Shelter worker, animal rescuer & advocate, Jan has become a well-regarded source of insights & know-how on pet care & behavior nationwide.
From Hunting Dogs to Family Pets
Beagles come in a variety of sizes, but before the 1800s, they were "pocket-size" canines. The smaller Beagles were popular due to their size and ease of being followed by anyone including women, seniors, and even those with certain disabilities.
It's said that miniature Beagle-type breeds, called Glove Beagles, were around during both Edward II (1307–1327) and Henry VII's reigns (1485–1509) and that both had packs of these tiny Beagles. Queen Elizabeth (1533–1603) apparently had several Pocket Beagles that measured between 8–9".
Hunting with Beagles was very popular in England beginning in the 14th century and continuing into today. Using Beagles for hare hunting was popular due to the ease of following the breed on foot and the convenience of slipping them into a pocket if the need arose.
Although Beagles almost became extinct in England, as fox hunting became more popular, the farmers of the time helped maintain the breed by keeping packs on their farms. It wasn't until the 1800s that this breed became the one that we know of today.
The first job this breed was bred to do was to trail rabbits. Nowadays, they continue to be popular dogs for rabbit hunting as well as competitors in field and conformation exhibitions and for contraband detection. Since they were bred as pack hunters, it's very common to see owners having several in their homes. This breed needs companionship and that can mean other dogs (other breeds) or humans. They can suffer canine separation anxiety when left alone and this can cause incessant barking, as well as running around and tearing up things in your home.
These days, this scent hound has become a popular breed in the United States as a family pet, ranking in the top 10 consistently, but it also remains very popular for hunters as well. Their sense of smell puts them as one of the most acute sniffers in dogdom.
The Pros of Owning a Beagle
There are several pros to having a Beagle as part of your family as either a pet or hunting partner, such as:
- The ease in following them as they track the rabbits
- Their size (especially the smaller beagles) and ease in transporting them
- Beagles' love of being outdoors
- Their eagerness to explore and follow a trail
- Their smaller size helps them to make their way through rough terrain
- Their coat is short and coarse, helping to protect them from the underbrush
- Their friendly character allows the Beagle to get along well with other dogs in the pack
- Beagles have a gentle nature
- They are always ready for adventure
- They are very tolerant canines
- They are incredibly curious (which I suppose could be a con depending on how you look at it)
- They are sweet, loving, and loyal
- They love games
- They are good with children
- They make good watchdogs and will alert you with their deep, boisterous voices
The Cons of Owning a Beagle
Just as with any breed, there are cons to the Beagle that a potential owner should be aware of:
- Beagles have an independent nature, and when coupled with their love of the outdoors and trailing, could result in him running off if he gets an interesting scent. They are great escape artists.
- The Beagle is a dog that barks and howls quite often (in fact some say its name comes from a French word that means 'open throat'). Though some consider this a pro as it allows the hunter to find/follow the dog from a distance.
- This breed needs lots of exercise on a daily basis (this could be considered a pro if you are very active and want a companion for your hikes in the woods, etc.).
- Prone to intervertebral disk disease, canine hip dysplasia (CHD), itchy skin conditions, ear infections, different eye diseases, diabetes, epilepsy, hypothyroidism and heart disease.
- Even with their short coats, Beagles shed quite a bit (though other than this are quite low maintenance grooming wise).
- Beagles can be stubborn and destructive (especially if left alone for long periods).
- Suffer from "selective deafness" —when they are onto a scent, the rest of the world is pretty much tuned out.
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Some Interesting Beagle Facts
- The National Beagle Club was formed in 1888
- President Lyndon Johnson has several Beagles; 3 were named Him, Her, Edgar
- Barry Manilow had a Beagle he called Bagel
- The world's most famous Beagle is Snoopy
- The Beagle Brigade of the US Department of Agriculture uses Beagles to sniff out food items that people try bringing into the US in their baggage. The Beagle is used not only for their sense of smell, but also because their small size doesn't seem to intimidate people who are afraid of dogs.
