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Can This Dog Be Saved?

by Larry Gavin

Donna, a little red dog, headed along the pine trees like she was shot out of a gun. We'd owned her for about three hours and took her out to see what she could do. The little hound never even looked back as she disappeared into a thicket of wild plum.

Then she opened. Her high bawl mouth wasn't what we were used to, but she was pounding something through the briars, and I secretly hoped it wasn't a deer. "She's straight as can be", the guy that owned her had said, "she's just a little fast for my pack." My son, who is always an optimist, and loves his beagles, looked at me and said, "She's got good foot" an inside joke we share whenever we see a dog bouncing around like a pinball. We hadn't seen her for awhile but she still seemed to be pounding the bunny. She was about to the end of the stand of trees and we were making up a little ground on her when a bunch of pheasants burst into flight. Donna was still coming down the edge, still out of sight, and two deer, a doe and a fawn broke out of the grove across the field of cut hay to our right. "What a mess", I remembered thinking", pheasants, deer, what isn't she running!" Just then my son grabbed my arm, "Look," he said, pointing.

A cottontail, slipped toward us down the trail at the edge of the trees. Finally, Donna appeared bursting through the low grass and briars and turning toward us too, her head down, snout full of rabbit, attacking the line. The rabbit cut back into the trees at a clump of honeysuckle twenty yards ahead of us and Donna followed it like she was on rails. I couldn't believe it. She ignored the pheasant and the deer and stuck to that bunny like a post-it note.

We were elated. Then we realized another potential problem.

She didn't handle a speck! It took us forty-five minutes after she put the rabbit in the ground just to get near enough to her to get her caught. I mean she was crazy, wacked-out wild.

As the winter wore on we noticed another problem besides just bad handling, she liked to bail out of the check area a little too soon. She was run a lot on hares here in Minnesota and she wanted to chase 'em not look for one she lost. To our way of thinking, that is a more serious problem than handling. She was also a little too shy for my taste. Some would say she was too fast, but to me that isn't a problem especially if she stayed tight on the line. Now I know some of you experienced beaglers are thinking too much speed is what is causing her trouble in the check area, but after watching her I figured that wasn't the case. I'll tell you why a bit later. On the plus side she had excellent kennel manners and was a pleasure to have around the house.

See, our hounds are pets. They sit in the brown chair in our living room, and sleep the sleep of happy canines. At home My son and I sat down and took inventory. The problems mentioned above and solutions we worked out will form the rest of this article. Our theory is that with time many problems can be solved and a good rabbit hound can be salvaged. Of course, there are faults that can't be fixed, but we had hope for little Donna.

Here's our plan:

Shyness:

We figured she was shy due to lack of socialization as a puppy. The kennel she came from was like a palace, but she was kept alone. The local feed mill in town offers dog obedience classes. My son signed her up and took her twice a week. My wife took our other beagle, one that had already passed the class, for a refresher. The dogs learned to heel, sit and stay, come, and avoid distractions like toys rolled their way and loud noises. Donna responded immediately to the training she got socialization and obedience at the same time (not to mention bonding with a pack mate). Not only did we see a great improvement in her shyness, but handling improved greatly too. In the field the impact was not as noticeable, but we'll deal with how we fixed that later. I can almost hear seasoned beaglers laugh at this, but an obedience trained dog that goes down EVERY time is a good dog to have in the field.

Working the check:

I said before that I didn't think her speed was what was causing her trouble with checks. I knew by her jumping ability that it wasn't her nose that caused her to leave the check.She didn't appear to be over-running, but she did hunt cover and search and jump like a fiend. She loved to jump bunnies and when confronted with a check - worked it for a bit then stopped and looked around for the next patch of cover. When we first started working with her there was a lot of snow on the ground and cover was big and bold and easy for her to see. She took off to the next patch of sumac, leaving the area of the check. Of all her problems this is the one that bothered me the most.

Here's how we overcame it. We matched her up with a hound that was action packed in the check ( maybe even a touch mouthy) but worked it hard from the inside out. This hound held Donna in the check area longer, and longer, until the trail was reestablished. Donna, as I said earlier, loved to run bunnies and she was soon rewarded for staying around the check area by getting to run a hot scent again. Because she is a hound with brains, she soon figured that if she slowed down a bit at the point of loss someone else would figure out the problem and she would be on a chase. Sure, at first this seems less than ideal, but after awhile she began to understand that a check could yield a rabbit chase just as easy as jumping a new one. As the seasons changed and the snow gave way to dense summer foliage, the patch of sumac in the distance was invisible to her 131/2 inches and the check area was the only place that seemed to hold the promise of a bunny. Now she works checks like a pro. She knows the rabbit went somewhere and she has confidence she can figure it all out. This also has taught her to gear down when scenting gets difficult even with out a check, and developing those gears has made her a better rabbit dog.

Handling in the field:

I said I would come back to this point. After obedience training she was more socialized and better around the house. When we went out in the field, however, all bets were off. She didn't come when called consistently and I don't like a dog that can't be called in at the end of the hunt. One thing that the obedience training did was prove to me that she knew what "come" meant. I knew she understood the command even if she ignored it. That is when the training collar came into play. I would wait until she was focused on me and tell her to "come". If she refused I applied correction. If she was coming my way I'd do nothing. I said she was a brainy dog and a couple of lessons and she was coming when called even with out the collar.

All of this took exactly a year to fix. We ran her every Tuesday and Thursday night after work, and most Saturdays and Sundays. A year and three months after we got her she was what we would call a grade "A" rabbit dog. She handles well, is trash free, jumps almost all the rabbits we find and is good in the check. In addition she has those qualities that come from good breeding hunt, a great nose, and brains galore. In addition, she's a valued member of our household.

This is a hound that was on the ropes and just needed time and work. The two things my son and I were willing to give. When we got Donna she was two and a half years old, now at three and a half, she's got a lot of fun left in her for my son and me. We were able to save her and improve her a good bit through hard work. I think sometime we owe this wonderful breed our full efforts and a sound strategy for improvement before giving up, because they give such joy and ask so little in return.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).