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ILLUSTRATION SHOWING THE REVEREND PHILLIP HONEYWOOD AND HIS PACK OF BEAGLES.
History of Beagle Breeding
The concept of purebred dogs and specific breeds is very recent (a couple of centuries ago); in Antiquity and even during the Middle Ages, dogs were bred with purpose.
A Beagle Thousands Years Ago?
The Beagle, if defined by its purposes (scent and hunting) and distinct appearance (size and shape), can be traced back thousands of years ago. Indeed, dogs resembling the modern Beagles, and reputed for their excellent scent and hunting abilities, can be found as far as the 5th century BC, in the Ancient Greek civilization. Ancient Greek philosopher and soldier, Xenophon, as well as Cnut the Great later on, separately mentioned a small hound chasing hares using a remarkable sense of scent in various treatises and laws published in their respective eras. Canute even wrote about this small hound’s ability to run down a stag.
Famous King of England, William the Conqueror is with hindsight, a cornerstone in the apparition of the modern-day Beagle. In the 11th century, William the Conqueror imported the now-extinct Talbot Hound, a white, small, slow, scent hound, to Britain. Greyhounds were gently mixed with Talbot dogs to add speed, and over time, the now-extinct Southern Hound breed was born, and fell out in the 19th century to be replaced by much faster hounds, like Foxhounds, Bloodhounds, and Otterhounds.
Pocket Beagles and Glove Beagles
The Southern Hound is known as a main ancestor for our modern-day Beagle breed. However, back in the Middle Ages, the label beagle was used to designate any small-sized hound.
During those times, beagles were almost exclusively smaller version of today’s Beagles, often referred to as Pocket Beagles or Glove Beagles due to the dogs’ tiny size. The largest in these days were specimens owned by Queen Elizabeth I, standing 8 to 9 inches or 20 to 23 cm at their shoulders, in comparison to 13-to-15 inches or 33-to-38 cm at the shoulders today.
In the 1800’s, fox hunting became a lot more attractive and recreating than hunting small game animals, so Pocket Beagles and small beagle-typed dogs got gradually crossed with larger hounds, including Stag Hounds. Over several generations, the miniature Beagles turned into Foxhound-like Beagles, gaining in size, speed, and stamina along the way.
Eventually, small-sized beagles neared extinction if not for a handful of farmers in the South of Britain who kept on breeding them for rabbit and hare hunting.
Origins of the Modern Beagle Breed
Essex, England is the birthplace of the modern Beagle breed, and the date of birth is somewhere in the 1830’s. Indeed, it is there and then that Reverend Phillip Honeywood established his own pack of Beagle-like dogs. No records are to be found but it is believed that Southern Hounds and North Country Beagles were big parts of the pack.
English veterinary surgeon, William Youatt, stated that Harrier dogs were a cornerstone of modern Beagles, but the origin of Harriers is very blurry itself.
The Beagles of Reverend Phillip Honeywood were smaller than today’s Beagle dogs at 10 inches (25 cm) at the shoulders. John Mills, writing in The Sportsman’s Library in 1845, described Honeywood’s Beagles as plain white, while also mentioning the two other royal Beagle packs from Prince Albert and Lord Winterton. However, Honeywood’s pack of Beagles was then regarded as the finest of all.
Honeywood had clear ambitions for his Beagle breeding program: produce Beagles that will be used for their hunting abilities. His friend and associated, Thomas Johnson, was gifted with the mission of working on the Beagle’s appearance, and trying to make it more appealing to the general public (without losing their hunting skills.)
At this point, two Beagles varieties appeared: the rough-coated Beagles, and smooth-coated Beagles. The rough-coated lines have now disappeared, probably cannibalized by the smooth-coated bloodlines in the middle of the 20th century. Towards the 1840’s, standardization was an important matter, especially to homogenize the huge differences in sizes in existing Beagle packs:
the medium beagle;
the dwarf or lapdog beagle;
the fox beagle; and
the rough-coated or terrier beagle.
In 1856, John Henry Walsh (often referred to by his pseudonym Stonehenge) started drafting a standardized description of the Beagle breed:
In size the beagle measures from 10 inches, or even less, to 15. In shape they resemble the old southern hound in miniature, but with more neatness and beauty; and they also resemble that hound in style of hunting.
Approaching 1900, there were only 18 packs of Beagles in England and the breed was slowly but surely disappearing. In 1890, The Beagle Club was formed and with it came the first Beagle standard. A year after, the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles was formed. These two associations had a clear vision and worked hard to standardize and promote the Beagle breed from then onwards.
In 1902, a formal count tallied the number of Beagle packs at 44, showing an increase of over 100% in just ten years. The modern Beagle breed was on the rise in England, and it was just the beginning!
Beagle Exports to the United States
The first specimens exported to the United States are dated around 1845 and were of poor conformation since the standard was only formally created a few decades later. They resembled straight-legged Dachshunds and had very little to do with current Beagle dogs.
The first quality Beagle bloodline in North America was bred and polished by General Richard Rowett, from Illinois, who imported English Beagles in the early 1870s. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Beagle breed in 1885. Wikipedia states that “Rowett’s Beagles are believed to have formed the models for the first American standard, drawn up by Rowett, L. H. Twadell, and Norman Ellmore in 1887.”
From the 20th century onwards, the Beagle was spreading worldwide and his hunting reputation started fading while his companionship was on the rise. The increase in Beagle conformation shows organized by the AKC in US, but also in Great Britain by the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles, boosted the breed’s public awareness.
Famous Owners of Beagles
Just like English Bulldogs, the Beagle breed has its whole heap of famous owners, starting with the Queen Elizabeth I who was owning several of them. In the White House, the President Lyndon B. Johnson had two Beagles (named Him and Her, literally) during his presidential terms from 1963 to 1969. Other famous Beagle owners include Andy Cohen, Frankie Muniz, and Barry Manilow.
Nowadays, Beagles are ensuring we remain safe on US territories thanks to the Beagle Brigade bred and trained by the US Department of Homeland Security. Beagles have a very acute scent so breeders tend to focus on specializing Beagle bloodlines in sniffing out narcotics and fresh products at airports.
Pocket Beagle height standards is 12" at shoulder or shorter and less than 20 lbs on a proper diet.