Hot tip: If you want to impress owners of American English Coonhounds, don’t call their dogs American English Coonhounds.
Instead, just call them English dogs.
That bit of stealthy semantics underscores the fact that these floppy-eared dogs descended – as all AKC-registered coonhounds do, with the exception of the German-derived Plott – from British foxhounds brought to the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries. Previously known as the English Fox and Coonhound, they have always been called simply “English dogs” by the many generations of Southerners who hunted with them. But when the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 2011, it insisted that the word “American” be inserted into the breed name to avoid confusion and make the breed’s origins on this side of the pond abundantly clear.
But everyone else still calls them English Coonhounds.
Barking Up the Wrong Tree
No matter what name you apply, the function of these hardy, scent-obsessed dogs is undisputed: to track raccoons by night, forcing them up into the sheltering branches of trees until the hunter arrives to dispatch them. Until then, the dogs continue to tree their prey, baying and barking with their front legs on the tree trunk, as if willing themselves to climb up it. (If you ever used the phrase “Barking up the wrong tree,” this is its origin. No use hollering at the base of an oak with empty branches.)
This tenacity for treeing has been bred into these dogs, generation after generation. As a result, those who hope to own an English dog should appreciate that being vocal is simply a part of who he is; similarly, an instinctively strong prey drive means that small animals in the household might be seen as something a bit more ominous than mere playmates.
In addition to raccoons, the dogs are also used to hunt big game like bear and cougar, though their role is to bay the animals, darting in and out to keep them preoccupied until the hunter arrives. Engaging directly would result in certain death.
Though some may consider it superfluous, the “American” in American English Coonhounds reminds us of one important consideration: Unlike their British fox-seeking forefathers, these dogs hunted different prey on very different terrain.
What Kind of Coonhound is That?
In the United Kingdom, the leisurely sport of fox-hunting over small landholdings divided by pathworks of hedgerows did not require very swift hounds, and English Foxhounds as a result have much heavier bone and bodies. But the various coonhound breeds that descended from them on this side of the Atlantic needed more speed to traverse the new world’s wide-open spaces, generally resulting in a more aerodynamic, leaner silhouette.
But as we Americans know all too well, the topography of our country can vary widely from state to state, even county to county, and as a result, the English dogs soon developed their own variations. In the canine equivalent of the TV-show spinoff, the American English Coonhound soon had breakout stars of its own that left to create two completely independent breeds in the 1940s: the Bluetick Coonhound and the Treeing Walker Coonhound.
Of all the coonhounds, the English dogs have the most variability in color: There is “Redtick,” another nickname for the breed that is also its most common color. These red markings on a white base – there is no such things as a solid-colored English dog – include patches, ticking and flecking.
English dogs can also be blue ticked – which, not surprisingly can create some confusion with the Bluetick Coonhounds that descended from them. Blueticks have heavier bone: They were developed to follow cold trails, while the English dog is used on newer, or “hot” trails, requiring more speed and as a result, a racier outline. In addition, a fully blue mottled body is preferred over light ticking in Blueticks, with more blue ticking than white in the body coat. To try and further delineate these two kissing cousins, the American English Coonhound standard disqualifies dogs that are a solid color with less than 10 percent ticking
If that’s not confusing enough, English dogs can also be tricolored, which not coincidentally happens to be the most common and preferred pattern in the Treeing Walker Coonhound, the other breed that is so closely related to it. Again, to try and draw a distinction from the Treeing Walker, where the white markings are clear and unticked, the American English Coonhound standard disqualifies tri-colored dogs that do not have ticking.
Today’s “English Dog”
If all this is confusing, that’s not going to change any time soon. English dogs have tended to be bred for success in the field over consistent appearance in the show ring, which is why they don’t exist in any great numbers as show dogs. As hunters, by contrast, they have long been serious contenders, and are frequent competitors in field competitions such as nite hunts. In fact, some sources say the first coonhound field trial in the 1920s was won by an English dog named “Bones,” owned by a Colonel Leon Robinson.
So, if you see a floppy-eared, ticked dog with a pleading, kindly expression, and aren’t sure exactly what kind of coonhound it is, it’s probably best to inquire. Just remember that phrasing it as, “Hey, is that an English dog?” is probably going to get you the best response.