Schooling Your Beagle

Love Dog
In This Chapter
  • Understanding how Beagles learn
  • Taking a positive approach to training
  • Choosing training equipment
  • Teaching Beagle basics
  • Finding an obedience class

An educated Beagle — that is, a Beagle who’s had some basic training — is almost always happier than a Beagle who’s not had the benefit of such schooling. Why? Because when the educated Beagle knows and uses that training, the humans in his household are happy with him. And when the humans are happy, the Beagle is happy!

Conversely, when the humans are unhappy because the Beagle isn’t educated, the Beagle almost always is the one who suffers. That’s because behavioral problems are the overwhelming reason that people surrender their dogs to animal shelters. The dog who is destructive, hyperactive, or fails to master bathroom basics can drive his people to distraction. No one wants to live with a Beagle who makes life tougher rather than easier — and all too often, the people beset with such Beagles choose to get rid of those dogs.

Thus, taking the time to teach your little hound some basic manners is really an investment in your future with him. And yes, you can train him yourself; this chapter explains how. If you’d rather have someone help you out, though, I also explain how to choose an obedience class for yourself and your Beagle. If you need to address behaviors that put a damper on your relationship with your Beagle, such as biting, barking, or shyness, go directly to Chapter Rehabbing the Delinquent Beagle.

Decoding Your Beagle’s SOP

Before you can teach your Beagle anything effectively, you need to understand how he learns — in other words, you need to decode his standard operating procedure, or SOP for short. Knowing how your dog’s mind works and how he views his world gives you a leg up, so to speak, on teaching him what he needs to know to live happily ever after with you. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind as you contemplate schooling your Snoopy-dog.

He lives by his nose

Your Beagle’s number-one tool for learning about the world is his nose, which is far more sensitive than yours.

Technical Stuff

The Snoopy-dog sniffer differs from your schnoz in many ways, meaning that your Beagle not only can detect scents that you can’t, but also any odor is far more intense to your dog than to you. Check out these facts:

– The Beagle nose has more than 200 million scent receptors — cells designed specifically to detect scents — while you’ve got only around 5 million.

– Even better is the fact that the moisture on your little hound’s nose enables him to collect large numbers of scent molecules that together heighten the smell of whatever he’s sniffing.

– Even the Beagle brain is superior to the human brain — at least when it comes to smells. The area of your Beagle’s brain that identifies scents is far larger than the corresponding area in your noggin.

We humans benefit greatly from the superior canine nose. We employ dogs to sniff out bombs, contraband, disaster victims, and termites (see Chapter Ten Unique Beagle Occupations and Activities). Some especially talented dogs detect cancerous moles and alert people to imminent epileptic seizures. But the same nose that can lead a dog to great accomplishments can also literally lead that dog astray — especially if that dog is a Beagle. The Beagle is more likely than many other breeds to follow his nose wherever it takes him, regardless of how much he loves you and how much danger he puts himself in.

He never feels guilty

The Beagle has mastered the art of looking woebegone, but woe to the human who thinks that those soulful looks reflect canine guilt. Your little hound doesn’t connect any of your expressions of displeasure with any mistakes he’s made — and if he can’t make the connection, he’s not going to feel guilty.
That’s why scolding your Beagle for something he did awhile ago does nothing to change his behavior. Better to catch him doing something right and reward him for doing so in a way that allows him to connect the reward for performing the behavior.

He loves you, but . . .

Beagles, like all dogs, are social creatures, and love to be with their people. Your pooch is a pack animal who’s hard-wired to look for canine or other company. Because you are his companion, not to mention the source of his food, shelter, and safety, he’s predisposed to love you. He’s happy to bestow doggy kisses on you and cuddle up for some couch-potato time while you both watch TV. And when he’s unsure of something, he looks to you for guidance and direction.
But, as much as he loves you, your dog’s got his own agenda. His love for you may not be enough to overcome his need to investigate that interesting smell in the yard next door. His desire to please you may not keep him from raiding the garbage can and scattering the contents all over the floor. His realization that you aren’t pleased with what he’s doing won’t prompt him to drop whatever he’s confiscated from the clothes hamper.
You’re an important priority in your Beagle’s life, but he’s got other priorities, too. Your job as a trainer is to teach him that you need to be his number-one priority as often as possible.

