That energetic little bundle of enthusiasm that you consider your pet Beagle was actually created to be an effective rabbit hunter; actually, Beagles were used to track a variety of game including foxes, hares, birds, deer, bobcat, wild boar and coyote. They were ideal hunting companions because they were not bred to bolt off rapidly, but rather deliberately track an animal, with their nose always to the ground. This made them dogs that anyone could follow on foot, such as the elderly, young children, and hunters who could not afford horses. Hare hunting was originally a sport which focused more on the skills of the dog in tracking rather than rapidly killing the prey; the Beagle was well suited to this type of sport, given his amazing sense of smell, endurance and general enthusiasm for the chase.
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Beagles can be hunted in a pack, alone or in a brace, or pair. They are often used as gun dogs, or dogs that have the purpose of scaring up game, making it visible so that the hunter can get in a good shot. Beagles are usually initiated into the hunting world around 18 months of age and, if all goes well, will probably spend about the next six to eight years hunting, though some dogs will hunt for a quite a while longer. Beagling, the sport of actually hunting hares with a pack of Beagles, was quite popular both in England and in the US, though increasing restrictions on hunting activities have made it nearly impossible to practice in some areas. Kennel Clubs still organize Field Trials, though, and many Beagle owners participate in these tests of hunting abilities.
Field Trials are competitions in which the ability of hunting dogs is tested; different types of trials test different hunting skills. There are retrieving trials, pointing trials, etc. Beagles participate in Beagle Field Trials, of which there are four categories. One category is called the Brace; this is possibly the oldest type of Beagle trial and consists of pairs of dogs tracking a cottontail rabbit. Within the last ten years, the Gun Dog Brace competition was also added, in which Beagles are tested for gun shyness while they track. Small Pack field trials are common, where Beagles track in packs, usually of about four to seven dogs. There is also a variation on this type of trial, called the Small Pack Option, where the dogs are tested for gun shyness. In certain states, mainly where the snowshoe hare is found, there is also the Large Pack field trial, in which packs of thirty to sixty dogs can compete. In all types of field trials, the dogs are competing against one another.
Today, Beagle owners who want to hone their dog's hunting skills and allow him to perform the job he was bred to perform, but don't wish to involve an actual prey animal can participate in drag hunting. In this type of sport, a scent is dragged along the ground in a given area by a volunteer; when the dogs are released, they must follow that trail. In order to successfully win the competition, a dog must either make it to some kind of finish line or must find the volunteer that laid the scent.
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