The Beagle is a happy, inquisitive, shorthaired hound who makes a great family companion, an eager hunter in the field — or both!
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.
Although beagle-type dogs have existed for over 2,000 years, the modern breed was developed in Great Britain around the 1830s from several breeds, including the Talbot Hound, the North Country Beagle, the Southern Hound, and possibly the Harrier.
Beagles have been depicted in popular culture since Elizabethan times in literature and paintings, and more recently in film, television and comic books. Snoopy of the comic strip Peanuts has been promoted as “the world’s most famous beagle”.
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.
AKC group: Hound
UKC group: Scenthound
Average lifespan: 12-15 years
Average size: 20-25 lbs
Coat appearance: Sleek, smooth, short
Coloration: Brown, white & black, and more
Other identifiers: Squarely built, fairly long body with short legs for hunting and chasing. The square muzzle is straight and medium in length. Long, wide-set ears. Black nose is broad with full nostrils for piqued sense of smell and a high-set, straight tail, never curled.
Possible alterations: Coat coloring varies and can be seen in tricolor, black and tan, red and white, orange and white, and many other variations.
Comparable Breeds: Basset Hound, Bloodhound
- Beagles can be difficult to housetrain. Some people say it can take up to a year to fully housetrain some Beagles. Crate training is absolutely recommended.
- Beagles can get bored if left alone in a house too long. If left in a backyard, Beagles will start finding ways to amuse themselves, usually by howling, digging, or trying to escape.
- The most common reason Beagles are turned over to rescue groups is because either their owners or their owners’ neighbors got tired of their baying. Be sure that you are prepared to work with your dog to control excessive barking and howling.
- Beagles are targets for thieves who would steal them and perhaps sell them to research laboratories for use in experiments. Supervise your Beagle when he is outdoors and be sure to have him microchipped!
- Since they are scenthounds, Beagles will wander off if they catch an enticing smell in the air. Their noses control their brains, and if they smell something interesting, nothing else exists in their world.
- Although they are loving and gentle, Beagles can have an independent, stubborn streak. Obedience training is recommended, but be sure the instructor of the class understands hound personality and favors using food as a reward.
- Beagles come in two sizes; both sizes of Beagles can be born in a single litter. If you want to be sure you get one of a certain size, wait to purchase a puppy until he is about nine months old.
- Beagles bred for hunting are more likely to be noisy and active than Beagles bred for the show ring.
- You might not think so when you are trying to train him, but the Beagle is very smart in the sense that he is a good problem-solver. He might not respond instantly to your commands, but he will quickly figure out how to overcome any obstacles that are preventing him from getting something he wants.
- Beagles need daily exercise and mental stimulation in the form of sniffing. Without it they can become bored and destructive. Provide them with the attention, training and activity they need or suffer the consequences.
- Shyness and aggression are not common Beagle characteristics. Do not choose a puppy who shows signs of these behaviors.
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.
As for eating, well, Beagles will try to eat anything. They are professional food thieves, and they will eat anything that even looks like it might be food, including things that you wouldn’t imagine would interest them. If nothing else, living with a Beagle will teach you, your spouse and your kids not to leave food of any kind within a Beagle’s nose range.
A fenced backyard is a necessity with a scenthound such as a Beagle. When outside, your Beagle should be on lead in unconfined areas, or securely confined and supervised. He’s a wanderer by nature, so in case he escapes — a common occurrence with Beagles — be sure he’s microchipped and wearing identification tags on his collar so he can be returned to you.
Beagles have been featured across a wide range of media. References to the dog appear before the 19th century in works by such writers as William Shakespeare, John Webster, John Dryden, Thomas Tickell, Henry Fielding and William Cowper, and in Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Iliad. Beagles appeared in funny animal comic strips and animated cartoons from the 1950s with the Peanuts character Snoopy, billed as “the world’s most famous Beagle”,Walt Disney’s Beagle Boys, Odie, Garfield’s friend and “chew dog” and Beegle Beagle, the constant companion of Hanna-Barbera’s Grape Ape. They have appeared in numerous films, taking a central role in Underdog, Cats & Dogs and its sequel, and the title roles in the adaptation of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s book Shiloh.
They have played supporting roles in films including Audition, The Monster Squad, I Am Number Four and The Royal Tenenbaums, and on television in Star Trek: Enterprise, EastEnders, The Wonder Years, and To the Manor Born among others. Former US President Lyndon Baines Johnson had several Beagles, and caused an outcry when he picked up one of them by its ears during an official greeting on the White House lawn. The ship on which Charles Darwin made the voyage which provided much of the inspiration for On the Origin of Species was named HMS Beagle after the breed, and, in turn, lent its name to the ill-fated British Martian lander Beagle 2. Gromit of Wallace and Gromit is also a beagle.