Beagles are small, ‘merry’ but sturdy hounds which were originally bred for hunting rabbits and hares on foot. Today they are popular as pets due to their good, gentle nature and are known for being extremely tolerant with children. They have been bred to have great stamina but do not need excessive amounts of exercise and are generally calm when at home, although certain situations can make them excitable. The breed is extremely sociable and gets on well with other dogs but this can mean they suffer from separation anxiety.
The Beagle can come in various different colour combinations and has a short coat, which requires minimal grooming. There are some inherited conditions that can affect the Beagle, although testing is in place for some of these and on the whole the breed is fairly healthy with a reasonably long life expectancy of around 12 – 15 years. Their origins as a scent hound mean they can be prone to distraction if they latch onto an interesting smell but with proper training they can be obedient.
About & History
The Beagle is a scent hound. There is some uncertainty regarding its origin as although it’s more recent history and development in Great Britain is known to have occurred there are also references to similar dogs in Ancient Greece. In Great Britain there are illusions made to Beagle type dogs as far back as the 1400’s but development of the modern Beagle began in the mid 1800´s. The modern Beagle was formed from larger Foxhound types crossed with other smaller hounds to hunt and track rabbits and hares on foot using their exceptional sense of smell. They were often used in packs and were originally much smaller than the Beagles of today, although there was significant variation in size within the breed. Initially there were both rough and smooth coated varieties of the Beagle, however, the rough coated strain no longer exists.
In the mid 1800’s the early Beagle was exported to America and an American strain and standard was developed. This became recognised by the American Kennel Club in the late 1800’s. Since then they have continued to be a popular breed in the USA. In the UK, the Beagle was close to extinction after the First World War but some breeders succeeded in refreshing its popularity.
Today the Beagle is a popular breed around the world both as companion animals due to their good nature and as sniffer dogs using the excellent sense of smell and tracking abilities.
The Beagle has a short, smooth, weather-proof coat, which has numerous colour variations recognised by the UK Kennel Club.
- Badger Pied
- Badger Pied Mottle
- Black and White
- Black and White Mottle
- Blue White and Tan
- Blue White and Tan Mottle
- Hare Pied
- Hare Pied Mottle
- Lemon and White
- Lemon and White Mottle
- Lemon Pied
- Lemon Pied Mottle
- Red and White
- Red and White Mottle
- Tan and White
- Tan and White Mottle
- Tricolour Mottle
The main differences in appearance of the breed between countries are to do with size and variation in accepted colours for registration. The American Kennel Club also recognises two distinct varieties of Beagle, each group defined by height.
The Beagle is small compact hound which should measure between 33 – 40 cms (13-16 inches) at the withers. It should have a neck that allows it to track scent easily, with a small dewlap and a chest which reaches below the elbow. The front legs should be straight and strong, not becoming narrower towards the feet. The height of the elbow should be approximately half of that at the withers. The Beagles topline should be level, leading to a strong, but supple back end. The breed should have strong feet, and not be hare-footed. The tail is of medium length with a good coat cover and robust with an upright carriage but not curled back on itself.
The Beagle’s head is of medium length, with a skull that is reasonably wide but should also give an impression of quality. In female dogs it is usually finer in appearance and in both sexes excessive skin causing wrinkles or frowning should not be present. The nose should be broad and ideally black, but this may be affected by the overall colour and can be lighter. Eyes should wide set, fairly large and dark brown or hazel in colour creating an ‘appealing’ expression. The Beagle has low set, long, round tipped ears which are approximately the same length as to the end of the nose. They should have a fine texture and hang delicately.
The Beagle should have a free movement with a forward, ground covering stride, driven by the back legs. The back should remain level and leg action should not be high.
Character & Temperament
Beagles are happy and active with a good temperament. They should be alert and affable but if they are excessively timid or aggressive it is considered a fault. The Beagles gentle character means they are generally excellent with children, hence their popularity as family pets. They are a very sociable breed and this can mean they are prone to suffering from separation anxiety, although proper training from an early age can help to minimise the stress of being left alone. Their sociable nature means they generally get on well with other dogs. Beagles are not well-known for making good guard dogs but they do often bark and howl when they are unsure of things which can provide a warning.
The Beagle is an intelligent dog, however, their keen sense of smell means they are prone to distraction and can make training and obedience more difficult. However, despite a reputation for ‘never coming back’ if they pick up a scent they are normally eager to please and with appropriate training can have good recall. Some Beagles can be prone to barking and howling, which can be a problem in urban areas, but again correct training and socialisation from a young age can help to prevent this becoming a habit.
Beagles are generally healthy dogs but can suffer from some health problems, although some of these problems are rare. Genetic testing is not required by the UK Kennel Club mandatorily but is available for:
- Musladin-Leuke Syndrome (MLS) – A condition which causes a loss of elasticity of the skin and muscles, as well as multiple organs causing abnormal postures, a stiff gait and inflexible and hard skin. The effects on the skin cause the abdomen to feel hard and eyes to have a slanted appearance.
- Neonatal Cerebellar Cortical Degeneration (NCCD) – A disease which affects part of the brain and causes neurological signs as the part which controls movement is damaged. The gravity of the disease can be variable but puppies with severe signs may need to be euthanized.
Beagles can also suffer from the following conditions, which are not unique to the breed but seem to be more common than in some other breeds:
- Epilepsy – Epilepsy is a neurological disease that causes seizures. These can be of varying severity and frequency and it is often difficult to identify what triggers them. Generally epilepsy can be well controlled with medication.
