The Beagle — What to Expect of This Dog Breed

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Beagles, as a breed, have been in existence for quite some time, although their precise origins are only vaguely known. Beagle-type dogs are described in documents dating from 400 B.C. Greece and A.D. 200 Britain. The Romans are also thought to have transported to England with them small rabbit hunting hounds and bred them with the local hounds. Talbot Hounds were brought to England from France during the Norman Conquest in 1066 and are considered to be ancestors to the Southern Hound, the Beagle and the Foxhound.

Beagles became quite popular with the British monarchy in the 1300 and 1400’s. Edward II and Henry VII both kept packs of Glove Beagles, so named since they were small enough to fit on a glove. Elizabeth I kept packs of Pocket Beagles which were only nine inches high at the withers.

By the 1400’s Beagles existed in Britain, Italy, Greece and France. The word “beagle” has two possible origins. It either originates from the Celtic word “beag” which means small or from the French word “begle” meaning “useless or of little value”.

By the 1700’s two types of hounds existed for hunting rabbits: the Southern Hound and the much quicker North Country Beagle. Since fox hunting was becoming increasingly popular, Beagles were being kept less and less in favour of Foxhounds. Fortunately for the continuing existence of the Beagle, farmers in England, Ireland and Wales continued to keep packs to hunt with.

In the mid 1800’s Reverend Phillip Honeywood established his pack in Essex, England which is thought to be the progenitor of the modern Beagle. He was breeding for hunting skills though, not looks. A fellow Englishman, Thomas Johnson, was responsible for breeding lines of Beagles that could hunt and look attractive.

Beagles were imported into the United States in 1876 and accepted as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1884.

Frequently Asked Questions

I’ve heard beagles are hard to train and they are very stubborn. Is this true?

There is no simple answer to this question because, like people, and most other breeds of dogs, individuals do vary. However, in general, most hounds are somewhat more challenging to train. When talking about beagles, it is often said that they “live on their own agenda”. This doesn’t necessarily make training difficult, it just means you have to find the training method that works for your dog.

Most people find that food is the best motivator for beagles. The use of food in training is not accepted by all dog trainers, so when you take your dog to obedience school, it is important to find both an instructor who understands beagles (or scent hounds in general) and is willing to use different methods, depending on what is effective for your beagle.

Beagles are actually quite intelligent dogs, and very good problem solvers, which can cause problems in training. They can get bored very quickly with an exercise and find another way to have fun. Which might mean teaching you how to stop a training session.

You should count on having several short training sessions everyday for at least the first two years of your dog’s life if you want a perfectly obedient dog. There aren’t many beagles out there with Obedience titles, but there are some, and it can be done.

If you want a dog that is easily trained to be a 100% reliable dog, don’t get a beagle.

Everyone says beagles are hard to housebreak, is this true?

As stated above, beagles can be a bit more challenging to train than other breeds, and this can (but not necessarily does) carry over into housetraining.

There are many methods for house-training dogs. Your best bet is to read up on as many methods as possible and to choose the one that will work for you and your dog. You may find that you like one method, but your dog does not respond, don’t despair, just try another way.

For many beagle owners, crate-training has proved to be invaluable in house-breaking (as well as other problems such as destructive chewing). Crate training is fairly easy, both on you and the dog, and allows you to establish a schedule, which is very important in house- training. Consistency and vigilance will almost always result in a properly trained dog.

Be warned however, there are some beagles that take up to a year to be fully house-trained, and there are the odd few that are never completely reliable.

What are beagles like with children?

Beagles generally adore children and will play for hours with them, however, like any breed of dog, beagles need to be socialized properly with children, and also like any breed, you should never leave young children and beagles alone together. If socialized properly and supervised properly, you shouldn’t have any problems. However, there are two things you should be aware of. First off, beagles play rambunctiously and can accidentally hurt younger children. Secondly, beagles are often “mouthy”, which means they like to play with their mouths, or chew on things. This is not biting, but rather grabbing on to things with their mouth, it is not done in anger or fear, but is for beagles, a way to play. This can of course be trained out of them, but it seems to be rather instinctive in many beagles and something that you should be aware of when considering a beagle.

Do beagles shed? Do they require regular grooming?

Yes, beagles shed. Don’t be fooled by the short coat, however, the shedding is sometimes not as noticeable because the hairs they shed are so much shorter. The Beagle’s coat is actually classified as a medium length, as opposed to a breed like a Doberman, which is a short coated breed. Also, the coat is a double-coat, meaning that they have a coarser outer coat and a soft undercoat. They will generally shed more in the spring, as their coats tend to thicken over the winter. This isn’t necessarily due to climate.

