Kerry Beagle
Kerry Beagle (Photo: By Mark Hosny – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18164716 (cropped))

The Irish Beagle

The Kerry Beagle is probably Ireland’s rarest dog breed.

Although this breed is a particularly old one, the majority of other official bodies do not recognise this as a unique breed and it was only in 1991 that the Irish Kennel Club officially recognized it. 

What is a Kerry Beagle?

A Kerry Beagle is a scent hound, in fact, Ireland’s only native scent hound.

While its name suggests a close connection with beagles, this is somewhat confusing as the breed is considerably bigger than a regular beagle and resembles a hound dog. 

This breed was developed over centuries to hunt stag and large game.

As pack hounds, Kerry Beagles are excellent hunters known for their speed and long standing endurance.

While involved in the hunt, they are focused and their strong hunting instinct comes to the fore.

However, when not hunting, they are known for their gentle, affectionate and very easy going nature

Why is a Kerry Beagle called a beagle?

Although the answer is not known, one possible reason is that the term Beagle in this case does not come from the dog breed, but in fact the Irish word for small, which is beag

The sport of hunting took place for centuries in Ireland and was continually fine tuned and developed for the best results.

In some cases, it is likely that scent hounds such as the Kerry Beagle, were first on the trail of the quarry and when it was located, the larger animals, such as the Irish Wolfhounds would have been set loose to finish off the hunt.

In comparisons to these giants, the medium-sized Kerry Beagle is indeed a little small or “beag”. 

In the Irish language, the name for the Kerry Beagle is Pocadàn Ciarraioch, which is a direct translation of the English.

Facts about the Kerry Beagle

  1. They are considered to be a musical dog, with a deep baying bark which is particularly melodious in unison with the pack.
  2. Recognised by the Irish Kennel Club in 1991 and not yet recognised by most of the other official dog breed bodies.
  3. Thought to have been the ancestors of the Coonhounds and possibly also the American Foxhound
  4. They are not very common in Ireland and are even less well known world wide.
  5. Dramatic declines in number from the mid 1800s threaten the breed, but one purebred line continued though the Scarteen Hounds from County Limerick in Ireland.
  6. Daniel O’Connell, the Irish National Leader, had a great love of hunting and had a large pack of Kerry Beagles.

Kerry Beagle Breed Characteristics

How tall is a Kerry Beagle?

Kerry Beagles are roughly 56-61 cm (22-24 inches) in height to the shoulder. They are medium-sized dogs with long lean legs. 

How much does a Kerry Beagle weigh?

The Kerry Beagle weighs about 27 kg or roughly 60 lbs. They are solidly built, but despite their weight have particularly good speed and stamina.

What does a Kerry Beagle look like?

These long legged hounds are similar in size to a Collie dog.

While their legs are not overly muscular looking, they are strong and built for stamina and endurance. They have slim chests that are not very broad, and a slightly curved tail. 

Kerry Beagles have large almond shaped eyes that can be yellow, brown or hazel colored.

Their long ears are low set and hang in a floppy manner beside their broad heads. 

While black and tan may be the most well known colors, the coat of the Kerry Beagle can also be a mix of tan and white, solid black, mottle blue or a combination of black, tan and white.

Their coats are short haired and lie close to their bodies and do not need much maintenance.

What dogs are similar to Kerry Beagles?

As with many Irish dogs, the exact bloodline heritage is not particularly easily traced.

There is certainly some similarity of the Kerry Beagle and the Bloodhound breed, and also a degree of resemblance to the face and legs of the English Foxhound.

Kerry Beagles have a very distinctive baying howl and that is said to have some parallels to that of the French Ariégeios Hound.

Kerry Beagle vs Beagle

Beagle
White, black and tan Beagle (l) and Kerry Beagle (r). (Photos: (l) eAlisa via Canva, (r) By mark hosny – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18164716 (cropped))

Are Kerry Beagles just another one of the types of Beagles? No, Kerry Beagles are actually quite different from Beagles. 

A Kerry Beagle is larger and heavier than a Beagle.

