New to Bloodhound working trials?

Bloodhound stood on stone
Ruth Dalrymple © / The Kennel Club

Bloodhounds are distinguished from other breeds by their extraordinary olfactory powers, which enable them to hunt entirely by air-borne scent. They are the oldest breed of sporting dog to hunt by scent. Bloodhound working trials enable the hounds to demonstrate the remarkable abilities for which they have been bred.

To get started in Bloodhound working trials, your best approach is to contact one of the two breed clubs in the UK which hold trials - The Association of Bloodhound Breeders and The Bloodhound Club.

What are Bloodhound working trials?

The first Bloodhound working trials, then known as field trials, were held in Yorkshire in 1898. At trials, Bloodhounds hunt or track the human scent, known as 'hunting the clean boot' (a colourful idiom which denotes that scent is laid by a person walking normally, not using a 'drag' to lay a heavy scent). Hounds at Bloodhound working trials work one by one, and not as a pack.

The procedure at a trial is that a 'runner' leaves an article with his/her scent on it, known as the 'smeller', attached to a flag at the start. He/she then walks the 'line' on a route predetermined on a map. The hound is introduced to the smeller at the start of its track. The hound is required to follow the line and find and identify the runner who waits at the end of the line, usually in a line-up of three people.

The best hounds following a strong scent line can work at exhilarating speed, and in the senior stake, where hounds always work off leash, the handler, judge and assistants who follow the hound can be hard pressed to run fast enough to keep up.

Hounds are encouraged to 'speak to the line', and there are even awards for the hound speaking best to the line, e.g. the Brooks Cup in Association of Bloodhound Breeders trials.

What do I need to know to take part?
  • Your dog must be a purebred Bloodhound and must be registered with The Kennel Club
  • Competitors taking part in any Kennel Club licensed event must familiarise themselves with the Working Trial and Bloodhound Trial Regulations beforehand. The regulations booklet is available to buy from The Kennel Club Shop
  • Dogs can start competing at 12 months of age
  • No previous experience necessary
When can I start training my dog?

You will undoubtedly want to train your hound before entering a trial, and the best source of advice is experienced owners, whom you can contact through the breed clubs. The clubs also hold training courses from time to time which can prove an invaluable opportunity to learn the ropes and to meet fellow Bloodhound owners and handlers.

How can I find a training club?

Plenty of regular practice is essential preparation for Bloodhound competitions, but supervised training at a Bloodhound training class is just as important. There are a number of training clubs across the country, many of which can be located via Find a Club.

What types of Bloodhound competitions are there?

Each hound at a trial has its own line, if possible starting somewhere near to where the previous line finished. The ground used for a Bloodhound working trial may be agricultural land, moorland, woodland or open hill country. Hounds need to be able to negotiate a variety of terrain and to be able to deal with fences, hedges, ditches, water, road crossings and stone walls. Distractions encountered can include farm workers, tractors, crop spraying, muck spreading and livestock, and of course natural hazards such as game, deer, foxes and hares. A good hound will ignore all other scents and not change from the scent of the 'runner'. For a successful Bloodhound working trial, approximately 10,000 acres of land is required.

Bloodhounds work using air scent ('hunting'), rather than following a line of disturbance on the ground ('tracking'), as most other breeds do. This frequently enables them to work at a faster speed than tracking dogs.

What is the difference between hunting and tracking?

Hounds are distinguished from other breeds by their pendulous ears and by their extraordinary olfactory powers, which enable them to hunt entirely by scent. Bloodhounds are the oldest breed of sporting dog which hunt by scent.

As the human quarry (line walker) moves across the ground, they leave a track of particles on the soil, grass or plants over which they have passed. Where they have gone through a hedge or climbed over a wall, they will have left many more scent particles, as a larger proportion of their body has come into contact with the hedge or the wall.

However, it is not these particles that a hunting Bloodhound smells, but the air which has come into contact with them. As most hounds attending Bloodhound working trials work free, they have the ideal opportunity to work in a natural manner without the hindrance of a long lead and a handler attached to the end. Bloodhounds that work in this style can cover the ground at considerable speed.

