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The Incredible, Lovable Beagle

In This Chapter

No question about it: If we were to rate the various dog breeds for cuteness and adorability on a scale of 1 to 10, the Beagle would probably score a 15. The dog’s huge and winsome eyes, soft and floppy ears, and snuggle-able size appeal enormously to humans of all ages.

But the Beagle is much more than a saucer-eyed canine love object. Like so many other breeds, the Beagle originated to work with people to perform one or more specific tasks for the benefit of human beings. In this chapter, I discuss what those tasks were, how the Beagle helped to accomplish them, and how the Beagle’s history affects the breed today.

Mommy, Where Do Beagles Come From?

Determining the Beagle’s origins is a tricky proposition — mainly because historians don’t agree as to when the very first Beagles appeared. Some claim that the ancient Greeks bred small hounds for the purpose of hunting rabbits many hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Others maintain that the breed’s ancestry dates from around 200 A.D.

What’s in the name?

The origin of the term Beagle is as mysterious as the origin of the breed itself. Some dictionaries credit the French with coining the term be’guele to denote an open mouth — perhaps a reference to the breed’s ability to howl. Other sources suggest that the breed’s name derived from the French term begle, Celtic term beag, or the Old English begele. All three terms mean small — which is appropriate, considering the breed’s small size.
But while scholars may disagree as to when the little hound first appeared on the scene, those who study Beagle history do seem to agree that the ancestors of the Beagles we know today developed in England as early as the 1300s to hunt hares. In fact, in the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, the 13th century author Geoffrey Chaucer describes a prioress, or nun, who had “small houndes . . . that she fed with roasted flesh, and milk, and wastel bread.”
However, the breed name didn’t appear in print until at least a century later. The known debut of the name Beagle in the English language was in 1475, in a story called The Squire of Low Degree. The author, who is unknown, wrote, “With theyr begles in that place and seven-score raches [small French hounds] at his rechase . . .”
By the time Elizabeth I ascended the British throne in 1558, many British nobles liked to hunt rabbits with the help of pocket Beagles: very small hunting hounds that measured only 9 inches tall at the shoulder. (By comparison, today’s Beagles are supposed to measure between 13 and 15 inches.)
Although these diminutive hounds pursued their long-eared quarry with great enthusiasm, the rise of fox hunting — which most nobles found far more exciting than hunting rabbits or hares — required hounds that were bigger and faster than the pocket Beagle. Consequently, by the mid-1700s, the popularity of Beagles among the English nobility declined in favor of a dog that is the ancestor of today’s Foxhound, a dog that is considerably larger than any Beagle, pocket-sized or otherwise.
But in the 1800s, the British began to regain their interest in hunting with Beagles. Under the leadership of the Reverend Philip Honeywood, among others, the British began to develop fine hunting packs of Beagles. At the same time, many dog fanciers in England began to show their canine stock in events designed to build interest in breeding the dogs being shown. These events were the first conformation dog shows, which live today in such well-known gatherings as England’s Crufts show and the American Westminster Kennel Club dog show. To provide a vehicle for showing Beagles, a group of British enthusiasts formed The Beagle Club in 1890.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic Ocean, Beagles were earning their keep in American households by hunting game and thus helping to put food on American tables. But by the mid-19th century,
Americans were becoming just as interested in dog shows as their counterparts on the other side of the pond.
Some Americans began importing high-quality British Beagles, and by 1884 — the same year that the American Kennel Club (AKC) formed (see the “Just what is the AKC, anyway?” sidebar) — these enthusiasts had formed the American-English Beagle Club to exhibit their dogs in conformation shows. At the same time, though, another group of enthusiasts formed the National Beagle Club (NBC) of America to not only improve the Beagle’s looks but also its ability to hunt game. By the end of the 19th century, the two clubs had merged into one organization dedicated to improving the breed’s performance in the show ring and in the field.
Although some of today’s Beagles have earned accolades as both conformation champions and field champions, many continue to excel in either one venue or the other. As I explain in Chapter Choosing Your Beagle Soul Mate, these differences are crucial considerations in what sort of Beagle companion you should search for and select.

Just what is the AKC, anyway?

The American Kennel Club (AKC), headquartered in New York City and Raleigh, North Carolina, records data and statistics for the 154 dog breeds — including the Beagle — that the club considers to be purebred. Among the info the club gathers are births of litters, registrations of individual dogs, and titles that dogs earn in events such as dog shows, agility trials, and competitive obedience.
But the AKC is more than just a registry. The organization also sponsors all kinds of events at which dogs earn those titles. These events include not only the three types listed above, but also such varied activities as tracking competitions, herding tests, and hunting trials. Although the AKC serves as a sponsor, the actual events are held by clubs that belong to the AKC, such as the National Beagle Club of America.
The AKC also tries to promote responsible dog breeding and ownership through education programs targeted to breeders and owners. The organization tries to spread the word on good breeding practices, but it doesn’t have any enforcement or endorsement powers. A puppy with AKC papers is simply a puppy registered with the AKC. The papers don’t guarantee a dog’s health or temperament.

