The History of Beagles: Tracing Beagle Origins and Evolution

Have you ever wondered about the history of the lovable Beagle? This small yet spirited breed has a fascinating past that goes back centuries. In this article, we’ll explore the Beagle origins, their journey from being skilled hunters to becoming popular pets and detection dogs, and how they’ve evolved over time.

About the Beagle Dog Breed

Beagles are one of the most popular dogs in America. The beagle breed is a compact, sturdy dog breed that was originally bred for rabbit hunting and would have hunted in large packs of dogs and would have been known as pocket beagles. Read some fun facts about beagles.

Beagles are scent hounds, are very food-driven, and can be difficult to train due to their stubborn nature, hunters’ instinct, and high energy level.

A miniature Foxhound, solidly built and strong for his size, with the look of wear and tear that only comes from chasing and following your prey until it is too exhausted to move. Beagles have a short, double coat and have silky long floppy ears.

The Beagle’s Ancestry and Early Beginnings

The exact origins of the Beagle breed can be a bit hazy, but most historians agree that their story began in England. You see, hunters in medieval England were quite fond of using small hounds to track and chase rabbits and other small game. These early Beagles were likely descended from a mix of different hound breeds brought over by the Romans and Normans.

“The name ‘Beagle’ is thought to have come from the Old French word ‘be’geule,’ which means ‘gaping throat’—a reference to the breed’s distinctive howl.”

By the 15th century, Beagles had become a popular choice for hunters, thanks to their keen sense of smell and relentless pursuit of prey. These early Beagles, however, were quite different from the ones we know today. They were smaller—sometimes referred to as “Glove Beagles” because they were small enough to fit on a gloved hand—and had a more varied appearance.

The Evolution of the Beagle Breed

As time went on, the Beagle continued to evolve, both in appearance and purpose. In the 18th century, breeders began crossing Beagles with larger hounds, resulting in the Southern Hound, which had a stronger build and an even better sense of smell. This new breed became a favorite among hunters, especially those pursuing foxes.

But the story of the Beagle doesn’t end there. In the 19th century, an Englishman named Reverend Phillip Honeywood established a breeding program specifically focused on developing the modern Beagle we know and love today. Honeywood’s Beagles had a more uniform appearance, with the familiar tri-color coat and classic size.

“Reverend Phillip Honeywood is considered the father of the modern Beagle.”

Around the same time, another influential figure, Thomas Johnson, began breeding Beagles for both beauty and hunting prowess. Johnson’s Beagles were smaller than Honeywood’s, but their combination of looks and skill made them incredibly popular.

Beagles Cross the Atlantic

The Beagle’s journey continued when they made their way to America in the early 1800s. American breeders were instantly captivated by these charming hounds and began to develop their own distinct lines.

However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that the Beagle truly gained popularity in the United States. In 1885, the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the breed. Around the same time, American breeders began importing English Beagles to improve their own lines. This resulted in the development of the American Beagle, which is slightly larger and heavier than its English counterpart.

The Beagle’s popularity in America continued to grow, and by the mid-20th century, they had become one of the most popular dog breeds in the country.

Beagles: More Than Just Hunters

While Beagles were originally bred as hunting dogs, their versatility and intelligence have allowed them to fill a variety of roles over time. One particularly noteworthy occupation for Beagles is that of a detection dog.

Beagles have been used by law enforcement agencies and customs departments around the world for their remarkable sense of smell. In fact, the United

States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a special team of Beagles, known as the “Beagle Brigade,” that sniffs out prohibited food items at airports and border crossings.

“The Beagle Brigade is an essential part of the USDA’s efforts to protect American agriculture from harmful pests and diseases.”

Aside from their work as detection dogs, Beagles have also excelled in various dog sports, such as agility, obedience, and rally. Their friendly nature and eagerness to please have made them popular therapy and assistance dogs as well.

The Beagle’s Enduring Popularity

Despite their storied past as hunters and working dogs, Beagles have truly found their place in the hearts of families around the world. The breed’s affectionate and playful demeanor, combined with their adaptability, makes them an ideal companion for families, singles, and seniors alike.

