Caring for scent hounds

Scent Hounds, as their name suggests, love to follow scent trails even over long distances. They love searching for things as part of their playtime, and with their impressive stamina they’re the perfect companion for long walks.
Dog playing
Dog playing
Dog playing

Examples of some typical scent hound breeds in this group include:

  • Bloodhounds
  • Beagles
  • Basset Griffon Vendeen
  • Basset Fauve de Bretagne
  • Hamiltonstovare

Your dog is a scent hound breed if they:

Have a great willingness to go outdoors and put their nose to the ground to follow scent trails. Scent hound breeds are also keen to go searching for objects hidden around the home and garden at the end of scent trails, which means lots of fun and games for you both. They enjoy carrying soft toys, but may not respond particularly quickly to training or even be that interested! They normally have pendulous ears and a smooth or wiry coat.

Exercise and play

Scent Hound breeds love the great outdoors and generally have a lot of stamina, having been bred to follow long scent trails. Unlike Sighthounds, which are short-distance, high-speed sprinters, Scent Hounds can best be compared to marathon runners – they’re happy to trot or run along steadily for hours at a time, so lovely long walks are a must for these breeds.

Dog playing

Independent play

Dog Playing

Scent hound breeds are naturally independent and they are usually more than happy to amuse themselves. Great games include ‘hunt the toy’, where you can hide some safe treat-filled toys around the garden at the end of scent trails for them to find. Your dog will love exercising their natural instincts with games like these, and they’re a lot of fun to watch, too! Good Beagle games, Bloodhound games, and other Scent Hound-friendly games include making a trail for them to sniff out, letting them exercise their instincts at the same time as playing. You can easily set up a trail for your Scent Hound in the garden by dragging something with a strong, distinctive smell - such as a piece of tripe on a string - along the ground out of their sight, or using a commercially produced ‘wildlife’ spray for training gundogs and then encouraging your dog to follow the trail. To challenge your clever Scent Hound, why not make the game more difficult? Devise increasingly difficult trails for your canine companion to follow, and make them longer, with more turns and with less smelly tracks, or exchange the smelly object for an intermittent trail of your dog’s dry food. As they progress, drop fewer kibble pieces to step up the difficulty and make your dog’s victory even more satisfying! Your dog will love it when you hide treats in small cereal boxes and paper bags for them to rip up; it’s a cheaper alternative to buying commercially manufactured treat-toys too, and they are sure to feel nicely fulfilled after managing to extract food from many of these fun and challenging options.

Playing with your scent Hound

‘Hide and seek’ is one of many great games for scent hound breeds that you can join in with yourself! It also helps develop their recall training, especially as their recall response can quickly deteriorate when on walks that are full of interesting smells that you hadn’t planned for!

Playing with your dog in less stimulating places and rewarding them for finding you during ‘hide and seek’ games can help them stay more focused on you. The better your dog’s recall training, the more you can let them off the lead to follow scents without the risk that they might disappear, oblivious to your calls. Your dog doesn’t meant to misbehave, but sometimes natural instincts, and the temptation to follow them, become too much to ignore!

There are other games that your Scent Hound can play that use their infamous tracking skills. Following a scent trail – or Scent Hound ‘Tracking’ - is a sport in its own right in some countries, including the US. In the UK, Tracking is one of the activities tested in Working Trials - a canine sport that is the pet owner’s equivalent of police dog work. During the Trials, dogs are judged on their agility, obedience, scent detection and following abilities. If you are interested, breed clubs should be able to point you in the direction of your nearest training class.

Scent hound breeds also enjoy a game of ‘fetch’, which is a good way of helping reinforce the recall command. Throw a toy into long grass and, when your dog finds it, call them to you before greeting them with lots of praise and a treat.

If you want to try running with your dog, given their need for long periods of exercise, Scent Hounds may make good jogging companions. They will trot beside you on a lead for miles at a time. However, always make sure they are given opportunities to rest and drink when needed – after all, it’s not so easy for them to just tell you!

Emotional bonding

Like most hounds, who were originally bred to hunt in packs, your Scent Hound will usually be sociable with other friendly dogs and particularly enjoy canine company. If you have two or more Scent Hounds in your home, they are likely to play with each other and be less reliant on you to provide entertainment. The downside is that there will be more noise when they’re playing together, as scent hound breeds like to bay, and one dog barking or howling can soon set off the other! Training will also be more time-consuming, so it is important to train each of your canine friends individually in order to establish a strong bond with them.

The bond between you and your Scent Hound can be strengthened in a number of ways: play, training and exercise are all great for your dog’s emotional and physical health, but they’ll also love just spending time together. If your dog’s been adequately exercised – mentally and physically – a Scent Hound will enjoy simply snoozing at your feet in the evening while you read or watch TV.

Your dog will also enjoy being stroked and brushed all over. Daily grooming will also ensure that any debris picked up from forays through the undergrowth is removed, and that any coat and skin-related health issues can be noticed and treated early on. As well as that, the act of stroking and gentle brushing will be relaxing and strengthen the bond between you.


Although sociable, and originally pack dogs, Scent Hounds are fairly independent and usually become quite attached to their owners at home. If left on their own for too long, your scent hound might get bored, become destructive or start howling to attract attention. If trained to accept short periods of solitude from a young age, any Scent Hound should be able to snooze quite happily for a couple of hours away from you in a safe, quiet room. Exercise them before you leave so they are toileted and ready to relax, and hide a safe, treat-filled chew-toy for them to find in your absence.

Being a naturally vocal type of dog, it makes sense to train your scent hound to howl and bark on request, and to encourage them to do so at certain times – not when you least want it! Not only will this mean they can be ‘vocal’ at a time when it’s convenient for you both – and away from the neighbours – it also means you’ll be able to quieten them more easily when required.

Dog and owner training

Scent hound nutrition

Most scent hounds love their food and will often eat their meals very quickly if given a chance! They may also scavenge and steal food (which they’ll be able to sniff out using their talented noses) so keep heavy or lockable lids on your kitchen and outside waste bins.

As your scent hound loves it when you feed them, rather than give them just two meals a day, why not split their allowance up and make it more fun? Make mealtimes longer-lasting and more interesting by devising different ways of providing their nutrition. Scatter up to 50% of their measured daily dry food around the garden on dry days, or hide it in different places inside the house. Outside, and out of sight from your dog, lay scent trails to the hidden food to encourage him to be a real Scent Hound and ‘work’ for his dinner!

Reserve up to 5% for use as rewards when training, especially if you’re training your scent hound to ‘come’, as it’s particularly important to motivate a Scent Hound. The remaining amount should be fed in two meals every day (morning and evening) so that your dog will always see you as a provider of food.

If you’re following the guidelines on the back of the dog food packet, your Scent Hound will be getting all the nutrition they need no matter how you split it up – so don’t worry if, after all the food-seeking games, the amount you put in their bowl looks small!

With all the fun your Scent Hound can have at mealtimes, playtime, and beyond, this special breed of dog had so much joy to offer – and most of all, they love sharing it with you!

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