Beagles are a member of the hound family of dog breeds, and like most hounds were bred for hunting and scenting. Hunting and scenting requires a beagle to be good at locating and hunting down a scent. Beagles are known to be intelligent dogs and have a reputation of also being stubborn or ‘wilful’. Combine these traits with high energy and you have a dog breed that can be difficult to train and control, especially when off the leash.
A beagle’s nose dominates its every move, they are always nose down ready to track a scent. A beagle will even try to escape a well secured yard to hunt down whatever scent it can track on the other side, be it a squirrel, cat, rabbit, treat, whatever!
Let a beagle off the lead without adequate recall or command training and you may well find yourself with a long chase to get them back under your control.
So this all paints a picture of it being tough to train a beagle off the leash. While training beagles can be a challenge, you can use some of their traits against them, to train good recall command and leash etiquette.
Let me explain. A beagle’s second love after sniffing is food. By offering a nice smelly treat we can distract them to do what we want as they realize you have a pocket full of tasty, smelly food treats.
Once your beagle realizes the way to get a treat is to repeat a specific behavior you are on your way to having a well trained dog, on and off the leash.
Why Is Off-Leash Training Important For a Beagle?
Even if you don’t intend to let your beagle off the leash as your local area isn’t suitable for off-leash walking, it’s still a great idea to teach good recall training for other times when you need to have control over your dogs actions. For example, if you leave your beagle at home while at work, by using the leave it command you can command your dog to leave certain items, either as you leave the house or over a dog cam that watches over them while you are away.
Beagles are cunning, they will wait for the moment someone will forget to close the garden gate, or your dog will chase a child around the garden a little too enthusiastically. At which time you will be grateful for the recall training you did with your dog, as they hear you call their name and run over to you ready to be given their treat as reward for answering your call.
The Basics of Off-Leash Training
I’m going to presume you have started some prior basic training with your beagle. Training a beagle should start from an early age so that you have formed a trusting bond with them. It would be helpful if they already understand some basic commands such as sit, or paw and that they trust you. Even if you have not mastered those commands, the fact you have some kind of training going on means your beagle is at least used to being taught commands.
Grab your chosen training treats, it’s time to get to work.
Training Method for Walking a Beagle Off-Leash
Perhaps the most important part of training any dog to walk off-leash is having a reliable recall. That is to say, when you recall your dog using a command they respond and come back to you.
Without this command you run the risk of your dog wandering off with no way of getting them back unless they decide to come back by themselves.
Ideally you’d want your recall to be near 100% reliable, where your beagle comes back 100% of the time you recall them. However, this is beagles we are talking about and there WILL be times they choose to ignore you. In those situations you just have to show patience, while they decide to keep following whatever scent it is that they picked up.
Note – If you are not confident that your beagle at least understands your recall and there is a high probability they will come back on recall then it’s best to leave them on leash. There’s no shame in having your dog on the leash. I have to do this with my beagle, Baylee, unless I know it’s perfectly safe for her to be off the leash.
For many reasons, some dogs will never be suitable to let off leash. You may need to keep your beagle on a leash due to not wanting your beagle to eat poop, or you may be training your beagle to stop biting or nipping.
How to Train Your Beagle For Recall
It’s best to start off-leash training in a small space that is fully enclosed so that they can’t escape.
Before training starts, remove as many distractions as possible, such as other pets, children, food, toys etc.
The best and easiest way to train a beagle is to make it fun and use treats to reward your dog when they do something you wanted.
Clicker training is an alternative way to train dogs, i’ll cover this in detail in another article, for now you can read this excellent article about clicker training from the AKC.
Take a treat, show your dog, and as your dog approaches you, praise them and reward the dog with a treat. The trick here is to ensure you only reward them as they approach you. Do this a few times more but this time add in a verbal cue, something like “come, here” etc.
Avoid using just their name as this could be confusing later when you are training them for other things where their name is used.
Keep practicing this technique, but again, only add in the cue when you are confident your dog is moving towards you and only reward when they do come to you.
Beagles are greedy dogs and will likely take most treats, but still make sure the treat is something they like, else they might decide it’s not worth their effort.
Over time you can increase the distance and even add in distractions to make the training a little more challenging.
If you are doing the training with a puppy be sure to do short sharp training sessions so as not to tire the pup out.
Once you are happy with the progress you can think about moving to a public place, like a dog park, where there are even more distractions, such as other people and dogs.
Some parks have secure dog park areas where you could train with distractions, but with the security in case your puppy decides there’s too much going on and tries to escape. Again, once you are happy with the progress you can move out into open spaces.
Games to Play to Make Recall Training Fun
Hide and Seek – Best played at home to start with. Go hide another room and use your recall word to call your beagle. Once your hound finds you praise them and give them their reward, they deserve it!
Hot Potato: Again, while at home to start with, yourself, partner, friend or whoever can be in the same room and call your beagle. Everytime they respond directly to the recall, heap praise on them and give them a treat.
The key to all dog training is practice and patience, and try to incorporate training into your everyday life. In time your beagle will understand the commands, though they might always want to execute them!
Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Off-Leash Training
Training your beagle to be off-leash can be frustrating and confusing as your dog can’t speak to you (not in the traditional sense anyway).
Here are a few things to avoid when leash training your beagle that I have picked up over the years.
Don’t Over Use of the Cue Word
We have all been there, either ourselves or seeing someone else do it, calling you dog repeatedly while they seem to ignore you;
“Come! Come! Come! Come! Please come!”
It’s quite possible that you have overblown the use of your cue word, which can happen for a number of reasons;
- Your cue word has an unclear meaning, usually from not enough training, or rewarding on the wrong cue or action when training.
- The cue word has taken on a negative association for your dog, so they choose to ignore it.
- There are too many distractions for your dog to take note of the cue word, which results in you repeatedly saying the word and becomes overused.
The best thing to do is go back to basics, choose a new cue word and get back to work training your dog.
Recall Training Hints and Tips
- Don’t repeat yourself: If you feel you are repeating yourself too much it could be due to the environment having too many distractions or your dog just doesn’t understand the command fully yet.
- Don’t punish your beagle – no matter how frustrating it may feel when your beagle decides to become hard of hearing, don’t punish them when they do come back, always reward the recall.
- Use a long line leash – If you don’t have access to a secure yard or dog park you could use a long line to train your dog to be off-leash. The leads are usually in excess of 20ft and allow you to give your dog some freedom to roam when training, while still being secured to a leash. If your dog does decide to run, the long leash makes it easier to catch them too.
- Make it worth your dogs while – Use high value treats as a reward, real meat and cheese are all favorites as is the dry kibble you might already feed your beagle. Your dog will soo want to come running back to you if you have their favorite treat in your pocket! Top tip – when giving the treat to your dog try to achieve eye contact, this helps reinforce that when your dog gives you its full attention good things happen for them.
- Be consistent – Train recall with your dog everyday, especially when first starting out and use the same training area so as to avoid too many new distractions.
- Never chase your dog – If your beagle is not responding you may be tempted to run after it to get it back under control. Your beagle will see this as a game and move further away. Your dog is faster and more agile than you and is almost impossible to catch by running after them. Instead, go the other way. Walking the opposite way to your dog may seem counterintuitive but in fact your dog will eventually realize it’s losing sight of you and start to track back. Don’t go so far as tye can;t see you, just far enough that when your beagle does lift its nose from the ground they realize you’re a little too far away with their favorite treats, remember to reward them when they do come back.