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Are Beagles Hunting Dogs? – Here’s Why They’re Skilled Hunters

Beagles were extremely skilled hunting dogs that tracked down game.
Written by Richard Jeng

Beagles are friendly, active, and small enough to keep in any household. However, not many people know that Beagles were initially bred for a different purpose; to help hunters track and trap prey.

So, are Beagles hunting dogs? Yes, Beagles were originally bred as hunting dogs in Great Britain. They were developed with a sharp sense of smell, short legs, long ears, double coats, great instincts and a deep howl. All of which, are qualities that make them skilled and effective at finding prey and alerting the hunters. 

This guide will help you understand just how Beagles developed as hunters and why they’re some of the best hunting companions. Plus, we’ll also give you some insight into how to train your Beagle to “hunt.” 

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History of Beagles in Hunting

Though there were a few different varieties of Beagles before the 1800s, there is very little documentation on them. However, the early ancestors of these dogs were believed to be a similar sized dog used for hunting in Greece during the 5th century BCE.

During the 8th century, a scent hound called the St. Hubert Hound was the top hunting and tracking dog of its time. From there, the Talbot Hound was developed and overtook the St. Hubert Hound as the premier hunting dogs.

The problem was, Talbot Hounds were too slow. It was hard to deny their tracking ability, but stamina and speed were just as essential on hunts. The solution? Breeders and hunters crossbred the Talbot with Greyhounds to increase speed.

The modern Beagle wasn’t developed until the1830s. These dogs were a combination of several other breeds, including the Harrier, the Talbot Hound and the Southern Hound. All of which, were known for their hunting prowess at the time.

The Early Pocket Beagles

It was Reverend Phillip Honeywood that bred the first pack of Beagles in Essex during the 1830s, which would go on to most closely resemble the long-eared, short legged Beagles that we know and love.

The earliest types were called “Pocket Beagles.” Being just 8 inches tall and weighing 15 pounds, they could literally fit into the large pockets of hunters – hence the name.

While Pocket Beagles were adorable, somewhat effective and convenient, their popularity was relatively short-lived. By the mid-18th century, hunting had exploded in popularity and hunters started looking at larger dogs for hunting.

Eventually, this led most hunters to overlook Pocket Beagles in pursuit of dog breeds such as the newly-developed Southern Hound and North Country Beagle. Shortly after, a rise in fox hunting led to crossbreeding with Stag Hounds – creating the Foxhound.

In the 1840s, Beagles were exported to the USA, and they became part of the American Kennel Club in 1885. As in England, Beagles became popular in America for their hunting skills. It was in America that Beagles were developed to be bigger.

What is “Beagling?”

Beagles became such a popular hunting companion in the 1800s that hunting with Beagles was given a unique name: “beagling.” It was popular when hunters wanted to enjoy the chase of the hunt, but with less risk.

Beagling hunts mainly targeted hares and rabbits. Hunters would take a pack of Beagles, usually 10 or more, and follow the small game on foot. With their incredible noses, Beagles would track down the animal and alert the owners.

Beagling was great for both retired and novice fox hunters. It was certainly less intense and safer than fox hunting. On the other hand, beagling was also a great way for young hunters to learn how to handle smaller hounds.

Check out this incredible video of beagling in action:

Beagles weren’t just tracking dogs, but were useful as flushers too. They can chase prey out of hiding spots into clear areas, making it easier for human hunters to aim and kill prey.

Notice all the barking and howling in the video? Beagle will make certain noises to signal to the pack and the hunters when they have spot a prey. It’s the reason why Beagles are such vocal dogs!

Why Are Beagles Good Hunters?

There are several reasons why Beagles are considered exemplary hunters, despite rarely showing any signs of aggression. Contrary to popular belief, most hunting dogs don’t need an aggressive temperament to successfully hunt.

You can tell these hunting dogs were developed with a lot of thought in mind. From their physical features to temperament, the Beagle was built for the sole purpose hunting.

The Hunting Instincts 

Very simply put, Beagles have been bred to be good hunting dogs. They are brilliant dogs that will thrive on hunts. Plus, the several generations of training and hunting have given them excellent hunting instincts.

Just because they’ve been domesticated as family companions doesn’t mean they’ve lost these instincts. If you wanted to train your Beagle to hunt today, you could still easily do it.

They are also quite alert and will be able to spot slight movements that can indicate a potential prey. All of these are qualities in modern-day Beagles that give us a small glimpse into their past as hunting dogs.

The Beagle’s Nose

If there’s one thing Beagles are known for, it’s their incredible nose. And according to Dog Time, Beagles have the third best nose in the dogdom. Some will even argue that these dogs may be number one.

So, just how great is the Beagle’s nose? Beagles have 225 million scent receptors, which makes their sense of smell easily over a thousand times better than a human’s sense of smell! In fact, it could potentially be 10 thousand times better.

Humans have 5 million scent receptors. Here’s how some breeds compare to humans:

Dog Breeds# Scent Receptors
Bloodhound300 million
Beagle225 million
German Shepherd225 million
Basset Hound220 million
Fox Terrier147 million

The number of scent receptors isn’t everything. However, it does tell us a lot regarding the quality of these dogs’ noses. And when compared to humans, we don’t stand a chance.

As you may have guessed, a better nose means better accuracy in tracking down game. It’s a huge reason why Beagles are such fantastic hunting companions. Without their nose, it’s hard to say if they’ll would still have hunting jobs.

