Perhaps the world’s best-known beagle is Charles Schulz’s Snoopy, star of the Peanuts comic strip. Although Schulz modeled his creation on his own childhood dog, the cerebral and aloof Snoopy should not be considered an example of the breed!
Real Beagles are happy little family dogs who love attention. They are active, playful and energetic, particularly in puppyhood and adolescence. Professionally, the Beagle is a proficient scent hound who tracks and traps small game, typically working in a pack. Non-hunting family Beagles also behave as part of a pack, even if the pack is just you and your Beagle.
Experts caution against having baby Beagles and baby humans in your home at the same time, given that the demands of caring for puppies and human infants and toddlers simultaneously will drive most adult humans to their beds. Instead, allow your older children (5+) to experience the fun of raising a puppy and helping with the work. As with all dogs, consider adopting a middle-aged or senior Beagle to avoid or minimize training requirements.
Beagle history is someone murky. A nameless Greek hunting dog from the 5th century is considered the Beagle’s likeliest and oldest ancestor. Later on in the 8th century, the St. Hubert Hound begat the Talbot Hound, which eventually led to the birth of the beagle.
Believe it or not, the first dogs to be called beagles stood just 8 to 9 inches in height and were commonly called “Pocket Beagles.” Elizabeth I of England kept several Pocket Beagles, using them to entertain guests at court. It’s not clear why hunters and breeders wanted to create such a small dog, and by the mid-18th century the Beagle had grown in height and length to more closely resemble the dog we know today. Sadly, the “Pocket Beagle” became extinct in 1901.
The 1840s and the surge in the popularity of fox hunting led to the development of four distinct dogs known as Beagles, some of which had little in common with the others. By the 1870s, the breed was dying out again until a dedicated group of Beagle aficionados set about saving them. By 1902 there were 44 known packs in England, a number that would grow in the new century.
Beagles were introduced to the U.S. in the 1870s and a quality bloodline was established. Their popularity grew quickly. Beagles are the first breed to appear on “America’s Top 10 Most Popular Dog Breed List” every year since their AKC acceptance. They have been frequent winners in AKC competitions since the late 1920s, and in 2008, a Beagle took “Best in Show” at Westminster for the very first time!
Small game hunting is not the only job that suits a Beagle. These days law enforcement uses him as a detection dog, as his scenting ability helps him quickly locate prohibited agricultural items as well as illegal drugs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls their team the Beagle Brigade.
Two Beagle sizes are recognized by the AKC, one being 15 inches in height and the other 13; they can weigh between 18 and 35 pounds. Beagles can put on weight quickly, so if you do acquire one, avoid giving table snacks and make sure you stick to an exercise routine.
The Beagle has an appealing face, with flat, soft ears and an alert expression. Beagles can display two-color or tricolor combinations incorporating the typical hound shades of black, white and brown, but also tan, red, lemon and liver.
Beagles are alert and intelligent, and they usually display affection toward all family members. Their clownish antics keep their families laughing. As with all hounds, they have an innate intelligence and independence that come from being bred for the hunt. Fortunately, they are also extremely eager to please, so obedience training will help your Beagle learn what you expect from him. Choose a trainer who is patient and uses positive reinforcement; you might want to seek out a trainer who has worked with the breed before.
Beagles are food-motivated, so you’ll want to keep your garbage cans secured and consumables out of reach. This is another reason they do better in homes without very young children. A Beagle will defend his food from others at ground level. Teach your children to hold their own food and and snacks high enough to keep them out of reach of sideswiping Beagles.
Beagles live to be 12 to 15 or more years old and are generally healthy, but as with all breeds, they are known to have tendencies toward certain conditions.
A Beagle’s ears are not as long as with some hound breeds, but they still fold down, preventing air circulation and predisposing the dog to infections and ear mites. A Beagle’s ears need to be kept clean, free of food, and dry.
Beagles are particularly prone to disk diseases and disorders of the eye. The latter can include glaucoma; corneal dystrophy, a group of rare hereditary disorders characterized by abnormal deposition of substances in the cornea; cherry eye, a condition of the third eyelid in which the gland prolapses and creates a scary-looking red mass in the eye corner; and distichiasis, in which eyelashes grow into the eye and cause pain. These latter two disorders can be corrected by surgery.
Beagles have short, smooth coats that are easy to maintain, but they do shed their undercoats about twice a year. Regular brushing will help you keep up with this natural cycle so you won’t see as much hair about the home.
Your Beagle must be kept on a leash in unsecured areas; his sense of smell is simply too strong for him to resist pursuing new odors. A fenced yard is recommended, but if the owner can commit to a walking routine, Beagles can do well as apartment-dwellers. Your dog can usually get used to your work schedule, but Beagles are not recommended for people who will regularly need to leave them alone for 10–12 hours or more, as they can become bored, destructive and vocal when left alone too long.
As with all dogs, it is recommended you microchip your Beagle to make identification unquestionable and perhaps help him get home.
The following groups can help you find a beagle that would love to be rescued: