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The Beagle: Everything Old Is New Again, by Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
Posted on 02/20/2009 in Ringside Conversations.

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Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp

This jaunty little Beagle and her handler present a pleasing picture.
UKC photo

It seems that everywhere I go recently I get questions about Beagles. It seems strange that suddenly after all this time, America has become so interested in this fellow who has been around for a very long time. The breed has been getting a considerable amount of publicity since one of its members has been quite a national celebrity, with not only a lot of big wins at dog shows but traveling the country with a very big and very ingratiating personality.

Most people think of the Beagle as a “good old boy” family-type companion, and that he is, but he is also a very competitive show dog as well as one of the best known scenthounds, held in high regard by hunters around the world. If any breed’s blood can be considered to be “blue,” certainly the Beagle should qualify.

References to Beagle-type dogs are made in Greek writings as far back as 400 B.C. The popularity of these small hounds continued on through the ages, with consistent reference being made to their small size, distinctive “song” and unswerving dedication to the hunt.

The first known mention of Beagles by that name is found in the account books of Henry VIII where reference is made of payment to a Robert Shere. Shere was entrusted with the care and feeding of the King’s “Begles” which “(were to) be kept sweete, wholesome and cleane.”

It is not known for sure why the name Beagle was given this breed. Some say it is a derivative of the old French word begueule, which in turn owes its origins to the words beer, meaning to open wide, and guele, which meant throat. This may well have described the Beagle’s deep-throated call as it pursued its prey. Still others believe the name came from either the Old English begle or French beigle, both words meaning small.

Queen Elizabeth I was another member of the British Royalty who fancied Beagles. Her particular favorites were the tiny variety known as “Pocket Beagles”. This diminutive variety has fallen in and out of favor through the decades.

The original breed standard as written by the British Beagle club stated, “Pocket Beagles must not exceed ten inches in height. Although ordinary Beagles in miniature, no point, however good in itself, should be encouraged if it tends to give a coarse appearance to such minute specimens of the breed.”

By the time man’s constant march to civilization had taken him through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, farmland abounded throughout Europe. What was once large forestland had been cleared and fenced. Man now was becoming accustomed to working within specified limits. The dogs he used had the hunting instincts of the great hounds of the past, but these newer hounds could be controlled by voice and horn. Rather than using just one dog to find and trail the game man was after, he used several such dogs - each to back up the other, and thus avoiding mistakes and loss of the trail.

While not always the quickest to learn their roles, these scenthounds were valued because they stubbornly refused to be diverted once on the trail. They would persist in plugging on to recapture the coldest of trails. These are characteristics that typify the Beagle of today.

Often accused of being slower on the uptake than say a terrier, once the scenthound has made up his mind what the task at hand is, it is extremely difficult to dissuade him from his objective. This creates a special kind of persistence that must be dealt with intelligently on the part of the dog’s owner.

The Beagle in England
In England, the Beagle’s popularity among the royalty earned the breed widespread interest as well among the nobility and sportsmen. It was not long before the average man discovered the attributes of the breed. Soon “beagling” began to nudge fox hunting out of its dominant position, if for no other reason than it was not necessary to ride behind these smaller hounds. The common man could successfully follow a Beagle pack on foot, and because the Beagle excelled as friend, companion and hunter, its popularity grew steadily throughout Great Britain and the European continent.

The Beagle Club was formed in England in 1890 and a breed standard was drawn up at that time. The club held its first show in 1896 and shows continued to be held annually. However, interest in the breed as a show dog did not really ignite until 1931 when twenty-seven were registered with England’s registry source, The Kennel Club, and championship certificates were offered at four shows.

The breed was forced to survive two World Wars, during which interest and activity came almost to a standstill. Upon the conclusion of World War II, activity immediately picked up and as the 50s began, championship shows and Beagle interest were at an all time high.

It was in that period that CH Barvae Statute became the first Beagle to win an all breed championship Best in Show in England. Interestingly, Statute was also sire of CH Derawunda Vixen, who entered the Beagle Hall of Fame by winning Best In Show at England’s famed Crufts show in 1959.

The Beagle in America
The sport of beagling had rapidly gained popularity in America as well. It was the Beagle’s ability in the field that earned the breed its popularity. The Beagles that excelled in the field were a far cry from the attractive dogs that won prizes at shows. In all fairness, however, the field Beagle must be credited for paving the way for the breed’s acceptance as a show dog in America as it had in Great Britain and Europe.