Typically a Kerry Beagle is about 60 cm (23 in.) to the shoulder, while if you are wondering how big do beagles get, they generally reach around 38 cm (ca. 15 in.). Kerry Beagles weigh around 27 kg (ca. 60 lbs.), while Beagles are closer to about 10 kg (22 lbs)

Kerry Beagles tend to be loud and make good watch dogs, while the opposite could be said of a Beagle. 

They both require lots of exercise, have strong prey drives and are easy to train. Are Beagles smart?

Well yes, but while the Beagle is known for its average intelligence, the Kerry Beagle is usually quite smart and learns things quickly

Beagles make great household pets, but Kerry Beagles are best suited to plenty of space, ideally outside if possible. 

Kerry Beagles are better suited to slightly cooler climates than Beagles.

Kerry Beagle Maintenance

Kerry Beagles are generally considered to be low maintenance dogs.

They require the usual basic maintenance such as dental care and regular teeth brushing with a dog toothpaste. Frequent ear checks will prevent issues with wax build up or infections. 

Their nails should also be regularly trimmed when they get too long. 

Did you know that the Kerry Beagle has a “hares foot”, where the middle toes are longer than the others.

It is thought to be an adaptation found in some breeds that are known for their speed, such as greyhounds. 

Do Kerry Beagles need much grooming?

No, Kerry Beagles only require a very light grooming regime. Brushing a few times a month usually is sufficient to remove loose hair and debris.

If the dog is regularly exercising in a muddy, dirty environment, then more frequent brushing may be needed. 

A bath every 2-3 months is enough to keep these dogs in top shape.

Do Kerry Beagles shed a lot?

No, Kerry Beagles do not typically shed all that much. Occasional brushing is likely to be sufficient to keep the shedding at bay. 

Is the coat of the Kerry Beagle hypoallergenic?

There is very little information available about whether the Kerry Beagle is considered hypoallergenic.

It is true that they do not shed much which may make them more tolerable  for people with very mild symptoms. Another Irish dog breed, the Irish Water Spaniel, is considered to be hypoallergenic. 

If you do suffer from allergies, it is best to discuss suitable dog breeds with medical and veterinary professionals before making any decisions about the best dog for you.  

How long do Kerry Beagles live?

Kerry Beagle by the name of Gangster taken around 1913
Kerry Beagle by the name of Gangster taken around 1913 (Photo: F. Gray Griswold, Public Domain from Internet Archive Book Images)

The average lifespan of a Kerry Beagle is about 10-14 years which is in line with many other dogs of this size.

Luckily, these dogs do not usually suffer from many health complaints and are typically a healthy breed. 

Are Kerry Beagles healthy?

Kerry Beagles are surprisingly robust dogs that only extremely rarely suffer from serious health issues.

In comparison to some of the other Irish breeds, such as the Irish Wolfhound, the Kerry Beagle health is excellent. These dogs still need regular checks with a vet to ensure that their health stays in top condition. 

What do Kerry Beagles eat?

High-quality dry dog food is recommended for Kerry Beagles.

The exact amounts will be determined by the gender, age and activity level of the animals so best to consult with a veterinary specialist to ensure that your dog’s nutritional needs are being carefully met. 

These dogs enjoy treats, but it is easy to overindulge the dog and put the animal at risk of being obese.

Try to keep treats to a minimum to avoid this happening. 

Do Kerry Beagles need much exercise?

Playing frisbee is a great way to exercise a Kerry Beagle
Playing frisbee is a great way to exercise a Kerry Beagle (Photo: Kieferpix via Canva)

While Kerry Beagles are low maintenance in regard to their grooming requirements, they are high maintenance when it comes to exercise.

These dogs have lots of energy and need plenty of rigorous exercise every day to keep them balanced and in good shape. Ideally they need at least one hour of strenuous exercise per day

They enjoy long walks and jogs and will accompany their owner when they go for bicycle rides.

These dogs need lots of movement so engaging activities such as fetch and frisbee, as well as canine sports like trailing and rally are good options.

