Not only are Beagle excellent hunting dogs and loyal companions, they are also happy-go-lucky, funny, and—thanks to their pleading expression—cute. They were bred to hunt in packs, so they enjoy the company of other dogs and of people as well. Beagles love to follow their noses, which can sometimes get them into sticky situations. These dogs are solid, sturdy, and fairly easy to care for, but they do need to run around and let off steam.
Beagles may be prone to epilepsy, but this can often be controlled with medication. Hypothyroidism and a number of types of dwarfism occur in beagles. Two conditions in particular are unique to the breed: “Funny Puppy”, in which the puppy is slow to develop and eventually develops weak legs, a crooked back and although normally healthy, is prone to a range of illnesses; Hip dysplasia, common in Harriers and in some larger breeds, is rarely considered a problem in beagles. Beagles are considered a chondrodystrophic breed, meaning that they are prone to types of disk diseases.Weight gain can be a problem in older or sedentary dogs, which in turn can lead to heart and joint problems.
In rare cases, beagles may develop immune mediated polygenic arthritis (where the immune system attacks the joints) even at a young age. The symptoms can sometimes be relieved by steroid treatments. Another rare disease in the breed is neonatal cerebellar cortical degeneration. Affected puppies are slow, have lower co-ordination, fall more often and don’t have a normal gait. It has an estimated carrier rate of 5% and affected rate of 0.1%. A genetic test is available.
Their long floppy ears 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. Beagles may also be affected by a range of eye problems; two common ophthalmic conditions in beagles are glaucoma and corneal dystrophy. “Cherry eye”, a prolapse of the gland of the third eyelid, and distichiasis, a condition in which eyelashes grow into the eye causing irritation, sometimes exist; both these conditions can be corrected with surgery. They can suffer from several types of retinal atrophy. Failure of the nasolacrimal drainage system can cause dry eye or leakage of tears onto the face.
As field dogs they are prone to minor injuries such as cuts and sprains, and, if inactive, obesity is a common problem as they will eat whenever food is available and rely on their owners to regulate their weight. When working or running free they are also likely to pick up parasites such as fleas, ticks, harvest mites, and tapeworms, and irritants such as grass seeds can become trapped in their eyes, soft ears, or paws. Beagles may exhibit a behaviour known as reverse sneezing, in which they sound as if they are choking or gasping for breath, but are actually drawing air in through the mouth and nose. The exact cause of this behaviour is not known, but it can be a common occurrence and is not harmful to the dog.
Beagles are smart, affectionate, curious, friendly and playful. They are ideal family pets because of their size, groomability, and easy going nature with children. Beagles are full of energy, and benefit from an active family with a yard where they can run around and explore. Couch potatoes will want to steer clear of beagles; this breed loves constant activity and the outdoors.
Despite their compact size, beagles require a lot of exercise. At first glance they might seem like a good apartment dog, but families who don’t have fenced yards for beagles to run in should be sure to walk them and take them to the park regularly in order to keep their weight down and to prevent boredom. Because they were originally bred to be hunting dogs, beagles like to stay active and love being outside. Breeders recommend several long walks a day, plus time for running.
Beagles have been labeled stubborn dogs, and have a reputation for being difficult to train. It is recommended that obedience training be introduced as early as possible, before stubbornness can set in. Beagles respond best to training done with treats as well as positive reinforcement – punishments only cause them to develop avoidance behaviors.
The Beagle’s response to scent is both a blessing and a curse. Their highly evolved sense of smell makes them some of the best hunting and tracking dogs around, but if your family beagle catches a scent while outside, he will employ what some trainers call, “selective deafness,” meaning he will tune you out completely and will not respond to your calls for him to return. For this reason, breeders recommend never leaving your beagle off-leash in an area that is not fenced in.
Separation anxiety, barking, and destructiveness are common behavioral problems in beagles. Fortunately, they can almost all be prevented by keeping your beagle well exercised. Taking your Beagle for a long walk before leaving the house will leave him with little energy to be destructive. Beagles who bark or howl are often doing so because they are bored. Ensuring your dog has plenty of exercise and toys or bones to chew on, will keep him entertained and will stave off many of these undesirable behaviors.
Beagles shed year round, but they grow thicker coats in the winter, making Spring a heavy shedding time for this breed. Weekly brushing with a higher frequency in Springtime can keep hair from making a mess around the house. They are naturally clean dogs, so they don’t require a lot of bathing, but some Beagles like to play hard in the dirt and mud, so some individuals may require monthly washing. They have drop ears which makes Beagles prone to ear infections. When air can’t circulate into the ear, wax, water and harmful bacteria can get out of control. Weekly maintenance ear cleaning with a veterinarian-approved cleanser can keep painful ear infections to a minimum.
Dogs of similar size and purpose to the modern beagle[a] can be traced in Ancient Greece back to around the 5th century BC. Xenophon, born around 430 BC, in his Treatise on Hunting or Cynegeticus refers to a hound that hunted hares by scent and was followed on foot. Small hounds are mentioned in the Forest Laws of Canute which exempted them from the ordinance which commanded that all dogs capable of running down a stag should have one foot mutilated. If genuine, these laws would confirm that beagle-type dogs were present in England before 1016, but it is likely the laws were written in the Middle Ages to give a sense of antiquity and tradition to Forest Law. In the 11th century, William the Conqueror brought the Talbot hound to Britain. The Talbot was a predominantly white, slow, deep-throated, scent hound derived from the St. Hubert Hound which had been developed in the 8th century. At some point the English Talbots were crossed with Greyhounds to give them an extra turn of speed. Long extinct, the Talbot strain probably gave rise to the Southern Hound which, in turn, is thought to be an ancestor of the modern-day beagle.
By the 18th century two breeds had been developed for hunting hare and rabbit: the Southern Hound and the North Country Beagle (or Northern Hound). The Southern Hound, a tall, heavy dog with a square head, and long, soft ears, was common from south of the River Trent and probably closely related to the Talbot Hound. Though slow, it had stamina and an excellent scenting ability. The North Country Beagle, possibly a cross between an offshoot of the Talbot stock and a Greyhound, was bred chiefly in Yorkshire and was common in the northern counties. It was smaller than the Southern Hound, less heavy-set and with a more pointed muzzle. It was faster than its southern counterpart but its scenting abilities were less well developed. As fox hunting became increasingly popular, numbers of both types of hound diminished. The beagle-type dogs were crossed with larger breeds such as Stag Hounds to produce the modern Foxhound. The beagle-size varieties came close to extinction but some farmers in the South ensured the survival of the prototype breeds by maintaining small rabbit-hunting packs.
Reverend Phillip Honeywood established a beagle pack in Essex in the 1830s and it is believed that this pack formed the basis for the modern breed. Although details of the pack's lineage are not recorded it is thought that North Country Beagles and Southern Hounds were strongly represented; William Youatt suspected that Harriers formed a good majority of the beagle's bloodline, but the origin of the Harrier is itself obscure. Honeywood's Beagles were small, standing at about 10 inches (25 cm) at the shoulder, and pure white according to John Mills (writing in The Sportsman's Library in 1845). Prince Albert and Lord Winterton also had Beagle packs around this time, and royal favour no doubt led to some revival of interest in the breed, but Honeywood's pack was regarded as the finest of the three.
By 1887 the threat of extinction was on the wane: there were 18 beagle packs in England. The Beagle Club was formed in 1890 and the first standard drawn up at the same time. The following year the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles was formed. Both organisations aimed to further the best interests of the breed, and both were keen to produce a standard type of beagle. By 1902, the number of packs had risen to 44.