Harbor the black and tan coonhound has the biggest ears of any dog (Image: Guinness World Records)
Pets with the biggest lugs in the business are destined to delight animal lovers at the world’s most famous dog show. For the first time, black and tan coonhounds will be strutting their stuff in the show ring after being given pedigree approval by the Kennel Club. Twelve of the striking American hunting dogs are competing in the Imported Breeds category with the potential of winning Sunday’s prestigious Best in Show trophy.
The black and tan coonhound – a breed developed in the mountains of southern USA in the 1700s to hunt raccoons and possums – is one of three new breeds competing at Birmingham's NEC over the next four days. It joins the Russian toy and white Swiss shepherd dog among the 221 breeds recognised by the Kennel Club and allowed to compete in the annual celebration of all things canine.
More than 20,000 dogs will be challenging for an array of breed awards this year, culminating in Sunday’s showpiece final. Overseas representation is particularly strong with 3,611 animals coming from Italy, Germany, France and other parts of Europe.
While cocker and springer spaniels, Labradors, Dalmatians and German shepherds will be instantly recognisable, the handsome profiles of the small contingent of black and tan coonhounds are likely to come as a surprise to all but the most well-versed dog lovers.
Yet the breed already has a global claim to fame. A dog called Harbor, owned by Jennifer Wert from Boulder, California, was lauded by Guinness World Records in 2012 for his incredible ear span. His left ear measured 12.25 inches and the right 13.5inches.
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Black and tan coonhounds are described as loyal and loving (Image: Estella Saxton)
The first two black and tan coonhounds were only imported into the UK from Finland in 2015 but have gone on to delight a dedicated group of enthusiasts running their own breed club and championing their suitability as pets.
Estella Saxton, from Ravenshead, Nottinghamshire, jointly owned the first ones brought into the UK, and praises their nature if not their loud bays.
She said: “It takes a long time to build a breed up responsibly and to get recognition in the UK, but we’ve worked hard to bring in lines from different countries and to develop relationships with passionate breeders, who will make sure that the right people breed, buy and love these wonderful dogs.
“The black and tan coonhound has a big booming bay, so might not be suited to people who live in cities, but it is a versatile and adaptable breed that makes a great family pet. They only need a moderate amount of exercise, but are equally happy walking all day, and are very loving and loyal. They do pick up old scents very easily so, like any dog, training is essential in order to keep them safe and under control on walks, and because they are a big breed they eat a lot of food, and can be clumsy.”
Twelve coonhounds are due to compete at this year's Crufts (Image: Estella Saxton)
Black and tan coonhounds were bred to hunt raccoons (Image: Estella Saxton)
While the complexion of British dog ownership continues to flourish, some traditional breeds appear to be having a tough time. The once popular Scottish terrier or Scottie was recently added to the “at watch” list of Kennel Club breeds after a 38 per decline in puppies getting pedigree recognition over the last five years.
Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club Secretary, welcomed this year’s new arrivals to the show. She said: “Crufts is the world’s biggest dog stage, so it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity for those who are passionate about the breed, and can help these newer breeds develop positively.
“The diverse mix of pedigree dog breeds in this country has grown slowly over time and we are now seeing many of the breeds that originated overseas becoming some of the most popular in the UK.
“The process of being recognised as a pedigree breed by the Kennel Club takes several generations of dogs, but once we recognise a breed it means that we know that it has a reliable lineage that will give people a dog with predictable characteristics in terms of temperament, health, exercise and grooming needs, which helps dogs to find homes with the right owners.”
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