Coon dog breeds were developed in North America in order to address the unique hunting needs of American terrain and game. The seven UKC-recognized breeds are the bluetick, black-and-tan, American English or redtick, redbone, treeing Walker, leopard hound and Plott hound. Each breed is distinctive, but each originated from other dog types known primarily for hunting abilities and a strong sense of smell.
Foxhounds and the Virginia Hound
The first coon hounds originated from breeding stock brought to Virginia and the Carolinas by English settlers who enjoyed fox hunting. English foxhounds were the core stock, and these dogs were imported through the mid-1700s. Over time, the breed changed, developing into the Virginia hound. However, foxhounds and their descendants were not ideally suited to hunting American quarry and often lost a trail.
While English game scurried through open fields and hid in holes or beneath brush, American game was more adapted to the thick woods. Opossum, raccoon, bear and bobcat were more likely to rush up a tree than hide in a hole, and English dogs, which have a "cold" nose, quickly lost the scent. In addition, heavy undergrowth made it impractical to follow the hounds on horseback, and American hunters often lost the hounds while on the trail.
The earliest attempts to breed a dog specialized to the American hunt resulted in the Virginia hound, a sub-breed of the English foxhound and the ancestor of today's coon hound. The English hound is the purest descendant of the Virginia hound, created through careful interbreeding of the most ideal foxhound stock available in Virginia. Notable owners of English hounds included George Washington and Thomas Walker, who in the mid-1700s was probably the most significant Virginia hound breeder. Later, George Washington Maupin and John W. Walker took some of these hounds to Kentucky and bred the Treeing Walker coonhound using Walker hounds and a talented dog stolen from its Tennessee owner named Tennessee Lead.
Because this dog was still not ideal, it was often bred with other hound dogs. The black-and-tan coon hound probably originated from the English foxhound interbred with bloodhounds. The redbone is probably a blend of the Virginia hound, bloodhounds and Irish hounds, though its ancestry is questionable. Blueticks came from a foxhound blended with the French Bleu de Gascogne and originated in Louisiana in the early 19th century.
The other two coonhounds recognized by the UKC are the American leopard hound and the Plott coonhound. The American leopard is descended from dogs brought by Spanish settlers that were interbred with native Mexican dogs. The Plott coonhound was bred by a German immigrant who brought wild boar hounds with him in 1750 and then used them to hunt bears in the North Carolina mountains. Both these dogs have been interbred with other American coonhounds and are generally classified with them.