by Kristine Kraeuter
Training your Beagle to behave appropriately is a fundamental part of responsible dog ownership. A well behaved, obedient canine is a pleasure to live with. Through proper training, your Beagle will learn what is expected of him, understand how best to please his human companions, and will become a more welcome and appreciated member of the family.
The majority of perceived behavioral problems in dogs are the result of perfectly normal canine conduct that has been misdirected, or occurs at an inappropriate time or location. Without proper guidance and supervision, your Beagle will likely behave according to his natural animal instincts and in keeping with the hundreds of years of selective breeding which resulted in this tenacious little hunting hound. Thus manners training is primarily aimed at modifying and redirecting your Beagle's natural behaviors to outlets that are more acceptable in a domestic situation.
I frequently receive questions from novice Beagle owners regarding how to correct their hounds’ inappropriate behaviors and improve basic manners. In this series of articles, I will be sharing some of the more interesting queries regarding Beagle behaviors and training, and my personal responses. I hope that by sharing these Q&A’s, other Beagle owners may be able to glean some useful information that will aid them in shaping their own well-mannered canine companion.
Hi Kris-Here are the _______’s again with another question for you. We'd sure appreciate your help. Our dog, Blazer who is about 8 months old has just recently been going out into the yard (We have an acre lot so he roams freely (it is fenced in)...he wags his tail back & forth, pays absolutely no attention to any of us if we call him or want to play with him, and he persistently barks (Kind of a howl) every few minutes. It seems that he is on the scent of something-in his hunting mode I guess, but it is of course upsetting to hear this barking & the neighbors certainly won't appreciate it. Do you have any suggestions on how we can curtail this-his normal routine is that he is outside most of the day & until now was happy to just play in the yard & run around etc. We occasionally take him out for walks etc. & the kids will play with him, but he seems more interested now in paying only attention to sniffing. I'm sure this is part of the breed, but is there anything we can do to make him more "family" friendly. (& to keep peace in the neighborhood!) Thanks so much.
It sounds like Blazer is opening on a scent trail while "hunting". This is natural Beagle behavior, which has been selectively bred into the hounds for many hundreds of years. It is a very basic, inherited instinct of the Beagle breed; following a scent trail and proclaiming progress by voice is not an acquired habit nor learned behavior. It comes as naturally to these little scenthounds as eating or sleeping, and I can't imagine what lengths one would have to go to in order to curtail it.
That said, usually the simplest solution to a problem is the best one. Since you are unlikely to be able to extinguish such a strongly ingrained, natural instinct in your Beagle, then perhaps the alternative would be to eliminate the stimulus that results in his hunting behavior. If you have wild rabbits frequenting your property, perhaps you could live trap and remove them for release elsewhere. Likewise, set traps in a safe location to eliminate any rats or mice that Blazer might be hunting for.
If the neighbors are uncomfortable with the Beagle's use of voice, then do not allow him to run free in the yard when you are not home to supervise, and don't turn him loose in the yard at night or early in the AM. Walk the hound on leash when he needs to go outdoors to eliminate, rather than letting him out to run free and potentially engage in his natural hunting behavior; make "potty time" strictly business and not a potential play time.
To promote a better response to you, and encourage obedience and social interaction, continue to tighten Blazer's basic obedience/manners training. Try to use lots of positive motivation (including treats as rewards) in an attempt to make it more fun for your Beagle to be with you, and paying attention to you, than to be sniffing about on his own. Be as creative as necessary to capture his attentions. I would also work on teaching a reliable recall (come when called) using a long line attached to your Beagle's collar so that you can immediately enforce his response when you call him to you. Never repeatedly call your Beagle to come if you have no physical means of enforcing the desired behavior. If you have been calling for him while he is "hunting", and he acts as though he doesn't even hear you, then you have inadvertently already begun to teach Blazer that it is ok to ignore you when you don't have immediate physical control. Again, tighten his response to the basic obedience commands and teach him to focus on you.
The Dr P's dog training web site may have some good links to help you with creating focus. This topic is also covered in my new book “Training Your Beagle”. You might not be able to effectively curtail your Beagle's very natural hunting instinct, but you should be able to find a happy middle ground - through encouraging your hound to be more focused on his people and providing him an alternative way to act. Do what you can to eliminate from your property whatever animals Blazer is fond of hunting/trailing, and then use lots of positive motivation and reinforcement to refocus his attention back onto you.