The beagle originated in England in the 1500s when packs of hounds were used for hunting. Smaller hounds hunted rabbits, while larger ones were used to bring down deer. Beagles make great family pets as they are such friendly animals, and their small size and low-maintenance coat makes them easy to care for. They are naturally inquisitive dogs and prefer to be around people or other dogs as they have strong pack instincts.
The beagle is categorized as a member of the hound group and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1885. In general, it should look like a smaller version of a foxhound. The beagle is judged in two sizes: up to the height of 13 inches, and between 13 and 15 inches. Any dog over 15 inches tall will be disqualified. The coat of the dog should be medium-length and coarse hair; any dog with a coat that is thin or soft is also discounted.
This breed has a fairly long skull; anything too flat or narrow is considered a defect. The muzzle of a beagle is straight, square and of medium-length. Its jaw is level, and its nostrils are wide and open. The eyes must be large and soft, set well apart and brown in color. The beagle must have long, reasonably floppy ears that should be almost the length of the dog's head and are set fairly low. Other defects include an overly long or short muzzle and short ears that are set high on the head.
The beagle should have a smooth body, muscular but lean and without extra folds of skin. It should have a short back, broad loin and deep ribs allowing a large lung capacity. The legs should be strong, straight and symmetrical. The tail of the beagle is quite short for a hound and fairly high set. It has a slight curve but should not curl over the back. Defects in the body of a beagle include insufficient musculature, crooked forelegs, straight hocks, a long curved back and an overly wide or flat chest.
There is a further set of criteria for judging a pack of beagles. This is divided into four categories: general levelness of the pack (40 percent of overall score), individual merit of hounds (30 percent), manners (20 percent) and appointments (10 percent). In the first category, the pack is judged on the way it looks as a unit in terms of height, weight and color. The hounds are also judged individually, as they should all be good examples of the breed. The manners of the dogs are imperative; they must all obey commands willingly and enthusiastically without fear of the whip, which should be used as little as possible. For the final 10 percent of points, the master and whips must all be dressed the same, carrying thong whips and the master must carry the horn.