The Official Beagle Blueprint

Although Beagles have been around in one form or another for quite awhile, the Snoopy-dog that most people are familiar with is  only a little more than a century old. That dog’s adorable face,tenacious personality, awesome scent-sniffing ability, and obsession with bunnies didn’t happen by accident — trust me, no hot doggy love and subsequent surprise puppies occurred here! Today’s best Beagles, like all high-quality purebred dogs, result from breedings that are carefully planned by human beings.
Why all the care in planning? Because human beings want Beagles to have a certain look and temperament. In fact, the National Beagle Club of America developed a multipage set of specifications that describe in precise detail what a perfect Beagle should look and act like. (Likewise, all other national breed clubs produce similar specifications for their respective breeds.) This blueprint for a Beagle, which is called the breed standard, outlines what reputable breeders should try to produce in their Beagle puppies and what judges should look for when they assess Beagles in the conformation show ring. The breed standard puts into words what a picture such as Figure 2-1 shows: the ideal Beagle.
Figure 2-1: Highlights of the Beagle breed standard.
The following sections describe the breed standard developed by the National Beagle Club and recognized by the AKC.

General appearance

The AKC standard specifies that a Beagle should resemble a miniature Foxhound that is solid and big for his inches, with the wearand-tear look of a hound that can last in the chase and follow his quarry to the death. In other words, the ideal Beagle can look cute, but he shouldn’t look frail or delicate. He should embody the look of a solid dog who will chase a rabbit or other quarry until the quarry gives up, wears out, and/or gets caught.
The standard also notes that Beagles come in two sizes: the 13-inch Beagle and the 15-inch Beagle. The 13-incher is supposed to be no taller than 13 inches at the front shoulder. Similarly, the 15-inch Beagle should not exceed 15 inches in height at the front shoulder.

Specific parts

Of course, the standard does much more than offer a big-picture description of what a Beagle should look like. The standard places far more emphasis on exactly how specific parts of the Beagle’s body should appear.

Decoding the breed standard

If you decide to read the actual breed standard approved by the National Beagle Club of America, you may encounter some puzzling terms. Here are definitions of the terms that are most likely to cause confusion:

– Cow hocks: A condition in which the hind legs turn in on each other. Cow hocks and the opposite condition, divergent hocks, may affect the dog’s ability to move properly.

– Forelegs: The front legs.

– Loin: The area on each side of the backbone between the ribs and the hips.

– Occipital: The bone at the back of the top of the skull. In some dogs, this bone is quite prominent, even triangular-looking.

– Rib spring: The width of the chest.

– Stop: An indentation at the midpoint of the face. A definite stop refers to a clear, distinct indentation between the top half and bottom half of the face.

– Withers: The shoulders. Most measurements of a dog’s height are from the floor to the top of the withers.

If you plan on showing your Beagle, log onto the AKC Web site at, where you can find a copy of the actual breed standard.


A Beagle’s skull should be fairly long, with a slight dome at the back part of the head. The skull as a whole should be relatively broad and full, not elongated. Those long, silky ears should reach almost to the end of the nose if drawn out straight, and they should be rounded at the tips. The eyes should be hazel or brown in color and should be large, set far apart, and have a gentle, pleading expression. The muzzle should have a square shape, and the profile should show a clear distinction between the bottom of the face and top of the face.


Wrinkles are OK for Chinese Shar-pei but not for Beagles! The standard stipulates that the neck and throat should not exhibit any skin folds. The shoulders should not be upright; rather, they should slope downward. The dog’s chest should be deep and broad but not out of proportion to the rest of the body. The Beagle’s back should be relatively short (no channeling of Dachshunds here!).

Legs, feet, and tail

The wiener dog takes another hit when the Beagle breed standard addresses legs, feet, and tails. The standard stipulates that a Beagle’s front legs should be straight, not crooked or — yes, the standard gets this specific — resembling the front legs of a Dachshund. The hips and thighs should be strong and muscular. The tail needs to be fairly high on the rump and carried in a jaunty fashion, but it should not curve over the back.

Coat and color

The Beagle should have a medium-length, easy-to-groom coat that lies close to the body and is hard to the touch. Silky tresses are a definite no-no.
As for coat color, the standard is vague, saying only that any recognized hound color is OK. The most common color is the black, white, and tan tri-color, but other colors common to hounds such as red and white, chocolate tri-color (solid chocolate brown instead of black), and shaded tri-color (varied shades of brown instead of black) are OK, too. So, too, is ticking: tiny spots of brown or black in white fur.


