The Beagle is a very recognisable small to medium sized dog of the 'Hound' group. Its sense of smell is legendary as is its ability to cover large tracts of rough terrain, tracking its quarry. That said, this quirky dog has gained in popularity as a pet and generally settles into a family home very well indeed.
Beagle type dogs have appeared in art and literature for many hundreds of years, with the most recent and popular being the well known 'Snoopy' character from the cartoon strip 'Peanuts'. English nobility through the ages were known to keep Beagles either as pets or later as pack animals which would follow the hunt. Queen Elizabeth I was known to be an affectionate owner of an early variation of this breed called a 'Pocket Beagle' which stood 8-9 inches high and could be carried in a saddle bag during the hunt, with the larger hounds following on foot behind.
By the 18th century the Beagle as we know it today began to take shape, with two breeds - one from the north of England and one from the south - forming different physical appearances and traits for hunting hares and rabbits. The southern hound was bred to be quite a tall and heavy dog with a square shaped head. Although it was slower than the northern hound, it had immense stamina. The northern version was smaller than its southern cousin, and was smaller and less heavy but it was much faster than the southern dog, however, its scenting abilities were less distinguished. As fox hunting became increasingly popular, numbers of both types of hound diminished. Both the southern and northern Beagle types were crossed with larger breeds such as Stag Hounds which resulted in the breed we know now.
The first packs of hunting Beagles were formed in the 1830's from these animals, but the exact bloodlines are not recorded with standardisation of their size, colours and traits by the 1840's.
Average height at withers: Both males and females range between 11-16 inches, with males being on the larger side.
Average weight: Males 10-11kg and females 9-10kg
Similar in appearance to the Foxhound, but on a smaller scale, the Beagle is a pleasing looking dog with a domed forehead, dropped ears, a black nose and intelligent, if sometimes mournful, looking hazel or dark eyes. They have a longer neck for many dogs of a similar size as much of their time is spent with their nose to the ground, with the longer line neck making it easier to adopt and hold this position for prolonged periods. The tail is long, thin and held straight or upright, but should not be curled over the back. The tip has been selectively bred to be white so that when the head is down, scenting for example, in longer grass or scrub, some part of the dog is easily visible ensuring the pack master or pet owner will always know where the dog is.
The coat is short and quite coarse making it a good, weatherproof layer for a life in the field. The colours of a Beagle are the classic tricolour (white, tan and black), or white with either the more unusual red, lemon or orange brown colours. Liver is also another colour variation, although this is not permitted by breed standards.
The single most important thing the owner of one of these marvellous dogs should never forget is it was bred for the strength of its nose and this is a trait which you will never be able to overcome even with the very best of training! Studies have shown that this breed, along with the Bloodhound, have the most developed sense of smell for ground scent tracking than any other breed. This single mindedness when it comes to scenting makes them one of the harder breeds to train with regards to recall; especially once they have caught a scent. They can be obedient dogs, and are generally of a happy, merry and well balanced temperament.
This makes them a first class choice for a family pet. They will thrive on attention from everyone but as 'pack animals' they can be prone to quite strong separation anxiety when the family are out of the house. This is an issue which the owner must work hard to overcome as they can be destructive when upset. In addition, due to the energy and stamina they were bred to display while hunting, they must have at least two long walks a day as without this they can become bored and may, again, engage in negative behaviours.
On average, a healthy Beagle will live between 10-13 years.
Beagles may be prone to epilepsy, but this can be controlled with medication under your vet's direction. A condition known as 'Funny Puppy' is also quite specific to this breed and presents symptoms, in which the puppy is slow to develop and grow and eventually develops weak legs, a crooked back and while it will end up being, usually, a healthy dog as an adult, it can make it prone to a range of illnesses.
The long ears of the Beagle 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. In addition, if this dog is allowed to be inactive, obesity is a common problem as they are gluttons and will eat whenever food is available and a responsible owner should take all precautions to prevent this.
Beagles may also exhibit an extraordinary behaviour. Known as reverse sneezing, they draw air in through the mouth and nose but it sounds like they are chocking. The exact cause of this is not known, but it is not known to be harmful to the dog.
Beagles must be walked at least twice a day to prevent boredom and potential obesity. As mentioned above, inner ear issues are easily prevented by regular checks within the ear to clean and detritus and make sure they are clean and dry.
Feeding is not usually a problem for owners of Beagles as they are well known lovers of food and will eat virtually anything you give them; however, you should take care not to overfeed them.
They will shed their coat and will benefit from brushing at least once a week.