Dogs hair growth is dependent more on how much light there is as opposed to the cold. In the winter, there is less day-light and this encourages hair growth. However, Beagles will also go through a shed in the Fall as well as the spring. Beagles should be brushed with a medium bristled brush or a hound glove at least once a week. This will help loosen and remove dead hair and allow for new hair growth, as well as being good for the skin. A product called ‘Zoom Groom’ is also very popular with many Beagle owners.

Beagles are fairly clean dogs and as long as they aren’t rolling in really-nice-dead-things, they don’t require frequent baths. However, if you are trying to control fleas, you may be bathing more often.

Because beagles have ears that hang, their ears must be checked at least every two weeks for any sign of infection or waxy build-up. There are many ear washes you can get from your vet that will help clean out the ears. If you ever notice odor from your dog’s ears, it is likely that the dog has a yeast build-up or some other kind of infection and may need stronger treatment. Other signs of ear infections are constant head shaking, scratching at the ears, and scratching just below the ears.

Do beagles bark, or otherwise make noise, a lot?

Beagles do not tend to be ‘yappy’ dogs, however, they can and will bark when given the right stimulation. Most will bark/growl when strange dogs/people/things-you-can’t-see come in their territory. They will also bark when excited, although this varies from dog to dog. Most beagles will become very vocal if they are left alone a lot. Some beagles can be extremely vocal, although this can vary by individual as to amount of vocalization and type.

Beagles can also howl, this sound was useful in hunting as it would alert the hunters when the beagles had cornered their prey. Again, not all beagles will howl, but you should be prepared for the possibility.

A third noise beagles can make is hard to describe, kind of like a half-howl, called baying. Beagles will often make this noise when they catch the scent of something, again, this was useful in hunting.

The amount of any barking/howling/etc will always vary from dog to dog. If you want your dog to be quiet, you can train them to be. But again, when training beagles, patience is the key, it could take several months for your dog to understand the ‘quiet’ command. Some beagles never do understand the idea that you want them to be quiet, and if this is a necessity for you, you may want to consider another breed, or more radical training methods such as anti-bark collars, or to have the dog surgically altered.

What colors do Beagles come in?

The most common color you will see is called tricolor. It means a black saddle, white legs, chest, and belly, with a tan head, and often around the edges of the saddle. Many dogs have a white blaze on their face, but a solid tan face is common too. Tricolor puppies are born black and white, the tan develops as the puppy gets older.

Red and White: There is no black at all, and the red can range from a light tan to a darker red. These puppies are born as red and whites, or sometimes even a solid white, with the color developing later.

Lemon and White: The lemon varies from an off-white, to a dark lemon. These puppies are often born completely white, with the color developing later.

Black and White: Very rare.

With all of these colors, you can have freckling, mottling, ticking, and grizzling. Occasionally, an all white hound appears, but this is very very rare. These are not albinos, simply white dogs.

Personality and Temperament

When looking for a companion in your life, it is very important to understand the personality, temperament, and traits of that companion. For most dogs, their temperament is based on the purpose for which they were bred. Beagles are scent hounds, bred to track prey over the country side. This makes them energetic, independent, outgoing, and sometimes, stubborn dogs, as they wish to follow something to it’s conclusion. There is no difference in temperament in the two varieties of Beagles (13 inch and 15 inch).

Beagles that were bred in puppy mills can often be extremely difficult to housetrain, due to the fact that they are kept in very unclean conditions. When examining a litter, how clean the mother is helps to determine how easily housebroken the puppies will be. Another reason to buy a dog from a responsible, ethical breeder.

Beagles were also bred and kept in packs. This has resulted in a near genetic need for companionship. If they don’t get it from another dog, they will demand it from you. This is not to say that a lone Beagle will be underfoot, begging for attention all the time, but they will require a substantial amount of your time in play and companionship. If they are not given enough stimulation from their ‘pack’, they will find ways to amuse themselves and this can mean trouble! The list of what some beagles have eaten/chewed/destroyed is astonishing!

Beagles do not make good ‘outside’ dogs, especially if you only have one. Again, they need to be kept occupied and if regularly left in a backyard, they will usually start digging, barking, and looking for ways to get out and have fun. If you are dedicated to walking them in the morning before work and spending lots of time with them when you get home, they should be able to handle spending the day in a securely fenced backyard, however, most Beagle owners keep their dogs inside while gone. For many reasons, including possibility of theft, escape, or torment by neighborhood children/dogs, having a secure indoor place for your Beagle is the best bet.