Pack Beagles had prevailed in America as early as the beginning of the 1800s. Granted, one might have been hard pressed to associate them with the handsome dogs that later appeared in the show rings. The pack Beagles were short of leg, long of body, and lacked the bright markings that typified the show dogs. They were, however, tireless hunters, and those who owned them were unreserved in their enthusiasm for the dogs.

Following the Civil War, U.S. General Richard Rowett imported Beagles of the finest bloodlines England had to offer at the time. These imports comprised the General’s noteworthy pack of field dogs, but what set them apart from all others were the excellent conformation and colorful markings of the dogs. It is believed General Rowett’s dogs were used as models for the first breed standard written in America in 1887, and their excellence influences what is considered ideal to this day. The General, Dr. L.H. Twaddell and Mr. Norman Ellmore drew up that standard.

Interest and enthusiasm for the clever little hunter has never waned in America and Beagles have stood among the country’s most popular breeds for many decades. Beagles continue to serve as wonderful companions, outstanding hunters and highly competitive show dogs from coast to coast.
There are few breeds that surpass the many fine qualities of the Beagle. He’s small but not fragile; he’s cute enough for the ladies yet “sporty” looking enough for the men of the household. He’s a gentle companion and a tireless hunter. Not a whole lot more could be asked of any breed.

Living with a Beagle
The Beagle possesses such a wealth of positive characteristics that it almost works to the breed’s detriment. On the surface there appears to be so little care involved in Beagle ownership that far too many puppies are purchased without due consideration given beforehand.

There is no doubt that the breed has undeniable appeal. In fact, if someone is still in the “deciding” stage of whether or not they should bring a Beagle puppy into their home, we strongly suggest they stay away from any home or kennel that has a litter of Beagle puppies. It is next to impossible to leave without one! Those soft brown eyes and floppy little ears make the little guys absolutely irresistible! There is nothing more captivating than a Beagle puppy! There is nothing more seductive than that angelic looking little pup looking up with those soulful “won’t you please adopt me?” eyes. Without-a-doubt-innocence personified!

Question: What kind of a person should own a Beagle?
Answer: A patient one!

If you are someone who wants a dog who lives to respond to your commands with hair-trigger speed, forget about the Beagle! Don’t torture yourself with this breed. It isn’t a case of your Beagle not understanding what you want. On the contrary, the Beagle is a very intelligent breed but it must be understood Beagles have a lot of interests and they may decide to pursue those interests regardless of your commands.

Do not forget the Beagle’s heritage. A good Beagle never gives up the pursuit. The pursuit may be on the trail of small game or simply one of exploration. Don’t expect your Beagle to change his mind or his direction easily. A Beagle’s interests and curiosity can lead him away from your home and on a course from which he may not easily find his way back. A securely fenced yard is an absolute must for the Beagle owner.

On the plus side of the ledger, the moderately sized Beagle is generally a very healthy dog. There is not nearly as much work involved in keeping the breed clean and healthy as with some other breeds, but this doesn’t mean you can leave your Beagle’s health to his own devices. Ears, eyes, mouth and feet need regular inspection, and though the Beagle’s coat is short, this does not mean it will not benefit from a good brushing or rub down with a rough towel.

A Breeder Check List
Just as the buyer should have a check list to guide him or her in locating a responsible breeder, most responsible breeders have criteria that a buyer must meet before they would be considered an ideal candidate to have one of their puppies. These are things that prospective Beagle owners should ask of themselves as well:
Security is a must. Beagles are often described as being loyal and although our egos would have us believe that our dogs would pine away if they were not with us, this is hardly the truth. A Beagle could be just as happy anywhere as long as it is fed, loved, petted and has a couch or chair to sleep on. Beagles love people and therefore they are not averse to accepting an invitation to take a stroll with a passing child or hop into the car of a total stranger. For this reason, the Beagle owner must have a securely fenced yard.
No home where only one of the adults is enthused about getting a Beagle. Owning a Beagle takes the cooperation of everyone in the household and no Beagle is safe in an environment that it is not entirely receptive.
No home where children are solely responsible for the dog’s care. Beagles are very stoic and will take almost any abuse from a child, therefore parental supervision is an absolute must. While the best of children can love and care for their dogs, they are not always capable of understanding or remembering the special care dog ownership entails.

(This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of BLOODLINES Magazine.)

The information contained in Mr. Beauchamp’s “Solving the Mystery of Breed Type” series that appeared in BLOODLINES, can be found in his book, Solving the Mystery of Breed Type, published by Kennel Club Books.