- Steroid Responsive Meningitis (SRM) – An immune condition of which the exact cause is unknown, which causes inflammation of the blood vessels in the layers around the nervous system (meninges). Signs include spinal pain, particularly in the neck area and a high temperature. Sometimes the joints are also affected causing a stiff gait. Once diagnosed the disease can be treated with high doses of anti-inflammatory drugs which are gradually reduced. The prognosis is usually good and dogs can return to their normal quality of life, although some dogs will have subsequent episodes.
- Factor VII Deficiency – A deficiency of one of a specific protein, which aids the clotting process. The lack of this protein can prevent the process from progressing correctly and can cause mild to moderate bleeding as a result.
- Imerslund-Grasbeck Syndrome (IGS) – An inability of the body to correctly absorb vitamin B12 (cobalamin), a vitamin which cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained in the diet. Vitmain B12 plays many important roles in the body, and deficiency causes anaemia and neurological signs. Lifelong vitamin B12 injections are needed otherwise the disease is fatal.
- Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency – A disease which affects an enzyme which is key to the functioning of red blood cells. This causes the cells to die sooner than they should and causes anaemia. The disease also has some other effects which progress over time and often causes liver failure and subsequent death.
- Primary Open Angle Glaucoma – A condition which causes an increase in pressure in the eye due to an inability for the normal release of fluid from the eye, this results in discomfort and eventually affects vision. The condition usually becomes evident from 3 - 6 years old.
- Hip Dysplasia – An abnormal development of the hips which can include several developmental problems and abnormalities commonly leading to joint problems later in life. Experts score X-rays of the hips using specific criterion in dogs older than a year. The maximum score is 106, a low score correlates with the presence of fewer signs of dysplasia. HD is transmitted genetically but can also be influenced by environment. Dogs are assigned a certificate with the result. This is more prevalent in American Beagles.
- Intervertebral Disc Disease – A disease where the discs or ‘padding’ in between the vertebrae herniate out of their normal position and squash or put pressure on the spinal cord. This pressure affects the nerves in the spinal cord cause pain, damage and in more severe cases paralysis. Treatment depends on the extent of damage to the spinal cord. Ensuring dogs do not become overweight and do not do too much jumping as well as walking with a harness can play a part in preventing the condition.
- Hypothyroidism – A condition which results from a deficiency of a thyroid hormone. The most obvious signs often consist of a lack of enthusiasm for exercise, lethargy, mental dullness and increased weight gain, without increased food intake. Once diagnosed the condition can be treated by supplementation with an synthetic form of thyroid hormone. Treatment is lifelong, but prognosis is good.
- Chondrodystrophy – A form of dwarfism which affects the long bones of the legs which fail to grow and develop normally, leaving dogs with a stunted look. Other deformities may also be present and puppies may not survive.
Beagles can be prone to becoming overweight. They enjoy their food and if not properly exercised can easily gain extra kilos. Being overweight can cause other health problems such as osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia to exhibit more severe clinical signs and progress faster, as well as precipitating the development of secondary related conditions such as diabetes. Carrying extra weight can also increase the risk of intervertebral disc disease developing. Appropriate controlled feeding and sufficient exercise and stimulation are key to maintaining a Beagle at a healthy weight.
Exercise and Activity Levels
The Beagle needs around an hour to an hour and a half of exercise every day, this time should ideally be made up of some time off the lead as Beagles have been bred to have great stamina. They can be excitable however are generally not hyperactive and will rest and be calm at home without being exhausted. Beagles can be prone to weight gain in a companion animal environment, partly due to their original use as hunting dogs where they were constantly active. Plenty of walking and an appropriate diet can help to keep obesity at bay.
The Beagle does not require specialist grooming and regular brushing at home is sufficient to keep its coat healthy and clean. When malting they can be medium shedders so brushing helps to stop hair being lost around the house and on furniture.
Beagles have fairly long ears so can be more prone to ear and skin problems than some other breeds. These larger ears make it harder for air to get into the ear and skin around it and easier for infections to proliferate. Ears should be checked regularly and if there are any obvious signs of inflammation or infection or symptoms of discomfort such as head shaking you should take your dog to the vet for diagnosis. Treatments generally revolve around cleaning the ear or skin to try and prevent build up of bacteria and wax but depend on the cause of the problem so correct diagnosis is important.
Although it is considered a breed fault and generally Beagles should not have excessive skin folds on their face those which do can also be predisposed to eye problems such as entropion or skin conditions. These should be diagnosed and treated appropriately by a vet as proper management improves the dogs quality of life. These types of skin conditions may be more prevalent in the American Beagle population.
The Beagle is a breed found referenced on numerous occasions in popular culture. Some famous Beagles include:
- Snoopy the character from the Peanuts comic strip.
- Beegle Beagle from the The Great Grape Ape Show cartoon.
- Courage the Cowardly Dog from the comedy cartoon series.
- Brains the dog in the Inspector Gadget films.
- Underdog from the comedy film.
- Lou in Cats and Dogs the film.
- Shiloh from the film of the same name.
- Buddy from the film Regarding Henry.
Popular Beagle crossbreeds today include:
- Puggle – Cross between a Beagle and a Pug
- Beagleman – Cross between a Beagle and a German Shepherd
- Cheagle – Cross between a Beagle and a Chihuahua
- Busky – Cross between a Beagle and a Husky
- Bagel – Cross between a Beagle and a Basset Hound
- Coagle – Cross between a Beagle and a Cocker Spaniel
- Beaglemation – Cross between a Beagle and a Dalmation
- Australian Sheagle – Cross between a Beagle and a Australian Shepherd
- Beabull – Cross between a Beagle and a Bulldog
- Beago – Cross between a Beagle and a Golden Retriever
- Poogle – Cross between a Beagle and a Poodle
- Frengle – Cross between a Beagle and a French Bulldog