Beagles have been among the most popular dog breeds in the United States for more than 30 years. Beagles have also held a spot in popular culture: Snoopy, the cheeky dog from the Peanuts gang, is a beagle, and beagles were living in the White House with President Johnson. These scent hounds were bred to be pack dogs, so they're eager to fit in with their human packs. They have a friendly nature that makes them a great family pet, as long as that family has enough energy to keep up with them.
The beagle's most striking features are their long, floppy ears and big, brown eyes. They're generally 13-15 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 20-30 pounds. They have a white base coat with patches of other colors, usually tan and black. Beagles are bred to have a white-tipped tail, known as the flag, that makes them easy to spot when their nose is to the ground.
Beagles were developed as hunting dogs and have some of the best noses in the dog world. They were used for hunting hares, an activity known as beagling. They're smaller than other hunting dogs because they were used by people who hunted without a horse. Today, they still use their scenting ability as part of the Beagle Brigade, a group of dogs that detects food items being brought into the US and do a similar job in other countries like Australia, Japan, and Canada.
As beagles were bred to run in packs, they generally like company and get along with everyone. They're known for their even temper and gentle disposition and are described as happy and lovable. However, they can be excitable when confronted with something unfamiliar, like a knock at the door, though they're quick to welcome strangers to the home. Beagles aren't prone to timidness or aggressiveness but will get anxious if left alone for long periods of time.
Beagles are generally considered to be a strong breed, and they don't have many common health problems. The breed is prone to epilepsy, although this can be controlled with medication. Beagles may also be susceptible to some genetic conditions, including Musladin-Lueke Syndrome, a condition that affects the development of connective tissue. The biggest problems owners should look for are ear infections, caused by their long ears stopping airflow, and glaucoma as they age. Beagles generally live to 12-15 years of age.
Beagles were bred to have the endurance for a long hunt, so they don't tire easily. Thankfully, they do rest happily without being exhausted, so it's not necessary to exercise them for multiple hours a day. At least an hour of exercise will keep them fit. It's best to walk them on a lead as once they get a scent, they can disappear. People looking for extra activities should consider field dog trials, which give them plenty of exercise while letting them use their natural hunting instincts.
Beagles can't be free-fed, as they'll just keep eating if food is available. Owners must be prepared to control their food intake to help stop overeating and obesity. They're not fussy eaters and will happily consume any tinned or dry food, but make sure it's a quality brand so they get the nutrients they need. Also, ensure trash cans are kept secured and plates are never put down in their reach because they'll eat garbage or someone else's dinner if given the chance.
People looking for an easily groomed dog should be happy with a beagle. They have a smooth, dense double-coat that only needs weekly brushing to remove loose hair and encourage new growth. Keep in mind that they do tend to find the smelliest thing in the park and roll around in it, so although they don't need frequent baths in normal circumstances, they may still need to be washed regularly. They shed moderately throughout the year, with more fur lost in spring as they lose their winter coat.
Training a beagle is an exercise in patience. They're intelligent, but also single-minded, determined, and easily bored. Although their food orientation means they respond well to treat-based training, they're still not easy to train. They need consistent and persistent training to become well-trained, and may always be difficult to recall as they're so easily distracted by scents. Beagles are also notorious for being hard to housebreak, so new owners should be prepared to pick up messes for up to a year.
Beagles aren't well-suited to apartment living and are escape artists when left in a yard. Owners must make sure they have good fencing that goes into the ground to stop beagles from digging a tunnel. Also ensure they're micro-chipped, as a good scent can take them far from home if they do escape. Beagles are also talkers, prone to barking and howling, especially if left alone. Another dog of any breed, or even a cat if they've been friends from a young age, can help stave off loneliness and keep good relations with neighbors.
Beagles are excellent with children and happy to join in on any play that's happening, which is why they're so popular as a family pet. However, they're pack animals and need people or another pet at home to keep them happy. This pack mentality means they welcome anyone new to the house, whether that's another dog, a friend, or a new baby, so they're great for people who entertain regularly or those planning to expand the family.
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