by Charles Terry
I had originally planned to write an article more related to the hunting aspect of Beagling. However, I decided that the first article should be more general in nature and appeal to the wide audience we have here. Many questions appear on the various Beagle message boards as to birth, selection, care, and training of the Beagle puppy. I will attempt to guide you through some of the big issues, leaving the details to other sources, or perhaps, future installments by reader request. Even though it is my hope that everyone will find some useful information in the article, my primary intended audience will be the novice Beagler.
If you plan to buy a pup rather than breed your own, skip down about nine paragraphs. Let’s assume you have a female that is soon to be a mother. It is advisable to consult your vet before administering any medication (even flea powder!) to a pregnant female. However, I think it is important to keep a mother to be wormed with a gentle, liquid wormer. It is my opinion that wormer is less risky than worms for the pups. You should also keep your bitch well-fed with a quality dry dog food or puppy chow but avoid letting her get fat as the puppies will also become fat and increase the risk of a troubled delivery. She will need about one and a half times as her normal amount of kibble but, again, keep her trim. Moderate daily exercise is good but running, climbing, and jumping should be discouraged toward the end of the pregnancy. A shiny coat, alert eyes, and bright red gums are indications of good health. Morning sickness is possible but usually occurs for only a week or two in the “middle” of the gestation period.
If it is a planned breeding, or if you witnessed the mating and can recall the date, count 63 days from that date and you will know just when to expect those pups. The majority will be 63 days plus or minus a day. Births outside the range from 59 to 66 days are extremely rare. Looking back most of my litters have been born starting in the late evening hours but then most of the breeding have taken place at this time of day as well. Of course, the whole birth process takes several hours. In fact, a friend of mine had a lab that delivered ten healthy pups over a period of time in excess of 24 hours!
If both sire and dam are Beagles you should have little to worry about. Watch a little more closely if it is the female’s first litter. You should put the mother in a warm (but not hot!), clean, dry area - off the ground is best. The mother will need to be somewhere she can “hem up” the pups to make it easy for her to care for them. A whelping box (36” X 36” X 6”) is nice but is not a necessity. I use shredded paper for bedding material, which I replace after the birth and occasionally thereafter. Old blankets are fine but they will need to be replaced and washed or discarded after the birth is complete. Failure to replace bedding in the warmer months leads to odor and flies as well.
I have had only two “troubled” deliveries out of 20 or so litters. One was a female who neglected her pups due to toxic milk syndrome. I eventually gave her to a friend and she later raised a litter of mixed breed pups with no problem according to her new owner. The other difficult delivery was a breech birth. One evening in about 1987, I came home from work to find my pregnant female in the bushes, squatting as if having a bowel movement, with a pup’s rear half hanging out of her. I do not know how long she had been in this predicament but the pup appeared to be dead already. Being unsure at the time as to how to proceed, I called my vet who said I had to “pull” the pup ASAP. I did as instructed over the phone but the pup was dead, as I had feared. My female continued giving birth and the rest of the process went well and the rest of the pups born fine and healthy. (I did not include this paragraph to scare anyone or discourage him/her from breeding his/her beagles. However, I wanted to inform the reader about possible scenarios - both good and bad.)
So now you have mom in the whelping box or other delivery area and the process has begun. After witnessing it many times (both in animals and with my two sons), birth still amazes me. In dogs, the most amazing part is that a female instinctively knows what to do. For example, eating the placenta not only cleans up the whelping area but provides the mother with nourishment without leaving her pups. Some breeders claim that the placenta contains hormones that stimulate milk production as well (I have never seen any scientific research to substantiate this claim). The female continues to chew down to the umbilical cord, which she severs in two. She will lick the pup thoroughly while awaiting the next birth not only cleaning him up, but also bonding with it at the same time! Do not be concerned if the female seems “rough” with the pup. This is completely normal and stimulates the pup’s various bodily functions. In most cases, all you need to do is watch. Try to be sure that she delivers a placenta for each pup. A retained placenta is one of the things that you need to call the vet about as this can lead to a serious infection, which could be harmful to both the female and her pups.