He needs consistency

Dogs are incredibly astute observers of behavior. For example, my own dog suspects that I’m about to leave the house whenever she sees me put on lipstick. When Allie sees me open up a lipstick tube and apply the stuff to my lips, she starts to pant happily and lead me toward her leash. She’s surmised that I’m going to leave the house, and she wants to make sure that she comes along (alas, sometimes her efforts are for naught).
How does Allie know what I’m going to do before I actually do it? Simple: I have a consistent routine, and that consistency enables my four-legged friend to anticipate my behavior.
Your Beagle thrives on consistency just as much as my dog does. Doing the same thing at the same time each day helps him to predict what happens next and to adjust his behavior accordingly. Moreover, such consistency will help him to learn the specific cues, commands, and maneuvers that you want him to learn. By using the same words and gestures to convey what you want him to do, your Beagle will learn to associate those words and gestures with a specific behavior — and, given the proper incentive, perform that behavior accordingly.

He wants to learn

A healthy Beagle is curious about the world around him. His interest in the world leads him to investigate the strange new scent in the next-door neighbor’s yard, or check out that item of clothing that didn’t quite make it to the laundry room. That same curiosity prompts him to study you closely for patterns in your behavior.
You can put this eagerness to work by training your little hound. Teaching him to respond to your cue or command gives him a job to do, helps him exercise his brain, and endears him to you (and vice versa).

Gearing Up for Training

Taking a positive approach to schooling your Beagle requires that you invest in a little bit of equipment — some of which you probably have already.

Accentuating the positive with the right reward

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, dog training was all about making the dog do what you wanted him to do. If he didn’t comply voluntarily with your command, you’d force him to do so. A failure to sit would mean you’d push his tush to the ground. A failure to walk nicely on leash would mean that you’d yank him back to position. A failure to come when called would mean you’d go to him, grab him by the collar, and drag him back to the spot he was supposed to come to on his own.

Hamming it up

I’m way, way past high school age, but a couple of months ago, I found myself participating in a high school musical. My teenage daughter was a stage manager for a show called Carnival, an extravaganza that required the presence of a small dog in the opening scene. The person who was handling the dog for this show — a sweet little Beagle mix — broke her toe just four days before the show was to open, so I was asked to step in. My task: to dress up in a clown suit (hold the snickering, please), bring the dog up on the stage, and then walk with the dog offstage. The catch: The dog had to walk on his hind legs.
The dog’s handler supplied me with dog treats to give the little guy an incentive to do the walking-on-hind legs maneuver. But the dog didn’t seem to enjoy those little goodies, and he refused to perform as desired. Then I noticed that he was extremely interested in the backstage buffet table for the human actors, which was laden with ham, cheese, turkey, and other delectables. In a fit of inspiration, I pocketed a few pieces of ham. At the appropriate moment onstage, I held the ham aloft, just out of the dog’s easy reach, and began walking. In a flash, the little dog was up on his hind legs, practically prancing his way offstage. Thunderous applause erupted, and the dog got the pieces of ham.
My point? The right reward can be incredibly persuasive. So don’t get just any treat — find a goody that your Beagle really, really likes.
Not a very pleasant way to try to learn something, is it?
Fortunately, some empathetic and forward-thinking trainers realized that teaching through coercion or intimidation creates a lessthan-ideal learning atmosphere. Correcting a dog for doing something wrong doesn’t necessarily teach him to do something right. A better approach is to show the dog what you want him to do (or catch him doing so on his own) and then reward that behavior. Applied consistently, this approach, which trainers call positive reinforcement, will up the odds that your Beagle will do what you want him to do every time you want him to do it.

Remember

When you employ positive reinforcement to train your Beagle, you condition him to do what you want him to do. Just show him what you want him to do, and reward him for doing so.

Your Beagle loves you — but when it comes to training, love may not be enough to motivate your little companion to do what you want him to do. An incredibly fragrant, tasty treat can fill in the gap between your dog’s desire to please you and his desire to do what he wants instead of what you want.