As stated in the frequently asked questions section, the Beagle’s independent and stubborn nature makes obedience training a necessity and a challenge. Be sure to get into some kind of training routine early in your Beagle’s life. If you attend obedience classes, make sure your instructor understands the hound personality. Beagles require a firm trainer , but not a physical one. Beagles neither respect, nor acknowledge physical force.

Beagles have loads of energy and are well-suited to someone who likes to take long walks. Beagles can be kept successfully in apartments, however, you must be extremely dedicated in taking your dog out for regular walks. Bred to run cross-country in pursuit of rabbits and foxes, they don’t mind going for long runs. Keep in mind however, that, you should wait until the dog is at least a year old before starting any running program and you should start slowly. Talk to your vet for more information on running with your dog.

Because Beagles were bred as a pack animal, they generally get along well with other dogs, and often, cats. Beagles should not be aggressive towards other dogs, however, they will protect their territory, usually, this means just growling and other posturing. More often than not, your Beagle will end up playing with the intruder as opposed to fighting with it. Beagles should *never ever* be aggressive towards humans, however, due to their independent nature, they can sometimes try to be dominant over you. You should not allow this and if you are having problems, see a good dog trainer on how to correct it.

Beagles generally adore children, if they are socialized properly with them. Small children and dogs should never be left unsupervised, but in general, you will find that Beagles make wonderful companions for kids and adults alike.

When looking for a Beagle, you need to be sure to go to a reputable, responsible breeder. Beagles are one of the top puppy mill dogs because they produce such adorable puppies. Dogs from puppy mills, usually those purchased in a pet store, can be extremely timid and/or aggressive. In addition, they can suffer from numerous health problems. Please read the section on genetic problems for more in depth information on the problems poorly bred Beagles can suffer from. Please also see the section on Responsible Breeders to aid you in your search.

Overall, Beagles are fun-loving, happy dogs, and as long as you understand the Beagle personality, they can make a great addition to your family. One Beagle owner was heard to say that “Beagles belong in Disneyland, they are the happiest dogs on earth.”

Genetic Disorders

Beagles, like all breeds, should be bred carefully and by knowledgeable people to help minimize hereditary disorders. Some disorders that are found in Beagles are:

Eye Disorders

  • Cherry Eye – Very Common
    swelling of the gland of the third eyelid
  • Glaucoma
    increase in fluid pressure inside the eye
  • Cataracts
    clouding of the eye lens
  • Retinal Dysplasia
    folding or displacement of the retina, may lead to blindness
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
    cells of the retina deteriorate over time causing blindness 

Other Disorders

  • Epilepsy – Very Common
    brain dysfunction resulting in seizures
  • Elongated Soft Palate
    soft palate at the back of the throat is elongated and interferes with the larynx
  • Hypothyroidism – Very Common
    Dysfunction of the thyroid gland, causing numerous clinical signs including wieght gain poor hair coat, reprodcutive problems and more.
  • Cleft Lip and Palate
    opening between oral and nasal cavities, can impede pup from nursing
  • Monorchidism
    one testicle does not descend
  • Cryptorchidism
    both testicles do not descend
  • Intervertebral Disc Disease
    degeneration of the intervertebral discs, causing severe neck and back pain
  • Pulmonic Stenosis
    heart defect, may cause heart failure
  • Kidney Failure
  • Bladder Cancer

What to look for in a Responsible Breeder

Starting the Search:

  • Attend an event such as the America’s Family Pet Show and talk to people who own the breed you want.
  • Attend a local dog show. Show catalogs list the names and addresses of the owners of entered dogs. You can also talk to the owners and handlers of the dogs (though not when they’re about to go into the ring!) and get some leads that way.
  • Write to the AKC and ask for the names and addresses of breed clubs. These clubs can steer you in the right direction.
  • Learn about your breed before you look to buy one. Read the breed standard, find out about grooming requirements, typical temperaments, health problems that are common in the breed, etc. Irresponsible breeders hate educated buyers!
  • Price alone should not be a factor in deciding what breeder to buy from. While a high price doesn’t necessarily guarantee high quality, a very low price often does not turn out to be a bargain in the long run. Find out what typical prices are for show and pet quality puppies of your breed in your area.
  • Be patient. You may have to wait a few months (or longer) to find the right dog from a good breeder. This is a very short time compared with the ten to fifteen years that a dog will live with you.