Once the birth is complete, replace the bedding and make food and water available to the female by choice. Keep the nursery area, particularly the floor, warm (85 degrees F. initially tapering off to 70 after the first week), dry, and as pest-free as possible. In colder weather, I have used a floodlight as a supplementary heat source. Keep the bitch well feed and wormed with a puppy type wormer while she is lactating and consider giving her vitamin supplements including calcium. You might also consider adding cottage cheese to her kibble. I sometimes give the dam a powdered milk supplement that is used with orphaned calves. It can be mixed with water or sprinkled dry over the kibble. It is very nourishing, relatively inexpensive and available at most feed stores. If you take care of the mother, she will take care of the puppies! You can expect her to have a green discharge for up to a day and a slight bloody discharge for up to a couple of weeks. A prolonged discharge or one that is brown or green in color (after the first day) is cause for concern. You may also want to take her temperature daily for a week or so and watch for any sign of distress. A temperature over 103 degrees F. is an indication of an infection and the need to consult a vet.
In a couple of weeks the pups’ eyes will be open and it is time to worm them for the first time. Use a puppy type wormer (Hartz, Lassie, RFD, or any other brand that has Pyrantel pamoate listed as it’s active ingredient). Weight each pup and using a syringe give it 1 cc per lb. For example a 2½ lb. pup gets 2.5 Cc’s. Be as precise as you can but this type of wormer has a good margin of safety. I worm at 2, 3, 4, and 6 weeks. One 60-ml. bottle should do the entire litter (up to eight puppies) using this schedule. (It is with great hesitance that I share the following information. No vet will agree with this on the record because the drug I mention is not labeled for dogs and likely never will be due to adverse reactions that have occurred in dogs – particularly those of collie breeding. I have never had a reaction in 15 yeas of using the product in this manner and I feel my dogs have benefited greatly from being worm free.) At 8 weeks, I begin the pup on 0.1 (one-tenth!) Cc. of Cattle Ivomec (1 % Ivermectin) per 10 lbs. of body weight (that is only 0.05 Cc’s for a 5 lb. Puppy!) each month and continue this for the rest of his life to prevent heartworms and all intestinal worms EXCEPT TAPEWORM. Tapeworm requires other drugs – the best in my opinion – available by prescription only.
The next major hurdle will be the weaning process. This should begin as early as the pups will cooperate. By starting early, you will make the process less stressful for the pups and you and the mother as well. Once the pups’ teeth start to come, the mother will begin to wean them herself – ready or not! I make the previously mentioned powdered milk supplement available to my pups around 4 weeks of age and often the puppies will begin to take it on their own. Once they begin drinking, I begin mixing a little dry kibble in. Gradually, I decrease the milk and increase the kibble. Now, you may switch to water to moisten the kibble. Once the teeth begin to come in well, you can gradually decrease amount of water added until they pups are fully weaned around six weeks. Once on dry food, the pup will need a constant supply of clean, fresh water. Don’t worry if the mother eats the food intended for the pups – just keep plenty available for all. During weaning you may want to begin keeping the mother and pups separate except for occasional feedings. You don’t want to take the pups off all at once, as the mother’s breast will swell from the excess milk produced and become painful. As the pups eat more other food and nurse less, the dam’s milk production will gradually taper off and finally stop altogether. The key word to remember in the entire weaning process is “GRADUALLY”!
The pups are now six to eight weeks of age and fully weaned. You are now ready to select yours. You need to decide if you want a male or female. I prefer males for hunters and females for pets but again this is based on my experience and what works for me. Regardless of its sex, I want a pup to be friendly, alert, and somewhat bold - I do not care for a shy dog. In the past, I have avoided the “whiners” but a very knowledgeable Beagler recently told me those become the hunting dogs with the most desire to hunt. He was 100% correct on the whiner I took based on his info. That dog is totally unsatisfied being “left” by a rabbit and no obstacle prevents his pursuit! His tonguing has a pleading tone reminiscent of his whining as well! Call the pups and see which one comes. Again, avoid the shy ones! Clap you hands from a distance – avoid the ones that are extremely upset by the noise (a little apprehension is NORMAL).
As to physical appearance, I like a dog with a medium length, thick, coarse coat (ideal for living and hunting afield as I intend to hunt him) with no obvious physical deformities. If you plan to show the dog, familiarize yourself with the breed standard as stated by the organization under whose rules it will compete. I prefer tri-colored beagles but coloration has nothing to do with a beagle’s nature, hunting ability, or any other quality. I like my dogs to have a tan head with a white blaze between the eyes but that too is merely a personal preference. Check in the groin area for hernias. Although these may go away I never risk it. Bent or crooked tails are fairly common in beagles. Don’t let the breeder convince you crooked or bent tails will “go away”. Check the dogs bite – avoid a dog with a noticeable overbite or underbite. Line breeding and inbreeding can increase the incidence of these hereditary faults so be particularly attentive when purchasing a dog of such breeding.