Click, click, click: Clicker training

Many trainers advocate the use of a clicker: a handy little gizmo that makes a “clicking” sound when pressed. The clicker provides an instant signal to your Beagle that he’s done something right, and that a reward will soon follow. Experts say that clicker-trained dogs learn new maneuvers faster than those who get simple praise to confirm that they’ve done what they’re supposed to.
I’ve found clickers to be very effective in speeding up a dog’s learning process. However, some individuals find the clicker to be a little cumbersome. It’s one more thing they have to handle when they’re also trying to juggle treats and, at times, the dog’s leash. Timing is crucial, too: You need to use the clicker immediately after the dog complies with the command. That said, many trainers and students contend that once you start clicking your way to training success, you’ll never go back. Give it a try, and you may find that your Snoopy-dog becomes a quicker study than you dreamed possible.
If you want to learn more about clicker training, check out Click & Easy: Clicker Training for Dogs, by Miriam Fields-Babineau (Wiley).

Tip

You’ll probably find that your Beagle prefers soft, meaty tidbits to hard little pieces of kibble-like dog treats. Most dogs also adore hot dogs (cut up into very tiny pieces, please).

Collar quandaries

Making the right collar choice is crucial to training your Beagle successfully. To keep your training positive, opt for either a buckle collar or a tab-snap collar (see Figure 15-1) made of leather, cotton, or nylon. The collar should be nothing more than a piece of neckwear that holds your dog’s identification tag, rabies tag, local license, microchip identification number, and leash.

Warning!

Steer clear of collars that purport to be training devices in and of themselves. Such collars include:

Slip collars: Also known as training collars or choke collars, slip collars were once the canine neckwear of choice for professional dog trainers and their human students. A handler uses this metal collar to correct the dog’s behavior by giving the leash a quick snap and a release immediately afterward. This snap-and-release action puts momentary pressure on a dog’s neck, which hypothetically creates an incentive for the dog to cease his bad behavior. Moreover, the jingling sound of the collar is supposed to warn the dog to cease whatever he’s doing. 

In real life, though, slip collars aren’t effective for many people, and can actually hurt the dog. If a person doesn’t perform the snap-and-release action correctly, she can damage her dog’s windpipe at worst, and leave him gasping for breath at best. Meanwhile, the problem behavior is all too likely to continue.

Prong collars: This neck gear is exactly what the name says it is: a collar with prongs on it that the dog will feel if the owner needs to pull on the leash. Prong collars hurt, and they’re cruel. You don’t need to inflict pain or be cruel to teach your dog proper walking etiquette, bathroom manners, or anything else. Any questions?

Electronic collars: Please. Do you really need to give your Beagle an electric shock to get him to do what you want him to do? That’s what an electronic collar does. Causing pain or discomfort should not be part of any trainer’s operating procedure, standard or otherwise. 

Figure 15-1: Choose a buckle or snap collar for your Beagle.

Leash options

As I explain in Chapter Preparing for Your Beagle’s Arrival, a 6-foot leather leash is the best option I know for keeping your Beagle tethered to you in comfort and safety. Longer leashes — including retractables — are difficult to handle and may violate local laws. Shorter leashes aren’t practical for training.
My preference for leather has nothing to do with fashion but everything to do with comfort — your comfort. If your leashed Beagle pulls, the movement of leather across your hand is a lot less painful than the movement of nylon, which can give you a nasty scrape.

Teaching the Basics Yourself

The right equipment is crucial to teaching your Beagle basic good manners, but you also need the right atmosphere. At least in the beginning, a good training environment downplays distractions such as kids running around, TV blaring, or lots of commotion going on outdoors.
Your actual training sessions also need to be short enough to keep your dog’s attention and sweet enough to keep him motivated. A training session should be five minutes — max — for puppies under 4 months of age, and no more than 10 minutes for older pups and adults. And to keep the session sweet, always end it on a positive note: Ask him to do something he already knows how to do. When he complies, lay on the praise and give him a treat.
And don’t think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Any dog can learn at any age. Older dogs may need a little more time to learn what you want them to do, but they love the attention — and the mental exercise of training can keep them healthier!
Here’s how to teach basic commands that every dog should know.

His name

Training begins with teaching your Beagle his name. When your Beagle knows who he is, you can get his attention much more easily — and attention is crucial to learning. Follow these instructions to train your Beagle to recognize his name:
1. Bring your Beagle to a place that’s free from distractions.
2. Say his name in a cheerful voice.
3. As soon as he looks at you, praise him and give him a treat.
If he doesn’t respond, don’t repeat his name. Instead, change course: Eat the treat yourself (make sure it’s something you both like) or leave the room for a minute or so. Then try again.
4. Wait until he looks away from you, then repeat Steps 1 through 3.

