It’s no wonder Beagles are so popular. From Snoopy to Shiloh, Beagles have been in the spotlight for a long time. They’re not only great family dogs and completely adorable, they’re also useful partners in a number of professional functions. They’re often employed as service dogs, TSA inspectors, and even law enforcement dogs, capable of sniffing out everything from illicit substances to hidden or smuggled food. Some are even trained to sniff out diseases like cancer in humans. It’s no surprise that Beagles often have twitching noses nonstop. What makes Beagles better sniffers than other dogs, and why do they enjoy doing it so much?
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs have incredible noses. Some dogs, especially those bred for hunting and tracking, have better noses than most. What makes some dogs better sniffers than others has to do with the shape of the nose itself, the length of the snout, and the number of olfactory cells, the kind of cells designed for distinguishing and differentiating scents. Humans might have as many as six million olfactory receptors in our noses. Dogs, by contrast, have between 125 and 300 million. Beagles have around 225 million, which is about as many as German Shepherds. That means they have super sniffers designed for finding, tracking, and memorizing many scents. Beagles, like the other members of the hound family, were bred for tracking and hunting. Their wide, wet noses and long snouts are perfect for picking up all kinds of smells. They even have a special olfactory lobe of their brains that is designed to process and store those smells. And it’s around 40 times larger than the region in a human’s brain.
The ability to sniff out anything and everything is the way that dogs discover the world around them, from their home environment and their humans to other animals that have passed by outside. Humans might rely on sight more than other senses, but for dogs, and Beagles especially, the nose can say more than any other sense. Dogs gain most of their information about the world around them through scent. They have a powerful ability to store and “memorize” scents, which help them learn about things that are good and things that might not be good. For example, a Beagle might follow their nose right into your garbage can and be scolded. Then they associate that trash smell with the negative experience of being scolded. Since dogs don’t form memories the way people do, their powerful scent memory is the biggest tool they have to learn.
Encouraging the Behavior
That super-sniffer is a huge part of their biologic makeup. It’s hard-wired into their behavior, and it’s an urge that humans can do little to deter. The urge to follow a scent may override all existing training and manners, no matter how well your pup typically behaves. This is also partly because Beagles may be extremely stubborn, which makes them difficult to train. If you own or are thinking about adopting a Beagle, be aware that you may be hard-pressed to find a Beagle who’s a couch potato. Beagles require physical exercise and opportunity to exercise that powerful sniffer. Owners without fenced yards may find their pup wandering away from home with some regularity.
So what can you do for your wanderer? Give your dog plenty of opportunity to sniff. Taking them new places will provide them with new smells to inventory. Even on your familiar walks around the block, allow your dog plenty of time to sniff things out. Other dogs often leave their own scents for others to investigate, and Beagles will do it without hesitation. A dog’s urine is a huge source of information, it can tell your dog about them more effectively than a social media account—everything from age, sex, health, diet, stress level, and more.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Even if your yard is fenced, you may still find that Beagles will find a way to pursue a scent, often Houdini-ing out of your yard in mysterious ways. Keeping an eye on your dog and making sure they don’t become bored or lonely is a great way to keep them home. Interactive and engaging toys or treats are great ways to keep them occupied and out of trouble while you’re away. Alternatively, there are other kinds of fencing that may prove effective at keeping Fido home. And when you’re out and about with your dog, always make sure you keep them on an appropriate leash—one that doesn’t allow them to get too far away from you.
So why do Beagles spend so much time sniffing things out? They’re good at it and it’s what they’re meant to do. And more than that, it’s instinctual, and not something dogs can simply ignore. You wouldn’t be expected to ignore what you love to do, so don’t expect your dog not to sniff. Just make sure you allow your dog plenty of safe opportunities to follow their nose.