The homeland of this breed is Great Britain. The Beagle, or the small English hound, has its origins in ancient times. It is known that the “ash” dogs discovered during archaeological excavations dating back to the “bronze” age (4-5 thousand years BC) are the ancestors of Hounds, Dachshunds.
The first written evidence of the use of dogs in hunting other animals can be found in the Greek dictionary Onomasticon (2nd century AD). The ancient Greek writer Xenophon, a hunting enthusiast, mentions in his writings about small hounds, which were used to hunt hares and rabbits on foot. Numerous monuments of art, mostly antique, that have survived to this day, vividly testify to the development of hunting breeds – images of hunting dogs are found on frescoes, bas-reliefs, and various vessels. Antique pottery from that period illustrates 2 types of Hounds: small, with powerful jaws and long ears, and long-legged, with a thinner snout and short ears.
The history of the emergence of the “Beagle” breed is vague, its roots go back to the very distant past. As the researchers suggest, small Greek and Roman Hounds came to the British Isles with Celtic tribes, over time they interbred with local species of dogs, as a result of which several hunting breeds arose, the development and formation of which was widespread in England.
There are suggestions that there were medium-sized Hounds in the territory of modern Great Britain, mainly in Wales, which were used to hunt hares. Documentary evidence suggests that King Edward the Confessor hunted with a little hound. Around the same time, William the Conqueror brought to England from the continent a large, predominantly white hound – Talbothound (now it does not exist). Probably, these varieties of Hounds were the distant ancestors of modern Beagles.
By the 15th century, small Hounds were widespread not only in England, but also in France, Greece, Italy, and the first mention of the Beagle as a breed in the “Squire of Low Degree” refers to 1475.
An interesting observation lies in the name of the breed. If you pay attention to the names of the hound breeds, you can immediately determine the “object” of the hunt. For example, a Foxhound is a fox, a Harrier is a hare. Whom did they hunt with the Beagle? The ability to publish a lingering, melodic barking, “singing”, probably formed the basis of the name of the breed – from the French “Begueule”, which in language correspondence is “tinned throat”. Another version of the origin of the name suggests that the root was the Old English “Begle”, or the Celtic “Beag”, or the Old French “Beigh”, which means “small” and were used to apply to all small Hounds, regardless of their origin.
In the Middle Ages, hunting was a favorite pastime of the English aristocracy. Little Hounds were favored by King Henry VIII. At the court of Queen Elizabeth I, they kept a pack of “singing Beagles”, so named after their characteristic bark, which they uttered during the rut. Presumably, the then 9-inch Beagle was so small that it could fit in a woman’s glove, and several pairs of Beagle were freely placed in the hunter’s bag. This small variety of Hounds made it possible for less hardy women and children to hunt hares and rabbits on foot.
Over the next several centuries, the Beagle’s role as a hound did not change significantly. They were kept in packs throughout Britain and used to hunt small animals. It should be noted that English hunting in the 16-18 centuries was a bright, colorful show with dressing up and became practically a national sport. A huge number of Hounds took part in the hunting competitions, the hunt was carried out on foot or on horseback, the winner was the one who first followed the trail to the goal. Long-legged Foxhounds gradually replaced the Beagle, making hunting more exciting and faster.
At the same time, the owners of the pack of Beagles, English farmers, and small landowners, conducted purely individual breeding work, each pack of Beagles was different in its type and size. In the 18th century, according to an unknown author, at least two varieties could be traced: the South English Beagle, a heavier and slower one, and the North English Beagle, mobile and light. At the same time, Stonehenge, in his book “A Handbook of British Sports” (1861), tracks four varieties of Hounds – the medium-sized Beagle (southern and northern), the dwarf Beagle, the Fox-Beagle (similar to the Foxhound), and the long-haired or Terrier Beagle.
In the middle of the 19th century. the breed was almost on the verge of extinction and the loss of the main breed characteristics, but thanks to the owners-enthusiasts of Hound packs (as well as those who preferred small dogs with little appetite), Beagles began to be shown first at hunting shows, and then at outdoor shows, as a result of which the type and size of small Hounds have become more versatile. In 1890, the Beagle Club was formed with the aim of breeding beagles for exhibitions and sports, in 1895 the breed standard was approved, and in 1897 the first exhibition of the Beagle Club was organized. In parallel, in 1891, the Harrier and Beagle Owners Association assumed responsibility for preparing packs for hunting purposes.
In the 30s-40s of the 20th century, the number of Beagle livestock decreased significantly, but after the 2nd World War, the number of dogs shown at exhibitions began to increase. For comparison, in 1950 the Kennel Club registered 64 dogs, and in 1960 there were already 1519.
Nowadays, the hunting purpose is a little lost, but the popularity of the Beagle as a companion pet or show dog does not fade away. A modern Beagle is a pleasant and harmonious exterior, lively and friendly temperament, intelligence and intelligence in the eyes – and a sea of charm!
Beagles are very popular, in addition to European countries, also in the USA (the American standard has approved 2 height variations of beagles – 13 and 15 inches), Australia, New Zealand, South Africa. Interestingly, thanks to their well-developed instinct, in some countries, the Beagles work in airports and customs services to search for explosives and other prohibited substances.