Sit

The Sit command is just about the easiest one that you can teach your Beagle. Here’s how:
1. Stand in front of your dog, and make sure you have his attention.
2. Hold a treat between your thumb and forefinger in front of him and make sure he sees it (see Figure 15-2a).
3. At the same time, say “Sit” and hold the treat just over his head.
4. With your dog’s eyes on the prize, move the treat back toward his rear end (see Figure 15-2b).
As your dog follows your hand with his eyes, he’ll automatically sit down.
5. Praise and give the treat when his tush hits the ground.

Figure 15-2: Use your hands, your voice, and treats to teach your Beagle to sit.

Down

Teaching the Down command follows the same principle as Sit — but make sure that your Beagle has mastered Sit before you try teaching this one. To teach the Down command:
1. Squat, sit, or kneel down so you’re close to his level.
2. Hold a treat in front of his face, and make sure he’s looking at it.
3. Say “Down,” in a long, drawn-out tone so you’re really saying “Dooowwwwn.”
4. Move the treat down to the ground about 6 inches in front of your Beagle (see Figure 15-3a).
5. Move the treat outward several more inches, so your hand is moving in an L-shaped path (see Figure 15-3b).
As the dog follows your hand with her eyes, he’ll lie down.
6. Praise and treat as soon as he’s lying down.

Figure 15-3: Lure your Beagle into a Down position with a treat.

Stay

The Stay command tells your dog to remain where he is. Here’s how to teach it:

1. Start by placing your dog in a Sit or Down position.
2. Place your open palm about 6 inches from his nose and say “Stay,” in a long, drawn-out tone so you’re really saying “Staaaaaay” (see Figure 15-4).
3. Keeping your palm up, move back one step, then return immediately.
4. Praise your Beagle for staying, and give him a treat.
5. Repeat Steps 1 through 4, moving back two steps this time.
Gradually increase the distance you move away from your Beagle, the length of time he must stay, and the distractions in his environment.
Figure 15-4: Your hand reinforces the Stay command.

Recall

The Recall command is probably the most important command that you can teach a dog — but for a Beagle with wanderlust (in short, probably 99.9 percent of all Snoopy-dogs), it’s also just about the toughest. To teach this maneuver, arm yourself with lots of patience and plenty of treats. Then:
1. Say your dog’s name and “Come” in a happy, enthusiastic tone of voice.
2. Squat down and open your arms as your dog comes to you.
3. Welcome him enthusiastically and give him a treat when he reaches you.
4. Repeat the process, but gradually increase the distance between you.
Even when your Beagle has mastered this maneuver, keep practicing it — but in a fun setting, such as hiding and calling him to come find you.

Warning!

Don’t practice this command outdoors unless your Beagle is on leash or in a securely fenced area!

Off

The Off command tells your Beagle to reverse course, no matter what he’s doing. If he’s interested in the chicken bone someone left on the sidewalk, a sharply spoken “off” will keep him from trying to eat it; if he’s conducting a panty raid on your lingerie, a crisply spoken “off” will get him out of the clothes hamper or dresser drawer. To teach the Off command:
1. Place your Beagle’s favorite toy on the ground a few feet away from him.
2. When he heads for the toy, pick it up and say “Off!” in a loud, commanding voice that will startle him.
3. As he looks at you in surprise, praise him in a high, sweet-sounding voice — and then give him the toy.
4 Repeat Steps 1 through 3 until he instantly drops or moves away from the toy when he hears the command.

Tip

Practice this command often — it’s one that Beagles and other members of the canine persuasion tend to forget easily.

