by Rachel Lucas
When I first started in Beagles, it was with my husband’s hunting Beagles. I didn’t know much about Beagles then, more than a decade ago. My husband had just grade Beagles when I met him – not registered, just hunting dogs. I went with him to the field and because I always throw myself into what we are doing, I started doing a lot of research. We bred a couple grade litters and as the older dogs started dying off, we decided to improve our lines and buy registered AKC hunting Beagles and that was the start of our hunting breeding program. We collected the hunting bloodlines that my husband liked – strong scenting abilities in deep snow and ice, thicker fur, and a bit more leg on them because the only time he had to really hunt was in the dead of the winter. These dogs were considered “hare hounds” – bred for speed and endurance in the deep winters of Michigan. Then, we didn’t know about health testing and didn’t really know about conformation and had no idea about show Beagles at that time. We didn’t realize there is a “parent” club organization.
We started in field trials in the National Kennel Club world, which is “NKC”, and in the “Little Pack” format, as that’s all we could find around us. We didn’t know much about the other formats. We became field judges and breed inspectors for NKC, and my husband became Master of Hounds and then a field judge in AKC as well. For your information, there are MANY different organizations and formats that do Beagle hunting field trials. Many different clubs within those formats. Every speed imaginable, from the slow, bark-on-a-rabbit-foot-print-one-at-a-time “walky-talky” Beagle that wouldn’t even notice a rabbit crossing in front of him if he was on that one footprint, to the super-fast large-pack bred hare hound that are so fast they may miss a rabbit turn and blow right past it. AKC, NKC, PKC, UKC – these are registerable kennel clubs. With AKC being the oldest and most prestigious. Within AKC, they have several formats – go to the website www.akc.org and look up field trial rules for Beagles.
We raised several NKC Rabbit Champions in both “Little Pack” and “Progressive Pack” formats and near the end started dabbling in AKC field trials. I spent every weekend for several years handling my husband’s dogs at the trials while he judged a different pack. It was during this time period that we started thinking about conformation, as we had seen so many crooked legs and obviously bad conformation, and broken-down Beagles in the field, I knew that it couldn’t be correct. Thus, I went in search of my first AKC show dog. Through the show world, an entirely different set of knowledge emerged.
The Beagle parent club, The National Beagle Club Of America, Inc., was first established in the United States as a hunting club initially, in the late 1800’s to hold field trials. NBC field trials are traditional foot-pack field trials consisting of two-couple packs and gun-dog packs that are judged on the pack, not the individual dog. The houndsman may use a whip and horn (to signal the dogs) and wear traditional coat and leggings of a certain color. The Beagles are generally slower, and stay tight to the line of the rabbit, not swinging out off the track. The NBC developed the Beagle breed standard and in 1885, the American Kennel Club recognized the Beagle as a breed. The Beagle breed standard was revised in 1900 to put more emphasis on running gear and function of the Beagle. There are two varieties of AKC Beagles – 13” and under, and 13-15”. The measurement is taken from the ground to the point of the shoulder blade with the dog standing in a relaxed, natural position, four square. Note: In Europe, the standard allows up to 16” in Beagles, and that is why you see some Beagles larger than 15”, however, in America, oversize is a disqualification in AKC events.
In 1970, a group of conformation Beaglers established a supporting membership specifically for conformation and the show Beagle blossomed. We now have dog shows all across America (and the world) including Westminster, the Florida National Dog show, the PA Thanksgiving dog show, as well as many other breed shows and all-breed shows everywhere – you can find these on www.infodog.com, www.caninechronical.com and other superintendent sites. In 2008, Uno was the first Beagle to win Best In Show at Westminster, followed by his niece, Miss P, in 2015. Huge wins for a little merry dog in a big package!
Show breeders are meticulous at keeping track of records for their pack, from pedigrees, health, nutrition, and more. Show breeders include doctors, veterinarians, vet technicians, geneticists and the like that show their own dogs, so the network of information is amazing and broad. Show breeders focus on conformation faults and temperaments and strive to improve their pack over generations of breeding. Over the past 6 years, I learned about the requirements to health test your breed – noted and recorded on the Orthopedic Foundation Association (OFA.org). We have been working towards that and now test all our breeding stock, genetically, through Embark labs (www.embarkvet.com) and through our veterinarian that does exrays and blood tests for thyroid, etc.
In the hunting world, there is nothing like taking a pack of dogs into the woods and listening to them do what they absolutely love – hunting. Beagles are pack animals and thus make excellent family members – when you are in the woods with a pack of 5-10 dogs, you will understand that mentality, and become part of the pack. It is truly amazing. The hunting-bred dogs are not as conformationally correct, and the hunters are not good at keeping records or understanding health issues and temperament issues. Hunters focus on the hunting traits – ability to scent in tough conditions, foot (speed), intelligence, and ability to jump a rabbit in the field. Hunting-bred Beagles have so much heart and grit that they will hunt, above all pain or condition following their quarry to its death, and they will love their human family with unconditional love.
The show Beagle, on the other hand, is not quite as gritty and not quite as driven to get in the field to hunt – they still have a huge heart, and there may be some show Beagles that can hunt better than other show Beagles, but mostly, show Beagles make extremely beautiful, stable, healthy and loyal companion pets, some excelling at agility and other performance related events too.
The differences between show and hunting Beagles can be striking in looks, and personalities. We chose to become traditional preservation Beagle breeders not only to improve our pack of Beagles, but to raise awareness in conformation, hunting ability and history, and the art of raising quality dogs. Set yourself up with a true preservation breeder and you will not only have a friend for life, but you can be assured there is a ton of research and thought that went into your dog from them.