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Getting Started In Beagling

by Rev. John Parks

          Last time we considered buying a Beagle puppy as a way of getting started in Beagling. That is one way to do it, but it is probably not the best way. The reason is that in most litters of puppies only about half (or sometimes less than half) turn out to be top notch hounds when they are grown and mature.

          A much better way to go is to purchase a young started hound that is already trained (or at least partially trained) so that you can see for yourself what you are getting.

          Naturally you want to start with a hound, or hounds, that are really good ones and have the ability to run the rabbit well. However, don't expect to go out and buy the first available hound find and have it turn out to be a really good one. I have talked to dozens and dozens of breeders about how they got started in Beagle breeding, and most of them have told me of a long list of hounds that they have owned that didn't turn out too well before they finally got a really good hound or two. Many Beaglers get discouraged along the way and quit. They feel that it is impossible to find a really good hound, so they just give up the search.

          One reason that so many would-be Beaglers give up is that they get "taken" by dishonest breeders. I hate to have to say this, but it's true. Time and again I get phone calls from the victims of dishonest breeders (or "dog jockeys") telling me about the bad hounds they bought from "so-and-so" and asking me "Where can I find an honest breeder who will represent their hounds fairly to me?", This is difficult for me to answer, not because I don't know of any honest breeders, but because the really honest hound me usually have a long waiting list for their hounds (that they are willing to sell), and the prospective buyer is usually very impatient and doesn't want to wait until a really good hound is available for purchase.

          Besides, dishonest sellers and impatience on the part of the buyer, another trait that brings about the downfall of many would be Beaglers is being too trusting. They see an ad for hounds and decide that this is what they want, so they call the seller and order a hound, or a pup, over the phone, "sight unseen" with nothing to go on but the word of the seller.

          Please don't do that.

          You are just asking for trouble if you do.

          You ought to go see the hound first, and watch it run before you even consider buying it. Even then you ought to get some trial of the hound, on your own running grounds, before purchasing it. Besides that, you ought to have some recommendation about the breeder, so you can be sure that he (or she) will do as he (or she) says. Otherwise you will still be stuck with an undesirable hound in the end.

          Another phenomenon that I have noticed is what I call "regionalism." It goes like this--A breeder gets a famous stud and all of his neighbors purchase pups from him and build their kennels around that stud, too. Why? Because the hound is close by and it is so convenient. Now don't get me wrong, but convenience is not a valid reason for purchasing hounds. True, they may be perfectly good hounds and you couldn't find any better ones if you searched the country over. However, they may not be the best hounds for you either, and you will never know it unless you look around a little farther than your back yard. No, don't limit yourself to what is convenient. It could be a grave mistake. Be willing to give the matter a thorough study, and then, after you have looked over the field, make your decision.

          The surest way to get really quality Beagles is to start with one or two hounds that are sound, average hounds which are free from major faults, and breed your way to a kennel of quality hounds. Many have done it in the past, and you can do it, too. You won't do this overnight though; and not without a lot of patience, persistence, and a fair amount of know-how. We will get to the know-how part later to start with for a foundation.

          The real benefit you will get from doing this is the satisfaction that you did it! The fun is in the journey, not in the arrival at the destination!

          I know of a few breeders who have gone out and bought whole kennels in the attempt to put together a real fine kennel of hounds. That may be alright (if you have the money), but I think they are missing something in not breeding their way into good hounds themselves. There's a certain sense in which they are buying the painting already completed, instead of painting it themselves. They are missing out on a lot of satisfaction.

          The past history of the Beagle breed has had its ups and downs, and those fluctuations have been directly proportional to the number of really dedicated breeders who were willing to spend a lot of time, effort, and money to improve the breed. Such really serious breeders--who have the good of the breed and the sport of rabbit hunting at heart--are few and far between. Far too many breeders are thinking about the almighty dollar, or the popularity of their kennel and the recognition that they might get if they produce winning hounds, instead of the honest effort to try to bring quality Beagles into this world.

          Well, lets say that you really want to breed your own kennel of quality hounds, what should you do? Before you do anything else, you need to inform yourself as well as you can.

          First, talk to respected hound owners. Get acquainted with them. Pay attention to what they say, and compare where they agree with each other, and where they don't. Don't take everything you hear as "gospel" either. Just think about it, and filter it through your own common sense. Some hound owners have had "more luck than sense," and you need to be able to recognize that. Listen to them respectfully though and don't argue. Just think each point through to yourself, compare what others have said, and sooner or later you will know what is best for you. When I was about to go away to college (many years ago1), I remember some good advice an older gentleman gave me that might fit here. He said, "Just be like a cow going through the pasture. Don't swallow everything that you come to. Just eat the good grass, and leave the thistles alone."

          Read all the articles about hounds that you can. This website is dedicated to informing you in many ways about Beagles. There are other good sources, too. Some them are old and out of print, but your local library may have some that would be helpful to you.

          Also, I feel that you need to know a fair amount about genetics. As we proceed, I will get into this more and more, and I will try to keep if fairly simple too so that everyone can understand. Most genetics textbooks are not simple by any means. However, that doesn't preclude your learning something about it. The science of heredity is a fascinating one, and the more you learn, the more you will enjoy it, I am sure.