Some hounds, and many other breeds in working trials, will track rather than hunt, using ground scent rather than air scent. Tracking is an exercise which, when perfected by correct training, enables the dog to follow a human scent trail accurately. However, tracking dogs work in a harness with a long line held by the handler. They follow a track of ground scent made up of human scent, disturbed earth and crushed vegetation which may be reinforced by visual clues. A tracking dog will, typically, work at a slower speed than a hunting hound, and this may be very significant in real life where an escaped convict or a lost child is being sought and the line is getting colder all the time.

Weather conditions play an important part in the way a hound will work. Bloodhounds are well able to work a line upwind (the wind coming towards you bringing the scent towards you) or downwind (the wind is following you taking the scent away from you); the latter condition is more difficult. In addition, there are crosswinds; the hound could be working quite wide either side of where the runner has walked, and the scent has drifted.

If conditions are such that the scent is high, the hound could be working with their head held high. Should there be a tight loop in the line, a bloodhound could well cut the loop and scent across the loop.

Scent spreads with great rapidity in water; scent is dispersed as a gas and carried by air currents.

What types of classes are there?
  • Novice stake - working a line 1 mile long and at least half an hour cold; once a hound has won a 1st or 2nd place in a novice or junior stake, or 1st in an intermediate or senior stake, it can no longer compete in a novice stake
  • Junior stake - working a line 2 miles long and at least an hour cold; hounds must have won a 1st or 2nd place in a novice stake to enter. They can no longer enter a junior stake after winning a 1st or 2nd in a junior stake or 1st in an intermediate or senior stake
  • Intermediate stake - working a line 2½ miles long and at least one and a half hours cold; hounds must have gained a 1st or 2nd place in a junior stake to enter. They can no longer enter an intermediate stake once they have won 1st place in an intermediate or senior stake
  • Senior stake - working a line 3 miles long and at least two hours cold; hounds must have won 1st place in an intermediate stake to enter, and must have been stock tested so that they can be hunted free (off leash)
My dog is blind. Can I still compete?
It is not advised that blind dogs compete in Kennel Club activities as it is not in their best interests. This specifically relates to dogs that have no sight whatsoever and does not apply to dogs with partial vision. Owners are reminded to consider the welfare of their dogs at all times.
My dog is docked. Can I still compete?

The term 'docked' includes dogs which have their tails shortened for medical reasons after 2007. These count as having been docked and therefore such dogs are not allowed to be shown/compete at events where the public are admitted on payment of a fee. Please contact Defra for further information.

Handling your dog

Attending your first Bloodhound working trial may cause your hound to behave differently than it does in training. In particular, your Bloodhound can be bothered by crowds or by the fact that they are travelling in a convoy, and if this is the case you can move away from other competitors. This can help to settle your hound, but do not lose sight of the convoy.

Bloodhounds should be kept under good control at all times, both whilst waiting to compete and during the trial. You should always be aware of how your hound is reacting and what it is doing. All Bloodhounds should be trained and worked using plenty of encouragement.

If for any reason you become aware that your hound is not working well, you should ask the judge’s permission to withdraw, and for the sake of the hound ask the route of the line so that the hound can be walked in and meet up with his runner. His reward is finding his runner.

Stock testing

It is advisable for the owner of a hound to train the hound to respect both livestock and game from an early age, and to apply for a stock test early on in the life of the hound. (Hounds aged 6 months or over may take part one of the working permit, however hounds must be at least 12 months old before an official stock test can take place.)

Until stock tested, hounds must be hunted on leash. They cannot compete at all in the senior stake unless stock tested, but it is advisable not to wait until the last minute before having the hound tested. Tests can be arranged by contacting either of the breed clubs.

Next step - attending your first Bloodhound working trial

Attending your first Bloodhound working trial can be quite daunting. Learn more about taking your first step into the world of Bloodhound working trials.