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What Were Beagles Bred For? Breed History Explained

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By Nicole Cosgrove

an adorable beagle lying on grass outdoor

Beagles were originally bred as hunting dogs. They were specifically used for hunting hares, meaning the breed possesses wonderful abilities for smelling and tracking. Eventually, the Beagle was used as a detection dog and was welcomed into the home as a pet, which is their main purpose to this day.

Although these small dogs have been popular since Elizabethan times, they have a long history that dates back to the ancients. Keep reading to learn about the long and somewhat surprising history of the Beagle.

Divider 7Why Were Beagles Bred?

The Beagle was bred for one purpose—hunting. Back in the 11th century, a breed similar to the Beagle was used for deer hunting. In the more modern era, around the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Beagles were still being used for hunting, but they were primarily used for hunting hares.

Although Beagles were formerly bred for hunting purposes, they have long been a pet. Because of their small size and gentle demeanor, these dogs were often used for hunting during the day but brought home at night. This explains why Beagles are one of the most popular pets to date.

a cute Beagle puppy eating at home
Image By: New Africa, Shutterstock


The History of the Beagle

The history of the Beagle can be traced all the way back to the 11th century, though the official origins are not known. Throughout the different centuries, you can track the popularity and purpose of the Beagle throughout cultures. Here is a look at the entire history of the Beagle as we know it:

Ancient Times

Unfortunately, the official origin of the Beagle is not known. The very first record we have of a Beagle-like dog comes from the 11th century. During this century, William the Conqueror brought two different types of hounds to Britain. These hounds were then crossed with greyhounds to produce the Southern Hound, which is believed to be an ancestor to the modern Beagle.

The Southern Hound was specifically used for deer hunting. Its hound parents made the dog incredibly skilled at tracking and smelling, but the greyhound provided the species with the intense speed and stamina required for hunting deer specifically.

happy beagle in the park
Image Credit: Pixabay

Medieval Beagles

By the medieval era, the term “Beagle” first popped up, but this term was used to describe all small hounds. As a result, medieval Beagles are very different from the Beagles we know today. Still, the word describing this breed first began in the medieval eras.

In fact, kings of England actually had Beagles during this time. Edward II and Henry VII, for example, had entire packs of Glove Beagles. These pups got their names from the fact that they were so small that they could fit into a glove.

Modern Beagles

The modern era typically begins around the 1500s or 16th century. In this century, the modern Beagle begins to take form. Here is a look at the modern Beagle broken down by modern century:

16th and 17th Centuries

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Beagles were still popular among royalty. Queen Elizabeth I had Pocket Beagles that went on hunts. Even though these dogs were used for hunting, Elizabeth I used her Beagles as entertainment for guests.

By the 17th century, Queens and Kings of England were not the only ones to enjoy Beagles. Other nobility began to love the dog as well, and they became especially popular among women.

beagle in the forest
Image Credit: Daniel Albany, Pixabay

18th Century

The 18th century is when the modern Beagle truly begins to take form. By this point, the Southern Hound and North Country Beagle were developed. These different species were mixed with other dogs to perfect the skills and abilities that the Beagle has today.

All the while, Beagles continued to be a popular dog among royalty, nobility, and those with money. They were used for hunting purposes, but they were loved in the family too.

19th Century

The official basis for the modern Beagle breed dates back to the 19th century. During the 1830s, Reverend Phillip Honeywood created an Essex Beagle pack. These dogs were small, about 10 inches tall, and purely white. Prince Albert and Lord Winterton also had packs at this time. As more royalty and nobilities began favoring the Beagle, there was a revival in the breed.

Still, the Honeywood pack was the best, especially for hunting purposes. At the same time, a breeder named Thomas Johnson began refining the breed so that it was both a capable hunter and attractive. This created two different strains: the rough coat and the smooth coat.

By the 1840s, there was a relatively standard Beagle breed. There were multiple books that referred to this breed and gave very specific descriptions. Once this century came to a close, the official standard was drawn up. The Beagle Club was officially formed in 1890, thus officially beginning the history of the modern Beagle.

Image Credit: Somo_Photography, Pixabay

20th Century

The 20th century wasn’t particularly the best time for Beagles or other dogs in general. Because of World War I and World War II, Beagles were on the decline, but this was an issue for all dogs, not just Beagles.

Even so, Beagles have become one of the most popular breeds. During the 1950s, they were the number one breed. They continued to be highly popular all throughout the century, but their purpose transitioned from hunting to companionship. In other words, Beagles were used as pets, not hunting dogs.

Beagles Today

Today, the Beagle is one of the most popular pets. They are normally ranked in the top 10 most popular breeds by the American Kennel Club. Though they aren’t quite as popular as they were in the 50s, this breed is still recognizable and loved by families.

Beagles are also show dogs today because of their standards and breeding. Show Beagles are pets and treated like royalty within their own home. Occasionally, you can find Beagles that go hunting, but this is nowhere near as common as companionship Beagles.

Divider 7Final Thoughts

The Beagle is one of the most popular dogs, and with good reason. Although its origins are unknown, it is clear that the Beagle has been a popular hunting and companionship dog since the 1500s. Today, the Beagle is one of the most popular dogs to own as a pet.


Featured Image Credit: laureettaawilliams, Pixabay

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