
The Bassets: History and Differences
According to Pets4Homes, a U.K.-based site, basset hounds have an interesting history, having been bred and developed by French monks as early as the Middle Ages. There is the close relationship to the basic basset, however:
“Over the ages the Basset Hound has become a very unique breed in its own right and throughout the ages they have always been highly prized for their scenting abilities. It is thought the original dogs arrived in Britain during the reign of King James IV of Scotland when he introduced the breed into the land.”1
In fact, records reference Basset Bleu de Gascognes (sometimes shortened to Basset Bleu) circa the 14th century, and the descendants of yet another breed known as the Grand Bleu de Gascogne. However, experts believe crossbreeding may have played a part in the characteristics these dogs have today.
According to Vetstreet,2 they faced extinction in the 1890s, but an enthusiast, Alain Bourbon, may have ensured the breed’s survival by crossing the few remaining dogs with the Basset Saintongeois and the Grand Bleu de Gascogne in the early 20th century.
Basset Bleus are recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale in Europe, and the United Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1991. Very few in the U.S. are familiar with the breed, as they’re rarely seen outside of France. Basset Bleus still have a keen smell sense, as they were also bred to hunt small game, such as rabbits, and even today will still be found adhering to their erstwhile origins and keeping their nose to the ground.
Personality and Training: The Bleu Versus the Basic Basset
One unmistakable fact about this breed is that they have great stamina, a prerequisite for hunting hounds. Regular bassets are known for being stubborn and tenacious, but also loyal, loving and easy to be with. That said, many owners report a “pack” mentality that may come across as stubborn if they’re not taken in hand for positive training early on. In slight contrast, Basset Bleus may be described as more laid back, calm, gentle and affectionate.
While basset hounds like to be busy, Bleus could become consummate couch potatoes if left to their own devices. For that reason alone, daily exercise, although it doesn’t have to be strenuous, will help keep Basset Bleus fit.
This might be where a bit of a stubborn streak may make itself evident in this ordinarily placid pup. For this reason, some experts recommend that new dog owners go with another breed rather than a Basset Bleu de Gascogne, as training may become a challenge, and really relies on reinforcement:
“Intelligent yet independent by nature, a Basset Bleu's training has to begin early and it has to be consistent throughout their lives. Because their scenting instinct is so deeply embedded in a dog's psyche, a Basset Bleu would happily follow their nose when the mood takes them. Again, they need to be taught the ‘recall’ command early in their lives, but if a dog picks up an interesting scent, the chances are they might just ignore an owner to go off and investigate.”3
Firm but gentle handling when training and correcting both of the basset breeds’ behavior is fundamental. Harshness will counteract anything positive you’re trying to get across, and as the British say, is simply bad form when training any dog. I couldn’t agree more.
Basset Bleus take life at their own pace, so keeping that in mind when you’re training them is the most effective approach. These dogs were born to sniff, so channeling this innate gift early (i.e., enrolling in a nose work class after completing puppy class) and engaging in positive training throughout these hounds’ lives is a great plan.
Friends Don’t Let Friends Become Couch Potatoes
Some dogs are enthusiastic “balls of fire” on any given day; that’s just their temperament. Not so with Basset Bleus. While they could be described as active and even surprisingly agile, they’re not particularly energetic, so a little encouragement might be in order to get them their 40 to 60 minutes of exercise they truly need for their optimal health and happiness.
This is also true with mental exercises as well, which can happen when you let them explore off their leads in a safe place, like your fenced backyard or designated parks or trails. Otherwise, bad behavior can result, because the “wheels going round in their heads” must be filled with positive recreation and activity or it might result in behaviors you’d rather avoid. Vetstreet notes:
“Like all scenthounds, the Basset Bleu will follow a trail to the exclusion of all else. That’s great when you’re taking him hunting; not so much if he escapes from your yard and wanders off. A securely fenced yard is a must.”4
Basset hounds, including Bleus, are wonderful family pets when they’ve been socialized and trained early. They also get along with other dogs (and cats if they grew up together) but should be monitored around other small animals, pets and children they haven’t met before.
Health and Grooming for Basset Bleu de Gascognes
One of the best things about Basset Bleus is that they have very few health issues and need very little in the way of grooming. An uncommonly healthy breed, these dogs are generally very healthy (maybe it’s their laid-back nature) and usually live to be anywhere from 10 to 14 years old. While genetic issues are rare, all breeds can develop health problems. One problem may stem from having a deep chest (hence their low, melodic bark), which may be prone to a condition known as gastric dilatation volvulus, or bloat.
Shedding isn’t ordinarily an issue, but when they do (seasonally), even though these are shorthaired dogs, keep your brush and dustpan at the ready — you’ll need them. Tendencies like slobbering, howling and baying, selective hearing (especially when they’re on a scent) and gassiness (exacerbated from biologically inappropriate foods) are problems that may be noted, but at least you can train them not to bark and bay if you’re diligent.
An overall view of Basset Bleu de Gascognes is that they’re very well balanced: Intelligent, dog- and child-friendly, fairly social, affectionate and playful, with a tendency to bark, and needing some prodding (like many of us) to get the exercise they need. If you’re interested in learning more about this unique breed check out a hound rescue in your area.