History and Development
Like so much of what is now regarded as English, the ancestors of the Beagle seem to have come to England with William the Conqueror. The Talbot hounds which he brought with him were the progenitors of the Southern hound which, in turn gave rise to the Beagle. Hunting dogs which relied on scent rather than sight were well-known in England as early as the beginning of the 16th century and one of the first references to this breed, by name, appears in the Privy Accounts of Henry VIII where payment is recorded to a Robert Shere, die “Keeper of the Beagles”. The deforestation of the 17th and 18th centuries provided more open country for horse-riding and greatly reduced the number of deer, leaving the (ox and hare as the main objectives for sportsmen on horseback. The second Duke of Buckingham (1687) was one of the first to keep a genuine pack of foxhounds.
By the beginning of the 19th century. Beagles were said to exist in several sizes. Reinagle, in the Sportsman’s Cabinet in 1804 says: “They are the smaller of the hound race in this country, are exquisite in the scent of the hare and indefatigably vigilant in their pursuit of her”. He also says “Though wonderfully inferior in point of speed yet equally energetic in persevering pursuit, they follow her through all her windings, unravel all her mazes, explore her labyrinths and by scent alone trace and retrace her footsteps to a degree of admiration that must be seen to be properly understood, during which the soft melodious tone of their emulous vociferation seems to be the most predominant inducement to the well-known ecstatic pleasure of the chase”.
An artist, J. F. Herring, painted a picture of Prince Albert, the Prince Consort of Queen Victoria, together with his Beagles. Prince Albert acquired his Beagles in 1841 when about a dozen were kept at Cumberland Lodge. The painting was executed at about this time, and is not the only one which portrays the devotion to the breed of the British Royal family at that time another was painted about ten years after, of Queen Victoria’s Beagles, descendants no doubt of those Beagles shown in the I [erring portrait of 1841. In both paintings the dogs are very small.
These Pocket Beagles were hunted on foot but had considerable difficulty in traversing ploughed fields and in clambering up the banks of streams or drains and they frequently required assistance to prevent them from drowning. Small though they were (often only 9″ high) they were nevertheless models of symmetry and power, working well even in bad scenting conditions and able to keep up their work through thick furze brakes, for five hours at a stretch.
About 1880, a number of Beagles from the Royal Rock pack, were imported from England into the United States and these had a good deal of influence on the development of American Beagles. The National Beagle Club was formed in America in 1888 and the Beagle Club in the United Kingdom in 1890. Breeding to a set show standard has been more widely practised in the United States than in England and furthermore, the American Beagle breeds extremely true to type, a somewhat different type from the British, although some American Beagles have been imported and successfully integrated into British bloodlines. Whereas the hunting Beagle has not altered, except in size, in recent years, the show Beagle has become shorter-coupled and more compact, better in skull, foreface and expression and improved in reach of neck and lay-back of shoulder.
Many packs are still hunted under the Rules of the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles which was founded in 1891; the main U.K. Show for these pack Beagles is at Peterborough.
Over the last few years the Beagle has gained tremendously in popularity. In 1945 only one was registered with the English Kennel Club but in the first sewn months of 1970, 1,875 were registered. After the Cocker Spaniel (American) it was No. 1 in the U.S.A. but gave way to the Poodle. Presently fourth it registers some 65,000 a year. Individual hunting with Beagles is practised by thousands in the United States and, in addition, many packs are regularly hunted.
Both the U.K. and U.S.A. Standards provide that any true hound color is acceptable but the tricolors attract much preference, particularly the “black blanket” coloration – an all-black back and the head, sides of neck, flanks, shoulders and top of the legs and the greater part of the stern are all of tan; the lower part of the legs and feet, the chest and tip of the tail are white. An interesting tact about the tricolors is that they are whelped almost black and white, the tan coming through as they grow on.
Pieds are not quite so popular as the tricolor but are very attractive, with their basic white marked with various shades of lemon, tan and sable (badger). Liver, white and tan is not very common; almost always they have yellow eyes and this rather unattractive feature may account for their relative unpopularity.
Mottles, that is dogs with white portions flecked heavily with blue or tan, have always been popular in hunting Beagles but are not often seen in those bred for showing.
A pack or a single dog needs a regular, and well-balanced routine. The program should include plenty of controlled exercise both on and off the leash, proper regular feeding and periods of rest. Beagles need no peculiar additions to the normal diet for a more-than-usually active hound. Although trencher feeding is usual with pack hounds, show hounds are individually fed in order to ensure that each dog gets its fair share of food and so is maintained in top condition.
One may ask what has caused this sudden increase in the number of these merry little hounds with big hearts; I would say attractive qualities, a disposition different from any other hound, adaptability to indoor or outdoor life, they are not aggressive and are very easy to take around, taking up very little room in a car or public conveyance. They are especially good with children and as house dogs are easy to keep clean, their fine close coats need no trimming and have the advantage of hardly bringing any dirt into the house. They can switch in an instant from being a lovable pet to an out-door dog, all-a-quiver and full of go. As there is no difference in the temperament of the sexes a dog hound makes an ideal companion for the whole family.
The preference in the U.S.A. for a smaller dog is shown in the Standards-the height limit in the U.S.A. is 15″ and in the U.K. 16″. In America there is a smaller type of Beagle under 13″ which competes separately from those under 15″. In other details there is little difference between the two Standards. The U.S. Standard however calls (or a moderately defined stop and the U.K. for a well defined stop. In general appearance it should he a compactly built hound without coarseness, conveying the impression of great stamina and an ability to keep going.
The head is a hound head with drooping ears and long leathers. The skull domed, moderately wide with an indication of peak. The muzzle, of medium length should not be snipey and while Hews are required by the English Standard they are not by the American. The nose is black, broad and the keenly scenting nostrils well expanded. The eves have a mild, gentle expression.
The throat shows some dewlap but although the American Standard says that the throat should be free from folds of skin it allows a slight wrinkle below the angle of the jaw. The shoulders should be clean and slightly sloping with the forelegs quite straight, well under the dog and of good substance and round in bone.
Short between the couplings, the body is well let down in chest, ribs fairly well ribbed up. Loins powerful but not tucked up. The hindquarters are very muscular about the thighs; stifles and hocks well bent and hocks well let down. Feet are round, well knuckled up and strongly padded. The tail is of moderate length set-on high (“moderately high” in U.S. Standard) and carried gaily but not curled over back.
The coat of the smooth variety is not too fine or short but, as with the rough variety, very dense.
Selections from the book: “The World Encyclopedia of Dogs” (1971)