Just as colour prejudice among humans causes problems throughout the world, the colour of Beagles has caused considerable controversy among their breeders, exhibitors and judges. Non specialist judges are frequently unaware of the wide variety of colours found among Beagles so tend to prefer the traditional tricolour whereas some specialist breeders and judges show a definite preference for on particular colour. Although colour prejudice has not completely disappeared in Britain it is much less than is found in some European countries, Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
One of the causes of colour problems is the interpretation of the Kennel Club Breed Standard which states: "Any recognised hound colour other than liver. Tip of stern white.". This means that no colour, or combination of colours, is more correct than another and the distribution of colour, or markings, does not matter, providing the tip of the stern is white. With one exception, no hound can have a wrong colour. that exception is liver which is considered objectionable because it is frequently accompanied by very light eyes, or even green eyes with pink rims.
Of the recognised hound colours the three basic ones are black, white and tan, each of which vary in shade, even black and white! The total number of combinations these three colours can produce is 14 which can be divided into the following groups:
Tricolours: Have solid patches of the three basic colours. Because tricolours used to be - and still are - the most numerous they were - frequently regarded as the traditional and only group. Tricolours with large patches of white are described as "flashily or "brightly" marked; those with a large area of black on the back are often referred to as "black blanketed" hounds. A typical description from a non-specialist judge hedging his bets is "hound marked".
Two colours: (Not normally referred to as "Bicolours") They have become very popular in Britain and frequently possess great quality. White is the basic colour accompanied by tan which can vary from a pale lemon shade to rich chestnut. those with the pale lemon colouring are "Lemon & Whites"; those having a darker shade of tan are "Tan & Whites". If the tan has a reddish or orange tinge, the hound is a "Red & White". Black & White is permissible but rarely found.
Single colour: The only single colour permitted is all white. This is rarely found but there have been several examples with small patches of very pale tan barely visible at a distance.
Pieds: Pied hounds are those in which the three basic colours intermingle and do not occur in solid patches except white. Where the hairs of one colour predominate, the overall shade changes and gives rise to several types of pied hounds: "Lemon Pied" - mainly lemon or cream hairs intermingling with black and white; "Hare Pied" - more tan than black and white, giving a coat resembling that of a hare, and "Badger Pied" which contains a majority of black hairs. The pieds are found less frequently than the other colour combination groups.
Mottles: Similar to tricolours and the two coloured hounds but with small black and tan spots, known as flecks or mottles, on the white parts. The names used to describe these are "Tricolour Mottles", "Lemon Mottles", "Tan Mottles" and "Red Mottles".
Many years ago some hounds found in Wales and Southern Ireland had a definite bluish tinge to the black and were correctly called "Blue, Tan and White". Nowadays these are rare but some examples have been seen recently in Australia and the USA. These Blue, Tan & Whites can also have blue flecks and are therefore called "Blue Mottles".
A lighter shade of blue, almost a slate grey, has been seen on rare occasions but they are usually accompanied by light eyes. The blue/grey colour is not a true colour but a degenerate black which should not be regarded as a recognised hound colour.
It should be remembered that the colours of newly-whelped puppies can change. For example, the head, ears and shoulders of tricolour hounds are often black but gradually turn to turn to tan during the next few weeks. Similarly shades of cream, brown or grey on the back usually disappear fairly soon and a covering of little white spots all over the black and tan usually disappears within 12 weeks, to the relief of novice breeders. Hounds not possessing a strong deep shade of black often lose it in old age and can appear almost all white.
The size, symmetry or distribution of colour does not mater, with the exception of a white tip to the stern, but they can create optical illusions of which a judge should be aware. For example, on the head a wide white blaze down the middle of the forehead between the eyes makes the head look too broad and an unbroken black blanket from head to stern can make the hound look too long. A white patch on the spine can give the impression of an uneven topline, and uneven tan or black markings down the legs, both front an rear, can give the impression of loose elbows, poor angulation and poor movement.
Beagles are found in a great variety of colours, virtually all of which are correct and it is one of the factors which have made the breed so popular. Personal preference may be permitted in breeding and exhibiting, but never in judging. Without doubt, these colours must all be encouraged and no prejudice against one or another be allowed to develop.
DJW October 1999.