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All About Beagles and Their Incredible Sense of Smell

Updated on February 22, 2016
A beagle's sense of smell involves not only its nose, but its ears, legs, neck, and even the tail.
A beagle's sense of smell involves not only its nose, but its ears, legs, neck, and even the tail. | Source

Our beagle, Ruby, is a fascinating little dog. She loves to play hard and always seeks companionship when it is time to cuddle up and sleep.

But one thing is obvious, Ruby is driven by her sense of smell.

Beagles are sturdy, medium-sized dogs that resemble a small version of a fox hound. As a member of the hound family, beagles have been around since as early as the 5th century. Bred to hunt prey by scent, rabbits and hare are often their target.

Beagles are also happy dogs with extremely upbeat personalities. But a pet beagle cannot just turn off its hunting instincts and incessant sniffing—an obvious trait noticed when walking one or while visiting a dog park or other outdoor area.

In fact, if you look at the physical characteristics of a beagle (nose, neck, legs, ears, and tail), most everything about its body aids in its ability to track a scent, and track it well!

The beagle nose has a lot of surface area and is moist, aiding in the capturing of scents.
The beagle nose has a lot of surface area and is moist, aiding in the capturing of scents. | Source

Beagle vs. Human

  • Beagles have 45 times more scent receptors than humans.
  • A beagle's olfactory lobe in the brain is about 40 times larger than a human.
  • All of a beagle's scent membranes would unfold to 60 sq. in. The same in a human would only be 1 sq. inch—That's like comparing a piece of paper to a stamp!
  • A beagle's sense of smell is 1,000 - 10,000 times greater than a human's.

The Nose

In order to understand the beagle's sense of smell, it helps to understand the nose itself.

Take a look at it: the nose itself is large, cool, and moist to the touch. The moistness helps dissolve molecules in the air, bringing them into the nose.

And with each sniffing inhalation, scents are trapped in pockets within the nose and are not lost during exhalation. Nerve impulses then "connect" these stored scents to the beagle's highly developed olfactory lobe within the brain.

Additionally, beagles have many more scent receptors than both humans and other breeds of dogs. Finally, the olfactory (scent) area of the brain is said to be about forty times larger in a dog than in a human, making a dog's sense of smell thousands of times stronger than a human's sense of smell!

Look at the chart below. Beagles have the same number of scent receptors as the much larger German Shepherd, and are only second to Blood Hounds in the overall number of scent receptors.

Breed or Species
Number of Scent Receptors
Humans
5 million
Dachshund
125 million
Fox Terrier
147 million
German Shepherd
225 million
Beagle
225 million
Blood Hound
300 million
Beagles have an incredible sense of smell, as compared to other breeds of dogs and humans. Source Understanding a Dog's Sense of Smell dummies.com.

The Neck

The neck of a beagle is sturdy and long. This characteristic is not without a purpose. The long neck simply allows it to easily drop its nose to the ground and sniff.

If you were to watch Ruby on a walk or at the dog park, you would see her nose to the ground almost continuously. Having a long neck makes this easy to do.

Long necks, short legs, and long, floppy ears make it easy for a beagle to drop its head to the ground and sniff, which is good because beagles hunt prey by scent.
Long necks, short legs, and long, floppy ears make it easy for a beagle to drop its head to the ground and sniff, which is good because beagles hunt prey by scent. | Source

Legs

The legs of beagles are relatively short compared to their bodies. Their overall height ranges from 13 - 16 inches for this 18 - 35 pound breed.

Now, you wouldn't think legs would have much to do with smelling, but you would be wrong. Short legs make it easy for a beagle to drop its nose to the ground and track a scent.

Ears

Beagles' ears are long, soft, and low set on their heads. The combination of these floppy ears and soulful eyes is perhaps what attracts many people to the breed.

However, the ears serve a purpose beyond hearing and the cuteness factor. Beagle ears also aid in tracking a scent.

These floppy ears that are low to the ground when a beagle drops its head to sniff are easily maneuvered to help trap a scent, bringing it towards the nose.

Amazingly, the flag on a beagle's tail has been bred into it so that hunters can easily spot their beagles. It helps protect them.
Amazingly, the flag on a beagle's tail has been bred into it so that hunters can easily spot their beagles. It helps protect them. | Source

Tail

Beagles have a characteristic white tip on their tails called a stern or flag. While this flag does not directly affect their sense of smell, it does serve an important purpose when they are tracking a scent.

