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Historical image of Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen
AKC Library & Archives

The Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen came into prominence in the United States nearly 20 years ago. Although there had been a few PBGVs in the country as early as 1971, it was a puppy named Alexander that started the PBGV frenzy in 1983. Since then, the reaction to this scruffy little hound has gone from “What is it?” to “a Petit Basset what?” to it being a widely recognized breed that excels in group competition. At the same time, outside of France, its primary function has been quickly changing from zealous hunting hound to show dog and companion.

The Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen is the smallest of four varieties of this Griffon Vendéen hound, which traces its ancestry back to the Royal Races hundreds of years ago. The others in the family, in ascending order, are the Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen, the Briquet, and the Grand Griffon. As a group, they are still the most popular hunting hounds in France. The PBGV or, as it is often called, Petit, is well-described by its name — petit means “small,” basset is “low,” griffon means “rough-coated,” and Vendéen refers to its area of origin.

PBGVs are scenthounds through and through, and as such, they are expert in the art of hunting by scent, rather than sight, and primarily for small game such as rabbit. The breed is well-suited to hunting in the land­scape of Vendée. The PBGV needs no encouragement to work harsh terrain consisting of chestnut woodland, hedged farmland and thick hedgerows, overgrown with bramble bushes — or what is called in France the bocage. The breed’s hardy coat, together with its overall tenacity, makes it ideal for finding game in this environment.

The Development of the Breed

The true development of the Basset Griffon Vendéen (and later the Petit variety) dates bade to the late 1800s when a wide variety in type was evident. At this time the newly formed Club du Basset Francais was making an attempt to define the French basset breeds and the first standard I was approved far what was I then known as the Basset Griffon Francais. These dogs showed limited type and only a few huntsmen dedicated themselves to a true breeding program.

Paul Dêzamy was one such man. By the late 1890s, his BGVs became role models for the breed. By 1901 his famous hunting pack was formed, the Rallye Bocage, which consisted of 15 to 20 BGVs that excelled in the field. Importantly, Dêzamy also had success in the show ring at the Paris dog shows, which brought the breed into the public eye outside the hunting fraternity.

Historical image of Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen
AKC Library & Archives

In 1907 Dêzamy was named the first president of the Club du Basset Griffon Vendéen. He was the foremost breed expert at the time and devised the first standard for the Basset Griffon Vendéen. At this time one standard recognized the two sizes, one which was approximately 13 1/2 to 15 inches at the shoulders, the Petit, and the other 15 to 16 1/2 inches, the Grand. Aside from this reference to height, the classification was based on presence of the “crook leg” (seen in the smaller variety).

The club opened its own stud book in which all BGVs would be registered. The pedigree of the dog, if known, was recorded in their Livre d’Enregistrement du Basset Griffon Vendéen, which was handwritten by the breeder himself (a practice that lasted until the late 1940s). This was signed in approval by the president of the club. Since hunting ability was foremost, great care was taken to note the individual hound’s working performance.

As the war years unfolded, hare were on the brink of extinction in France, and huntsmen found the need for a smaller hound that could easily hunt for rabbit — a hound capable of penetrating the densest hedgerows and brush. This need did not arise from the sport of the kill, but from the basic need for food. Also, as the smaller hounds were easier and cheaper to keep, dedicated breeders began to concentrate on this small, crooked-leg variety of hound, and in 1922 the club actually recognized the smaller variety of hound.

Separating the Standards

It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, through natural selection and evolution, that the Petit and the Grand were officially classified as separate breeds. In the Société de Venérie 1952 book of standards, the PBGV was given a standard of its own. This was based not only on method of hunting and size, but also on the many distinct characteristics of the Petit. For example, the breed had devel­oped a construction that was more compact than the Grand, with less-dramatic features.

An examination was devised to evaluate a litter at I year of age. As Petits and Grands were still interbred and both could appear in the same litter, it wasn’t until a dog was 1 year old that it would be “confirmed’’ by a breed expert and registered as one breed or the other. At this time there were few breeders who concentrated solely on the Petit (René Tixier’s kennel, de Fin Renard, established in 1963, was one). Huntsmen continued to interbreed the two sizes until as recently as 1977 when the French club banned this practice under the direction of its president Hubert Desamy, grandson of Paul Dêzamy.

But the result of long-term interbreeding between the two sizes caused many problems. Characteristics of both the Petit and the Grand Basset still appear even now in litters and probably will for a long time to come. This is why Petit breeders put so much emphasis on size today.

Historical image Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen
AKC Library & Archives

Height, however, is not the only differ­ence between the PBGV and the GBGV. The differences can be easist seen in head size, length of ear and tail, coat, personality, and temperament. The French breeder, however, places the main emphasis on a hound’s working ability. It is the basis for what the French call la selection. This is the process of determining which hounds are used for breeding, ensuring that good hunting traits will pass from one generation to another. They must possess hound qualities, such as freely used voice, a good nose, independence, and perseverance. Second to this, breeders concentrate on physical type and character, striving for a uniform pack.

The PBGV in the United States

February 1991 saw the PBGV enter the American show ring as a fully recognized member of the Hound Group. Since then, the breed has become increasingly popular. “Since the early 1980s, interest in the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen has been growing,” says Debbie Perrott, former president of the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen Club of America. “The number in performance events is still small, but with the popularity of agility growing, the Petit is seen more often in this event. They seem to take to this more than to obedience, which would not surprise anyone who knows their personality!”

However, there is a world of difference between being attracted to the looks of a breed and having one as a member of the family. “On the downside of this rise in popularity is the person who sees one and buys it for the wrong reason,” says Perrott. “They think it is a cute little lapdog and soon find out this is not the case — they are strong and independent, with a mind of their own.”

In the early stage of the breed’s development in the United States, Eng./Dan./Lux. Ch. Salto de Crislaure of Morebess had a major impact. At one time he was the top-producing stud dog in three countries — America, England, and Denmark. (French-bred Salto had been imported into England from Denmark by Nick Frost. He sired many of the early American imports, such as Jomil Ultra, one of the true ambassadors of the breed, as well as being behind such famous dogs as Varon Tapette, Dehra Urio, and Dehra Celestine.

The PBGV is a versatile breed whose role has evolved over the years. Initially bred solely for the hunt, this captivating little hound has become a popular companion, show dog, agility, and obedience competitor, search-and-rescue dog, and therapy dog. In whatever role, they certainly live up to their nickname “the Happy Breed.”

Related article: Bulldog History: A Wrinkle in Time
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