          Still another way to inform yourself is to attend as many competition events as you can. There you may observe some good hands at work. Nothing will take the place of first-hand observation of hounds in the field. If you feel so led, join a Beagle club, but remember you are there to see hounds demonstrate their skills in the field. You are not there to be influenced, one way or the other, by the politics that may be present within the club. There is a certain amount of this in most Beagle clubs. Just remember that the field trials are for the purpose of judging the hounds and not the owners. If you feel that one certain owner's hounds get more than their share of the "breaks," don't let is disillusion you and drive you out of the sport. Find a club where you can feel more comfortable and keep right on participating. Not every club is controlled by politics by any means. There is a place for you somewhere. Look around until you find it.

          As you observe hounds at work, it might be a good idea for you to keep a notebook handy so that you can jot down some of the points about the hounds you have seen, or even make a note of the owner's name, address, and phone number for future reference. I have seen a lot of hounds run in my day, and I can remember some of them vividly; however, I am afraid that I have long since forgotten a lot of others, too, and I wish now I had kept more records on them.

          You might ask whether I can tell a good hound from watching it run just once. My answer is "usually," I readily admit that I may not have seen some hounds on their best day, but I take the conditions into account in my evaluation of a hound. I figure that if a hound is mouthy on the day that I see it, then it will probably be mouthy on other days, too: and if it over runs checks really badly on the day that I see it, then it will probably do the same thing on other days, too. Oh, I know that hounds have good days and bad days, otherwise some hound would get a first place in every trial, instead of a few firsts, a few seconds, and so on down the line. I still think though that if I can see a hound run an hour or two, I can get a pretty good idea of what it is like.

          As an aside, I might quickly add that I have never thought of myself as a good candidate as a judge for a field trial though, so I have stayed away from that role and kept to judging hounds for my own information as I have watched them run. I guess the main reason is that I am not nimble enough of foot to see everything that they do, so I haven't felt that I had any business judging someone else's hounds. Also, I haven't always agreed with the judges' opinions of the hounds at a trial; however, I have always kept my opinion to myself and respected the judge that was given (and had accepted) the task of evaluating the hounds' performances and selecting the best ones on that day. I always felt that if I wasn't willing to do the job of judging, I had better respect the judgement of the ones who were given the job, and support them in their decisions. If I privately disagreed, I would just keep that to myself.

          Well, I have strayed just a bit from my original intent in this article, so I had better get back to the topic of securing good rabbit hounds before my space runs out.

          When it comes to securing breeding stock, I think it is best for a small breeder to start out with females. So many Beaglers don't, and they end up with a kennel full of males which they will never use, and that they just keep around because they have grown attached to them. Please don't do this. First of all, females are the foundation--the building blocks--of your future kennel. If you have only females, you are free to breed to the best stud in the country for the price of a stud fee (plus shipping). Usually the sale of one puppy (a male I hope) will pay for the stud fee easily. On the other hand, if you have a male ("old Butch"), you will be tempted to use him on your bitch, and that might not be the thing to do at all, but it will be difficult to resist the temptation.

          If you can buy one bitch that is well started, and you have seen her perform in the field and are satisfied with her, then by all means do so. Even better, if you can buy a bitch that has produced at least on litter of puppies and has proven that she can produce good hounds, then by all means do so. Be prepared to pay for her though. She is valuable and will give you a head start in your breeding program. She is worth the price you will pay.

          If you can't find an adult female to purchase, I suppose you will have to settle for a female pup. Better still, why not buy all the female pups in a litter? This will give you an advantage over the law of averages in getting a good individual. Let's face it, not every pup in a litter will be a good one. For that matter, the pups from identical matings will vary from one litter to another. When you buy just one pup from a litter, you are not assured that you will get the really good one in the litter by any means. It's just a "shot in the dark" proposition.

          If you do buy one female pup and she doesn't turn out to be what you really had in mind, then for goodness sake cull her out, don't just go ahead and breed her because you have her. Have the nerve to admit that she is not what you want to breed and perpetuate in your kennel. Remember, no kennel is better than its brood bitches. They are the "corner-stones" that you are going to build on. Bitches are the most valuable acquisitions you will make. Without a good, dependable, producing bitch, your kennel isn't going anywhere.

          The actual worth of your brood bitch can only be measured after she has produced a litter or two of puppies that have grown up to be excellent hunters and top performers in the field. Then you will know that she is really valuable.

          Once I sold a young female, and soon I realized that I had made a mistake. The reason I sold her is because I still owned her mother and I thought that I could always raise another one like this young female. However, it didn't work out that way. Soon the older bitch started missing, and I realized that I had better get her daughter back. It took quite a while, and a lot of persistence, but I got her back. The best part was that I hadn't had her back two weeks when she came in season, and I bred her. She rewarded my efforts with a fine litter of five pups that all proved the be excellent hounds! Don't ever let that good producing bitch go. I don't care how much you have to turn down! Keep her if you want to keep your kennel going.

          Next time we will try to answer the question, "What is a good hound anyway?" Be sure to be with me, won't you? 

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).