Recall that beagles were bred to hunt rabbits and hares. While tracking the scent of a rabbit in tall grass, with their short legs and head dropped down, the only part of a beagle that can be seen is its tail.

While active, a beagle tail is straight with the flag pointing upward, making it easy for the hunter to locate their beagle and not accidentally shoot it instead of the prey.

Knowing all about beagles and their incredible nose, it's not too hard to appreciate their need to sniff everything in sight, as well as out of sight.

I know I am a little more patient with Ruby on walks as she takes her time sniffing her way along.

Beagle traits are even put to good use. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture employs a beagle's sense of smell. The Beagle Brigade consists of 60 canine teams and its sole purpose is to sniff out contraband fruit and vegetables being brought into the country.

Mostly working at border entries and baggage claim areas of international airports, the Beagle Brigade has been known to seize an average of 75,000 prohibited agriculture products per year.

A beagle's sense of smell and physical characteristics that contribute to making it an efficient sniffing machine, combined with its gentle and upbeat personality, make it an astounding breed.

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    • ktrapp profile image
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      Kristin Trapp 4 years ago from Illinois

      michemike - Beagles are incredibly lovable dogs. Their floppy ears, soulful eyes, and cuddly nature make them a little hard to resist. And I agree that this breed is extremely loyal and smart. I am forever amazed by my beagle's spot-on instincts and sense of smell even to find bumblebees if you can believe it. They are a bit stubborn though and don't always follow commands, especially if they determine there's nothing in it for them. But for the most part my beagle is obedient, except when her nose takes over I'm pretty sure all her other senses shut down.

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      michemike 4 years ago

      I love my beagle! he's very good with the kids and very loving but not so good with commands, I also have a pitbull that is 7yrs old and is also great with the kids and very loyal and smart.

    • ktrapp profile image
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      Kristin Trapp 4 years ago from Illinois

      Victoria Lynn - My beagle has the best personality. Without a doubt, we are her pack. She now even thinks she is a lap dog - which, as you can imagine, makes it difficult to use a laptop! But I am constantly amazed by her extremely keen sense of smell. Gizmo sounds like he/she likes a lot of attention too! Thanks for your comment and votes.

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      Vicki L Hodges 4 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Beagles are so cute! And gentle with great personality, like you say. I might want one someday, but right now my little shih tzu, pekingnese, terrier mutt Gizmo insists on being the only dog in the house. Enjoyed reading more about beagles. Many votes!

    • ktrapp profile image
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      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Suzanne - I'm so glad Cookie is OK; that sounds like a horrible accident. I had a vet once try to make me feel neglectful because I didn't want to do hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of tests on my 18 year old cat that I had cared for with diabetes for over 5 years. The end was very near (weeks) and I just wanted to make my cat comfortable until we could say good bye. Needless to say, I never returned to that vet.

      These beagles are simply the most lovable little creatures. And when you can appreciate their instincts, like I can tell you do with Cookie, you can share in their joy as they smell and hunt. I am constantly astounded by my beagle's sense of smell. If I have her out on a walk and someone comes in the house and leaves before she has seen them, it is quite obvious she knows they were there. She will sniff and track and hunt throughout the house and almost cry in sadness when she concludes they are nowhere to be found.

      Today we walked in the snow. And her tracking technique in the snow makes me laugh. She buries her nose in the snow, sometimes seems to taste it, and makes strange snorting noises. Sort of like a noise a horse makes. She pulls me frantically from spot to spot repeating this technique.

      I'm glad you and Cookie enjoy each others company and I it's obvious she has won your heart. Take care and thanks for sharing your story Zanny.

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      suzanne 5 years ago

      Cookie, my sons beagle is inside my house recovering from a major surgery. She was injured while hunting. With her nose to the scent trail she hit an old cedar stump puncturing her side and through 3 layers. Her inside was almost out. It didn't help that 2 vets, one is now our former vet, who said, "this didn't just happen" and "she's under nourished" sent us away with the assumption that a hunting dog is not important! Theyneed to learn to prioritize an emergency and when to lecture a pet owner. The 3rd vet immediately began surgery similar to a hernia repair before she had intestinal damage. Three weeks later Cookie can pull me around a tree and under fences all because of her ability to smell! I attempted a screen porch as her move to be outside, attempt is the right word, but Cookie ran through the screen and jumped down four feet to the ground!