Here are just a few reasons why people continue to fall in love with Beagles:

  1. Size and appearance: Beagles are a perfect medium-sized breed, typically weighing between 20-30 pounds. Their compact size makes them well-suited for apartment living, while their adorable, expressive faces are hard to resist.
  2. Temperament: Known for being friendly, gentle, and good-natured, Beagles get along well with children, other pets, and even strangers. They love being part of a pack, whether it’s with their human family or other dogs.
  3. Intelligence: Beagles are smart and eager to learn. With proper training and positive reinforcement, they can be taught a wide range of commands and tricks.
  4. Energy level: Beagles have a moderate energy level, which means they enjoy daily walks and playtime, but they’re also content to snuggle up on the couch with their favorite humans.

Beagles Through The Ages

Beagles are loving, independent, strong-willed, cuddly hounds. However, to understand the Beagle breed and why they have the physical and personality characteristics we see today, we must go back in time and know why they were bred.

Where Beagles originally came from is ambiguous, and while researching this post, it became clear there are conflicting viewpoints on their origin. The following history I have pieced together includes detail where I have seen multiple sources sharing the same information, which suggests a particular point may be valid.

Grecian Dogs

Evidence suggests that the Beagle’s ancestors originated in ancient Greece as early as the 5th century. Dogs similar in size to the Beagle we know today were used for hunting.

The Talbot Hound

By Unknown painter in 16th century – Haddon Hall Photo Gallery, Public Domain,

If we move forward 300 years, during the 8th century, in Normandy (now France/Belgium), a new breed called the Talbot Hound was created. The Talbot Hound was developed from a well-known breed during that time called the St. Hubert Hound. This type of hound was used for hunting as it was a scent hound.

Some years later, during the 11th century, William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England, allegedly brought back to England the Talbot Hound.

Near to where I live in Derbyshire, England, we have a historic English Country House called Haddon Hall. There is a beautiful painting illustrating no other than a Talbot Hound.

The Southern Hound & North Country Beagle

One of the physical characteristics the Talbot Hound had inherited from the St. Hubert Hound was a slow runner due to its short legs. And so it is believed the Greyhound breed was bred with the Talbot Hound to increase its speed. This new breed was called the Southern Hound.

The Southern Hound was much taller and more substantial than Beagle we know today, and they had an excellent scenting ability. One physical characteristic they exhibited, which we see today in Beagles, was long, soft floppy ears.

Southern Hound image courtesy of

The North Country Beagle’s ancestry is less known and evidenced than the Southern Hound. The breed originated from northern parts of England, within the counties of Yorkshire and Northumberland.

It is possible the North Country Beagle originates from the pre-roman celts (British origin) and could be many centuries older than the Southern Hound, which was developed from french hounds as described above. This type of Beagle, smaller than the Southern breed, was used for hunting mainly deer and was much faster than the Southern Hound, but its scenting abilities were not as good.

The Foxhound

During the 1700s, in England, both the Southern Hound and North Country Beagle adapted well for hunting hare and rabbit. However, during this time, fox hunting had become increasingly popular, mainly due to the decline in deer population during the 15th century; deer hunters instead made hare and foxes their prey of choice.

Along came the Foxhound, which was previously used for hunting fox, again a hound with an exceptional sense of smell and excellent endurance. In addition to the Foxhound was a smaller version called the Harrier Hound.

Image courtesy of

There is conflicting evidence to suggest the Harrier hound was a direct descendant of the Foxhound.

This breed’s size was between a foxhound and a Beagle.

Beagles were allegedly developed by a harrier hound mixed with the Southern Hound (as mentioned above) and back then were known as the ‘little harrier’.

The Beagle

During the 19th century, records show that Beagles were referred to by different but similar names, for example, the northern and southern hounds from the 11th century or rough and smooth-coated Beagles.

Although these descriptions existed, they were all described as having good noses, being fast, and with sharp mouths but no real depth of tone.

