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A Question of nicety - or An essay on size in the Beagle

Non- specialist judges and people new to the breed frequently describe the ideal Beagle as being "Ä nice small Beagle "or a " A nice compact Beagle".

A few points are to be made here - all Beagles are nice - but small is not necessarily nice, nor for that matter is big nice. What is nice is balance.  There is no mention of the Beagle being a ssquare dog in the breed standard but balance is required. The Beagle breed height standard ranges from 13 inches to 16 inches. Therefore a balanced Beagle of 13 inches is just as nice as a balanced Beagle of 16 inches and vice versa. Having said that, a Beagle is not a toy, but a working dog and must be able to hunt over open and rough ground and ploughed fields. On average, newly ploughed furrows are around 10 to 12 inches deep, so a balanced beagle of 13 inches at the withers will have difficulty hunting over such ground.

What is meant by balance? In a perfectly balanced Beagle, the height from the ground to the top of the withers, will equal the length from between the shoulder blades to the base of the tail. Therefore a 16 inch Beagle will have a longer body than a 13 inch Beagle. Get out your tape measures and measure your Beagles, you will be surprised by what you find. Visually Beagles may appear to be longer or shorter than they are in reality due to coat colour, markings, saddles and blankets. Saddled and vertically marked Beagles will appear shorter than blanketed and horizontally marked Beagles. Due to principles of colour saturation, lighter coloured Beagles appear larger and longer than their darker coloured colleagues. The moral of the story is don't judge by eye alone but use a measuring device, be it a tape measure, stick or piece of string to determine the height and length of your Beagles.

The norm for length of coupling is generally four fingers wide, significantly shorter, the dog will have difficulty moving soundly. Too short coupling will affect both hind & front movement as the dog will not be able to achieve the desired reach and drive, often resulting in a piston engine action in front and wobbly hocks or bicycling behind. Too long, the dog may move soundly but will be too stretched out. Beagles are bred to hunt, a dog with unsound movement will not be able to work effectively for a sustained period and will break down, so, a dog that is slightly too long in body is preferable to a dog which is crippled or has unsound movement due to being too short coupled. also extra length is more acceptable in a bitch than it is in a dog. These are views shared by a number of hound specialist judges.

Balance is also required in the length of legs. In the forelegs, the length from the top of shoulder to elbow should be equal to length from elbow to ground. Hind legs which are too long in hocks may result in a topline rising over the hindquarters. Beagles with the correct balance between forelegs and hindlegs usually have the desired level topline.   

The head is another area where balance is desired and where checks can easily be made by the novice, breeder and judge alike. Leathers, when pulled forward should reach almost to the tip of the nose. The length from the tip of the nose to the stop should equal the length from the stop to the occiput bone. The width between the ears should equal the measurement from occiput to stop.  

Finally because Beagles tend to grow and mature in spurts one should never become hypercritical regarding size or balance until the dog has reached physical maturity at about 18months. Give a young dog the benefit of the doubt. Movement on the other hand, generally doesn't change, other than muscling up behind, an unsound mover at 6 months is usually a faulty mover as an adult, and movement often deteriorates as the dog matures and ages.

Judges should not show a preference for a specific size but select winners from the most balanced hounds that fall within the breed height standard of 13 to 16 inches.

Remember, when selecting for breeding and judging, there is no perfect dog, so the degree of the fault must be taken into account and consideration given as to whether it is structural or cosmetic; and in the case of breeding whether it is a common fault in the proposed sire and dam and most importantly in either of their lines.




Shuna de Villiers, In Full Cry No 2, 2013