Small, compact, and hardy, Beagles are active companions for kids and adults alike. Canines in this dog breed are merry and fun loving, but being hounds, they can also be stubborn and require patient, creative training techniques. Their noses guide them through life, and they’re never happier than when following an interesting scent. The Beagle originally was bred as a scenthound to track small game, mostly rabbits and hare. He is still used for this purpose in many countries, including the United States.
Dog Breed Group: Hound Dogs
Height: 1 foot, 1 inch to 1 foot, 3 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: 18 to 30 pounds
Life Span: 10 to 15 years
It’s difficult to resist the appeal of a Beagle’s dark brown or hazel eyes, with his soft, pleading expression. They’re happy, outgoing and loving — characteristics more than balanced out by their hound nature, which is inquisitive, determined, and focused on food. They aren’t yappy dogs, but they do have three distinct vocalizations — a bark/growl, a baying howl, and a half-baying howl (a cross between a frantic bark and a bay). The half-howl vocalization usually is reserved for when they catch sight of quarry — or think it’s time to wake the neighbors at 6 a.m.! Being pack dogs, they generally get along well with other animals and their human friends — and they think everyone is their new best friend. The most important thing to know about the Beagle is that he is a scenthound. His nose is the most important part of his anatomy and his head is always down to the ground, searching for an interesting trail to follow. Beagles have approximately 220 million scent receptors compared to the paltry 5 million or so in people, which makes them very good at picking up scents. Humorist Dave Barry once described his in-laws’ Beagle as “a nose with feet.” You may have seen the Beagle’s nose at work at airports across the country. In 1984, the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to use Beagles to sniff out contraband food being brought into the United States at the Los Angeles International Airport. The experiment was a huge success. Because they are small, friendly, and cute, the Beagles didn’t intimidate people who are afraid of dogs, and with their super nose power, they could be trained to identify specific food articles while bypassing those that weren’t contraband. Today, members of the “Beagle Brigade” patrol the baggage-claim areas at more than 20 international airports and other points of entry into the United States. Although they’ve branched out into other fields of work, Beagles remain superb hunters of small game. The National Beagle Club’s Institute Farm hosts AKC-sanctioned field trials where breeders with packs are put to the test in the field. Many other countries have similar activities for hunting Beagles. Because of their small size and gentle temperament, Beagles can do well in apartments if their people are willing to walk them on lead several times a day in all kinds of weather. They need plenty of exercise, about an hour a day if possible. If left alone and unexercised, Beagles can become destructive.
The origin of the word “beagle” is uncertain. It’s thought that it may have been derived from the French word begueule, meaning open throat, or from the Old English word beag, meaning small. Others think it may have come from the French word beugler, meaning to bellow, or the German word begele, meaning to scold. The breed’s history is cloudy as well because breeds as we know them today didn’t really develop until the 19th century. Greek documents from 400 B.C. describe Beagle-like dogs, and the Romans may have brought small rabbit-hunting hounds with them to England and bred them with the local hounds. William the Conqueror reportedly brought Talbot hounds (now extinct) to England during the Norman Conquest in 1066. These dogs are thought to be the ancestors of the Beagle and the Foxhound. Beagles became popular in England very early in its history. During the reigns of Edward II (1307 – 1327) and Henry VII (1485 – 1509), extremely small beagles, called Glove Beagles, were popular. They reportedly were small enough to be held in a gloved hand. There’s also mention of Singing Beagles, named for their bugling voices. Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) kept packs of Pocket Beagles that stood only 9 inches tall. These small dogs were depicted in paintings as short-legged and pointy nosed. They were used for hunting, but quickly fell out of favor because they weren’t very fast. In the 1700s, fox hunting became popular in England, and the Beagle fell out of favor as the larger Foxhound became the dog of choice. If it hadn’t been for the farmers in England, Ireland, and Wales who continued to keep packs to hunt rabbit and hare, the breed might have become extinct at that time. In the mid-1800s Reverend Phillip Honeywood established a pack of Beagles in Essex, England. These dogs are thought to be the ancestors of the modern Beagle. Rev. Honeywood bred for hunting skills, not looks. Thomas Johnson, a fellow Englishman, was responsible for breeding Beagles who were both attractive and good hunters. At about the same time, American breeders started importing Beagles from England to improve the looks of their own dogs. Many of the English imports were bred to an average height of 15 to 17 inches at the shoulder so they could hunt fox. American breeders started breeding them to be smaller for rabbit hunting. Of interest is the “Patch” Beagle strain developed by Willet Randall in New York around 1880. The line is primarily white with a very large tri-colored spot. They were very popular in the 1940s and 1950s because they were able to run so fast. Today, many people call lemon and white or red and white beagles “Patch” beagles.