If you have ever been fortunate enough to own a Beagle, you may be familiar with the saying “once a Beagle owner, always a Beagle owner”. Once this loveable, playful and laid-back breed works its way into your heart, they are there for life.
A Beagle is a small to average size breed originally bred to hunt in packs, their quarry usually hare and rabbits, while their owners were on foot. Although formal hunting packs have all but died out now, the breed is still used for their keen sense of smell and is one of the most worked breeds – most people would have seen the cute Beagles at airports in Australia and New Zealand who have been trained by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service to detect illegal food substances being brought into the country. The Beagle is one of the older breeds still in existence, with their origins dating back hundreds of years to England and Europe.
The origins of the Beagle
There is a range of historical documents about the Beagle and its true origin is open to speculation. What we do know is the breed has been around for centuries. Some theories of its origin date back to pre-Christian days where small hounds hunted by scent and were followed on foot and were likely to be the ancestors of the current Beagle. King Canute who reigned in the 10th Century introduced laws to stop certain dogs entering Crown forests, except for the “Veltever” as it was too small to harm the deer. This English hound was also called “Langehren” which meant long-eared. It is thought that this reference was to the Beagle.
Other theories have Beagles originating in Greece, with their descendants brought to Britain during the Roman occupation. In the middle ages in England, there were large numbers of hunting hounds for trailing hare. It is presumed that the smaller ones were Beagles. In the 14th Century, Edward II was a keen hunting enthusiast and hare hunting became a popular sport.
King Henry VIII kept both Beagles and Buckhounds, while Queen Elizabeth I, in the 16th Century took great interest in sporting events. She had her own pack of pocket Beagles called “The Singing Beagles”. Other Royals to own Beagles included James I, William of Orange, George IV and Prince Albert who had a much-prized strain of rabbit Beagles.
Among the traditional English hunting packs, the Foxhound hunt was always conducted from horseback, with the Huntsman wearing the traditional clothing of a red coat. Beagle packs were conducted from foot with the Huntsman in the traditional green coat colour. The coats would be trimmed with colours distinct to that pack.
Colouring of Beagles
There are many variations of colour of the Beagle and any hound colour is acceptable in the breed. The colour that most people relate to a Beagle is the “blanket” tricolour. This is a blending of black, tan and white, usually with a saddle of black on the back, tan legs and head, and a white blaze in the middle of their face. More and more in Australia, people are seeing tan and white Beagles, with no black colouring. This is a perfectly acceptable variation to the Beagle colouring and is often a stunning and beautiful colour for the breed.
Regardless of the colour, which has no impact on the nature of the Beagle itself, there is one mandatory colouring on any Beagle. The tip of their tail must always be white. This is known as their “flag” or stern and is used to locate the Beagle in tall grass. When a Beagle is on the move, they will have their nose down, their tail up and the white tip of their tail waving in the wind.