A Beagle would fit great into an active lifestyle. Still, you may be wondering if it’s ok to let a Beagle of a leash or lead to run free by your side while you enjoy your favourite activities?
Beagles are not 100% safe off-leash. Even with training, as scent hounds, their inherent, keen sense of smell, coupled with their inquisitive nature, could see them ignore your commands and lead them into risky situations. Always better to be safe and use a sturdy harness and leash unless you are confident you are in a secure area.
Hiking, running, cycling, or regular walks with the family, Beagles love nothing more than being by your side and being part of your life. Let’s explore if it’s safe to let Beagles off the leash while taking part in your favourite activities.
An active Beagle is a happy Beagle
Beagles have been around for hundreds of years, primarily bred to use as scent hounds to track small game. A Beagle is more than capable of chasing around all day, whether hunting or by your side while you hike your local trails.
It’s the sturdy nature, endless energy and great temperament that draws people to Beagles. Great. A Beagle sounds like the perfect dog to let run, walk, hike by your side, right? Not so fast.
We wrote an article about how much exercise a Beagle needs, it can be read here.
Remember when I said that for hundreds of years Beagles were bred for hunting? Let’s elaborate. Hunting would consist of the Beagle following and not stopping until they found the source of the scent, a rabbit, hare, fox or any small game bird. The scent trail could go for miles and miles. They were not on leashes; they could go wherever their nose leads them — left, right, back, up the hill, down the stream, through the pond. You get the idea. They were encouraged to follow the scents of animals, wherever that took them.
Fast-forward to today and Beagles are more likely to found in a loving home rather than part of a large hunting pack. However, Beagles still have the same instinct to follow their noses, only now, given a chance, they will follow whatever scents they want.
If you expect your Beagle to trot merrily by your side while you run the 5k park run on a Saturday morning, you are probably going to be disappointed. Sure, you will run 5K, but not where you planned to go, but where you end up chasing your Beagle as he follows an enticing scent through the bushes, streams and lesser know areas of your park!
Beagle basic training 101
While it is still instinctive for a Beagle to follow his nose, it doesn’t mean they can’t be trained to be off the leash in some scenarios. We would always recommend doing some basic training with your Beagle. Training your Beagle not only helps to establish some good habits it also helps keep your dog stimulated.
Basic training might include teaching him to leave something alone, stay in position, walk to heel and follow on command. All these commands are handy for when you want to let your dog off the leash.
Training a Beagle is nearly always done with using treats and a rewards-based process, he does what you want, and his reward is a treat. Beagles love food, so rewarding him with treats is the best way to get him to learn new things. With that in mind, it’s good always to carry a pocket full of tasty treats to keep your Beagle focussed on you (until he finds something more fun to do).
Without training, your Beagle is likely to be overrun by his instincts, ignoring your recall and instruction, which could lead him and you into difficult situations.
So with some basic training in place, it may be tempting to jump straight in and let him off the leash. However, it’s a good idea to start small and build up.
Before we try our dogs off the lead, we try them on a long line. A long line is a long leash, usually around 50ft, that we just let dangle on the floor. Then, making sure we are in a safe area, we let the long line out until the dog has enough leash to roam more freely.
We then see how he responds to the environment. Does his recall training work? Is he distracted easily? Is he relentlessly searching for scents? Does he try to bolt for the hills? If he stays within the confines of the long line, without looking like he’s trying to break free and responds to your recall, then that’s the first step passed.
After a while, we would decide to find a safe place where we could try our Beagle off the leash. Large enclosed, open areas are ideal. You would need to be a long way from any roads or rail tracks, or sheep (more on sheep later) in case he decides he likes his newfound freedom. Keep your treats handy and reinforce his recall commands while you walk about the area.
Try him off the leash for a short while each time, a few minutes here and there. When he returns on recall, make sure to lavish him with praise and give him a treat. When you place him back on his leash, treat him again. Make him realise that being back on the leash is also fun and rewarding.
Over time, as you both become more and more confident, you might progress to running or other activities off the leash. However, from experience, we have found that Beagles are not great running or cycling companions (while of the leash). Their nosey nature, an acute sense of smell will often lead them to places where you don’t want them to be and running, and cycling is faster paced. It could mean you both being quite some distance apart before realising.
This all adds up to a stop-start ‘find my Beagle’ kind of activity, which can be frustrating and not what you set out to do.
Beware of traffic
Always keep your dog on a lead around busy roads and streets. A sight of something interesting across the road could be all it takes for our furry family member to dash across the street. A loose dog around roads could be deadly for our pooch, but could also create dangerous situations for other road users.
Even with regular training, Beagles instincts remain. They will always be on the lookout for smells or exciting things to explore. Yes, they might understand recall and other commands, but if something is exciting and worth exploring, and they want to go check it out, they are likely to do so.
Not all Beagles are equal
Some of our Beagles have been great off the lead. Happily trotting along with us, never straying too far away (for a Beagle), more interested in the treats in our pockets than animal scents. Even if they stray a bit too far, they give a glance over their shoulder to see that we are keeping up, never wanting to lose sight of the pack.
We have also had Beagles that can never be off the leash, ever. The mere hint of a sheep smell in the air would have them running for the horizon in pursuit. Every smell sniffed as if their life depends on it; no amount of fishy treats can break the spell.
A quick word on sheep. All of the Beagles we have had the pleasure of living with, all have gone wild for sheep. Even when on a lead, any site of sheep and they start baying, pulling and going crazy. If you live around sheep, I would undoubtedly say keep your Beagle on a leash at all times.
To summarise, with training and in the right environment, some Beagles can be off the leash. Expecting your Beagle to walk to heel, respond to every command when off the lead, will likely leave you disappointed.
With regular training and plenty of common sense, you can enjoy walks, running and other activities without the need for a leash, just never near roads or in the vicinity of sheep.