The standard also discusses how judges should rate the less-thanperfect Beagle. Among the defects that would cause a judge to disqualify a dog from or deduct points in the show ring are the following:
Few, if any, Beagles meet all the standard’s criteria for perfection. Some deficiencies are no big deal in the show ring, while others are considered so serious that the dog can’t be shown. Still, disqualification from the show ring certainly doesn’t mean that the affected Beagle won’t be a wonderful, healthy pet or participant in other dog activities. Plenty of Beagles who don’t make the grade in conformation can earn straight A’s as lively, loving companions — and more. Chapter Gonna Find Me a Beagle describes in greater detail how wannabe pet owners can find the Beagle of their dreams by buying or adopting the Snoopy-dog who would never make Westminster.

Fashion tips for the owner

The Beagle breed standard, unlike many other standards, also describes proper attire for the fashion-conscious owner. The recommended ensemble applies only to those owners who participate in formal hunts with packs of Beagles. Among the suggested clothes are green coats and white breeches or knickerbockers for men. Women should substitute white skirts for the breeches. Both sexes should accessorize their ensembles with a black velvet cap, white tie, green or black stockings, white spats, and black or dark brown shoes. Vest and gloves are optional.

Why the World Loves Beagles

Every year, the AKC tallies up the number of dogs registered for each of the breeds the organization currently recognizes — and each year, Beagles pups and litters are among the breeds that garner the most registrations. For example, in 2005 — the last year for which registration stats were available at the time I was writing this book — the Beagle bagged the number 5 position out of 154 breeds. Only Yorkshire Terriers, German Shepherd Dogs, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers drew more registrations. That’s not a fluke, either; the Beagle has held its own among the big dogs (and the Yorkie, too) for many years.
And it’s easy to see why. Beagles offer something for almost everyone, including the following:

– They’re adorable. Few people can resist the winsome eyes, soft muzzle, and all-around cuteness of a Beagle. Just one soulful gaze from this sweet-looking little hound is enough to render almost any dog lover totally smitten. And just one day with this happy-go-lucky little dog (the eyes may look sad, but the rest of the dog is happy, happy, happy) may well hook you for life.

– They’re low-maintenance. With a Beagle, you don’t have to worry about untangling the coat, creating a canine top-knot, or booking an appointment with the local groomer. Beagles do need bathing and brushing, as well as ear tending, puppy pedicures, and tooth care, but you can easily perform all those functions yourself — especially with the help of the tips included in Chapter Sprucing Up Your Beagle.

They’re small. The pocket Beagle may have been a Renaissance fad, but today’s Beagle is still pretty compact. That small size makes this breed ideal for people who can’t or don’t want to deal with the logistics of caring for larger dogs. (Believe me: Getting an 80-pound canine to get into the bathtub or out of the car when that dog would rather do something else can be, um, challenging.) And if your leashed Beagle decides to make like a sled dog and pull you down the street while the two of you are walking, your size advantage can put a quick stop to such behavior. That said, Chapter Schooling Your Beagle includes pointers on teaching your Beagle good walking manners, and using brute strength isn’t one of my recommendations.

They’re versatile. Beagles are truly multitalented individuals. As Chapter Getting Physical: Exercising Your Beagle shows, they not only can excel in the conformation ring but also in activities such as competitive obedience, agility, and flyball. Their superb noses make them natural trackers — and of course, they can write the book on hunting small game. But the Beagle’s potential doesn’t stop with these traditional dog activities. Hop on over to Chapter Ten Unique Beagle Occupations and Activities to discover how Beagles serve on the front lines of the war on terror and also are first-class detectors of hidden mold and termites.

They’re sociable. Simply put, Beagles enjoy the company of human beings. They relish meeting and greeting just about any person. Beagles not only fit well into human families but also can employ their friendliness in another pursuit: as therapy dogs. These canine healers visit sick people in hospitals and elderly people who are confined to nursing homes. In fact, one of the best known therapy dogs of recent years was a Beagle. Her name was Dani, and she not only gave lots of canine TLC to pediatric cancer patients but also provided a lesson in courage to those patients when she was diagnosed with cancer herself. Fortunately, Dani survived her bout with the big C and continued her therapy duties. You may not want to perform therapy work with your dog, but Chapter Beginning a Beautiful Friendship offers tips for bringing out the extrovert in any Beagle.

They’re kid-friendly. Some breeds do better with children than others — and the Beagle is among those canines that can be wonderful companions for kids. The Beagle is small enough to be able to romp with children without knocking them over, but large and sturdy enough to interact with sometimesclumsy kids with relative safety. Still, to minimize the likelihood of either kid or canine getting hurt when getting together, Chapter Beginning a Beautiful Friendship provides information on how to help Beagles and children live happily ever after.

