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Voices of Experience: The Beagle

Top Beagle 2010. Strong and sturdy. Note the straight legs, the substance, no sign of cloddiness.

This article was originally published in Showsight Magazine, August 2019 issue.

 

Voices of Experience: The Beagle

Breeders do not always agree on an individual dog or the quality of a certain bloodline or the value of a particular stud dog or brood bitch. Yet if one asks for the basic necessities in their breed, for example a good Beagle, likely there is agreement. I have information from two well respected sources I would like to share with those breeding, exhibiting and judging the Beagle. These are voices of experience.

First a bit of history, next voices from long-time breeders with decades of experience—one East Coast and one West Coast. Finally their assessment of today’s Beagle and breeder biographies.

(All photos courtesy of Lesley Hiltz)

Some History

The word Beagle appears to have developed from ancient Celtic, French and old English languages: beag, beigh and begle—all meaning small. Greek author, Xenophon, mentions small hounds hunting with man on foot in 450 B.C. In addition, Onomasticon, a Greek dictionary by Pollux, reports dogs alongside man in 1300 B.C. Further there is mention in Chaucer in the 14th Century of a small dog accompanying man hunting hare. During the Middle Ages, two types of hounds were prevalent in England—the Northern and the Southern Hound. They were rather large hounds yet it is suspected by some that the Northern and Southern Hound were bred with the Harrier resulting in the Beagle or that the Beagle resulted from miniaturizing the ancient Harrier.

Necessary to understanding any breed is some knowledge of its history. His size, his temperament—most of the breed’s features contribute to doing a job. Even though there may not be a certifiable date of a breed’s origin, in addition to the job or purpose, clues may be derived from examining the environment and climate where a breed was developed. The Beagle’s origin is uncertain. Is it down from the Harrier, the old Southern hound or the Foxhound or both? We are not sure but we know he is a scent hound developed in Britain where he hunted rabbit and hare primarily in packs with huntsmen following mainly on foot or horseback. The local area—its terrain, climate and size of prey—determined the type of Beagle that evolved. Larger prey in England demanded a larger dog. Yet, eventually in the US, as the population of larger game declined, the Beagle’s purpose became centered on rabbit.

1978’s Top Dog. Note overall balance, clean shoulders and musculature, no heaviness.

From Survival to Sport

Out of necessity, very early man used the dog for survival to hunt his food; however, eventually that hunting activity became sport, and pastime, particularly with the aristocracy—no longer merely means for survival. Since the English landed-gentry engaged in blood sports as a social activity, they followed deer, fox, hare and badger with both large and small dogs on horseback and on foot. In England, the British aristocracy kept stockmen to rear and select Beagles for their packs. In time, an evenness and uniformity of pack became important and very competitive. Due to regional differences in terrain the dogs did not resemble each other much in general but they were very similar to each other in a given region. Many strains developed: all were used to locate, flush and drive hare to hunters.

What Are Pocket & Glove Beagles?

Popular pets with the royal family were pocket Beagles, those under 10 inches, sometimes even under 9 inches, bred for amusement and their melodious singing voices. These small Beagles could fit in a hunting coat pocket or a gauntlet. It is said the Beagle was considered little darlings of the aristocracy. However, in the latter 19 century, when more interest in fox hunting prevailed with the elite, interest in the Beagle declined. With fox hunting, rather than rabbit hunting, becoming the new fashion amongst the landed gentry in England, Ireland and Wales, the Beagle instead became the favorite of the farmers and small landowners in hunting rabbit to guns. This new ownership likely saved them from extinction.

Beagle Comes to America

It was 1873 when the British KC first recognized the Beagle; they were exhibited in packs at shows. Meanwhile here in America in 1876, General Richard Rowett of Illinois imported the first Beagles from several different kennels in England. Since so many lacked the head, body and legs of a good animal, the fanciers of the day took steps to ensure that the Beagle resemble a miniature Foxhound. A Beagle Club was formed in Philadelphia and this helped to improve type and uniformity. In 1887 a first Standard for the breed was written. In America, the National Beagle Club formed in 1890 to hold field trials for improving tracking qualities and type. After rejection by the AKC, the Beagle Club merged with the National Club to be known as the National Beagle Club. They purchased a 400-acre Institute Farm in Aldie, Virginia, which to this day is home to all the NBC activities.

One might wonder why we have both 13 and 15 inch Beagles in this country. The variety by size may be explained by the job he does. The 13″ hound is designed to get into the brush and flush out the rabbit; he needs a very protective coat. The 15″ variety chases cottontail rabbits. Cottontails run in a circle to waiting guns. Yet another theory is hunters did not feel it was fair for the under 13″ hounds to be competing/running with the under 15″.

Personality

The Beagle has always been a popular breed. He is amiable, friendly and alert. His disposition allows him to meet and face any situation. His handy size and good nature make him a great family pet. While not a guard dog in any sense, he will give voice freely at any intrusion or unusual event. Throughout the world the Beagle is known for his even, dependable temperament. Regardless of his size he is a solid, cheerful character and especially good with children. Beagles are found in nearly all countries of Europe and thanks to ground work of English and American bloodlines also seen now in some parts of Eastern Europe.

Left: 2008 Best in Show winner at Westminster. Right: Compare others to this Beagle from the 70s. Note less balance and especially rear angulation in the right-side photo.

