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 small 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 popular pets because of their size, even temper, and lack of inherited health problems.
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”.
Dogs of similar size and purpose to the modern Beagle can be traced in Ancient Greece back to around the 5th century BC. Xenophon, born around 430 BC, in his Treatise on Hunting or Cynegeticus refers to a hound that hunted hares by scent and was followed on foot. Small hounds are mentioned in the Forest Laws of Canute which exempted them from the ordinance which commanded that all dogs capable of running down a stag should have one foot mutilated. If genuine, these laws would confirm that beagle-type dogs were present in England before 1016, but it is likely the laws were written in the Middle Ages to give a sense of antiquity and tradition to Forest Law.
The general appearance of the Beagle resembles a miniature Foxhound, but the head is broader and the muzzle shorter, the expression completely different and the legs shorter in proportion to the body. They are generally between 13 and 16 inches (33 and 41 cm) high at the withers and weigh between 18 and 35 lb (8.2 and 16 kg), with females being slightly smaller than males on average.
Beagles appear in a range of colors. Although the tricolour (white with large black areas and light brown shading) is the most common, Beagles can occur in any hound colour.
Tricoloured dogs occur in a number of shades, from the “Classic Tri” with a jet black saddle (also known as “Blackback”), to the “Dark Tri” (where faint brown markings are intermingled with more prominent black markings), to the “Faded Tri” (where faint black markings are intermingled with more prominent brown markings). Some tricoloured dogs have a broken pattern, sometimes referred to as pied. These dogs have mostly white coats with patches of black and brown hair.