- Plural of beagle
- third-person singular of beagle
The Beagle is a breed of medium-sized dog. A member of the Hound Group, it is similar in appearance to the Foxhound but smaller, with shorter legs and longer, softer ears. Beagles are scent hounds, developed primarily for tracking hare, rabbit, and other game. They have a keen sense of smell and tracking instinct that often sees them employed as detection dogs for prohibited agricultural imports and foodstuffs in quarantine around the world. They are popular as pets because of their size, even temper, and lack of inherited health problems. These characteristics also make them the dog of choice for animal testing.
Although beagle-type dogs have existed for over 2,000 years, the modern breed was developed in Britain around the 1830s from several breeds, including the Talbot Hound, the North Country Beagle, the Southern Hound, and possibly the Harrier.
Beagles have been depicted in popular culture since Elizabethan times in literature and paintings, and lately in film, television and comic books. Snoopy of the comic strip Peanuts has been promoted as "the world's most famous beagle".
Early beagle-type dogsDogs of similar size and purpose to the modern Beagle can be traced back to around the 5th century BC. Xenophon, born around 433 BC, in his Treatise on Hunting refers to a hound that hunted hares by scent and was followed on foot. Dogs of this type were taken to Rome and may have been imported to Roman Britain. Small hounds are mentioned in the Forest Laws of Canute which exempted them from the ordinance which commanded that all dogs capable of running down a stag should have one foot mutilated. If genuine, Canute's laws would confirm that beagle-type dogs were present in England before 1016, but it is likely they were written in the Middle Ages to give a sense of antiquity and tradition to Forest Law.
In the 11th century, William the Conqueror brought the Talbot hound to Great Britain. The Talbot was a predominantly white, slow, deep-throated, scent hound derived from the St Hubert Hound which had been developed in the 8th century. At some point the English Talbots were crossed with Greyhounds to give them an extra turn of speed. Long extinct, the Talbot strain probably gave rise to the Southern Hound which, in turn, is thought to be an ancestor of the modern day Beagle.
From medieval times, beagle was used as a generic description for the smaller hounds, though these dogs differed considerably from the modern breed. Miniature breeds of beagle-type dogs were known from the times of Edward II and Henry VII, who both had packs of Glove Beagles, so named since they were small enough to fit on a glove, and Queen Elizabeth I kept a breed known as a Pocket Beagle, which stood 8 to 9 inches (20 to 23 cm) at the shoulder. Small enough to fit in a "pocket" or saddlebag, they rode along on the hunt. The larger hounds would run the prey to ground, then the hunters would release the small dogs to continue the chase through underbrush. Elizabeth I referred to the dogs as her singing beagles and often entertained guests at her royal table by letting her Pocket Beagles cavort amid their plates and cups. Nineteenth-century sources refer to these breeds interchangeably and it is possible that the two names refer to the same small variety. In George Jesse's Researches into the History of the British Dog from 1866, the early 17th century poet and writer Gervase Markham is quoted referring to the Beagle as small enough to sit on a man's hand and to the: Standards for the Pocket Beagle were drawn up as late as 1901; these genetic lines are now extinct, although modern breeders have attempted to recreate the variety.
Eighteenth centuryBy the 1700s two breeds had been developed for hunting hare and rabbit: the Southern Hound and the North Country Beagle (or Northern Hound). The Southern Hound, a tall, heavy dog with a square head, and long ears, was common from south of the River Trent and probably closely related to the Talbot Hound. Though slow, it had stamina and an excellent scenting ability. The North Country Beagle, possibly a cross between an offshoot of the Talbot stock and a Greyhound, was bred chiefly in Yorkshire and was common in the northern counties. It was smaller than the Southern Hound, less heavy-set and with a more pointed muzzle. It was faster than its southern counterpart but its scenting abilities were less well developed. As fox hunting became increasingly popular, numbers of both types of hound diminished. The beagle-type dogs were crossed with larger breeds such as Stag Hounds to produce the modern Foxhound. The beagle-type varieties came close to extinction but some farmers in the South ensured the survival of the prototype breeds by maintaining small rabbit-hunting packs.
Development of the modern breedReverend Phillip Honeywood established a Beagle pack in Essex in the 1830s and it is believed that this pack formed the basis for the modern Beagle breed. Although details of the pack's lineage are not recorded it is thought that North Country Beagles and Southern Hounds were strongly represented; William Youatt suspected that Harriers formed a good majority of the Beagles bloodline, but the origin of the Harrier is itself obscure. Honeywood's Beagles were small, standing at about 10 inches (25 cm) at the shoulder, and pure white according to John Mills (writing in The Sportsman's Library in 1845). Prince Albert and Lord Winterton also had Beagle packs around this time, and Royal favour no doubt led to some revival of interest in the breed, but Honeywood's pack was regarded as the finest of the three. Although credited with the development of the modern breed, Honeywood concentrated on producing dogs for hunting and it was left to Thomas Johnson to refine the breeding to produce dogs that were both attractive and capable hunters. Two strains were developed: the rough- and smooth-coated varieties. The rough-coated Beagle survived until the beginning of the 20th century, and there were even records of one making an appearance at a dog show as late as 1969, but this variety is now extinct having probably been absorbed into the standard Beagle bloodline.
In the 1840s, a standard Beagle type was beginning to develop: the distinction between the North Country Beagle and Southern Hound had been lost, but there was still a large variation in size, character, and reliability among the emerging packs. In 1856, "Stonehenge" (the pseudonym of John Henry Walsh, editor of The Field), writing in the Manual of British Rural Sports was still dividing Beagles into four varieties: the medium Beagle; the dwarf or lapdog Beagle; the fox Beagle (a smaller, slower version of the Foxhound); and the rough-coated or terrier Beagle, which he classified as a cross between any of the other varieties and one of the Scottish terrier breeds. Stonehenge also gives the start of a standard description: