Beagle’s have quite a mixed reputation when it comes to how hard they are to train. Maybe you already have a Beagle and training doesn’t seem to be working out for you. Or you are thinking about buying or adopting a Beagle but are unsure how much training they will need?
Beagle’s can be harder to train than some other breeds of dog. They were historically bred to be hunting dogs, so are scent driven independent hounds. They are easily distracted by smells, and therefore, training can prove challenging. However, with the right amount of effort, commitment and consistency, Beagle’s are trainable.
As Beagle owners, we all want that super well-behaved dog, we can show off to our friends. But when you get your first Beagle, she will require training. So we are going to explore where Beagle’s get their personality from and how you can use some of their traits to help mould your very own loveable Snoopy.
Why Are Beagles Hard to Train?
Beagle’s are often described as ‘merry little hounds’, and this is a perfect description. They are lovely dogs, with plenty of love to give. But they can be stubborn and free-spirited. For example, you think you have mastered teaching them to give you their paw. Then when you come to show your friends this neat trick, your Beagle stares at you calmly and refuses to do it! Bracken, our first Beagle, used to do exactly that.
So, why did my Beagle Bracken decide not to give her paw, let me explain?
Where do Beagle’s originally come from?
Beagle’s as we see them today, originally were bred in the 1800s from several scent hound breeds. The best qualities from these breeds were used to develop a medium-sized, hardy little hound that would be used for hunting hare.
One of the key traits they successfully bred into the Beagle was an exceptional sense of smell. Beagles, along with Bloodhounds and Basset Hounds, are known to have the best-developed sense of smell, in all the dog breeds. This meant they made excellent hunting dogs.
The Beagles would hunt in packs, with their human hunting companions following on horseback. Hunting would be an all-day event for both Beagle and human which would entail the pack of Beagles trailing a hare for most of the day. Out on the hunt, they had the freedom to go wherever they liked. Their human hunting companion would just follow them. With the Beagles excellent nose and endless stamina, they would eventually catch the hare.
What Are The Typical Character Traits Of Beagles?
Beagles were developed for being exceptional hare hunters, the key character traits which enabled them to be good are;
- Following smells obsessively
- Lots of stamina and energy
- Food driven
We see those very traits in Beagle’s today, and this explains why Beagles can be more challenging to train than other dog breeds.
Their sense of smell is a huge distraction for them when you are trying to get their attention or call out a basic command. Sometimes there’s just something that smells more interesting than what you have to offer.
When they used to hunt, they had the freedom to go wherever they wanted. The main objective was to locate the hare that they could smell. Their masters just followed them. Again, coupled with their nosey nature, asking a Beagle to return to you when out on a walk can prove challenging.
As they would be out on a hunt for a whole day typically, Beagles needed to have a lot of stamina and energy to be able to last for the day and of course keep up with the hare. The boundless energy, when not managed through regular walks, can distract them when you are attempting to train them. They are just too fizzy and will not listen to you.
When the Beagle eventually caught the hare, they would eat it. But if during the day they got hungry, Beagles would look for any opportunity to eat things, such as animal poop. Today we see Beagles will scavenge for food. There are many YouTube videos demonstrating this behaviour in peoples homes. Although they are entertaining to watch, there are examples where they have gone into the trash, cupboards and even fridges to find something to eat. That sense of smell guides them to potential food sources and trouble!
Can I leverage any of these traits to help train my Beagle?
The sense of smell and their obsession with food can be used to your advantage for training them. For example, Bonnie, our 2-year-old Beagle, when out on the walk I carried treats with me. I used them to train her to walk on the leash. When I came to the time where I wanted to teach her off the leash, it proved successful from the start. Bonnie had got used to me always having something tasty with me. She knew when I called her; she was rewarded with a treat. Somedays off the leash, she will walk to heel as she just knows I have food, it’s pretty awesome.
I would always recommend, begin training your Beagle off the leash in the safety of your back yard or an enclosed park area. Only let your Beagle off the leash in an open space once you are confident she is recalling. And never do this near highways or roads, to avoid causing any road accidents or harm to your Beagle.
In terms of treats you can use for training, we use specific dog training treats bought from a pet store, which has minimal chemicals or preservatives in them. Treats that are made from whole foods are great; fish skins are a great example. You can also make your own dog treats as a cheaper alternative.
It is not advised to use human food for training your Beagle. Many common human foods are poisonous for dogs and can prove fatal.
When in doubt, ask you Veterinary practice for advice.
What are some basic training commands I could start with my Beagle?
The following commands are basic ones you can try with your Beagle.
Make sure you have their full attention, so go to a quiet spot in the house. Let your family members know you will be training to avoid any interruptions. Finally make sure you have a bag of healthy, tasty dog treats.
Before you start training, you need to ensure you have captured your Beagle’s attention. This can be done by having a treat in your hand. Facing towards her, show the treat in your hand, but don’t let her grab it.
- Make sure your Beagle is stood up. Hold the treat near her nose.
- Move your hand with the treat in it, over her head, but still close to her nose. She will raise her head to follow, and she will sit. The moment this happens, praise and reward your Beagle with a treat.
- Repeat this another few times.
- In a new training session, later that same day or the following day, repeat the above steps.
- You will notice your Beagle will sit for longer; at this point, you can add the word ‘sit’ as she goes to sit. Timing is key. If you say the word ‘sit’ too early, she will associate that word with the wrong action.
- Repeat the training a few more times, with the ‘sit’ command thrown in. And hey presto you will have a Beagle that can sit on cue.
- Lie Down
- Have your Beagle sat in front of you. Hold out a treat in your hand, but don’t let them take it. They just need to know its there.
- Lower the treat in your hand to the floor, hold it close enough to your Beagle so that their nose is lowering down between their front paws.
- They may try to stand up, don’t reward them, but keep repeating until their elbows touch the floor. When that happens, praise them and reward them with a treat.
- Keep repeating the above steps in several short regular sessions. When they seem to be dropping to their elbows add in the command ‘down’. Again timing is critical so that they associate the right action with the command.
- Take treats nicely
- Start with a tasty dog treat in your hand but with a closed fist.
- Hold out your fist with the treat in it, to your Beagle. She will most likely mouth and paw your closed fist to get to the treat.
- Ignore this behaviour and wait for her to use the soft part of her muzzle to have contact with your hand. When this happens, open your hand flat and with praise, let her have the treat.
- Repeat this a few times, and when she softly approaches your closed fist, add the command ‘nicely.’
- After plenty of practice, when you give your Beagle a treat and call nicely, she will take it from your hand gently.
If you are prone to bruising or scratches, I would suggest asking a family member or friend to carry out the training for you, to avoid injury. Alternatively, practice using heavy-duty gloves such as ones for gardening.
In summary, Beagles are fabulous dogs to own and have interesting behaviours which can make them challenging to train. But with commitment, patience and some tasty, healthy dog treats, you can train your Beagle. If you don’t have the time to do this, there are many well qualified dog trainers that can help.