The Plott hound, the ninja warrior of dogdom.

Pets and people.
Feb. 12 2008 2:02 PM

Great Plott!

The toughest dog on the planet makes its debut at Westminster.

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With minimal outcrossing with other breeds, propagation of the Plott continued from fathers to sons for five generations. Johannes, Henry, John, Montraville, and H.V. (Von) Plott all made names for themselves as superior breeders. Plott admirers outside the family and the state have also established strains with devout followers.

"My husband was very open-minded," says Madeleine Plott. "He never believed that just because a dog came from the Plott family it was necessarily better than one that came from someone else." (None of the seven Plotts entered in Westminster was bred by a Plott family member.)

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Acceptance into the dog-show world has not been without friction. Until about 10 years ago, the American Plott Association and the National Plott Hound Association were bitter antagonists. The former stresses the Plott's kinship with the cur, omits the word hound in its title, and encourages the older red-to-yellow "buckskin" coloring; the latter, accredited by the United Kennel Club since 1946, favors a coonhound profile and voice while disdaining any emphasis on buckskin-colored dogs.

"It was dirty, with a lot of name-calling and innuendoes," recalls John Jackson, a former president of the American Plott Association who helped the American Kennel Club, whose judges oversee Westminster, to write the standards for the breed. "We've finally agreed to disagree." The AKC standards now declare that "any shade of brindle (a streaked or striped pattern of dark hair imposed on a lighter background) is preferred. This includes the following brindle factors: yellow, buckskin, tan, brown, chocolate, liver, orange, red, light or dark gray."

A retired elementary-school teacher in Boone, N.C., as well as a Primitive Baptist preacher with four congregations, Jackson is a Plott scholar and a self-described "fool" for the dogs. "For grit and stick-to-it-iveness, the Plott has no rival," he attests. He is writing a book on its history and has hours of taped interviews with people in the region about their generations of trackers.

"Plotts will probably never make it to the finals of Westminster," Jackson said to me back in 1999, when he took me on my one and only bear hunt—an expedition into the North Carolina mountains with a pack of Plotts at the front that, to my relief, did not result in the death of a bear. "They aren't natured to be show dogs."

Three of the Plotts scheduled to compete yesterday were believed to be too stressed to make it into the ring. And the winner of best in breed, Black Monday, did not win the hound group and so will not advance into the starry best-in-show final round tonight. But for creatures that aren't used to standing at attention with their ears, paws, and tails just so, the newcomers performed admirably.

If they don't flinch from a snorting charge by a wild boar, how many years will it be before they learn to withstand the prying hands and eyes of an old bore in a tuxedo?

Richard B. Woodward is an arts critic in New York.

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