      Cookie is 6 years old and is a field trial champion. Her stay with her Zanny(me) will not hold her back. I feel for the poor bunnies! Cookie has won my heart and I may pick up hunting just to hang out with her! NO guns for me!

    • ktrapp profile image
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      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Wordscribe43 - Growing up I also had a dog that was a mix of beagle and who knows what else. She was such a good dog. Our beagle pictured in this hub, Ruby, is the sweetest dog. She never goes out without a leash and sometimes we tie her up for short periods. But she does have to be watched like a hawk also.

      I really worry about her at the dog park, but got over my fear and she is in heaven there. As long as she goes with another dog friend to buddy up with she doesn't disappear. (I have a hub on the dog park too with some great photos of Ruby - crazy ones, actually.)

      I'm sorry about the loss of your beagle/lab. Before our beagle we had a cat for 19 years. The day when we knew we had no choice but to put him to sleep was one of the worst and I still miss him terribly. I'm teary-eyed just thinking about it. But I am glad I was able to make room in my heart again for another pet. Let me know if you do; beagles are definitely a very special breed!

    • wordscribe43 profile image

      Elsie Nelson 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      Awww.... this brings back great memories. My childhood dog was a Beagle/Bassett hound mix who was the sweetest dog in the world. We just lost our Beagle/Lab mix two years ago and it was soooo hard. She would follow that scent and not look back, I'm telling you. We had to watch her like a hawk. She was a big sweetheart, but a pretty lazy girl. Could have been the lab in her, though. I miss her. Thanks for the great hub, I'd get another Beagle in a heart beat.

    • ktrapp profile image
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      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you Eiddwen. Beagles are a great breed of dog. They are so smart and so lovable. It's a shame you cannot have one of your own, but I will continue to have more beagle articles and photos of Ruby that you will hopefully enjoy. Thanks for your comment.

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      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      What a great hub on my favourite breed of dog.

      They are so faithful, I had one called Lassie when I was small and she was my besy friend.

      At the moment our landlord is not willing for pats in the property ,due to past tenants but it doesn't stop me from reading all about the.

      A great hub which I vote up up and away.

      Take care,

      Eddy.

    • ktrapp profile image
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      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Donna, My daughter and I were just saying yesterday how our beagle, Ruby, needs a "job" of sorts. She is a busy little dog with her nose to the ground very often, unless of course she is sleeping. Watching our beagle, I couldn't help but notice how so much of her entire body contributes to her ability to have a fantastic sense of smell. All creatures seem to be truly miraculous in one way or another though, and dogs are no exceptions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • DonnaCosmato profile image

      Donna Cosmato 5 years ago from USA

      This is a very informative hub! I knew Beagles were a working breed dog, but I had no idea they were used for the purposes like you mentioned in your hub. Thanks for sharing!

    • ktrapp profile image
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      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Randomcreative - I wasn't a big dog fan a year ago either (had a cat for 19 years though) but by last December my daughter finally convinced me to get her a puppy. What was I thinking? My daughter will be off to college in less than a year and of course despite all her promises I am the one doing most of the dog-related work. But little Ruby wins you over real fast. Right now she is sound asleep as close to me as she can get. So I guess now I am at least a little bit of a dog fan. or at least a beagle/Ruby fan.

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      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I am not a big dog fan, but beagles are still pretty cool. :) Thanks for all of the information!

    • ktrapp profile image
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      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you for your comment and vote. I appreciate it.

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      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Carrie - She is a funny little beagle. She didn't want to leave the bus stop. She sat down on the sidewalk with the girls as if she was with them waiting to go to school. It was sort of funny. You should look at the video of Ruby on my hub about puppy training and dog tricks. You can get an idea of how goofy she is when my daughter tells her to lay down.

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      prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

      It looks so sweet. Thanks for share with us. You have useful information. Vote up and have a nice weekend!

      Prasetio

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      carriethomson 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      wish i had a beagle like that :))

    • ktrapp profile image
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      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Even my human nose can find all the delicious recipes on HubPages. But my beagle just managed to sniff all the backpacks (probably with lunch bags in them) of three young girls waiting at a bus stop this morning.

    • carriethomson profile image

      carriethomson 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      the beagle's cute!! sniff sniff!! there should be a beagle nose to sniff and find out all the delicious recipies at hubapges :))

      carrie

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