Responsible Breeders Do:

  • Breed in order to improve the breed and produce the best puppies they possibly can, and usually plan to keep at least one of them. Ask as many questions of you as you do of them.
  • Show evidence of at least two or three years of serious interest in their breed, i.e. dog club memberships (the AKC doesn’t count!), show and match ribbons, and Championship and/or performance (obedience, agility,tracking, field, etc.) titles.
  • Breed only dogs that closely match the breed standard and are free of serious health and temperament problems.
  • Tell you if they think you would be better off with another breed of dog, or no dog at all
  • Provide referrals to other breeders if they don’t have anything available.
  • Use a written contract and guarantee, or at least an oral agreement, when selling a dog, with clear terms that you can live with.
  • Provide a registration slip, a pedigree, and up-to-date shots/health records with every puppy they sell.
  • Honestly discuss any special problems/requirements associated with the breed.
  • Offer assistance and advice on grooming, training, etc., for the life of the dog.
  • If, for any reason and at any time, you cannot keep the dog, will take it back.
  • Normally breed only one or two litters a year, max!
  • Have dogs that are clean, healthy, happy, and humanely cared for

Responsible Breeders Do Not:

  • Appear overly eager to sell/”get rid of” a puppy.
  • Breed simply to produce puppies to sell.
  • Breed a bitch on every season, or more than once a year.
  • Have breeding stock that consists of a “mated pair”.
  • Claim that all of their puppies are “show/breeding quality”.
  • Claim that their breed has no problems (some have fewer than others, but every breed has at least a couple).
  • Sell puppies to pet stores or to anyone that they have not met/screened personally.
  • Sell puppies that are less than seven to ten weeks old.
  • Sell puppies without papers (registration slip and 3-5 generation pedigree), or charge extra for papers.
  • Have more than one or two litters at any given time, or litters of multiple breeds.
  • Guarantee their dogs, or if they do, attach such unreasonable conditions to the guarantee, i.e., “dog must not be spayed or neutered, must never have been bred, and the ears must stand correctly,” that it is unlikely that they would ever have to honor it.

Phrases to be aware of in breeder’s ads:

  • “Rare”- This is often because either the breeder is using the wrong term for a common trait (i.e., “teacup” for toy size) or the dogs in question have a trait that no responsible breeder would deliberately produce, either because it is not allowed or is considered a serious fault in the breed standard, and/or is associated with health problems in the breed (e.g. white Boxers and Dobermans, parti-colored Poodles, “king” Labs, lemon spotted Dalmatians, and blue-eyed Malamutes). Although it can also mean that the breed is not well known or widely recognized, it does almost always mean that the breeder expects you to pay megabucks for the privilege of owning one.
  • “Aggressive”- Most dogs are naturally protective, the extent depending on their breed and individual personalities. Why would anyone in their right mind deliberately breed dogs with unstable temperaments?
  • “Champion”- A dog becomes a breed champion by earning points defeating a specified number of other dogs of its breed in competition. A dog can have a whole wall full of blue ribbons, yet still not have earned a single point, let alone a championship title.
  • “Grand Champion”- the AKC does not award a Grand Champion title. Some other registries do, such as the UKC, but make sure the breeder explains how and where that title was earned.
  • “Champion lines”- Almost all dogs have some champions in their pedigrees if you go a few generations back. Ideally, at least one parent and the majority of the dogs listed in the pedigree should have a championship or other title.
  • “Champion puppies”- Dogs cannot be shown towards a championship before they are six months old. Maybe the breeder means that the parents are champions. Maybe it means that you’d be better off buying from somebody that’s honest.
  • “OFA puppies”- OFA stands for Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, a registry that screens dogs for hip dysplasia. Dogs must be at least two years of age to be screened. If a breeder claims that any dog younger than that has OFA numbers, run!
  • “Show quality”- What does the breeder mean by this? Expected to finish a championship fairly easily? No disqualifying faults? Has “perfect markings and is really cute?” Make sure you understand exactly what this means before you buy. By the way, unless you are serious about breeding and showing, there is nothing wrong with a dog that is “pet quality.”
  • “AKC registered (or just ‘AKC’)”- the AKC (American Kennel Club) is a registry that issues registration papers to dogs of the approximately 140 breeds that are currently recognized, whose parents were also registered. While great to have (essential if you plan to show and breed), AKC registration is no guarantee of a dog’s quality, or of a breeder’s integrity. Other popular registries include the United Kennel Club (UKC) and the American Rare Breeds Association (ARBA), as well as breed-specific registries such as the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA). One warning: There are a number of “effigy registries” whose sole purpose is to provide “papers” for dogs who cannot be registered through one of the legitimate registries (breeder may have been banned from legitimate registry, parents may not be registered or registerable with legitimate registry, etc). If you are not familiar with the registry in question, ask around.

Further reading:

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