Beagle Origins – History, Characteristics, and Uses

Beagles are among the most popular breeds of dogs worldwide, and their history is just as interesting as their popularity. The breed was created by mixing several different types of hounds, including the Harrier, the Talbot Hound, and the North Country Beagle. In this blog post, we’ll explore the origins of the Beagle, where they come from, and how they became one of the most popular breeds in the world.

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.

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.

Beagle origin

Beagles are a very old dog breed, which makes dating their exact origins difficult. We know that modern-day beagles likely lived in England during the Roman Empire era, possibly even before that.

Beagles became popular with the rise of fox hunting, and records and paintings show the beagle to be much smaller than their modern-day cousins, often carried in the hunter’s pocket.

The beagle is a scent hound that is similar in appearance to the larger foxhound.

The modern breed was developed in England around the 1830s from several breeds, including the Talbot Hound, the North Country Beagle, the Southern Hound, and possibly the Harrier.

The AKC has grouped all of the breeds into seven categories, or groups, roughly based on function and heritage.

Beagles are a popular pet due to their size, good temper, and lack of inherited health problems.

What were beagles originally bred to do?

The beagle dog breed was bred for hunting, as scent hounds to track down rabbits and other small animals.

The beagle was a much smaller dog back then and would have been used to hunt rabbits and other small animals in the wild and were known as pocket beagles, as they were small enough to fit in the hunter’s pocket!

Beagles history – Where did beagles originate from?

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 need to 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 as early as the 5th century in ancient Greece. Dogs similar 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, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5782736

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, allegedly William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England, 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 https://www.oldbookillustrations.com/illustrations/southern-hound/

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 https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/english-foxhound/

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 with 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 was starting 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 https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/beagle/

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 Beagle was accepted by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Where does the word Beagle come from?

It has been suggested the word “Beagle’s” originates from the French “begueule” which means ‘open throat’ from ‘begle’ or ‘to scold’ Another possible origin is that the term originated from the French word beugler, which means, “to bellow” Another possibility is that it originated from the Gaelic word beag “small,” or from the Ge

Beagle Care

Beagles are notoriously difficult to train and command. However, a beagle loves food, so with plenty of patience and a handful of training treats you can train your beagle to do most things.

Beagles have short, water-resistant coats with a moderate to high rate of shedding.

Walk your dog once or twice daily and give it plenty of chances to run and play.

They enjoy sniffing everything along walks, which will exercise your dog’s mind and body.

Is the beagle recognized by the American Kennel Club?

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

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

The beagle comes in a variety of colors, and the American Kennel Club (AKC) lists the colors approved by the breed standard as:

  • Black and tan
  • Tan and white
  • Lemon and white
  • Red, white and black
  • Bluetick, tan and black
  • Black, tan and white
  • White, tan and black
  • Blue, tan and white
  • Brown and white
  • Tan, white and brown
  • Red and white

National beagle club

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

You can find their website here.

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 pup to get, it’s important you sample their unique bark before making your final decision.

The AKC list 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

Summary

The Beagle breed goes back a long way, a breed that most probably started out as a hunter, bred to serve a purpose through the ages but has now found a place in loving homes worldwide.