In March, the American Kennel Club (AKC) released its list of the 10 Most Popular Dogs in America for 2017. The lowly little beagle, a favorite of thousands of rabbit and deer hunters, was in fifth place.

That might not seem significant until you consider this fact. There has never been a time since the AKC’s inception in 1884 that the beagle was not one of the 10 most popular breeds in this country. In fact, from 1953 through 1959, the little big-eared hound was No. 1 on the list of America’s most popular dogs.

This is just one of the many interesting, yet little-known, facts about beagles. Here’s some more trivia you’re sure to enjoy as well.

Ancient History

It is generally believed that the beagle is one of the oldest dog breeds and is one of the breeds closest in appearance to the original hounds. Records of its ancestry point to ancient Greece and France. There is also some evidence that beagle-type dogs were used during the Crusades as an established hunting dog. Talbot Hounds were brought to Great Britain from France in 1066 and are considered to be ancestors to the beagle and the foxhound.

Royal Hound

The beagle came into prominence in the 1500s during the reign of King Henry VII of England (1485-1509). The breed’s popularity further increased during the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I (1558-1603). It was the custom in those days for hunting parties to take the dogs afield in baskets attached to the saddles of their horses.

Pocket Beagles, which are only nine inches tall at the withers, were kept by Elizabeth I. And there are references to Glove Beagles, dogs small enough to fit on a gloved hand, being kept in packs by Edward II and Henry VII.

Breeding Lines

While the English beagle was trained to track fox, the smaller American beagle was bred for rabbit hunting. (Credit: iStock)

In the mid 1800s, Reverend Phillip Honeywood established his pack in Essex, England, which is thought to be the progenitor of the modern beagle. He was breeding for hunting skills though, not looks. A fellow Englishman, Thomas Johnson, was responsible for breeding lines of beagles that could hunt and that also looked attractive.

Related: The Benefits of Taking the Dog for a Walk

Welcome to the Club

Beagles were imported to America in 1876. In 1888, wealthy sportsmen promoted the beagle by forming the National Beagle Club. The club was established to hold field trials and bench shows. American breeders began developing beagles that would fit American needs. The English variety of hound had been trained to track fox and was bred to an average height of 15 to 17 inches at the shoulder. The smaller American beagle was bred for rabbit hunting.

Name Origin

The origin of the word “beagle” is uncertain, although it has been suggested that the word derives from the French begueule (meaning “open throat”) or from an Old English, French or Welsh term meaning “small.”

Presidential Celebrities

President Lyndon B. Johnson owned several beagles. The two best-known were Him and Her, who became national celebrities. They often rode along in the president’s car, snoozed in the Oval Office and swam in the White House pool.

After Him and Her died, FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover gave Johnson another beagle, which the president named J. Edgar — later shortened to Edgar — in the giver’s honor.

Amazing Sniffers

In the mid-1980s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture began recruiting beagles to sniff out contraband food being brought into the United States through airports. These dogs, part of the “Beagle Brigade,” sniff baggage for prohibited food articles to battle pests that endanger the nation’s farm products. The dogs are trained to detect beef, pork, citrus fruits and mangoes, although occasionally lime-flavored shaving cream causes quite a stir.

Beagles also are used by law enforcement personnel to detect arson accelerants at suspicious fires. And beagles are popular with pest control companies because of their ability to smell termites that are hidden deep inside walls, floors and foundations in both homes and businesses.

No. 1 Beagle

Who was the most famous beagle of all time? Undoubtedly, it was Charlie Brown’s dog “Snoopy.”

Featured image: iStock