The Beagle is a breed of small scent hound, originally developed for hunting hare and rabbits. The modern Beagle was developed in Britain in the 1830s, from several breeds including the Talbot hound, the Southern hound and the North Country Beagle.
In the 11th century, William the Conqueror brought the Talbot hound to Britain. The Talbot hound was a deep throated, slow, scent hound derived from the St Hubert hound, at some point the Talbot was crossed with the Greyhound to increase its speed.
From Medieval times the term Beagle was used as a generic description for any small hound, though these differed greatly from the modern day Beagle breed. Edward II and Henry VII both had miniature breeds of Beagle type dog, these were known as Glove Beagles, so called because they were small enough to sit on a glove.
Queen Elizabeth I had a breed known as the Pocket Beagle, which stood 8in at the shoulder, it was small enough to fit in a pocket or saddlebag, while they rode along on the hunt. Larger dogs would run the prey to ground and then the smaller dogs were released to continue the chase through the underbrush. These smaller dogs are now extinct, although modern breeders have made efforts to recreate the variety.
By the 18th century two breeds had been developed for hunting hare and rabbits, the Southern hound and the Northern Country Beagle. The Southern hound was a tall heavy dog, closely related to the Talbot hound, it was slow but had excellent scenting ability, and was common South of the River Trent.
The Northern Country Beagle, possibly a cross between the Talbot hound and the Greyhound was bred chiefly in Yorkshire, and was common in the Northern Counties. It was smaller than the Southern hound, lighter with a more pointed muzzle, it was also faster, though its scenting abilities weren’t as strong.
When foxhunting became popular, both types dwindled in number, as the Beagle type dogs were crossed with larger breeds to produce the modern Foxhound. The small Beagle type would have died out altogether, but for some Southern farmers, who kept them for small rabbit hunting packs.
In the 1830s a Beagle pack was established by the Reverand Phillip Honeywood of Essex, it is believed that this pack formed the basis for the modern breed. Honeywoods Beagles were small, about 10in at the shoulder, and they were pure white. Prince Albert and Lord Winterton also got Beagle packs around this time, and there is no doubt royal favour boosted interest in the breed, but Honeywoods pack was regarded as the finest of the three.
Although he as been credited with the development of the modern breed, Honeywood concentrated on dogs for hunting and it was left to others to refine the breed. Two varieties were created, the rough, and the smooth coated, the rough coated Beagle died out at the beginning of the 20th century, and it is now extinct.
In 1890 the first Beagle club was formed, and the first standard was drawn up at the same time. The following year the Masters of Harrier and Beagles was formed, by 1902 there were 44 packs in Britain.
Beagles were in the U. S by the 1840s at the latest, they were imported for hunting and were of variable standard. Serious attempts at establishing a quality bloodline began in the 1870s, when General Richard Rowett from Illinois imported some dogs from England and began breeding. These Beagles are thought to have formed the model for the first American Standard, drawn up by Rowett, L.H.Twadell and Norman Ellmore in 1887.
At the start of the 20th century the Beagle was accepted as a breed by the American Kennel club. Beagles have always been more popular in the U. S and Canada than they were in their native U.K. In 1888 the National Beagle club of America was formed and in 1928 Beagles won a number of prizes at the Westminister Kennel club show. On the 12th February 2008 a Beagle called K-Runs Park Me In First finally won the best in show prize for the first time in the competition’s history.
From 1953-59 the Beagle was ranked No1 on the list of the American Kennel clubs most registered breeds. In 2005 and 2006 it ranked 5th out of the 155 breeds registered, they continue to be ranked in the top 10 by the American Kennel club. In the U.K they are not as popular, ranking 28th and 30th by the U. K Kennel club in 2005 and 2006 respectively.
In general appearance the Beagle resembles a miniature Foxhound, but the head is broader and the muzzle shorter, the expression is totally different and its legs are shorter in proportion to the body. On average, they are between 13 and 16in (33-41cm) high at the withers and weigh between 18 and 35lbs (8.2-15.9kg), with females usually being slightly smaller than the male.
They have a smooth domed skull, a medium length square cut muzzle and a black nose. The jaw is strong with upper teeth fitting perfectly over lower teeth and both sides aligned to the square jaw. The Beagle as large Hazel or Brown eyes, with long large ears that are soft and low set, turning towards the cheek and rounded at the tips.
It as a strong medium length neck and a broad chest, which narrows to the tapered abdomen and waist. Known as a flag it as a white tip on its long slightly curved tail, this allows the dog to be easily spotted when it as its head down following a scent, the tail doesn’t curl over the back and is held upright when its active.
The medium length muscular body is covered in a smooth hard coat, while its front legs are carried straight under the body, the rear legs are muscular and bent at the stifles.
The tricolor Beagle is the most common, its white with large black areas and light brown shading, some tricoloured dogs have a broken pattern, often referred to as pied.
The Beagle is even tempered with a gentle disposition, they enjoy company, and although they can be a bit touchy with strangers at first, they are easily won over, for this reason the Beagle doesn’t make a great guard dog.
Beagles are intelligent, but single-minded and determined, which can make them difficult to train. They are easily distracted and can get bored, in which case they can get up to mischief or cause damage. Because of their hunting background, if they pick up a scent they can be difficult to recall.
Beagles are excellent with children and make great family pets, but being pack animals they are not used to being alone, so they need attention and regular exercise.
Typically, Beagles live for 12 to 15 years, which is about average for a dog of their size. Beagles may be prone to epilepsy, but this can usually be controlled with medication. There are two conditions in particular which are unique to the breed, Funny puppy, in which the puppy is slow to develop and symptoms include weak legs and a crooked back. The other condition is Musladin Lueve Syndrome, in which eyes become slanted and toes are underdeveloped, but otherwise the development is normal.
There are also common conditions which occur in a lot of dog breeds such as Hip Dysplasia and Reverse Sneezing, any good vet should be able to help with these.