It is also important that these dogs get the option to run free in a safe enclosed space regularly, which is why they are best suited to a home with an enclosed garden.

Kerry Beagle Training

Kerry Beagles are smart dogs that are inquisitive and enjoy learning puzzles and new things.

Their laid back nature means that they are reasonably easy to train. As with all dogs, it is best to set the foundation for good discipline and behavior early on.

Owners should be clear, firm and consistent in their training methods to achieve the best results.

Early socialization can ensure that these dogs get on even better with children, strangers and other animals, such as dogs or even pet cats. 

Kerry Beagles Hunting Sports

Kerry Beagles excel at drag hunting. They have an excellent sense of smell and their speed and mettle for the hunt shows the determined perseverance of this breed when it comes to hunting.

Drag hunting can the scent of an animal being laid out over a terrain for the dogs to catch a whiff of and follow. Today, Kerry Beagles are mostly used in drag hunts for hare and fox. 

David Knox Blake in The Curious History of Irish Dogs describes the typical hunting style of Kerry Beagles as differing from other scent hounds.

Usually they circle out until one of the dogs has caught the scent and then they come together and work collaboratively to chase the prey.

(This is a highly recommendable and enjoyable book for anyone interested in Irish dog breeds and their interwoven roles in Irish history!).

Their intelligence also makes this breed a good contender in obedience trials

Do Kerry Beagles bark a lot?

Kerry Beagles are certainly known for being quite vocal.

They have a deep baying voice that helps the dogs and hunters to stay together when out on a hunt. The baying noise can sound very musical at times, but it is probably a love it or hate it kind of noise.

Generally, the Kerry Beagle is too loud to have in a small house apartment and is best suited to a spacious area, where its barking won’t disturb too many people.  

Kerry Beagle Temperament and Personality

Kerry Beagle
Kerry Beagle (Photo: by Martina Dominick – Martina Dominick, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11216408)

Kerry Beagles are amiable and affectionate, their pack instincts allow them to form strong bonds with human families.

Their friendly nature makes them a good family pet for active families.

Once they get sufficient exercise and attention, they are very laid back and relaxed. While they are good with kids, they are typically a bit wary of strangers initially.

It is interesting to see the change in character in this breed when it comes to hunting.

Most of the time Kerry Beagles are very laid back and relaxed, however when hunting, they become very task oriented and focused.

Dogs work together in a pack to find the scent and track the source. 

Are Kerry Beagles good with kids?

As an affable dog breed that enjoys plenty of exercise and input, Kerry Beagles are a good breed to have around children.

They enjoy the rough and tumble of family life and are usually willing playmates

Kerry Beagles that have been exposed to children from a young age are even more likely to get on well with children. 

As always, dogs and children, especially younger kids should be supervised when together to avoid any mishaps. 

Are Kerry Beagles good with other dogs?

Yes, Kerry Beagles feel at home in a pack and their even natured temperament generally means that they can mix well with other dogs.

It is good to start the socialization with other dogs while the Kerry Beagles are still so that they can become accustomed to having other canines around them.

Do Kerry Beagles have a strong prey drive?

For centuries this breed was trained to chase and hunt and it is still used for this purpose today.

Kerry Beagles have a strong prey drive, so certain considerations should be made, such as ensuring they are on a leash in public areas to avoid them bounding off after some little creature. It is also best to start young when introducing them to the family cat. 

Are Kerry Beagles good with cats?

Kerry Beagles do have a strong prey instinct, but have been known to get on well with some pet cats.

There is always a risk that the instinct to chase will overcome the dog, but usually this doesn’t happen too often once the dog was introduced to the cat as a puppy.

Are Kerry Beagles aggressive?

No, Kerry Beagles are not usually aggressive and are not prone to nipping at people.

They are very concentrated when hunting, so best not to bother them when they are in the flow of a hunt, but otherwise these dogs are very good natured most of the time.

Are Kerry Beagles rare?

Yes, Kerry Beagles are a very rare breed. They are classed as vulnerable  with low, but stable numbers.

There have been several times in their history when they have been threatened with extinction, but have always somehow bounced back from the brink.

