History of the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen

(The following abbreviated history is taken from the brochure of the same title distributed by the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen Club of America. This history was prepared by Kitty Steidel and Barbara Wicklund for the PBGVCA in 1986. The 1997 revision was by Kitty Steidel, Jennfer King and Kasmin Bittle. For copies of the complete brochure, please contact PBGVCA Secretary Jack Briggs.

The Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen, one of many small varieties of the French hounds, is of ancient descent. His origin can be traced to the 16th century and to the Griffon Vendéen, his larger, more powerful ancestor.

The PBGV's name in French reveals much about him: Petit - small; Basset - low to the ground; Griffon - wire coated, and Vendéen - from the area of France in which he originated. In the U.S., the breed is referred to as "Petits;" in England, "Roughies;" and in Denmark, "Griffons" or "Petits."

His physical evolution is directly related to the environment and terrain on the western coast of France, the Vendée, characterized by thick underbrush, rocks, thorns and brambles. This difficult terrain demanded a hardy, alert, bold, determined, intelligent hunter with both mental and physical stamina. Most French hound breeds came in large and small versions and were used for different prey. The Grand Basset Griffon Vendéen was used for such large game as roedeer and wolf, while the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen was used to trail and drive smaller quarry, such as rabbit, hare and sometimes even feathered game.

Jan's Buffy O'Bunny: The modern PBGV.
The attempt to standardize the breed type was not undertaken seriously until the latter half of the 19th century. Until 1898, when the first official standard for the Basset Griffon Francais was adopted, judges at the French Exposition made their placements without benefit of any official standard. The Dezamy family, headed by Paul Dezamy, the first president of the newly founded Club du Basset Griffon Vendéen (1907), is known for having devised the first standard. The same standard described the Petit and Grand, both of which came from the same litters at that time. In 1909, a standard for the Basset Griffon Vendéen recognized two types of Basset, one standing 34 to 38 cm., or approximately 13 to 15 inches, and the other 38 to 42 cm., 15 to 17 inches at the shoulder. The Petit was distinguished by his smaller size only, with sometimes semi-crooked legs. The taller, or Grand, always had straight legs.

It was not until the 1950s that the Societe de Venerie published a new book of standards in which the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen was given an official standard of its own and considered a separate breed. (See the current American and French breed standards. Or for a lighter interpretation, see the breed standard, owners' version.) But with the practice of interbreeding the Petit and the Grand, it was common at that time for offspring from the same litter to be entered - some as Petit and some as Grand - at the French Exhibition. Paul Dezamy himself did not breed Petits, but became famous for his 42 cm. Grands, referred to as "42 Dezamys."

Finally, in 1975, through the efforts of Hubert Desamy, third president of the club, the interbreeding of the Grand and the Petit was disallowed. However, as a result of the longtime practice of interbreeding, wherever Petits are bred today both Grand and Petit characteristics will manifest themselves for generations to come. For this reason, heavy emphasis is placed on type and size in those countries where breeders are striving for the ideal. Breeders and judges are obligated to learn the features unique to a Petit so that those characteristics are encouraged in breeding and are rewarded in the show ring.

The Grand, compared to the Petit, is considered to have more of everything: his body is longer, his muzzle is longer, his ears are longer, his tail is longer, his coat is longer and rougher, his legs often are longer. The Grand's lower height limit - 15 inches - is the upper height limit of the Petit. It is a common misconception that the height is the salient feature which sets the Grand apart from the Petit.

It is more the combination of several features which would classify an individual dog as one breed or the other. The Petit is no taller but may be a tad longer than a 15-inch Beagle, weighing 32 to 45 pounds at maturity. A Grand may also be 15 inches in shoulder height but often goes to 17 inches. He is much more "overdone" than the Petit, although he should not be exaggerated either. The Grand also is a heavier animal, weighing between 45 and 65 pounds.

The Petit, in contrast, is always working, a bit terrier-like, always looking for something with which to busy himself. He notices every little movement, any slight change. He is extremely intelligent and, above all, curious.

His popularity in the show ring has increased over the last twenty years, recently attaining recognition by the kennel clubs of Canada, Great Britain and most recently, the United States. Petits made their debut at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club show in New York in 1992, with 24 dogs competing. Petits are shown in almost every European country. In some, they continue to be used for hunting. To protect and promote the breed, and to educate and inform those interested so that sensible importations would follow, the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen Club of America was formed at the AKC Centennial Show in Philadelphia in November 1984.

On July 1, 1989, the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen became eligible to compete in AKC Miscellaneous classes. Since full AKC recognition in 1991, the numbers of fanciers and Petits are growing steadily. Depending upon the part of the country, 80 to 120 PBGVs may be seen at the National Specialty held each spring.

Additional historical information provided from PBGV-L postings by Martin Vuille and Susan Buttivant:

Originally, there was only one breed, the Basset Griffon Vendéen. In the French standard, two varieties were identified: a smaller variety and a taller variety. It was also pointed out that the smaller usually has "semi crooked" front legs, whereas the taller has "straight" legs.

Both varieties occured in litters, and presumably both varieties were on occasion bred to each other.

Eventually, French breeders felt that each variety should become a breed with its own standard. Since the original BGV standard did not make any difference between the two (except for the two elements pointed out above,) the Griffon Vendéen Club of France "created" the two standards in 1951 by making the Grand Basset a "basset" version of the Grand Griffon Vendéen, and the Petit Basset a "basset" version of the Briquet Griffon Vendéen, the two larger breeds that were in existence from the start.

It is at this point that new elements of type were added. Today, height is only one of the several elements that differentiate the Petit from the Grand. (Interestingly enough, both breeds now penalize crooked fronts quite heavily.) Interbreeding was forbidden after this point, and "confirmation" (not to be confused with conformation) was introduced.

When a dog reaches one year of age, it is examined by an expert/judge who decides whether the dog represents the type and/or suffers from any disqualifying faults. If the dog fails the test, it cannot be fully registered and cannot be used for breeding in France. (But beware, it can be exported elsewhere and bred there!)

It is important for PBGV novices to know that although height is perhaps the most easily perceived difference, it is the least important one. Many European GBGV have distinctly Petit features, just as we have all had occasion to see PBGVs with "memories" of the Grand. Although in each case the dogs are correct in height, they are quite incorrect in type. Sadly, our breed standard encourages certain features that are Grand features (e.g. the slight rise over the loin) or just plain wrong (minimum height of 13".)

The Grand Basset features we see and can recognize most often are a long tail and a longer body, in proportion to the height. The muzzle of the Grand is longer than the Petit's, never less than the length of his cranium, often longer.

The Grand also has an aquiline muzzle (the muzzle dips off at the nose). (The Petit muzzle should be straight along the whole length of the muzzle and nose. ) The cranium is very domed on the Grand and the occipital well developed, although the US standard for Petits calls for a domed skull so that is up for interpretation by the owner. The ears on the Grand are noticeably longer than the Petit. A Petit's ears should never reach beyond the end of his nose. The Grands ears will, and go beyond.

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