Basic Description

The Beagle is described in his standard as a small breed; however, “big for his inches” whether 13″ or 15″ variety, he is strong, sturdy and sound. His weight is approximately 20-25 pounds. Some of our very good Beagles that measure over 15 inches here in the US go to the UK for show. It is felt that no good Beagle is a bad color: structure is way more important. From their book, The International Encyclopedia of Dogs, Annie R. Clark and Andrew Brace describe the essentials of the breed: “The head should be fairly long, slightly domed at the occiput with moderately low set ears that can reach to the end of the nose. The stop should be moderately well defined, the muzzle square cut and the large, set apart eyes should be dark brown or hazel which help to create the unique soft, pleading expression that is so very much a part of the Beagle’s charm.” (Clark and Brace)

The neck should allow him to easily scent, shoulders clean and sloping, chest broad and deep, back short, muscular and strong, with close round paws, rear well bent stifles and muscular thighs, the tail set high but never curled over the back. Gait should be free, far reaching in front and drive in the rear. Coat must be short, dense and weather resistant.

From the Breeders

From Marcelo Chagas

The Beagle standard states that Beagles should be a Foxhound in miniature. It also states that both 15″ and 13″ dogs should be proportionally the same. Unfortunately, breeders and judges alike have lost sight of this aspect. Our 15s have become big and clunky, and the 13s are small and cobby. They often do not look alike, and the idea of “the smaller and shorter the better” is far from true.

Clean and elegant, but substantial and strong is what I believe a Beagle should be. Well laid back shoulders, with a moderately angled front, and a strong forechest. The body is thick but not tubular nor is it racy. It is slightly longer than tall, to allow for correct movement. The rear is moderately angled, neither straight in hips or stifle.

I’ve seen many dogs to be beautiful examples of our standard, but I’ve also seen some that are less than satisfactory. I suppose it is up to personal preference when it comes to the finer details, but structure is structure in the ring, judges seem to want a flashy, tricolor Beagle. A Beagle should always be two of those things; happy and with a pleasing expression. Remember, a Beagle is of any hound color, and the amount of white on it doesn’t constitute a nice dog. Movement should cover ground efficiently, but does not have to be fast, or fancy.

Today’s Beagles have their faults, as do they their strengths. Every generation will be that way. It is up to us as breeders to recognize both, improve with each generation, and preserve our beautiful breed.

From Lesley & David Hiltz

What do the breeders and judges get right today and what needs to be addressed?

This is how I would like to see people judge our breed. When the dog first comes into the ring I want to have the impression of a merry hound. When I move them around the ring I am not looking for the fastest dog but the dog that takes the least number of strides for the same distance. It should be an effortless gait—this is a dog that works all day in the field and has to have endurance. Endurance is not obtained by taking lots of quick steps.

After taking the dogs around to the table, stand back and look at the dog on the table both from the side and from the front. From the side you’re looking for overall balance. From the front you are looking for straight front legs, fill in of chest and good cat feet.

Now move up to the head where you need to see a gentle, pleading expression. You don’t want to see frown or wrinkle because that makes the dog look worried and this not a characteristic of the breed.

The eye color also adds to the expression. My theory is that if the eyes are the first thing you notice then they are too light (standard says brown or hazel). Also many Beagles are appearing in the ring with small, Terrier-like eyes, which is not typical. Another feature of the expression is the ear placement, which is moderately low, set in line with the corner of the eye. All Beagles can raise their ears a little if a noise is made so it’s preferable not to do that. Have the exhibitor show you the bite, the standard just says, “jaws level”, but as breeders we all want a scissor bite, but will tolerate a level one.

Neck into shoulders—this is currently one of the more challenging areas in the breed. Many Beagles are very upright in shoulder and short in upper arm, which gives a tendency to produce a shorter, higher stepping movement in many cases. You want a firm topline and a short compact body (but this is not a square dog) with the ribs forming approximately 75% of the length of the body and a short compact loin. We are seeing a lot of very short ribs and in some cases the sternum is not coming back beyond the elbows. Please feel to see how far back the sternum comes and also check the length of rib, as we are also finding short rib cages creeping into the breed.

You want a dog with a level topline, a tail set on high and carried gaily. You should never reward a Beagle that will not put its tail up at least some of the time it is in the ring. Perhaps it just needs more ring training and socialization and on another day it may be just fine but do not reward it on this day.

Movement is not mentioned in the Beagle standard, so let me express my opinion of what I think is ideal Beagle movement. Viewed from the side the back should be level and firm, there should be no indication of a roll. The stride is free, long reaching in front and straight without high action; hind legs showing drive. The dog should not wave paws when coming and going while from the rear hocks should be parallel and not move close behind.

Then we come to color. A very large proportion of the tricolored specials in the ring today are dyed. This is because exhibitors think you have to have a black saddle to win. It should not be so, as it is the quality of the dog, not the color that you are judging, after all the standard says, “any true Hound color”. If judges would reward faded tricolors, then perhaps this practice would cease.

Some enlightenment on Beagles! Thank you for your insight David, Lesley and Marcelo!

References

  1. Gilbey, Sir Walter. Hounds of Old Days. Saiga Publications, 1979
  2. Clark, Ann R. and Brace, Andrew. International Encyclopedia of Dogs, Howell, 1995
  3. Popular Dogs, Visualization of Breed Standards. Publisher George Foley, 1962