In the mid-1800s, the modern Beagle started to develop, and the distinction between the southern and northern county Beagles had disappeared. However, there were still some differences in Beagles that existed during that period.

John Henry Walsh, an English sportswriter, under the pseudonym “Stonehenge.” published in his Manual of British Sports (1861) the following varieties of Beagles: a medium beagle; the dwarf or lapdog beagle (aka ‘pocket Beagle’); the fox beagle (a smaller, slower version of the Foxhound); and the rough-coated or terrier Beagle.

As with many dog breeds during this time, there was always the threat of extinction. But lucky for us Beagle owners, the danger was beginning to diminish.

With the establishment of the organization Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles, they protected the longevity of the Beagle and introduced a standard. By the early 20th century, the number of packs in the UK had increased from 18 to 44.

Beagles arrive in the US

Again there are differing views on how Beagles were exported into the US. One account is that a group of Irish immigrants took their Kerry Beagles over to the US, contributing to their development. Historically Kerry Beagles were different from the Beagles during that time and were similar to bloodhounds but smaller.

Image courtesy of

Other evidence suggests that it wasn’t until the early 1870s that a proper attempt to develop the American standard commenced.

General Richard Rowett, a famous animal breeder and leading political figure of the nineteenth century from Illinois, imported some Beagles from England for breeding. Some 30 years later in 1885, the American Kennel Club (AKC) accepted the Beagle.

Caring for Your Beagle

If you’re considering adding a Beagle to your family, you must be aware of their unique needs and characteristics. Here are some tips to help you care for your Beagle:

  • Exercise: Beagles are an active breed, so regular exercise is crucial. Daily walks, playtime, and mental stimulation will help keep your Beagle happy and healthy.
  • Grooming: Beagles have short, dense coat that requires minimal grooming. A weekly brushing should suffice to remove dead hair and maintain a healthy coat. They do shed seasonally, so be prepared for some extra fur around the house during those times.
  • Diet: Feed your Beagle high-quality, age-appropriate dog food, and be mindful of portion sizes. Beagles are known for their hearty appetites, so it’s essential to monitor their weight and adjust feeding accordingly.
  • Training: Start training your Beagle early, using positive reinforcement techniques. They can be stubborn at times, so consistency and patience are key.

Is the beagle recognized by the American Kennel Club?

The beagle was first registered by the American Kennel Club in 1885 with a Beagle named Blunder!

The AKC ranks the beagle 6th of 197 in breed popularity.

National beagle club

The National Beagle Club of America, Inc. is the AKC parent beagle club for the beagle breed and the American Registry and recognizing body for the formal beagle, basset, and harrier packs.

Are beagles part of the hound family?

Beagles are part of the wider group of dogs known as hounds.

Most hounds, including beagles, share the common ancestral trait of being used for hunting. Some, like beagles, use acute scent powers to follow a trail and prey.

Other hounds explore their gift of endurance in the relentless pursuit of quarry.

Most hounds can produce a sound known as “baying.” When deciding what type of dog to get, it’s crucial you sample their unique bark before making your final decision.

The AKC lists the below breeds as members of the hound family;

  • Afghan Hound
  • American English Coonhound
  • American Foxhound
  • Basenji
  • Basset Hound
  • Beagle
  • Black and Tan Coonhound
  • Bloodhound
  • Bluetick Coonhound
  • Borzoi
  • Cirneco dell’Etna
  • Smooth Dachshund
  • English Foxhound
  • Greyhound
  • Harrier
  • Ibizan Hound
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Norwegian Elkhound
  • Otterhound
  • Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen
  • Pharaoh Hound
  • Plott
  • Portuguese Podengo Pequeno
  • Redbone Coonhound
  • Rhodesian Ridgeback
  • Saluki
  • Scottish Deerhound
  • Treeing Walker Coonhound
  • Whippet

In Summary

From their origins as skilled hunters in England to their modern roles as beloved pets and detection dogs, Beagles have had a long and fascinating journey. Their charming personalities, intelligence, and adaptability have made them a favorite breed across the globe. If you’re lucky enough to share your life with a Beagle, you know just how special these little hounds can be.

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