by Karen Gloor
I often get asked the question, "So just how DO you train a Beagle for the sport of agility?" To which I usually respond, "With a lot of patience and perseverance." As Beagle owners know, our cute, cuddly, big-brown-eyed pets can be very stubborn and very independent. This can work well for us at times, but when it comes to training your Beagle for the sport of agility, it can work against us.
Before you start training your Beagle for the sport of dog agility, you need to find out what motivates your dog. Now, with Beagles, the first thing that comes to mind is food. This works exceptionally well for NEA, but it doesn't work for all dogs. And not all types of food evoke the same enthusiasm. I experimented a bit before I discovered that one tasty treat in particular really tripped her trigger. If food is not what your Beagle craves, then pull out their favorite toy.
It is also helpful for your Beagle to have some obedience training before starting agility. NEA went through a basic class, which turned out to be very helpful. The main commands you want your dog to know include sit, come, stay and down. Many clubs have rules stating that your dog cannot come to an agility class until they have mastered these commands. NEA did not have those commands mastered, however, she became solid on them as our agility training progressed.
Once you get to class, be sure that you have a hungry Beagle on your hands…especially if you are using treats. Often times people will bring a dog to class that has just eaten and they are lethargic and unenthusiastic throughout the class. You also want to have plenty of water, your motivator, a 6 foot leash, and NO training collars! Training collars include choke chains and pinch collars. Corrections are not given by the tug of a leash. Corrections take the form of not offering the motivator to the dog when something was done incorrectly or by lack of praise.
Be prepared to have many new distractions out there for your Beagle to take in. In your house and your backyard, there may be distractions, but nothing like 15 to 20 other people with their dogs…barking dogs…dominant dogs…treats everywhere…a whole new place with a whole new set of smells…! There will be many things your Beagle will take note of and it is up to you to make yourself and the equipment the most appealing thing during the class.
Of course, the main issue that always comes up when working with a Beagle in the sport of agility is the "Sniffing Issue." This can be very troublesome when you are trying to learn a sequence, but your Beagle wants nothing more than to follow a lovely scent he/she has just discovered! I received several words of wisdom from many people on how to overcome this natural instinct, and I finally decided that what I really needed to do was make this sport a FUN thing for us to do together. Face it, we are all competitive and want to do well, so we tend to push our canine partners to do more and to be better. I fell victim to that with NEA. When I started to push, she would turn me off by finding a scent and sniffing to her hearts content. Once I started to simply have fun with the sport, she realized that I was more relaxed and happy, which in turn made her more relaxed, happy, and willing to participate rather than sniff. It was a HUGE breakthrough!
One other thing to avoid in a class setting is the comparison issue. You may look around and realize that the other 3 dogs in your group seem to have caught on to a concept, but your Beagle hasn't. One thing you must remember is that it doesn't mean that your Beagle is not as smart as those dogs…it means that your Beagle is very independent and has his/her own personal agenda…it may match yours, it may not! I struggled with this issue for quite some time with NEA until I realized that she is not a Border Collie, in which it's primary goal in life is to please it's owner…she is an independent, loving creature who does her best when it suits her needs!
Once you have the proper mindset to train your Beagle for the sport of agility, the rest is easy. Beagles are very agile creatures (if kept in shape, mind you) and can excel in the sport with the proper attitude on your part. It took a while, but now I truly feel that NEA and I are a team and it is a pure joy to run her in a competition with her AROOOOOOS being heard loud and clear!