George Washington was first President of the United States and the father of our country, but he also had another distinction—America’s first crazy dog man.
When Washington wasn’t out leading revolutions and presiding over the birth a nation, the Virginia plantation owner was obsessed with his pack. Fox hunting was one of his greatest pleasures, and his hounds, descended from the English Foxhounds brought to the New World by Robert Brooke in 1650, were his passion. By some estimates, he owned some 50 or so dogs in his lifetime, of all varieties, from Newfoundlands to Dalmatians to tiny spaniels. But the hounds occupied a special place.
Washington filled his diaries with details on their breeding and care. But it wasn’t all serious business. His fondness for them was reflected in the names he chose for his favorites: Sweet Lips (whom he described as a “perfect foxhound”), Truelove, Venus, and Music.
After the war, Washington returned to his Mount Vernon home, where he worked toward developing a “superior dog, one that had speed, scent, and brains.” Earlier experiments had yielded his “Virginia hounds,” the ancestors of today’s Black and Tan Coonhound. But he still yearned to create a dog that was faster and had a better nose.
During the war, Washington struck up a friendship with the French general Marquis de Lafayette, who shared his love of all things canine. Lafayette told him of the French staghound, enormous, powerful, yet speedy hounds with barks that sounded, Washington wrote, like “the bells of Moscow.”
Several years later, Lafayette sent his friend seven of these massive, headstrong French dogs. Crossing the French dogs to Washington’s Virginia hounds yielded a canine hunter tailored to the terrain of the new country.
Today, Washington is known as father of the American Foxhound. Other breeds that were likely influenced by his quest for a superior dog include the Bluetick Coonhound, American English Coonhound, and Treeing Walker Coonhound.