Many potential beagle owners ask how to tell what the pup will look like as an adult. There are two basic patterns of coloration open marked (predominately white with colored markings) and saddle or blanket backed (predominantly colored with white markings). Preference for one or the other is a matter of one’s taste and in no way affects the dog’s temperament, personality, or any other quality. As to how the dog’s coloration will change as it matures, here are the basic rules I have found watching many Beagles grow up: Large white markings stay the same. Small white markings become more “regular” in shape as their edges fade. Very small or faint areas of white fade completely. Tan areas become more tan. Jet black areas stay black. Black areas with a tan tint become more tan as the dog matures. Most tri-colored Beagles will have heads that are predominately tan though the shade of tan varies quite a bit. Any white markings on the head (muzzle, between the eyes, etc.) will remain but most of the black will turn tan. Many Beagle pups have a “mask” of black around the eyes but usually only a black spot between the eyes and ears will remain on the adult. My brother named once named a beagle pup “Bandit” and was disappointed by the disappearance of Bandit’s mask!
Upon arrival home, take up lots of time with your new pup. If you have children or grandchildren let them help you here. Beagle pups and children are a great combination! Many Beaglers will still say that you should not make a pet out of a hunting dog but I am convinced that they can be both. Some Beaglers only let their dogs out to hunt and take up no time with them and they seem to be the same people who complain about how poorly their dogs handle in the field. The stronger the bond between you and the dog, the harder he will work to please you whether in the field or around the home.
My friend, if your dog will not come when called in the yard there is even less hope in the field when he is trailing. When a beagle’s nose is in gear, his ears will not work very well! Teaching the dog to come when called is the first step in training for all beagles. If your dog will not come when called or goes through a rebellious stage during adolescence, try this method. Attach a 20 to 30 foot lead to the dog’s collar (not his neck!). Call him to you and if he refuses to come, slowly, but firmly pull him to you. Pet him, praise him, give him a treat – show him you are pleased that he came to you. Repeat several times daily until the dog will come on his own. Use as little pressure on the lead as possible and once he begins to respond on his own, eliminate the lead altogether. Continue these training sessions as needed to reinforce the behavior.
Once the dog will come with called, begin training other basic commands that you desire for him. I am no expert here and there are plenty of sources for basic obedience training so I will not go into details. I will say that you should remember that a dog (of any breed) does NOT understand our speech so we must remember to use ONE WORD CUES rather than sentences to tell the dog what we want him to do. For example, “Get over here!!!!!!!!!” (No matter how loudly you yell!) means nothing to a dog that is trained to “come”!!!!!!!!!! Be patient, loving, consistent, and understanding (but firm!) in training and you will likely be rewarded with an obedient companion.
In exchange for the joy your new pet will bring, you owe it to him to provide for his basic needs. For food, I prefer a dry commercial puppy food over the other options. There are many good products out there but be aware that many people who promote a particular brand are getting an incentive to do so. For growing pups, select one that is at least 25 percent protein and 10 percent fat. Look at the label and make sure one or more of the following is listed among the first few ingredients (list according to percent of content by weight): meat, meat byproducts, bone meal, and corn. Ingredients to avoid: soybean (soybean meal), poultry byproducts (mostly feathers). These items are high in protein but are of little nutritional value to your dog in that his system cannot make use of that particular type of protein. Also, remember to provide a constant supply of clean, fresh drinking water. If your water is not chlorinated, one tsp. of regular (no scents or other additives) chlorine bleach per five gallons will help protect your beagle from protozoan and bacteria caused disease.
Finally, don’t forget your dog’s medical needs. Get a good home veterinary manual and read the message boards of the various beagle websites to learn as much as you can about Beagles and their care. You can perform many of the routine procedures and treat minor problems yourself. Not only do you save time and money but your beagle is spared the stress of the visit to the clinic. In some states, you can obtain and administer many of the vaccines yourself as well. I am not saying everyone should do it himself or herself and, of course, anytime there is a serious health risk involved a vet should be consulted. However, by being informed, we can keep our beagles healthier and increase their chance of a long, happy life.
Good Beagling to all of you!