George Washington is widely known as the first U.S. president and Revolutionary War hero who supposedly cut down a cherry tree and wore wooden teeth. But few may know the founding father was also a dog lover who even bred his own unique breed.
Andrew Hager, historian-in-residence of the Presidential Pet Museum, says Washington’s love of dogs likely developed from his love of fox hunting. In colonial America, Hager explains, dogs were valued for their ability to work and aid their human companions. "This doesn’t mean that Washington did not appreciate his dogs," he says, "but that it was a very different appreciation than a modern pet-lover might have. Dogs kept at Mount Vernon would have been used for specific purposes. We do know, however, that he visited the kennel on a daily basis to see his dogs, so there was some affection there.”
Washington, Hager adds, wanted a speedier hunting dog, and hoped to breed that speed into the hounds he already owned.
“When his good friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, heard about this, he sent General Washington a group of French hound dogs in the care of young John Quincy Adams,” he says. “These dogs were much more aggressive than Washington’s usual hounds, and were eventually bred with them. This created the new breed, although it’s important to note that Washington wasn’t thinking about the breed in any sort of legacy way. He just wanted to improve his personal collection of hunting dogs.”
According to Mary Thompson, research historian at Mount Vernon, many dog breeds were developed through selective breeding over many years.
“The fact that American foxhounds have a lighter build and longer legs than English Foxhounds suggests that Washington and others who were developing this new breed wanted a good hunting dog that was faster than the English dogs,” she says. Thompson added that American foxhounds also work more individually than as a pack, with each dog being willing to take the lead.