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Who Is Training Whom Here?

by Ron Provines

I’m debating what format this article should take.  I have many things that I feel that I did correctly with the ‘girls’. The ‘girls’ are the two female Beagles, currently age 7 ½ months that dominate our household.  I have an equally long list of items, probably more, that I wish that I had worked on more, started earlier, or had done at all.

                To start with I didn’t think that hunting dogs should be spoiled.  How do you define ‘spoiled’?  Is treating them with care and respect spoiling?  Is showering them with affection when they’ve done well spoiling? All I know is that my paradigms have shifted.  Perhaps the only aspect of their care that I still feel is spoiling is feeding them people food.  It can’t be good for them, look what it’s done to me.

Bear in mind that I’m not talking about a pack of animals here.  I’m speaking directly to the rest of you out there with one or two dogs that you have as much for the pet value as you do for the hunting value.  Those with a kennel full of critter chasers have less to go around.  Less time per animal, less affection, etc. But this is relative.  The dogs compensate by taking what they get.  The message to the pup is the same.  Let’s refine this, then, to a list of DO’S and DON’TS for the Beagle puppy owner/hunter.

DO'S

  • DO spend as much time with your animal as you possibly can.  This socialization and familiarization with you and your family are, at the least, important if not absolutely vital.  If you expect your animal to come in when you call you have to create a situation in which it is desirable on the animals’ part, to do this.  A firm bond between you and the dog is the easiest way.  Negative reinforcement (punishment) will accomplish the goal but the message is “You have to do this”.  With a bond between you and the animal the message will be, “You will WANT to do this”.

  • DO put your puppy on a leash; A LOT.   This is a mistake that I made, and I’m still paying for it.  In my shortsightedness I didn’t think I’d ever need to leash the dogs.  I didn’t think about bringing them out of the field and walking back to a busy highway or getting them past the landowner’s house before they start hunting.

  • DO spend a great deal of that time working on basic commands.  ‘Down’, ‘heel’, and ‘come’ will pay big dividends.  I had no experience in doing this.  I did not do enough leash work and I did not work on ‘heel’ at all.  The next dog will get a leash on it as much as possible, and in the process will learn heel.  These commands will help keep the animal safe and make life on the road and in the field easier on both of you.

  • DO work on basic commands when the animal is cooperative.  Most dogs have a short attention span.  Most people have a short attention span AND limited patience.  Don’t expect the dog to be any different. Spend short periods working a command maybe a half a dozen times.  Then move on to the next command or a different activity. This will usually keep the dogs’ attention.  Be ready to quit when the pup shows no interest in what you are doing.  Life will be easier for both of you.

  • DO enforce a command once given.  Always.  Be prepared to follow up to make sure that the animal knows who’s in charge and that a command, once given, is expected to be obeyed.  This can usually be done gently, hands on, in the case of teaching the basic commands.  It’s tougher in the field but we’ll talk about that at another time.

  • DO be assertive when giving commands.  I’ve read a bit about the “alpha” role in the pack.  The more I deal with dogs the more I realize how true this is.  Eye contact when starting command training works wonders.  Something else that I’ve found that works well when disciplining is to gently push down the muzzle of the dog with my hand when I’m correcting it.  This apparently is a pack behavior in which the dominant animal in the pack, the “alpha”, exerts influence by subjugating unruly pack members by crossing their muzzle over the nose of the offending member.  It sends the message, “I’m the boss here”.  You can use it to your advantage in training.  These two techniques are part of your dog’s instinctive makeup, they expect discipline.

  • DO create situations in which to issue commands in which you can’t fail.  The obvious failure mode to get into is to try to call the dog off a track it is working on.  I have found that if the dogs are half-hearted about it, for example a track they really aren’t getting anywhere with, it may be possible to call them in and start fresh.  But to call them off a good hot track just isn’t going to be obeyed.  Not by my dogs anyway.  Their genetic engineering tells them to hunt.  You’ve set yourself up to fail and taught the dog that it can get away with disobedience.  Issue commands when the dog is receptive and make it worth its while to obey.  Praise and petting are cheap insurance.

DON'TS

  • DON’T expect too much at one time.  Go for the little victories.  A command being learned and that is obeyed 3 times in a row is probably a good place to stop.

  • DON’T let the animal get away with disobedience.  Catch that mutt and let it know that you are the boss.

  • DON’T repeat commands over and over.  Every time you give a command that is ignored further reinforces to the dog that it doesn’t have to obey.  Your puppy heard you, you can bet on it.  He/she is choosing to ignore you.  Rightly or wrongly I try to give a command twice before disciplining.  Once to let it know what I want and once to reinforce that I mean it.

  • DON’T beat your dog.  Gentle discipline, forcing the animal to comply with a desired behavior, works best.  It’s amazing how fast puppies learn your tone of voice.  They will know when you are happy with them, and they’ll know by your voice when you’re disappointed in them.  They will know when they are being punished if you are consistent.

  • DON’T discipline when the animal doesn’t know what its being punished for.  A sin committed five minutes ago I doubt is recalled by an animal.  Take them back to the crime scene, do what you will, they aren’t going to know what they are catching the devil for.

  • DON’T set the animal up to fail.  We started letting the girls come into the house in the evening with us.  The inevitable was just that.  We hadn’t recognized that the whining at the door had a real purpose that time.  Shame on me, not the dog.  The same is true when you start fieldwork.  It is easiest for them to learn when they are succeeding at what they are doing.

  • DON’T put off training your Beagle.  Our chosen companions are justifiably known as one of the more hardheaded and stubborn varieties.  Putting off training may mean losing valuable time that can never be regained.  Puppies are like sponges, they soak up new information readily.  The sooner in their young lives that they learn something the more time there is for reinforcement and the better they retain the training.

Having written and reread all of this it occurs to me that dogs and children are not all that different.  What goes into teaching a child successfully works with puppies.  Patience on your part, success in their endeavors, and firm, consistent, and reasonable discipline when needed go a long way towards getting your puppy off to a good start.  And a good start now paves the road for the field training to come next.

Next time – What can I do to help this puppy hunt?

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).