by Teresa Bridgman
Being one of those people who have had the privilege and joy of being around Beagles my whole life, and having had the opportunity to live both sides of the hunting dog vs. house dog question, I'd like take this opportunity to address both sides of the issue. In some circles this is a heated topic. In my mind it is not. It's simply a matter of choice.
I'm fortunate to live outside of Washington, DC. I have access to many of our national museums and art galleries. Not long ago I was wondering through the National Gallery of Art when I came upon some early 18th century English paintings of what appeared to be Beagles (or at least small tri color hounds). They were lounging around on the straw covered floor of some medieval hut while their master reclined in an oversized wooden chair. Another painting showed a group of tri colored hounds bounding out of a cottage while their master followed behind with gun in hand. There were others I won't try to describe simply because I could never do them justice. It did, however, remind me of the many times I've argued the hunting vs. house dog topic with those who don't believe a hunting dog belongs in the house and those that don't seem to believe a hunting dog should ever be used for hunting.
Hunting Dogs Should Not Be House Pets: I was raised by two wonderful gentlemen who were steadfast believers in this philosophy. A hunting dog IS NOT a house pet. Unfortunately, neither my father, nor my grandfather is around to explain their opinions on this issue. I, therefore, went to someone whom I dearly cherish as a friend and who holds steadfastly to this same philosophy. According to him, living a luxurious life in a house with air conditioning and heat, plus the added distraction of family members interacting with the hound simply ruins the "master/dog relationship". The dog may or may not respond to the master when out in the field working. He/she no longer depends only on the master for approval (not to mention food and water). Beagles need to be physically fit to follow a trail for hours on end. Keeping them as housedogs "softens" them.
This argument might be more persuasive if I hadn't seen the love Beagles have for the field and the scent (house dog or no). It appears a Beagles first love IS the scent and the hunt. Isn't this the mark of a true hunting dog, regardless of the circumstances in which the dog resides? If you run a hound once a week for an hour vs. running the dog several times a week over several hours, does it really matter where the dog sleeps? It makes sense to me that being closer and having more access to ones dog(s) would cement the relationship and the more time you spent hunting with the Beagle, the better hunting partner they'd become.
Beagles Shouldn't be Hunting Dogs, they should be "House Dogs": A hunting dog is a hunting dog is a hunting dog. I often tell people who are adopting a Beagle from our rescue that these dogs are bred to hunt. This is the unarguable truth. While some of our rescue dogs, either through lack of training or simply through poor breeding, are not good hunting dogs, that doesn't stop their desire to follow a scent. For whatever reason these Beagles have been abandon it doesn't make them any less a Beagle. They will follow a scent anywhere their noses lead them and why not? I always recommend that a family interested in a Beagle as a house pet consider the requirements of the breed. Ideally they will be secure in a well-fenced yard where they can follow those scents around to their hearts content. Without a secure yard they must be given plenty of opportunity to "nose around" while being kept on lead. So the bottom line is, a Beagle is a hunting breed (even if they do poorly) and will, I hope, always be a hunting hound.
Almost one year ago I became the foster home for a Beagle that had obviously been abandon. This Beagle was approximately 1.5 years old and horribly emaciated (15", 14 lbs when brought into the shelter). He was trapped by the animal control officer while wondering in the mountains, coming near houses only to rummage through garbage cans looking for food. This dog was the worst bred Beagle I had ever laid eyes on. His fur was thin with no undercoat and was very soft. His legs were so bowed his front paws actually faced inward (making him look pigeon toed), he had "cherry eye" in one eye and his head was prominently "flat" rather than domed. Next to my bench-legged Beagle he was quite a sad specimen. He was terrified of humans and dropped onto his belly whenever a human approached him. One year later (Yes, I'm a sucker, I kept him. Always wanted a second Beagle anyway.) he has become a beloved house Beagle. I still take both my Beagles out to run them in an enclosed area and frankly, the rescue Beagle is far better at catching a scent and tracking than my supposedly "from good hunting stock" Beagle. Would he make a true hunter happy? Probably not, but he makes me happy and that's really all that counts isn't it?
So the question remains, can a Beagle be both a good hunting dog and a good housedog? Without a doubt! They are one of the most versatile breeds ever conceived and bred by man. A dedicated owner can train a Beagle to be whatever they want them to be. Whether in the home, in the field, or both.