Beagles are gentle, fun-loving hounds who enjoy long meandering walks followed by plenty of down time next to their owners. Small in stature, beagles were bred to be hunting dogs and to this day are led by their nose. Their sharp sense of smell makes them a top choice for small-game hunters, and you’ll often see them employed as detection dogs searching for contraband at U.S. borders. This breed requires plenty of daily exercise, but is otherwise low-maintenance. These petite pups have long been a favorite of American families and currently rank as the seventh most popular breed on the American Kennel Club’s list.
Easily recognizable due to her big brown eyes and square floppy ears, the beagle is a popular small to mid-sized hound breed. There are technically two types of beagles: a smaller version weighing 20 pounds and under; and a slightly larger, 20- to 35-pound version. Their bodies are small but mighty and pack plenty of power.
All beagles have a short, smooth double coat that comes in myriad colors, but is most frequently seen in tricolor of black, tan, and white, or blue, tan and white. Other acceptable colorways, according to the National Beagle Club of America, are: tan and white; lemon and white; red and white; and chocolate and white. Their thick coats are prone to moderate shedding throughout the year, with a heavy shedding season each spring. Beyond frequent brushing and general health upkeep, these popular hounds are low-maintenance.
Friendly, playful, and compact, it’s no wonder the beagle has long been a family favorite. These high-energy hounds need plenty of daily exercise, but once properly exhausted they’re more than happy to hang at home with their people. Beagles love to play. They make great companions for children and do well with other dogs and cats. As with any breed, it’s important to properly socialize your beagle from a young age. Though not considered aggressive, beagles can be mouthy in play and may react to children tugging their ears and tails. It’s important to teach children how to properly interact with dogs and always supervise them when playing with any dog.
It’s no surprise beagles are loud. “We bred that into them,” says Brian Kilcommons, founder of The Great Pets Resort, a training facility in Connecticut. “When a beagle is running in the field in those big circles, the baying does two things: one, it spooks the rabbits out of hiding, and two, it lets the hunter know where the dog is.”
Beagles can make good watch dogs and will alert owners to intruders—just don’t expect them to follow up with anything other than a welcoming wag of the tail. Because of their noise level and high prey drive, this breed can become too much if not properly trained and cared for. These pack hounds are also happiest with company, and shouldn’t be left alone for too long (if so, they will howl for hours on end).
Beagles are smart, curious dogs, but don’t expect them to quickly obey your every command. “Beagles were bred to have their nose on the ground, get a scent, and follow it—the brain basically goes into overdrive on scent work,” Kilcommons says. It’s very possible to train a beagle, but it will require lots of patience and consistent positive-reinforcement training sessions. Take recall. What may take certain breeds 20 minutes to learn, “with a beagle you’re probably talking about two weeks,” Kilcommons says. Once well-trained, though, beagles make great working dogs. Coupled with their fine-tuned sense of smell and friendly faces, this breed is favored by the United States Department of Agriculture at airports and entry points across the country.
Bred as scent hounds that hunt in packs, beagles are notorious for always having their heads to the ground, searching for the next best scent to follow. Because of this, beagles must be in a home with a properly secured—and ideally reinforced—fence or have plenty of access to the outdoors for long, meandering walks on a lead. Beagles are prone to loneliness, and won’t do well if consistently left alone for long periods of time.
Despite being a smart breed, Beagles are notoriously slow to house train and may take up to a year. It’s highly encouraged to practice crate training with a beagle and it’s important to stay positive, patient, and consistent. Sadly, beagles are anecdotally susceptible to theft (even from backyards) and are thought to be sold to laboratories. For this reason—in addition to their wandering nose—it’s important to keep an eye on your beagle when outdoors, and microchipping is strongly recommended.
A beagle is at its happiest with an owner who will play to its scent tracking strengths—whether through hunting, competitions, or hours-long hikes or walks—and can spend plenty of quality time by their side. When left alone for too long or not properly exercised and trained, beagles tend to become destructive and loud. It’s important to consider your lifestyle before committing to any dog. Talk to a beagle breeder or rescue group about expectations to see if a beagle is a good fit for you.
