Loyal and Lively: Beagles Are Popular Family Pets

By Julie Rach

Although Snoopy is probably the most well-known representative of his breed, Charlie Brown isn't the only dog owner to appreciate the loyal personality and lively nature of the beagle. The American Kennel Club has consistently listed the beagle in the top 10 of its most popular breeds list, and for 1999 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), the beagle ranked fifth. Let's see why this little hound has such a big following.

A Long History

Beagles are the smallest and among the oldest known of the hounds. The breed can trace its beginnings to Great Britain, where various scenthounds (dogs that hunt with their sense of smell rather than their sense of sight) were bred together over the years to create the beagle. Among the breeds contributing to the beagle's lineage are bloodhounds, Talbots, and gazehounds.

Exactly how the beagle got its name is unclear. Some reports trace the name back to the Old French word for "open throat," an obvious reference to the beagle's baying call, while others indicate that the name comes from either the Celtic, Old English or Old French word for "small." In either case, this small, baying hound comes by its name naturally.

While the current queen of England is known for her love of corgis and dachshunds, previous rulers of England were quite fond of beagles. King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, King James I, William III of Orange, and Queen Victoria were just some of the royal beagle owners. Queen Elizabeth I was alleged to have a pack of so-called pocket beagles that stood about 5 inches tall, and many of the pack could ride comfortably in a saddlebag. This pocket-sized variety was popular into the 1800s because hunters could easily carry them across rough country in a coat pocket. In contrast, today's beagles are recognized in three heights: 13- and 15-inch tall varieties are recognized in America, and a 16-inch tall dog is also recognized in Great Britain.

Beagles are recognized in any true hound color and are most often seen as tricolors (brown, black, and white). Beagles that are shown competitively are judged against a breed standard and against other dogs competing in the same competition. The breed standard for the beagle calls for the following traits: slightly domed skull; well-defined lips; fine-textured ears that hang with a graceful fold; smooth coat; moderately deep chest; well-sprung ribs; solid thighs; compact, sturdy feet; well-padded paws, and erect tail.

Beagles first were registered with the American Kennel Club in 1885, but they looked significantly different than the dogs we know today. Descriptions of those beagles that have been passed down indicate that they more closely resembled basset hounds or dachshunds than the beagles we know today. Beagles were first used in America for fox and rabbit hunting.

Although they are now best-known as pets, beagles also can be found working as detection dogs for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At international airports, "Beagle Brigade" handlers train their green-jacketed dogs to sniff out illegal agricultural products and other contraband in the luggage of travelers entering the United States.

Cheerful Companions

Beagles are loving pets that want to please their owners. They accept other dogs and are friendly toward strangers. They are content to be part of a family and adapt well to either rural or urban homes if they receive adequate exercise and companionship, (although their tendency to bark excessively may make them unsuitable for apartment and condominium living). Their playful nature makes them sought-after as pets, and their sturdy, compact frame allows them to roughhouse with children without fear of injury to themselves or the children.

In temperate areas, beagles can live outdoors with a proper doghouse and warm bedding. However, most owners find this breed so charming that the beagle quickly becomes a treasured house dog and family companion.

The beagle's short, smooth coat requires daily brushing and regular bathing. Some dogs may develop oily skin, so more frequent baths may be required. Other care requirements include a balanced diet and regular exercise to prevent obesity. Beagles can be true "chow hounds" and will eat themselves into obesity if allowed to do so. The recommended weight range for a beagle is 18 to 30 pounds.

Another important care consideration is an escape-proof yard. Because beagles have been bred to follow their noses, they are prone to escape from their yard if something interesting catches their attention. Beagles can get over or under a fence with ease, so take steps to ensure that your yard is completely secure for your pet's safety.

The beagle's nose also can get it into trouble in another way. Some dogs ignore everything else when their nose detects an attractive scent, and they will trail that scent as far as they can. Because a beagle can be distracted easily by such scents, regular and consistent use of a leash, coupled with early obedience training, is strongly recommended. Owners also need to train themselves to not spoil their beagles, which is easy to do because these little hounds can be such affectionate, captivating companions.

In addition to being wonderful companion animals, beagles can be trained to compete in field and agility trials. Such activities give them a purpose and an outlet for their sometimes high energy levels, and the activities also help bring dog and owner closer together.

By looking at its long history and its appealing personality, it's easy to see why so many dog owners think the beagle is a top dog!

Julie Rach is a freelance writer based in Oceanside, California.

For More Information

Beagles-on-the Web - http://www.beagles-on-the-web.com/

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