The National Beagle Club promotes conformation in hunting Beagles because it is so important for emphasis on longevity and to keep the “type” in Beagles. See NBC’s “Visualization of the Beagle Standard“, with photos, to help clarify the Beagle Standard when judging or comparing conformation.
The earliest dogs that were referred to as “Beagles” were small hound dogs that stood at 8 to 9 inches tall. These tiny dogs were called “Pocket Beagles” since they were literally small enough to fit into the pockets of hunters. In the mid-18th century, hunting increased in popularity and larger dogs became the preferred trail companions, leading to this line of miniature Beagles being overlooked, and Pocket Beagles were eventually extinct in 1901.
In the 18th century, two new hound breeds were developed: The Southern Hound and the North Country Beagle. As fox hunting increased in popularity, these dogs were crossed with larger dog breeds such as Stag Hounds, eventually creating the Foxhound.
The 1840’s brought the development of the standard Beagle and the distinction of four different Beagle varieties: Medium Beagle, dwarf/lapdog Beagle, fox Beagle, and the rough-coated/terrier Beagle. In 1887, there were only 18 documented packs of Beagles left in England. However, Beagle lovers were determined to preserve their lineage. The Beagle Club and the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles were founded in 1890 and 1891 respectively, and came together to raise the number of Beagle packs in existence to 44 by 1902.
In the early 1870’s, General Richard Rowett from Carlinville, Illinois was one of the first people to import Beagles from England to the US to begin establishing a quality bloodline. Rowett’s Beagles are said to have served as the models for the first American standard Beagles. The breeding continued and Beagles were recognized by the AKC in 1884.
Beagles were in the United States by the 1840s at the latest, but the first dogs were imported strictly for hunting and were of variable quality. Since Honeywood had only started breeding in the 1830s, it is unlikely these dogs were representative of the modern breed and the description of them as looking like straight-legged Dachshunds with weak heads has little resemblance to the standard. Serious attempts at establishing a quality bloodline began in the early 1870s when General Richard Rowett from Illinois imported some dogs from England and began breeding. 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. The Beagle was accepted as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1885. In the 20th century the breed has spread worldwide.
The National Beagle Club of America was formed in 1888 and by 1901 a Beagle had won a Best in Show title. As in the UK, activity during World War I was minimal, but the breed showed a much stronger revival in the U.S. when hostilities ceased. In 1928 it won a number of prizes at the Westminster Kennel Club’s show and by 1939 a Beagle – Champion Meadowlark Draughtsman – had captured the title of top-winning American-bred dog for the year.
On 12 February 2008, a Beagle, K-Run’s Park Me In First (Uno), won the Best In Show category at the Westminster Kennel Club show for the first time in the competition’s history. In North America they have been consistently in the top-ten most-popular breeds for over 30 years. From 1953 to 1959 the Beagle was ranked No. 1 on the list of the American Kennel Club’s registered breeds; in 2005 and 2006 it ranked 5th out of the 155 breeds registered. In the UK they are not quite so popular, placing 28th and 30th in the rankings of registrations with the Kennel Club in 2005 and 2006 respectively. In the United States the Beagle ranked 4th most popular breed in 2012 and 2013, behind the Labrador Retriever (#1), German Shepherd (#2) and Golden Retriever (#3) breeds.
It has been suggested that the word “Beagle” was derived from the French “begueule” which means “open throat” from bayer and “mouth” from gueule, from the Gaelic word beag “small,” or from the German word begele “to scold.” Another possibility is that the term originated from the French word beugler, which means, “to bellow.”
Beagles were developed primarily for hunting hare, an activity known as beagling. They were seen as ideal hunting companions for the elderly who could follow on horseback without exerting themselves, for young hunters who could keep up with them on ponies, and for the poorer hunters who could not afford to maintain a stable of good hunting horses. Before the advent of the fashion for foxhunting in the 19th century, hunting was an all day event where the enjoyment was derived from the chase rather than the kill. In this setting the tiny Beagle was well matched to the hare, as unlike Harriers they would not quickly finish the hunt, but because of their excellent scent-tracking skills and stamina they were almost guaranteed to eventually catch the hare. The Beagle packs would run closely together (“so close that they might be covered with a sheet”) which was useful in a long hunt, as it prevented stray dogs from obscuring the trail. In thick undergrowth they were also preferred to spaniels when hunting pheasant.
Currently there are several parent clubs and multiple formats within each to accommodate different styles of Beagles when running rabbits. AKC/NBC, NKC/ARHA, UKC. Small Pack Option, Large Pack Option, Gun Dog, Little Pack, Progressive Pack, Brace, etc. In addition, there are usually conformation “bench” shows at each trial, not to be confused with AKC all-conformation shows and performance classes like agility, barn hunt, dock diving and more.