They are not often seen in Ireland due to their low number and are particularly rare outside of Ireland

Kerry Beagle Association

There is a small, yet strong following of the Kerry Beagle Association in Ireland.

This is probably the best way to get in contact with people knowledgeable and passionate about this breed. Regular events, such as drag hunting are listed on their website. 

(Other Kerry Beagle clubs and associations seem to be hard to find. If you know of any please contact us!)

Kerry Beagles for Sale

This rare breed is not widely available.

Even the number of Kerry Beagle breeders Ireland has is low. If you happen to be based in Ireland and are looking for Kerry Beagle puppies for sale, it is best to contact the Kerry Beagle Association for assistance about enquiries.

Be prepared to be placed on a Kerry Beagle for sale waiting list, if there is only a limited number of Kerry Beagle puppies available.

If you are based outside of Ireland, it might still be worth contacting the Kerry Beagle Association of Ireland for some help.

Trying to find Kerry Beagle Breeders USA might be a challenge, so the Kerry Beagle Association may be able to put you in contact with breeders closer to your locality through their own knowledge networks.

When looking for dogs for sale Kerry Beagles are no different.

Make sure you do your homework and find a reputable breeder. It is important to visit the breeder, view the facilities, the mother, the litter and how the puppies were reared and what medical checks have been carried out before agreeing to purchase any Kerry beagle puppy for sale.

Kerry Beagle Cost

The availability of the Kerry Beagle is a factor in its price.

Depending on the animal, its bloodlines, gender and location the price will vary. New owners can expect to spend between US$300-$400 for a Kerry Beagle puppy, but this may be higher.

Kerry Beagle Rescue and Kerry Beagle Adoption

Although these announcements do not occur very often, when a Kerry Beagle does need to be rehomed it is important that the new owners are well suited to the dog.

If the dog has had one or more homes already, it is necessary to introduce some security and stability for the dog. 

In many cases, Kerry Beagles are far more energetic than their initial owners expected.

If you are thinking of adopting a Kerry Beagle rescue dog, be sure that you are fully aware of the requirements of this breed and the particular dog in question. 

A donation is typically requested to cover the rehoming costs by the organization responsible for the adoption.

The History of the Kerry Beagle

Pack of Kerry Beagles.
Pack of Kerry Beagles. (Image: By not specified (except those with signature on image) – W. E. Mason – Dogs of all Nations, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6800957)

When it comes to tales, the Kerry Beagle has quite a few fanciful ones about its existence.

One includes two Kerry Beagles hopping off Noah’s Ark and scampering after a fox when Ark passed by Galtee Mór mountain in the Counties of Tipperary and Limerick.

Other stories suggest that the Kerry Beagle is a descendant of the hunting Celtic hounds in ancient Ireland known as the “Gadar” (sometimes Irish dog names for this are spelled gadhar or gagar). 

Perhaps the dog breed originated after the middle ages, one story includes a shipwrecked dog from the Spanish Armada washing up on the Irish coast and breeding with the local dogs in the 16th century, although this seems unlikely. 

Some suggestions about the origin of this breed have also pointed to the idea that Old Southern Hounds, a now extinct breed, were used to breed Kerry Beagle mixes at some point in the distant past.

Such a Kerry Beagle cross would not be unheard of as the Old Southern Hounds were interbred with a number of different dog breeds, including the Harrier Dogs, Coonhounds and Foxhounds, for example.

There is certainly reason to believe that this breed of dog is very old and probably one of the oldest breeds of native Irish dogs, but this is difficult to prove without the records of the detailed pedigrees (which were not kept in the past). 

The Origin of the Kerry Beagle

Does the Kerry Beagle dog come from Kerry? The Kerry Beagle is strongly connected with the southern half of Ireland, but there is no certainty that the Kerry Beagle came from the County of Kerry in Ireland. 

Did you know that out of the nine breeds of Irish dog, two of them have “Kerry” in their name (the Kerry Beagle and the Kerry Blue Terrier). In fact, Kerry is the only county to be mentioned in the official dog breed names.