The beagle’s short, weather-proof coat is easy to maintain but prone to frequent shedding. Brushing your beagle two to three times a week will keep dead hair from building up in your home and promote new, healthy hair growth. Because they have a double coat, they’ll shed heavily in the spring—you’ll want to increase your brushing routine to once daily. Beagles rarely need baths, unless they’re getting into messy situations. Regular grooming is a good time to check for things like coat sheen (dull hair can mean a lack of nutrients in diet), nail length, and ear and dental health. Nails should be trimmed frequently—if you can hear them tapping against the floor, they’re too long.
Like most hounds, beagles will require extra weekly care to their ears, as their long floppy shape can prevent proper air circulation and lead to infections. It’s important to talk to your vet about the proper way to check and clean your beagle’s ears.
Beagles can be headstrong, and you bet they’d prefer to track a scent over pleasing their owner’s every demand. This smart breed can be trained, but it will require loads of patience. “People lose patience with dogs all the time, but that’s where the process is,” Kilcommons says.
Using food is a surefire way to get your beagle’s attention, but beware of becoming seen as a buffet. “It’s easy for the relationship to be with the food, not the person. After the dog understands what’s expected, I expect a response and I’m not going to dress like a deli,” Kilcommons says. “They’ll do what we want, and they’re looking for it, but in order to get that you have to reward them in such a way that makes it worth it. You need to be enthusiastic. Tell him how smart he is, smile at him, and look at the gauge: the tail. That’ll tell you if it’s working.”
The beagle is considered a generally healthy breed with a lifespan of 10–15 years, according to the AKC. Like all breeds, the beagle is prone to certain diseases. The National Beagle Club of America, the official breed club, requires registered breeders to test for hip dysplasia, Musladin-Lueke Syndrome (MLS), and to complete a thorough eye exam. The club also recommends screening for autoimmune thyroid disease and cardiac issues. Of course not all beagles will encounter serious health issues, but it’s important to be aware of these common concerns when considering this breed. It’s important to purchase all dogs from reputable breeders who will introduce you to the dog’s parents and siblings. If adopting, ask the rescue for all available health history.
Beagles have a big appetite and are prone to obesity. It’s important to ensure you properly measure each meal and factor in any training treats and in-between snacking. This high-energy breed needs at least an hour of exercise each day. Long walks help keep them fit and work them mentally.
Where the beagle breed originated is uncertain and up for debate. According to the American Kennel Club, beagle-like dogs can be traced back to reports in England, long before Romans arrived in 55 BC. Other stories trace the beagle’s ancestors farther back to ancient Greece. The breed’s name tells an entirely different story, with two widely backed origin theories: Gaelic (in which beag means little) and French (in which be’geule is the term for the howls hounds make when hunting). Despite these theories, it’s widely accepted that today’s beagle is a direct descendent of English pack hounds from the 1500s.
The similarly small ancestral hounds were used by English gentlemen to track rabbits and hares, the AKC says. As that prey is often hunted by foot rather than horse, the beagle quickly became a favorite among common trackers. Variations of the breed intrigued the English royalty and it’s reported that Queen Elizabeth I kept packs of pocket beagles, a 9-inch-tall beagle that’s said to fit in a pocket.
The breed was further refined and standardized in England and Scotland in the 1800s, resulting in the beagle you see today. The breed as we know it didn’t make its official appearance stateside until after the Civil War when American breeders began importing English beagles. The breed’s popularity was instant in America. On the AKC’s annual popularity list (most recently released in 2020, reflecting 2019 statistics), the beagle ranked as the seventh-most popular breed.
- Snoopy, from the long-running Peanuts comic strip, is perhaps the most famous beagle in the world. The Snoopy character was inspired by the Schulz's family dog, Spike.
- The beagle’s white-tipped tail actually serves a purpose, the AKC says. When out hunting, the white makes it easier to track through the woods and tall grass—like a little white flag bobbing through the brush!
- Lyndon B. Johnson had three beagles in the White House during his presidency: Him, Her, and Edgar.
- Beagles have had starring roles in many big screen productions, most famously Cats & Dogs, Shiloh, and John Wick, where the entire plot of the film revolves around the death of the titular character’s beloved beagle puppy Daisy.