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When your Beagle was a puppy, you thought you'd got away with it. You thought yours was that rare thing, a Beagle without a voice. The dog didn't bark or howl, not even when the mailman knocked. For a while you lived in this fool's paradise where you wondered what all the fuss over howling hounds was all about.
But then things changed.
Those first experimental howls were actually quite cute. It was the way the dog stopped and looked around, as if wondering where the sound had come from. But then he realized howling was his super-power and that was the end of the quiet times.
Now, he howls at the drop of a hat....literally! You could live with the noise, but unfortunately, the neighbors are not impressed. Indeed, to say they are not happy is like saying a hurricane is a strong wind. You can see their point, and indeed if the dog was on the other side of the fence you'd probably feel the same. But being sympathetic and actually solving the problem are two totally different things.
Beagles are all about howling. It's how they communicate they've found something their master needs to know about, when working in the field. To a Beagle, howling is as natural as sniffing (which they do a lot of) or eating (which is also a popular pastime for the breed).
It is therefore totally inappropriate to use force or punishment to inhibit this behavior. To do so will cause the dog a great deal of distress, inner conflict, and frustration. Instead, it's necessary to do a spot of detective work and observe the dog to work out what the triggers are. Then you can work with the dog to decrease the urge to howl, and as a finishing step teach the dog to be quiet on command. It's also wise to be aware of the potential pitfalls where you may accidentally reinforce undesirable behavior, rather than discourage it.
Training a dog, like a Beagle, with a natural instinct to howl is a big ask. However, with the application of time and patience, you will win out in the end. The basics that you need to achieve the aim include:
- Tasty training treats
- A pouch or bag to keep the treats handy
- Window frosting or a cafe-type half-curtain
The Teach 'Quiet' Method
Understand the idea
When a behavior is placed on cue, it enables you to trigger than action on command. By teaching the 'quiet' command you can silence the dog in a neat and effective way, while avoiding the pitfall of simply yelling at the dog to be quiet.
Put howling on command
No, we haven't gone bonkers! Teaching the dog to howl on command is the first step towards teaching him to be quiet on command. Start by deliberately triggering the dog to howl. For example, try making a noise such as knocking on the wall behind your back, in order to set him off.
Reward the howl
Once he's happily howling, say "howl" in an excited voice and give him a reward. Keep repeating this. Once he starts looking at you expectantly for a reward, try switching things around and say "howl" a fraction ahead of knocking on the wall. Once he responds to this, you can start moving things to the next step.
Teach the 'quiet' command
For the dog to appreciate what you mean by "quiet", he first has to make a noise (hence teaching him "howl".) Command the dog to howl, then give a reward. While he's eating the treat he can't howl. At this point, gently hold his muzzle to stop him opening his mouth and say "quiet". Praise him and give another treat to reward the quiet. Practice this.
Fine tuning the 'quiet' command
Just as with any obedience training and putting an action on command, once the dog has the basic idea, start giving the command a fraction ahead of the lure. In this example, have the dog howl, but instead of rewarding the action, say "quiet" and when the dog quiets, praise him and give a treat. This needs plenty of practice, but eventually the "quiet" will become so ingrained it will interrupt entrenched howling behavior.
The Mind and Body Method
Understand the problem
It doesn't take much to make a Beagle howl. When a Beagle's in the mood, pretty much any stimulation can make a good enough reason for your best buddy to discover his voice. One way of reducing the howling is to make sure the dog is pleasantly tired and not bored, which in turn reduces his sensitivity to triggers around him. When he's tuckered out from a good walk, it takes something super-interesting, rather than run-of-the-mill, to fire up those vocal chords.
Beagles were bred to hunt and be active. An under exercised Beagle will redirect his energy into vocal exercises. Therefore, be sure to give your dog heaps of play and pleasant exertion. If you can't take the pace of going for long walks, then teach him to play fetch. That way you can sit on a park bench while still having him burn off calories. If you''re worried about him rest you work on his recall back home (which in itself is good mental stimulation.)
Boredom is the enemy of howling. A bored Beagle will howl at dust motes falling through the air, so be sure to give him plenty of mental stimulation. This can range from feeding using puzzle feeders in order to simulate natural hunting behavior through to teaching him to follow a scent trail. Basic obedience training also comes under the umbrella of mental stimulation, as he has to focus on you and cooperate.
If your Beagle sits at the window, howling at garbage blowing down the street, then reducing access to this exciting vista will help reduce the noise level. Invest in some frosted-glass misting for the lower half of your window. There are products such as frosted sticky-back plastic or spray-on products that will do this job for you. Alternatively, fix some pretty cafe-curtains in the lower half of the windows.
Beagles are pack animals, and sometimes being left alone while you're at work can spark the howling. If getting a second dog isn't possible (or you're worried about the first dog teaching the second to howl!) then try leaving the radio or TV on low volume. Also, give the dog something that smells of you, such as an old T-shirt, to snuggle up to while you are out.
While howling is normal behavior, sometimes what triggers the howling has a deeper significance. If the dog howls when you are out, it might be he is suffering from separation anxiety. This problem can be difficult (but not impossible) to rectify and seeking the help of a certified animal behaviorist is a good idea. As a remedial measure, try having a dog walker call in to alleviate boredom and exercise the dog, which will go some way to helping.
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Don't: Yell at the dog
Tempting as it is at times, avoid yelling at the dog to be quiet. Not only does this raise the dog's general level of arousal and excitement, but he's liable to think you are joining in. Far from discourage him, it may encourage him to howl some more.
Do: Ignore howling
This isn't at all satisfying from a pet parent's perspective, but it is crucial to ignore unwanted howling behavior. Telling the dog to 'quiet' is only giving him highly valued attention, which again may encourage the unwanted habit. It's better to ignore him, turn your back and leave the room. At least by withdrawing your attention you are not encouraging the noise.
Don't: Use remote punishments such as shock collars
Shock collars and other extreme methods of remote punishment should be avoided. Not only are they inhumane, but they often confuse the dog (as to why he's being punished) and arouse anxiety, which in a worst case scenario could turn to aggression. Many dogs don't fully understand what the behavior was that triggered the shock; he may mistakenly think it was walking across the room or sitting, not the howling, which leaves him internally conflicted when you then command him to sit.
Do: Seek the help of a behaviorist
Howling is difficult behavior to deal with. If you are struggling and have neighbors complaining about the noise, then consider seeking professional guidance. A registered, certified behaviorist will be an invaluable help to turn things around for the better.
Don't: Buy a beagle if you live in an apartment
If you are at the beginning of your pet parenting adventure and live in an apartment, do your research into appropriate dog breeds. Beagles are natural howlers, and the noises of an apartment block may be too much for him to resist.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 01/22/2018, edited: 01/08/2021