The Beagle is a small to medium-sized hound. It is similar in appearance to the Foxhound, but smaller, with shorter legs and longer, softer ears. Beagles are scent hounds, developed primarily for use on foot, tracking hare, rabbit, and other game. They have a great sense of smell and tracking instinct that sees them employed as detection dogs for prohibited agricultural imports and foodstuffs in quarantine around the world. Beagles are intelligent, and are popular as pets because of their size, even temper, happy to live in groups, and lack of inherited health problems. However these endearing characteristics also make them the dog of choice for animal testing.
Beagles may exhibit a behaviour known as reverse sneezing, in which they sound as if they are choking or gasping for breath, but are actually drawing air in through the mouth and nose. The exact cause of this behaviour is not known, but it is not harmful to the dog.
The body is squarely-built and the skull is fairly long and slightly domed. The square muzzle is straight and medium in length. The large eyes are brown or hazel and are set well apart. The wide, pendant ears are low set and long. The black nose is broad with full nostrils. The feet are round and firm. The tail is set moderately high and never curled over the back. The coat is of medium length, close, hard, sleek and easy to care for. Any hound-type of colouring is acceptable including lemon, tri-colour, black and tan, red and white, orange and white, or lemon and white, blue tick and red tick.
The Beagle is loving, sweet and gentle. Happy to see everyone, greeting them with a wagging tail. Sociable, brave and intelligent. Excellent with children and generally good with other dogs, but because of their hunting instincts, they should not be trusted with non-canine pets, unless they are socialized with cats and other household animals when they are young. Beagles have minds of their own. They are determined and watchful and require patient, firm training. It is important that you provide the proper amount of mental and physical exercise including daily pack walks, to avoid separation anxiety. With enough exercise they will be calm. You can also purchase animal scents and play tracking games with your beagle to help satisfy their instinct to track. The Beagle does not have a normal sounding bark, but rather a loud bay cry, that almost sounds like a short howl. Beagles are curious and have a tendency to follow their own noses. If they pick up a scent they may wander off and not even hear you calling them back, or not care to listen, as they will be too busy trying to find the critter at the other end. Take care when letting them off leash that you are in a safe area.
The typical longevity of Beagles is 10–13 years.
Beagles may be prone to epilepsy, but this can often be controlled with medication. Hypothyroidism and a number of types of dwarfism occur. One condition unique to Beagles is “Funny Puppy”, in which the puppy is slow to develop and eventually develops weak legs, a crooked back and although normally healthy, is prone to a range of illnesses. Beagles are considered a chondrodystrophic breed, meaning that they are prone to types of spinal disk diseases.
Weight gain can be a problem in older or sedentary dogs, which in turn can lead to heart and joint problems.
In rare cases, Beagles may develop immune mediated polygenic arthritis (where the immune system attacks the joints) even at a young age. The symptoms can sometimes be relieved by steroid treatments.
Their long floppy ears can mean that the inner ear does not receive a substantial air flow or that moist air becomes trapped, and this can lead to ear infections. Beagles may also be affected by a range of eye problems such as glaucoma, corneal dystrophy, “Cherry eye”, (prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid) and distichiasis, a condition in which eyelashes grow into the eye causing irritation can occur, both are correctable by surgery. Failure of the nasolacrimal drainage system can cause dry eye or leakage of tears onto the face.
Dogs of similar size and purpose to the modern Beagle can be traced in Ancient Greeceback to around the 5th century BC. Xenophon, born around 430 BC, in his Treatise on Hunting or refers to a hound that hunted hares by scent and was followed on foot. Small hounds are mentioned in the Forest Laws of Canute which exempted them from the ordinance which commanded that all dogs capable of running down a stag should have one foot mutilated.If genuine, these laws would confirm that beagle-type dogs were present in England before 1016, but it is likely the laws were written in the Middle Ages to give a sense of antiquity and tradition to Forest Law.
In the 11th century, William the Conqueror brought the Talbot hound to Britain. The Talbot was a predominantly white, slow, deep-throated, scent hound derived from the St. Hubert Hound which had been developed in the 8th century. At some point the English Talbots were crossed with Greyhounds to give them an extra turn of speed.Long extinct, the Talbot strain probably gave rise to the Southern Hound which, in turn, is thought to be an ancestor of the modern day Beagle.
From medieval times, beagle was used as a generic description for the smaller hounds, though these dogs differed considerably from the modern breed. Miniature breeds of beagle-type dogs were known from the times of Edward II and Henry VII, who both had packs of Glove Beagles, so named since they were small enough to fit on a glove, and Queen Elizabeth I kept a breed known as a Pocket Beagle, which stood 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23 cm) at the shoulder. Small enough to fit in a “pocket” or saddlebag, they rode along on the hunt. The larger hounds would run the prey to ground, then the hunters would release the small dogs to continue the chase through underbrush. Elizabeth I referred to the dogs as her singing beagles and often entertained guests at her royal table by letting her Pocket Beagles cavort amid their plates and cups.19th-century sources refer to these breeds interchangeably and it is possible that the two names refer to the same small variety.
Standards for the Pocket Beagle were drawn up as late as 1901; these genetic lines are now extinct, although modern breeders have attempted to recreate the variety.
By the 18th century two breeds had been developed for hunting hare and rabbit: the Southern Hound and the North Country Beagle (or Northern Hound). The Southern Hound, a tall, heavy dog with a square head, and long, soft ears, was common from south of the River Trent and probably closely related to the Talbot Hound. Though slow, it had stamina and an excellent scenting ability. The North Country Beagle, possibly a cross between an offshoot of the Talbot stock and a Greyhound, was bred chiefly in Yorkshire and was common in the northern counties. It was smaller than the Southern Hound, less heavy-set and with a more pointed muzzle. It was faster than its southern counterpart but its scenting abilities were less well developed.As fox hunting became increasingly popular, numbers of both types of hound diminished. The beagle-type dogs were crossed with larger breeds such as Stag Hounds to produce the modern Foxhound. The beagle-size varieties came close to extinction but some farmers in the South ensured the survival of the prototype breeds by maintaining small rabbit-hunting packs.
Modern beagles are thought to date back to the Reverend Phillip Honeywood who established a Beagle pack in Essex in the 1830s. Although details of the pack’s lineage are not recorded it is thought that North Country Beagles and Southern Hounds were strongly represented. Honeywood’s Beagles were small, standing at about 10 inches (25 cm) at the shoulder, and pure white.
Two strains were developed: the rough- and smooth-coated varieties. The rough-coated Beagle survived until the beginning of the 20th century, and there were even records of one making an appearance at a dog show as late as 1969, but this variety is now extinct, having probably been absorbed into the standard Beagle bloodline.
In the 1840s, a standard Beagle type was beginning to develop as the distinction between the North Country Beagle and Southern Hound had been lost, but there was still a large variation in size, character, and reliability among the emerging packs.In 1856 Beagles still existed in four varieties: the medium Beagle; the dwarf or lapdog Beagle; the fox Beagle (a smaller, slower version of the Foxhound); and the rough-coated or terrier Beagle.
The Beagle Club was formed in 1890 and the first standard drawn up at the same time. The following year the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles was formed. Both organisations aimed to further the best interests of the breed, and both were keen to produce a standard type of Beagle.