With a compact size, easy-care coat and happy nature, the Beagle has long had a place as one of the most popular breeds for families. They're also used as scent detection dogs at U.S. airports, where their friendliness allows them to search for weapons, drugs and illegal food items without making passengers nervous the way a larger "police dog" might. The breed was developed in England to hunt rabbits, and Beagles are still happiest when following their noses.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

Beagles are wonderful with children and truly love their families, although some may warm up slowly to strangers. Beagles range downward from 30 pounds and 16 inches at the shoulder, with a short, clean coat that's usually some combination of black, white and tan. Their small to medium size is a plus for families -- they're the perfect shape for a child to hug -- but the Beagle has no idea he's anything but a full-sized hound, and he has the loud bay of a full-sized hound to prove it!

Don't let the small size or undeniable charm of the Beagle fool you: These dogs are still born to hunt. They've been described as "a nose with four legs," and they love following a scent trail. The minute they smell something interesting they're likely to follow their noses rather than their owners' requests.

These dogs like to play often and hard, especially when young. They're very curious and highly social, and get along well with other dogs. Because of their tendency to take off after enticing scents, it's the rare Beagle who can be allowed off-leash in an unfenced area. But if you have a fenced yard, can walk your hound on a leash, and have access to safe areas for running, playing and exploring, a Beagle or Beagle mix (somewhat common, due to that running off problem) might be just right for your family.

In addition to having a nose for trouble and a big mouth, these little hounds have a tendency to put on the pounds. Beagles can gain weight very easily, which takes a toll on skeletons and joints designed to support a much smaller dog.

Beagles are pack animals, and become very attached to their human "pack." They're not suited for life in the backyard or a doghouse, but need to live indoors as a member of the family.

Health Issues Common to Beagles

Beagles suffer from a spinal problem known as intervertebral disc disease, which can affect any part of the Beagle's spine including the neck. This condition makes even the smallest of movements painful and difficult and may require surgery.

The Beagle's long, floppy ears also make them prone to chronic ear infections. Left untreated, such infections can cause permanent damage to the ear canal and even destroy your dog's hearing. Checking ears often and seeing the veterinarian at the first whiff of a problem combined with good follow-through will keep a Beagle's ears from being an expensive and painful chronic problem.

Beagles are prone as well to hip dysplasia, a genetic malformation of the hip socket, as well as luxating patellas, where the kneecaps pop out of place, and anterior cruciate ligament tears -- another painful condition that usually requires surgery.

Seizure disorders, hypothyroidism and allergies are also found in the breed, and Beagles may suffer as well from a number of less common breed-related conditions including deafness, heart disease and dwarfism.

To protect yourself from the expensive vet bills associated with these conditions, you'll want to purchase pet insurance for your Beagle before they show symptoms or are diagnosed.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Patellar Luxation Medium $1,500-$3,000
Demodectic Mange Medium $200-$1,000
IgA Deficiency Medium $2,000-$5,000
IVDD High $2,500-$7,000
Beagle Pain Syndrome (Meningitis) High $1,500-$4,000

7 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Beagle Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills. Puppy mills also advertise through Internet sites, so never deal with a breeder who'll ship anywhere to anyone with a credit card.

Start your search for a good breeder with the National Beagle Club of America, which maintains a referral list of breeders.

Don't rely on a breeder's assurance that your puppy will be free of problems. The National Beagle Club of America lists a number of tests or certifications that a puppy buyer should expect to have been done on both of a puppy's parents. They include Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHip certification of hips; Musladin-Lueke Syndrome status as determined by the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory; OFA certification of the knees and elbows; Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) clearance.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Beagles aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out by your veterinarian.

Puppy or adult, take your Beagle to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. Ask specifically about preventive care for ears, since dogs with floppy ears are prone to infections.

Keep a lookout for health issues in your Beagle. Even if you get your Beagle from a shelter or rescue group and don't know his parents' health histories, your own careful attention to his weight, and fast response to signs of pain or uncomfortable movement can go a long way towards ensuring your dog will be a happy, healthy member of your family for years to come.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and resources.

Pet Insurance for Beagles

Pet insurance for Beagles costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Beagles are much more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Beagles are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Beagle is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.