A coonhound, colloquially a coon dog, is a type of scenthound, a member of the hound group. They are an American type of hunting dog developed for the hunting of raccoons, hence their name, and also for feral pigs, bobcats, cougars, and bears. There are six distinct breeds of coonhound.
In the colonial period, hounds were imported into the United States for the popular sport of fox hunting. Various breeds of foxhounds and other hunting hounds were imported from England, Ireland, and France.
Foxhounds were found to be inadequate for hunting American animals that did not hide near the ground, but instead climbed trees, such as raccoons, opossums, bobcats, and even larger prey like cougars and bears. The dogs were often confused or unable to hold the scent when this occurred, and would mill about. This led to the development of treeing hounds by hunters and dog breeders. Foundation dogs were chosen for a keen sense of smell, the ability to track an animal independent of human commands and, most importantly, to follow an animal both on the ground and when it took to a tree. Bloodhounds specifically were added to many coonhound lines to enhance the ability to track.
Coonhounds can hunt individually or as a pack. Often, hunters do not chase their quarry along with the hounds, unlike organized foxhunting, but wait and listen to the distinctive baying to determine if the prey has been treed. Coonhounds are excellent at hunting all manner of prey if trained properly.
The breed name is considered derogatory and offensive to some, given that “coon” is a racial slur referring to Black people.
The American Kennel Club was asked to consider renaming the breed — perhaps to something along the lines of a “Southern Hound” or similar, referencing the geography of the breed’s origin without the offensive term.
In response to the request to rename the breed, the VP of Public Relations & Communication at the American Kennel Club (AKC) issued this statement in October 2022:
"We fully understand that the complex and offensive use of the word, however in reference to this breed, it is solely used to describe exactly what they were bred to do. They have a beautiful and storied place in American history and the history of the AKC."
Established in 1937, the Key Underwood Coon Dog Memorial Graveyard is located in Colbert County, Alabama. It is used specifically for the burial of certified coonhounds.
There are six breeds of coonhound, all of which were first recognized by the United Kennel Club:
The Black and Tan Coonhound was the first to be recognized by the American Kennel Club, in 1946. The other coonhound breeds were not able to be AKC-registered until the 2000s; the Redbone and Bluetick Coonhounds were both recognized in 2009, the English in 2011 (as the American English), and the Treeing Walker in 2012.
In 2008, the UKC recognized the American Leopard Hound as a scenthound breed. It is used for hunting raccoons, as well as other game animals.