The Beagle is a breed of small to 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 great sense of smell and tracking instinct that sees them employed as detection dogs for prohibited agricultural imports and foodstuffs in quarantine around the world. Beagles are intelligent, and 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 Great 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 more recently in film, television and comic books. Snoopy of the comic strip Peanuts has been promoted as “the world’s most famous beagle”.
The Beagle has an even temper and gentle disposition. Described in several breed standards as “merry”, they are amiable and typically neither aggressive nor timid, although this depends on the individual. They enjoy company, and although they may initially be standoffish with strangers, they are easily won over. They make poor guard dogs for this reason, although their tendency to bark or howl when confronted with the unfamiliar makes them good watch dogs. In a 1985 study conducted by Ben and Lynette Hart, the Beagle was given the highest excitability rating, along with the Yorkshire Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Miniature Schnauzer, West Highland White Terrier and Fox Terrier.
Beagles are intelligent but, as a result of being bred for the long chase, are single-minded and determined, which can make them hard to train. They are generally obedient, but can be difficult to recall once they have picked up a scent, and are easily distracted by smells around them. They do not generally feature in obedience trials; while they are alert, respond well to food-reward training, and are eager to please, they are easily bored or distracted. They are ranked 72nd in Stanley Coren‘s The Intelligence of Dogs, as Coren places them among the group with the lowest degree of working/obedience intelligence. Coren’s scale, however, does not assess understanding, independence, or creativity.
Beagles are excellent with children and this is one of the reasons they have become popular family pets, but they are pack animals, and can be prone to separation anxiety. Not all Beagles will howl, but most will bark when confronted with strange situations, and some will bay (also referred to as “speaking”, “giving tongue”, or “opening”) when they catch the scent of potential quarry. They also generally get along well with other dogs. They are not too demanding with regard to exercise; their inbred stamina means they do not easily tire when exercised, but they also do not need to be worked to exhaustion before they will rest. Regular exercise helps ward off the weight gain to which the breed is prone.
Beagle in Popular Culture
Beagles have been featured across a wide range of media. References to the dog appear before the 19th century in works by such writers as William Shakespeare, John Webster, John Dryden, Thomas Tickell, Henry Fielding and William Cowper, and in Alexander Pope‘s translation of Homer‘s Iliad. Beagles appeared in funny animal comic strips and animated cartoons from the 1950s with the Peanuts character Snoopy (billed as “the world’s most famous Beagle”), Walt Disney‘s Beagle Boys, Odie, Garfield’s friend and “chew dog” and Beegle Beagle, the constant companion of Hanna-Barbera‘s Grape Ape. They have appeared in numerous films, taking a central role in Underdog, Cats & Dogs and its sequel, and the title roles in the adaptation of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor‘s book Shiloh. They have played supporting roles in films including Audition, The Monster Squad, I Am Number Four and The Royal Tenenbaums, and on television in Star Trek: Enterprise, EastEnders, The Wonder Years, and To the Manor Born among others. Former US President Lyndon Baines Johnson had several Beagles, and caused an outcry when he picked up one of them by its ears during an official greeting on the White House lawn. The ship on which Charles Darwin made the voyage which provided much of the inspiration for On the Origin of Species was named HMS Beagle after the breed, and, in turn, lent its name to the ill-fated British Martian lander Beagle 2. Gromit of Wallace and Gromit is also a beagle. [Excerpts adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.]
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