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In general, it can be expected that hound dogs will be more difficult to train in off-leash activities. Hound dogs have been bred to devote themselves completely to the task of sniffing out their quarry. Their droopy skin and long ears help to funnel smells into their exceptionally well-equipped sniffers.
Watching a hound dog on the scent, droopy brow furrowed in concentration, is a beautiful thing. The triumphant bay of discovery and of jubilant chase, also, are wonderful to behold--that is, if you are on the hunt behind a pack of beagles. If, on the other hand, you are trying to enjoy a walk through the park with your canine companion, and the quarry is a squirrel that your hound dog has now treed very loudly to the consternation of other park goers, you may be less thrilled.
How can you teach your scent and prey-driven hound dog to stay with you when walking off leash? Well, when it comes to beagles, you have something to your advantage. Most beagles absolutely love food. One of the challenges of beagle ownership is keeping off the pounds. Furthermore, those powerful noses beagles possess are equally capable of picking up the smell of a delectable treat that you have just procured from a treat bag, so using a food lure to bring your beagle back to you can be very successful.
The younger your beagle is, the easier it will be to teach her to stay with you off leash. All puppies instinctively want to be near their person, so if you start when your beagle is a puppy all tripping over her ears, and encourage staying close, your beagle will continue to develop and internalize this training as she grows. Even if you have a grown hound dog, however, you can teach your beagle to walk with you off-leash. Training, in this case, may require more persistence and food rewards, but you and your beagle can get there.
Throughout the training process, it is helpful to develop impulse control in your beagle in as many situations as possible, not just when you are walking with your beagle off-leash. Think of your beagle’s impulse control as a muscle that must be developed to be as strong as her powerful nose.
For all training techniques, it is important to know what best motivates your beagle. Just because beagles have a reputation for loving food, don’t assume that your particular beagle won’t be motivated best by toys. Introduce your dog to lots of goodies at various times and see what she consistently responds most enthusiastically to.
If you are using a leash to train your beagle, be sure it is clipped to a sturdy well fitted harness. You will want a leash that can go at least as far as you would want to let your dog wander off leash, and it is best if the leash has some elasticity so that your beagle will not pull sharply against you if she should try to run.
The Keep Track of Me Method
Find a big safe place in which to practice
Dog parks, fenced parks, or large fenced yards all work well. You want to have places to hide from your dog quickly, so bushes, trees, etc. are good.
Direction change and reward
Walk along with your beagle off-leash. Before she wanders off, change direction suddenly. She should notice and come back to you to see where you are heading. Reward her with a favorite toy or treat when she does this.
Walk and reward
Keep walking, changing direction frequently so that your beagle has to keep track of you and return for a treat.
Inevitably, your beagle will at some point become distracted and go too far from you even though you have changed direction. When this happens, call your dog back and reward enthusiastically.
Keep practicing, rewarding intermittently for the best returns. Practice in fenced areas before moving up to unfenced areas.
The Long Leash Method
Leash your dog
Leash your beagle using a secure harness and long elastic line. The line should extend at least as far as you want your beagle to be able to go from you. Be realistic, generally ten to fifteen feet is a reasonable distance to enforce.
Tug and reward
Whenever your dog approaches the end of the leash, give a gentle but firm tug and call your dog back to you. When she gets back to you, give her a good reward. If she seems reluctant, pull out a strong smelling treat to entice her.
Consistency is key
It is extremely important that you always give your dog a tug when she reaches the end of the line. In time, this will create an invisible barrier in your beagle’s mind. If she is tempted to cross it, she should remember to come back to you instead for a treat.
Practice callback too
Inevitably at some point you will need to call your beagle back to you when she is trained and off leash. Practice calling now whenever she hesitates to come back. Reward her well for coming back despite distractions.
Practice without leash
For the first few times practicing without the leash, work somewhere fenced in case your beagle bolts on you. If at any point during practice your beagle refuses to come or continuously wanders off and needs to be called back, practice more with the leash.
The Electronic Collar Method
Tone and vibrate only
Use only the tone and vibrate settings. Your beagle should never be made to feel pain or fear during training. Some scent focused dogs are so immersed in what they are smelling that they sincerely don’t hear you calling or the tone. Imagine being very focused on a task. Someone saying your name, even repeatedly, may not get your attention, but a tap on the shoulder will.
Tone, return, reward
Practice in a fenced area. Imagine a pretend leash of a particular length attached to your dog. When she reaches the end of the “leash” press the tone and call her back. Reward enthusiastically.
Tone and reward
Use just the tone whenever your dog reaches the imaginary leash end. Reward as soon as she returns.
Vibrate if focused
If your beagle is focused on a scent and is following it away from you despite calling and beeping, use the vibrate setting to get her attention. It will be like startling her out of a dream, and she will come back to you promptly. Reward enthusiastically.
Practice extensively in a fenced area before trying outside of a fenced area.
By Coral Drake
Published: 01/11/2018, edited: 01/08/2021