The beagle is an oxymoronic dog. They rank fifth on the 2007 AKC list of breeds - and yet have fallen off the top ten list in many cities, remaining third in Providence, R.I. There are good reasons - this isn't a breed for everyone. More importantly, it's a breed that needs understanding.
The origin of the Beagle, like many hounds, can be blurred. Packs of hounds have long been used in England, dating to Roman times. Both sight and scent hounds were used and it's not uncommon to have hunted in packs. In the 1800s in the US small hounds called Beagles were used in the southern part of the country. They appeared more like a Dachshund or weak headed Basset, and were high endurance dogs without type. In the 1860s the English hounds were combined with these small dogs. In 1888 the Beagle club was formed and began holding trials. Two types - one under 13 inches and one that was 13-15 inches.
From a show dog standpoint they are competitive but have not been changed as much as some other breeds. Perhaps it's the "hound stubborn" of the beagle that refuses to change. The full standard is listed at http://www.akc.org/breeds/beagle/index.cfm for those interested in the physical standard for show.
These dogs need understanding on several fronts. Their size is a small dog but their nature is a hound through and through. The "Beagle bawl" is unlike any other small dog - their function as a hunting dog has instilled a unique bay that carries. This is, perhaps, a reason they have fallen in favor in cities - their willingness to 'give voice' is not encouraged in urban areas! Furthermore, there has been an increase in the "Puggle" - a crossbred of the Beagle and Pug - in many of these city areas.
This tendency can be tempered in hounds but not truly erased. They are what they are. They have flaws - but for those who are willing to make an effort, have the patience for training and are looking for an awesome small dog...give the Beagle another look!
These are incredible small dogs. They are very intelligent, although like many hounds, should not be trusted off leash as their nose overrides human commands and can get them in trouble. This is true even of part Beagles! They are some of the kindest, biggest hearted dogs of their size that you can find.
The Beagle loves to please. If you find a way to use their natural tendencies you will have a friend for life. As they are hunted in packs they are incredibly social, happy dogs. A single Beagle penned up alone without company is almost surely to bawl, howl, whine and bark his displeasure. Heavy handling or a dominant dog will make them miserable and can create a very unhappy dog. They are not fighters.
The Beagle is still very widely used for hunting, with field trials and especially rabbits their specialty. But there are other uses for those instincts!
The hound nose and willingness to work until the job is done combined with intelligence and trainability - what better description of a dog to protect our country. While not chasing down bad guys they have a job they've done so well there is a name for it. Some dogs can learn nearly 50 different odors, and their small size makes them ideal for a special job with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspections.
The Beagle Brigade often uses dogs that have been taken from shelters. This very special group of dogs once trained inspect incoming baggage of international passengers at airports. When the dog sits by a package then the package is checked by hand more thoroughly. The Beagle's keen sense of smell can get through packages much faster than humans can search it and more accurately than even high-tech machines. Their small size means they can get on top of luggage and inspect it as it moves on the conveyors without damaging anything and each bag, box and case is checked.
It takes 8-12 weeks of training to ready a Beagle for work, and another week with a trainer at their duty station. They wear distinctive vests which identify them as "Agriculture's Beagle Brigade." With on-the-job training and within a year on the job these incredible little dogs are identifying prohibited materiald correctly about 80% of the time - and this increases in time! They can work for several years at their job, with teams handling a half dozen flights per day.
The Border Beagle Brigade is an extension that works searching for prohibited ag products on the US borders. Other detector dogs have been trained to find termites, gas pipeline leaks, gypsy moth eggs and other items.
Beagles have also made major contributions as research labratory animals - and because of this more is known about problems that affect the breed than perhaps any other breed. Some lines were noted as being excessively aggressive, which is *not* a typical Beagle trait. Cancer, thyroid problems, deafness, vestibular disease, diseases of the lympatic systems, hemophilia, heart problems, immune system issues, skin and liver diseases, pancreatic issues, epilepsy and other neurological diseases, eye disorders, urinary and skeletal problems can be found in the breed. Researchers and veterinarians have learned much to help other dogs because of these dogs.
Beagles could easily sport signs that say "will work for food" - their chow-hound habits mean all food must be kept away from them. They need to be watched carefully so they don't get too fat. Low blood sugar can also be an issue - and quick treatment with Karo syrup or honey is needed if this is the case. The dog will appear disorientated, wobbly, sometimes almost appearing to have a seizure but with more focus of the eyes.
While this sounds like an extensive list remember these are things that *can* affect the breed - it doesn't mean all *do*. However, it bears notice not only in Beagles but in the crosses of them, for pet owners to be aware of the things that can afflict their dog.
One of the most noted and beloved of icons, Snoopy, was a beagle. Beagles have lived in the White House during Lyndon B Johnson's time in office. In June 2006 a Beagle was hailed a hero as a man's service dog when she bit his cell phone to call 911 after he collapsed in a seizure.
They are very smart dogs but often don't do well in obedience trials as they are easily bored with the repetition. Their gentle nature makes them great candidates for pet therapy programs. Their appearance in films like Underdog, Cats and Dogs and Shiloh in starring roles show they enjoy the challenge of acting. Beagles have also appeared on the stage and several television shows. Barry Manilow, a famous Beagle owner, used one of his dogs on album covers.
This is a breed that can life to mid to late teens. Like most small breeds, litters are smaller sized of 3-5.
The Beagle is a wonderful small dog for a home that has the time and attention for him. They aren't the perfect dog for every home - but they might be the perfect one for yours.