The Beagle: Best as Pet or Hunter?
Beagles can be both a family pet and a hunter's assistant. In fact, it pays to keep your Beagle as part of the family to bond with the dog(s). This bond can help in the training for hunting and in the recall of the dog (which is a big issue for a scent hound that loves to trail). While Beagles can be "outdoor" dogs as long as they live with their pack for companionship and have a warm, dry place to stay, it is better for both the hunter/family and the dog(s) if they share living space.
This breed is part of the hound group and, in particular, part of the scent hounds, meaning they use their noses to hunt their prey. While most breeds' origins are debated, Beagles are thought to have been derived from the Harrier and the Foxhound breeds.
This breed is similar to several hunting dogs like the Basset Hound, the Black and Tan Coonhound, the Bloodhound, the American Foxhound, the English Foxhound, the Harrier, the Plott Hound, the Redbone Coonhound, and Dachshund, in that they all use their noses and scents to do their hunting.
It differs from many of those same breeds in its size and its prey. Bassets, smaller Dachshunds, and smaller Harriers all track and hunt rabbits and hares as well as other small animals. The other scent hounds mentioned were used mostly to track raccoons, badgers, possums and even larger animals such as a bear. The Basset, Dachshund, and Harrier were also bred for hunters to be able to follow on foot, just like the Beagle breed.
So, what is your vote? Are Beagles best as a pet or hunting partner? Or perhaps, both?
Should You or Shouldn't You Get a Beagle?
Although Beagles can be great dogs, they are not for everyone. For example, if you want the following, this breed might not be right for you.
- A dog that is very obedient and easy for you to train.
- A puppy that you can easily house train.
- A dog that you can play ball or frisbee, etc. with off-leash without fear of the dog disappearing.
- A dog that is quiet and still most of the day.
- A dog that can be left alone, free-roaming the house, during the day without causing trouble.
- A guard dog for your family.
On the flip-side, you may want to consider getting a Beagle if you want the following:
- A dog that can be trained with some time and effort.
- A puppy that can be house trained with patience and a crate.
- A dog that will be a good playmate for you and your kids.
- A dog that is full of energy and confidence.
- A dog that enjoys being around people and other dogs.
The Right Pet for the Right Person
In summary, Beagles can be great pets for the right person and situation. They certainly enjoy being around people and other dogs and are playful, friendly and happy-go-lucky most of the time. But, they can also be a handful with their baying and howling, fondness for just taking off after whatever smell catches their noses and they require lots of attention and exercise.
Their temperament and behaviors can usually be shaped somewhat by the raise they are raised and trained—start early, stay consistent, and be patient. Make sure everyone in the house is on the same page as far as using the same commands and rewarding for the same behaviors. Also, be sure to start socializing them (as with any dog) young.
They are prone to certain health issues (as our many dogs) and have a life span between 10 and 15 years. With the proper care, training, and attention, you could have a wonderful life with your new Beagle pal.
© 2011 JanMarie Kelly
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on March 15, 2015:
Hi, I loved your hub. I have 2 13inch beagles. one is 9 years old and the other is 2 years and we have had her only 4 weeks. Very enjoyable hub, Stella
Dale on May 15, 2012:
My beagles are at my side. I have a tri color female and a red nd white male.
As a kid I had a beagle and my dad took us rabbit hunting, they loved it. They also treed squirrels and kicked out pheasant.
I have not hunted my two amazing companions though I live in a wooded area and they have gone AWOL hunting. I do not hunt them because of roads and private land.
Nothing like the the bellow or howl of my beagles on a sent. Music to a hunters ear.
They do however, bark at everything including the same people that go by my house daily, as if they never saw them before. Now as they are older they are much more lazy but can still be quite attentive.
Medical treatments have been costly. My female tore a ligament and surgery was expensive.
My male is heavy but not due to over eating.
Overall, I'm obsessed with my beagles. They have been incredible companions and I truly feel a mutual bond. Long live beagles?