Walking on leash

Wouldn’t it be nice to take your Beagle for a walk and not feel as though he’s leading you in his own little reenactment of the Iditarod? News flash: You can! Just follow this plan:
1. Leash your dog and place the leash loop around your wrist.
2. Grasp the leash with the looped hand just below the loop, and hold the leash about halfway down its length with the opposite hand.
3. Have your Beagle stand next to you on the side opposite your looped hand so the leash falls diagonally across your body.
4. Tell him, “Let’s go!” in a cheerful but decisive voice, and start walking briskly.
5. As you walk, chat with your dog so he pays attention to you.
6. If he bolts out in front of you, let him go the full length of the leash, and then turn around suddenly — but without jerking the leash — and walk in the opposite direction.
Your surprised Beagle will soon learn to pay attention to you instead of whatever’s causing him to run ahead.
7. When you stop, remove your unlooped hand from the leash, and place that hand in front of your dog’s face so he stops, too.
8. Repeat if necessary.

Tip

Some notorious pullers acquire better walking manners when you acquire some new equipment. One option is to use a head collar instead of a regular collar. This device looks like a muzzle but works the same way a bridle on a horse does. If your Beagle lunges ahead while he’s wearing this device, his head will be forced downward — not painfully, but enough to surprise him. Another option is a special harness that fastens at the breastbone to prevent pulling. Both are available at pet specialty stores.

Go to your place

As much as you love your Beagle, sometimes you won’t want him underfoot. At such times, being able to tell him to go to a designated spot comes in very handy. Here’s how to teach this maneuver:

1. Choose a spot, such as his crate or a floor cushion in a corner of your living room, to which your dog can retreat and see all the household action.
2. Attach his leash, tell him “Place,” and lead him to the designated spot.
3. Praise and give a treat.
4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 until your Beagle goes to his place on command.

Enrolling Your Beagle in Obedience Class

Although you can teach your Beagle basic good manners all by yourself, taking him to an obedience class is still a good idea. Such classes offer your little hound the chance to hang out with others of his kind, and to practice his obedience maneuvers amid more distractions. A class also allows you to compare notes with other owners and get expert help to improve your training techniques.
That said, all obedience classes are not created equal. Some are staffed by competent individuals who have made it their business to become experts on canine behavior and learning, and who make sure they keep abreast of research on dog training. Others, alas, may not have taken any training beyond what their one-gimmick franchise offers. Your job: Differentiate between the first type of trainer and the second, and make sure that you take your Beagle to the first.
Start by talking with your veterinarian and with owners of wellbehaved dogs you know. Ask them where to find competent trainers in your area.
Another route to take is through cyberspace. Log onto the Web site of a training organization, such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers at www.apdt.com. There you can search a database to find a trainer near you.

Tip

Look for trainers who have the initials CPDT after their names. This acronym stands for Certified Pet Dog Trainer and means that the trainer has studied for and passed a rigorous examination on positive reinforcement training.

 After you’ve identified one or more trainers, ask them some questions. Here’s what you need to know:

What is your training philosophy? Most trainers are smart enough to answer “positive reinforcement” — but you need more specific information than a canned response offers. Find out how the trainer would apply that philosophy in specific situations, such as managing a dog who jumps on people. Some trainers use their knees or the leash to correct the dog’s jumping; others try to divert the dog away from jumping to another, more appropriate attention-seeking action. You want a trainer who employs the latter approach.

What equipment do you use? This question sheds more light on a trainer’s methods. If the trainer uses slip chains, prong collars, electronic devices, or anything else that causes discomfort to the animal, walk away. Pain is not necessary to train a dog.

May I observe a class? By watching a trainer in action, you can not only see for yourself whether he works the way he says he does, but also determine whether you and your Beagle would be comfortable working with him. Watch how the trainer interacts with both people and dogs, and see whether the class is too crowded (an ideal ratio is one instructor for every six dogs; a 1-to-8 ratio should be the max). Note, too, how the trainer explains and demonstrates concepts, answers owners’ questions, and handles disruptive dogs. Finally, see whether the human and canine students appear to be having fun while they’re learning.

Do you have references? Any trainer can create a gorgeous brochure or hire a designer to build a great Web site — but neither of these marketing vehicles gives you the info you need to evaluate the trainer. That’s why you should ask for references from clients and veterinarians — and why you should call at least a couple of them. Ask them what they think of the trainer, whether they found her classes effective, and how she deals with dogs who have trouble catching on.

Do you offer both private and group classes? A trainer who offers both group classes and private instruction may be more versatile and flexible than a trainer who offers only group instruction. Trainers who offer both types of instruction are more likely to adapt their programs to each individual dog, and are better able to help you deal with any problems that your Beagle may have.

by Susan McCullough

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