Long Ears

A signature physical trait of the Beagle is the floppy long ears. But did you know there was a specific purpose of their ears? No, it’s not just to make them look adorable and cute. In fact, the ears actually help with their smell.

The official AKC breed standard for Beagles states that the dogs’ ears should be “set on low, long, reaching when drawn out nearly, if not quite to the end of the nose.” In other words, the ears should reach the end of their nose.

Thanks to the unique structure of the ears on head, Beagles are capable of using their ears to catch scent particles. What’s more, they’ll sweep these particles towards their noses, thus creating a funnel of scents.

This ability is incredibly helpful for Beagles when trying to locate an animal trail in a forest of scents, quite literally. Have you noticed some of the top scent hounds (bloodhounds, basset hounds, etc.) also have long ears? It’s not a coincidence.

Neck & Legs

Have you noticed that Beagles have unusual body proportions? The Beagles’ bodies are built in a way that makes them great hunting dogs. Like with the nose and ears, here are the other, less obvious body structures that make Beagles great hunters.

The neck of the Beagle is a bit elongated, relative to the body. Plus, the neck is sturdy and well-built. All these qualities make it easier for them to drop their heads to the ground and pick up scents.

Beagles also have shorter legs than most dogs with a similar body size. Again, this makes it easier for the dogs to sniff up scents because their heads are generally closer to the floor. Tracking game for many hours isn’t easy without these physical qualities.

The Beagle’s Adaptability

Beagles are also prized for their adaptability while hunting. Here’s where their adaptability comes in use: 

  • On long hunts. Beagles are considered active dogs and have a lot of energy. As such, they can run for long distances, which is useful in day-long hunting trips. 
  • In the dark. Beagles can also hunt in the dusk or at dawn when there isn’t a lot of light. They have a white-tipped tail, which allows hunters to easily distinguish between the Beagles and the prey when taking their shot. 
  • In difficult terrain. Because they’re small and have bodies that are close to the ground, Beagles are skilled in navigating through the undergrowth and chasing prey into more open areas. 

They were initially popular in hare and rabbit hunts. But this extra adaptability made them capable in helping with pheasants, wild boar, and even bigger animals like deer, coyote, wildcats, and foxes. 

How Do Beagles Hunt? 

A guide to what beagles were originally bred to do.

With an understanding of why Beagles are great hunters, you’ll now be able to better understand how a Beagle hunts. Here’s what a Beagle hunt looks like: 

  1. Typically, Beagles hunt in packs. When Beagles are released and giving the command to go, small groups of the pack head of together to look for prey. 
  2. The Beagles will use their noses to first get the scent of prey and then follow it until they find the prey. 
  3. Once they find the prey, the Beagle pack will chase it out into the open.
  4. While they’re chasing it, the Beagles will howl as a pack. Beagles have a very specific howl, which they use to alert hunters that they have found their prey. 
  5. Once the Beagles chase the prey into the open, the hunters can carefully take aim and shoot their shot at the prey. 
  6. Once the shot is successfully made, hunters can then command the Beagles to go looking for the next target. 

As you can see, hunting with Beagles (or “beagling”) isn’t rocket science. It’s relatively easy to do, which certainly contributed to the immense popularity of the sport.

Training a Beagle to Hunt

While the sport of hunting has declined since the 1800s, there are still areas in America that are hunting zones. There are also hunting clubs that have members exchange information, equipment, and even hunt together. 

If you’re interested in training your Beagle to hunt, you will need to start training when the Beagle is a puppy. It’s helpful to talk to the breeder and check out the pup’s pedigree. If a Beagle comes from a family of hunters, you’ll be more successful at training him. 

Steps to Hunting With Beagles

Here are some steps that will help you train your Beagle to hunt: 

  1. First, hide treats around the garden. This will allow your puppy to hone his tracking skills. 
  2. Then, introduce your puppy to the scents of rabbits or other prey. Do this by bringing your puppy close to a rabbit enclosure. 
  3. Place the tame rabbit and puppy in an enclosure together. The puppy will likely chase the rabbit around the enclosure, which will help hone their chasing skills. 
  4. Once your puppy has chased the rabbit a few times, move it and the rabbit to a bigger pen. This will give the rabbit additional room to run, which will better simulate the open environment that hunting takes place in.
  5. Try to let your puppy run with more experienced hunting Beagles – they will automatically learn to track and chase skills from them. 
  6. Introduce your puppy to the sound of gunfire. Do this by firing your gun from a significant distance away and move closer over some time. This is important, as a puppy who has never encountered the sound of gunfire before will get very scared and may even abandon the hunt. 
  7. Take your puppy for a hunt. Once your puppy is about a year old, they will be ready for their first hunt. Take them to a place known for having lots of rabbits and be sure to time your shots with their chasing. The more you practice with your Beagle, the more likely it is that you and your dog will have a successful hunt! 

Superb Hunting Dogs 

Beagles are undoubtedly hunting dogs, and good ones too. Their instincts, their breeding, and their body structure make them great trackers and flushers. Beagles can be used in a variety of different hunts, including long-distance hunts and dawn and dusk hunts. 

If you are an avid hunter, it’s worth joining hunting clubs and/or obedience classes to help advise you on how best to train your Beagle to hunt. With some practice and perseverance, you’ll find that your Beagle is an ideal hunting companion! 

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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