A place just for Beagles

Unlike many American breed clubs, the National Beagle Club (NBC) of America has its very own farm: a 508-acre tract called The Institute Farm in Aldie, Virginia, which is south of Washington, DC.
Five members of the club formed a corporation dubbed The Institute Corporation for the express purpose of buying the land and administering the property for the NBC. In 1916, the group bought the land — although the name of the seller remains an open question. Records indicate that the corporation bought the land from the estate of one Isabella Skinner Turner. However, one of the corporation’s founders said that the land had been part of the estate of a gentleman who’d planned to use the tract for a hunt club. The gentleman, whose name is not known, sailed to England to buy a pack of hounds. To his great misfortune and that of the hounds, they sailed back to America on the RMS Titanic and perished when that ship struck an iceberg and sank in April 1912. Historians speculate that the gentleman had contracted to buy the property but had not completed the purchase before he and his hounds met their deaths.
Today, The Institute Farm serves not only as the site for NBC-sponsored events to test Beagles’ hunting prowess (called field trials by show folk) and specialty shows, but it also has hosted seminars and events for other dog-related organizations. Among the non-Beagle events held at the farm in recent years has been a seminar for a “Bloodhound Training School” for law enforcement officers who work with Bloodhounds in search-and-rescue.

. . . But Nobody’s Perfect

Alas, as wonderful and appealing as the Beagle can be, the breed also has its dark side. Consider the following possible disadvantages of living with Snoopy-dogs:

They are vocal. All dogs bark, but the Beagle adds a little something extra to his vocal repertoire: the howl. A Snoopydog who lifts his head in Beagle-song will certainly get the attention of the people around him — and, if he lives in an apartment, will almost certainly draw the ire of his human neighbors. Chapter Rehabbing the Delinquent Beagle addresses ways to alleviate a clash between a vocal Beagle and human sanity.

They may have bathroom issues. The Beagle has a reputation for being more difficult to housetrain than other breeds. Some experts theorize that Beagle bathroom issues arise because the dog’s nose is so sensitive that he can smell the tiniest vestige of left-behind accidents. Patience, consistency, and a commitment to total cleanup of bathroom indiscretions are the keys to teaching your Beagle proper potty protocol. Chapter Housetraining Your Beagle gives you the scoop on how to housetrain your four-legged friend.

They follow their noses. Humorist Dave Barry makes his living by being funny — but when he described the Beagle as a nose with four legs, he wasn’t kidding. A dog with a nose sensitive enough to detect one piece of contraband fruit in a pile of luggage is likely to be far more tuned in to the world of smells than a human being would be. Such is the case with the Beagle, who — like the hound that he is — lives to follow the scent. This devotion to odor can get the Beagle into trouble — such as going through the garbage can indoors, wandering off the owner’s property outdoors and not looking back, and attempting to eat anything and everything, whether an item is meant to be eaten or not — if his owner isn’t vigilant. Chapter Preparing for Your Beagle’s Arrivaldescribes ways that owners can make their homes impervious to Beagle explorations, and Chapter Schooling Your Beagle lists steps owners can take to keep their odor-driven companions from wandering away from hearth and home.

They won’t help your hay fever. No one can guarantee that any breed of dog will never trigger allergic reactions in people. However, some curly-coated dogs such as the Standard Poodle or Portuguese Water Dogs are less likely than most breeds to prompt the people in their lives to sneeze, sniffle, or suffer from watery eyes. On the other hand, the relatively short, straight hairs on the Beagle’s coat could make an allergy-prone person’s life a living hell — particularly during seasons when the dog sheds. And it’s not just the hair that can trigger allergy attacks: The Beagle’s love of the outdoors means he’s likely to carry other allergens, such as dirt, grass, and leaves, into your home.

_ They have their own agendas. Beagles are very intelligent dogs, but they’re not necessarily as eager to please their people as some other breeds such as Shetland Sheepdogs or Golden Retrievers are. The apparent result may be a dog who seems difficult to school in basic canine good manners, much less teach advanced maneuvers to. Chapter Beginning a Beautiful Friendshipoutlines ways to build the bond between you and your Beagle from your very first days together, and Chapters Schooling Your Beagle and Rehabbing the Delinquent Beagle outline strategies for countering any stubbornness you encounter when you try to train your four-legged friend.

These less-than-sterling qualities should give you pause if you’re still debating whether to add a Beagle to your life. That said, none of these apparent deficiencies has to mean that the Beagle makes a bad pet. No dog is perfect — but a Beagle could well be your dream dog despite any physical and behavioral challenges he might pose. The keys to success are knowing what you’re getting into and having the patience to raise and train your new friend to be the best, not the worst, he can be.

by Susan McCullough

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