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Judging the Beagle

This article was originally published in Showsight Magazine, November 2012 issue.


Judging the Beagle

The General Appearance portion of the AKC Standard gives great insight into the essence of the Beagle. A miniature Foxhound, solid and big for his inches, with the wear-and-tear look of the hound that can last in the chase and follow his quarry to the death. One side note, it is referring to an English Foxhound and the quarry is rabbit and/or hare.

Beagles are a moderate breed. If your eye is drawn to some exaggerated portion of the dog, it is not correct. Please remember the drag of this breed is long and low. We have issues with dwarfism in this breed, and you will see some of those characteristics in the show ring today. A 15″ body on 13″ legs does not make a 13″ Beagle. Balance is key!

The only disqualification in this breed is any hound measuring over 15″ in height. As a judge you should never utter the words, “I did not use your dog because I felt it was too big.” When in doubt, measure!

The standard refers to a Beagle who is solid and big for his inches. There can be quite a size range within each variety. The standard refers to a beagle that is solid and big for his inches. 13½” Beagles may appear too small next to a Beagle measuring 15″. We have a lot of high quality, 13½” Beagles who get lost in the mix because. Judges don’t look at them as individuals but instead compare them to the larger exhibits in the ring. Remember, the standard says solid and big for his inches not solid and big. Please look at every Beagle as an individual when assessing size, bone and balance.

Often referred to as the “Merry Little Beagle” it goes without saying you want to see them moving around the ring in a happy manner. Aggressive or shy behavior should not be tolerated.

When viewing the Beagle in profile on the table, first of all, make sure the front end of the Beagle matches the rear not only in angulation but also in mass. We are seeing too many Beagles who are heavier in their front ends than in their rears. The rears should have good depth of thigh and second thigh. They should not look like Bulldogs. The topline and underline should mirror each other.

Although the standard calls for a slight rise over the loin, the top line should be level. The rise comes from the muscling around the loin and not the spine. You want to feel good muscling around the loin. Short rib cages with long loins are a huge problem in this breed. Due to the short rib cages, we are seeing too much tuck up. Beagles hunting in thick brush need to have the protection of long rib cages with good spring of rib for lungs and short loins for agility.

The first thing to catch my eye from the front is expression. They should have a soft, pleading, hound expression. When you look at a Beagle’s face, you should want to hug it! The Beagle is not a head breed, but the head is a hallmark of the breed. Most of the expression comes from the eyes. They should be large, set well apart, with a soft and hound like expression, gentle and pleading, brown or hazel in color. You want a full eye but certainly not round or almond. We are seeing a lot of round eyes, small pig eyes and light colored eyes. This destroys the soft, hound like expression that is so important to our breed.

The skull from the occiput to the stop should equal the length of the muzzle. The skull should be slightly domed at the occiput with the cranium broad and full. In other words, you do not want to see too much dome with an exaggerated stop or a flat skull, and no wrinkles! You want plenty of back skull without it being coarse, and it should not be too narrow. The muzzle should be straight and square cut with a moderately defined stop. We do not want to see heavy brows, snipey muzzles or large flews. Since this is a scenting breed, it goes without saying they should have a nose with large, open nostrils. There is no mention of the bite in the standard, however, it does refer to level jaws, which will produce a scissor (preferred) to level bite.

In profile you want to see the skull and muzzle parallel to each other. There are quite a few down faced Beagles. This throws off the expression. The ear set should be in line with the corner of the eye, long enough to almost reach the end of the muzzle, fine in texture, rounded at the tip and lying close to the head. When checking for ear set, always look at them when they are relaxed. We do not want to see small, high set ears.

The Beagle’s neck should be of medium length. A lovely crest of neck flowing smoothly into well-Iayed back shoulders extending into a level topline ending at the base of the tail is gorgeous! The front assembly should have well-Iayed back shoulders plus the return of upper arm to match. There should be some prosternum.

The front legs should be set back under the Beagle in a direct line with the well- Iayed back shoulders. Another huge issue in this breed are fronts that are set too far forward. Also, the distance from the top of the withers to the elbow should match the distance from the elbow to the ground. The chest should come to the elbow. We are seeing way too many Beagles with chests reaching far below the elbow giving the appearance of short legs.

The legs should be straight with short pasterns and plenty of bone. Beagles with slightly curved front legs are showing up in the ring. Check the legs from the front as well as the side. You never want to see knuckling. Sometimes dogs on the table will knuckle over. If you see this, look at them on the ground to confirm or deny your observations on the table. Beagles should be examined on the table and judged on the ground!

The feet should be round and firm with full, hard pads. No flat feet, splayed feet or hare feet. Feet are very important to a hound that has to run all day.

The standard calls for a short back. If you have an animal with a short back and short loin, it can only be assumed that you have a Beagle that is square. I can forgive a little length as long as it is accompanied by two things: the extra length must be seen in the ribs and not the loin, plus the dog has to be able to move. If a Beagle is a little off square and still minces around the ring, I cannot forgive the length. I am talking about a little length and not a freight train!

The Beagle’s coat should be a close, hard, hound coat of medium length. With today’s improved shampoos you will most likely never see a hard coat. There should be a sufficient amount of coat to cover the body and tail for protection from harsh brush and brambles. When you run your hands over a Beagle, the coat should not feel thin. Having personally witnessed Beagles coming in from the field with blood flying from their tails and scrapes on their bodies, I now realize the importance of proper coats. One of the things that offends me as a Beagle breeder and judge is the practice of what I call poofing out the tails. Beagles are not Poodles! The opening up of that tail coat defeats the exact purpose for which it is intended. An open coat does not protect. My last comment about coat is to remind judges to check the topline with their hands. Many Beagles carry extra coat over their shoulders and in front of the tail area. Often times the Beagle will have a level topline but due to excess coat it will appear to be the opposite.

Strong, well-muscled hips and thighs are very important in this breed. I look for good turn of stifle flowing down to short rear pasterns. Once again we want to see round, tight feet. Always check for muscle tone and overall condition. This is a working hound and should be fit.

The tail should be set moderately high. It has a slight curve and should not be bent over the back. The tail (not including brush) should come to just above the level of the head. You will see gay tails and long tails. There should be a sufficient amount of brush to protect the tail. That does not mean it has to look like a Labrador tail. The judge should gently pull the coat away from the back of the tail to confirm there is enough brush to protect the tail.

Beagles can be any true hound color. In 30 years, the only Beagles I have seen with inappropriate color are those who have been dyed. Different markings over the back can be deceiving.

Although our standard does not mention movement, you will note that the most heavily emphasized portions directly correlate to a well-moving hound that can work all day. The best description of Beagle movement comes from longtime breeder, Mandy Bobbitt. Mandy actively hunts and shows. Mandy describes excellent Beagle movement as being long, low and efficient. Watch for good reach and drive with no interference. Beagles should not be racing around the ring.

Your first cut should be based on type. From that cut focus on soundness and movement. Balance coupled with form and function will be your guide to good Beagle judging. May your ring be filled with Merry Little Beagles exceeding in breed type, soundness and movement!