Kerry Beagle as a Working Dog

Running Irish Wolfounds.
Irish Wolfhounds sometimes worked with other dogs to bring down their quarry. (Photo: Zuzule via Canva)

Kerry Beagles were bred to hunt and they are very well suited to this task.

They have an excellent sense of smell and are quick on their feet. Originally they would have been used to hunt larger quarry, such as stags and may at times in the past have been used in combination with other Irish dog hunting breeds such as the Irish Wolfhound. 

As pack dogs, this breed was often kept in large numbers (ca. 200 dogs), in the kennels of the wealth gentry in Ireland.

It took substantial resources to keep and maintain such a large number of dogs and by the mid 19th century, some of the large families had to sell their hounds due to rising costs. 

It is worth remembering that the Great Famine, where a potato blight devastated the main food source of the Irish population during the late 1840. This led to huge suffering, death and mass immigration from Ireland.

At the same time, the better off in society were able to continue to feed their large packs of hounds, while the local people starved to death. 

This injustice was not forgotten by the people who survived the famine.

Their descendants were among those who fought to stop the gentry hunting on the land that they rented from landlords around the 1880s.

As part of the National Land War, packs of Kerry Beagles were targeted with poisoned meat and in some cases the dogs were violently killed. 

The number of Kerry Beagles reduced greatly as a result of these attacks, high maintenance costs, as well as the changing attitudes towards the upper class gentry in Ireland.

Large packs of Kerry Beagles started to diminish and instead the trend of only a few dogs kept by farmers began to develop instead. One wealthier family that did not follow this trend was the Ryan family of Scarteen House

Scarteen Hunt 

Image of the Scarteen Pack from 1930.
Image of the Scarteen Pack from 1930. (Photo: By Cardiff Potter – Scarteen Hounds 002, CC BY 2.0, ttps://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54167966)

The purebred black and tan hounds of Scarteen House, County Limerick have been preserved through generations of the Ryan family for over 350 years.

Records of this breed date as far back as 1794. While many other large families were put under financial pressure to reduce the size of their packs of hounds, particularly in the mid 1800s, the Ryan family of Scarteen House continued to maintain their pack of famous hounds. 

Scarteen House black and tan hounds are typically thought of as the only colored Kerry Beagles, but in fact this is not the case. Other coat colors include black, white and tan, as well as black and blue mottled.

Now people from all over the world come to visit the hounds and to see the famous Scarteen hunt. More information about the Scarteen hounds and the hunt can be found on their website

Kerry Beagles Today

It was only in 1991 that the Irish Kennel Club recognised the Kerry Beagle as a native Irish dog breed.

After this, there was a small increase in the popularity of the breed. 

Kerry Beagles are only rarely seen at dog shows, if you do manage to see one you are lucky!

Irish immigrants are thought to have introduced the Kerry Beagle to America at some point in the past.

Interestingly, while it is thought that some dog breeds descended from the Kerry Beagle, including the Coonhound and the American Foxhound are recognised by many well known institutions including the American Kennel Club, the Kerry Beagle does not receive widespread recognition and acceptance. 

As a gentle dog breed that is relatively low maintenance, bar its high exercise needs, this dog is certainly a bit undervalued.

It is a skilled, energetic hunter with an affectionate side which makes the Beagle Kerry is known for a great family pet for active people

Native Irish Dog Breeds

Irish Wolfhound portrait
Irish Wolfhound portrait (Photo: Searsie via Canva)

In total, Ireland has 9 dog breeds that are recognised by the Irish Kennel Club. Hounds only account for 2 of the 9 breeds (the Irish Wolfhound and the Kerry Beagle.

However they are all specialized hunting dogs bred for specific purposes for the people of Ireland. 

An overview of the Irish breeds dog owners love can be found in this complete Guide to Irish Dogs or more detailed information about the individual breeds can be found through the links below. 

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Please note that this article is only for general information purposes about the Kerry Beagle breed and should not be used as a substitute for canine health information, as well as medical and pet care advice from veterinary specialists.