Beagles, I've found, get a bad reputation in the pet-handling world. Those I knew were neither loving nor kind, but they raised a few litters of puppies and a couple pretty good boys along the way.
Beagles get short shrift from raters of dog intelligence because people who score such things imagine dogs should mind the people who feed and house them. Beagles themselves, it turns out, think otherwise.
One of my Old Men kept a pack of hounds handy through all the years I knew him. Over time, both he and the dogs taught me a lot.
Standard intelligence rankings of dogs land beagles near the very bottom. They typically rank in the high 70s on a list 80 names long. Border collies and retrievers claim the first ranks because they're quick to obey new commands, divining their masters' desires in only a two or three repetitions. Those same metrics find beagles require 80 to 100 repetitions to learn a new command. I find the whole notion suspect. The system assumes the dogs in question love their masters and want to please them. No one who knows beagles very well would ever assume such to be true.
Border collies and retrievers draw immense pleasure from their masters' praise. The beagles I've known scarcely cared whether their owners lived or died. To them, the people who fed and cared for them were simply business partners, and running rabbits was their sole business every day.
It didn't require long association with the Old Man's beagles to realize a hunt's strategy might be ours, but the tactics were chosen at their discretion alone. If someone imagines they can turn a beagle loose then order him to hunt in one direction instead of another, the dog is not the one who should worry about where he places on the intelligence scale.
The Old Man's dogs hunted where they pleased, rested when they wanted, cooperated or not at their whim. They were as different one from another as any group of headstrong humans might be. Some were social, some were loners, some were greedy and othe3rs would share, but each was a specialist and a master of his or her game.
A close knowledge of their difficulties made magic the moment when, fresh on a trail, they would harmonize and the jumper, the cold trailer, the cheerleader, the chaser, the zealot and the one who hunted only alone joined forces. In these moments they sang with a combined voice that rang through cold pine woods, across fields of harvested cotton, through the brushy tops of broom straw, bounced off of bricks outlining ruins of house places abandoned long ago.
The harmony rang through time as well. It connected those who knew it by heart to countless yesterdays, to people long gone.
It's a thing dog IQ can't comprehend. Those who'd disparage beagles can fetch their own frisbees as far as I'm concerned.
Kevin Tate is a freelance writer. Email email@example.com.