“Your dog is a hunting dog,” some men say when they see a Beagle. “Seriously, they’re bred for the hunt.”
I didn’t doubt what these men said, but I’m not a hunter, so I figured I would probably never see evidence of it in my Beagle. “Really,” I say. “Well, isn’t that interesting.” I considered it interesting, and I dismissed it with equal measure.
I owned a Puggle (part Beagle, part Pug) for years, and I named it Mr. Fehrley after the landlord on Three’s Company. Mr. Fehrley was the best dog I’ve ever owned. Loyal, obedient, easily trained, affectionate as all get out, and as fun as a dog could possibly be. If anyone is looking for a great dog, I don’t think you can do much better than the Puggle. I could be wrong, but I think Mr. Fehrley took the best of the Beagle traits, and they were softened by the cute, cuddly traits of the Pug.
If I loved the Puggle so much, why didn’t I just get another Puggle, after Mr. Fehrley’s tragic demise. My wife said that I would forever unfairly compare the new puppy to Mr. Fehrley. She was right, of course, as no dog could live up to the lofty plane I put Mr. Fehrley on.
If I wanted another Mr. Fehrley, the question was should I go Pug or Beagle? I’ve met some pugs, and I read about a whole lot more. While they are one of the most attractive dogs, the consensus is that they are cute and cuddly lap dogs. They are characteristically loyal and affectionate, but their preference (according to the various websites on dogs) is to sleep by your side, or on your lap, and occasionally chase a ball around when they’re puppies. The older Pugs fall routinely fall into the 20-hour sleep routines of the normal dog.
The best dog I’ve ever owned did nap a lot, but most of his characteristics lined up better with the Beagle traits. If you loved those traits so much, I thought, why not go one step further and find out what a purebred Beagle might have to offer?
Over a year in, I’ve seen the documented loyalty of the Beagle in Max. He’s no Mr. Fehrley, but he’s probably as close as I could get with all of the other characteristics thrown in.
Max, while still a puppy, has boundless energy. Just when you think you’ve drained every ounce of energy out of a 21-pound dog, he regroups. He takes a break. He drops to his belly and pants it out, and he’s ready to go all over again, usually within minutes.
As I suspected I never saw a hint of a hunting dog, in Max, and I never thought I would until we took a trip to grandpa’s house. Grandpa’s house is in a small town, surrounded by some acres of forested region. On the outskirts of a forested region, we saw a deer.
Mr. Fehrley’s motto was “I’m game!” He spent his eleven-and-a-half-year existence ready for anything you had to offer. He loved “the chase”. He would chase anything and everything just to do it and just to see what it was. (He chased an opossum once, and he caught up to it, but he didn’t know what to do when he had.)
We could see Mr. Fehrley’s Beagle characteristics in the course of a chase, but we now know the Pug characteristics appeared when he was easily dissuaded from pursuing it by our arbitrary definition of “too much”. If I decided this would be a fun hunt, and I did more often than not, Mr. Fehrley was game. He was all-in, as it were, but after a while, humans get tired, bored, or in other ways disinterested in the chase. A Puggle follows suit. “I get it,” they basically say. “It’s time to move on.”
A Beagle, as evidenced by this trip to the grandparents, and a couple of instances since, cannot flip the switch of their internal mechanism as easily.
The quote “Your dog is a hunting dog” came back to me when I saw Max’s internal mechanism go primal. Mr. Fehrley whined and barked after squirrels, rabbits, deer, and any other being we saw through the course of his life, but his emotions dictated that he enjoyed an occasional chase of the unknown. Max’s reactions suggest he doesn’t just want to chase a goal, he wants to rip the throat out of whatever is on the other end of this scent. His whining and barking are more of a primal, desperate cry to satiate the characteristics bred into his DNA.
It’s difficult to describe the distinction between a dog who enjoys the hunt, as if it were a game, and one who displays an internal, primal switch. To illustrate the difference, Mr. Fehrley chased hundreds of rabbits under chain link fences. He dug fastidiously under the fence, and he whined while doing it, but after a time, Mr. Fehrley recognized the pointlessness of the exercise. It was cute and funny to see him display his characteristics. Max did all of the same things, but at the point when Mr. Fehrley would recognize the pointlessness of it, Max attempted to bash through the fence, headfirst, twice. If I didn’t pull him away, I suspect he would’ve harmed himself in the pursuit.
The men who told me Max was a hunting dog said it was why humans bred them. We all knew this. We know this about our German Shorthairs, our Pointers, and the various retrievers we call our best friends. We know some dogs are bred for hunting, but until we see it firsthand, we don’t truly know it.
“The hunt” for Mr. Fehrley it was all about fun and games. Mr. Fehrley ran to the extent of his talent to capture the goal, but he never came close to achieving it. Max is so fast and so quick with his change of direction that I’m pretty sure he would probably end the life of whatever he is chasing.
I let Mr. Fehrley off the leash to chase his intended victims, because I knew he’d stop when I ordered him to, and he’d always come back. I’m almost positive that the moment I let Max off the leash, I’d never see him again.
I flirted with letting him off the leash once, but there was a fairly busy thoroughfare a tenth of a mile away. Just seeing what I saw that day at the grandparents’ home, I know Max would go to that thoroughfare and beyond it if that was required to catch his game.
And the thing of it is, Max is so cute and affectionate. He’s as loyal as any in-the-home, domesticated dog I’ve ever encountered, much less owned. After a year of ownership, I thought I knew him as well as any dog I’ve ever spent every day with for a year. I’ve owned a Cain Terrier (a Toto) who surprised me by digging so deep into a ground squirrel’s hole that I was reminded my cute, little fuzzy buddy was a carnivore. I owned a Puggle who showed me what he was bred to do, but neither of those two dogs prepared me for what the Beagle wants to do, how badly he wants it, and what he might do if he catches it.
If you’re in the market for a dog, the Beagle is one of the most beautiful, loyal dogs you’ll ever see, and they’re one of the best family dogs on the market, but they’re also listed as one of the best hunting dogs by many other outlets. If you want to buy a Beagle for evidence of the former, but you don’t want to see evidence of the latter, my advice is never take them out of your city neighborhood. Doing so, might lead you to see a side of them you don’t care to see. I enjoy it all to a limited extent. You can call me a soft, city-dweller if you want, but I must admit that I’m not ready to see the extent of my Beagle’s ability as a hunter.