“Beagles are a hunting dog breed, and their world revolves around their incredible sense of smell,” says Denise Nord of Rogers, Minn., founder of Beagle Obedience Network Excellent and a private trainer and puppy kindergarten class instructor who competes with her Beagles in conformation, obedience, tracking and agility. “This often gets them into trouble, especially with a novice owner.”
The kind of trouble varies, but Nord says, “You need to engage that nose to successfully live with a Beagle.”
Sharing your home with a perpetual sniffer takes diligence, but there are rewards. You can impress your friends with nifty parlor games that involve scent discrimination. For instance, throw a bunch of objects on the floor (make sure none are food items), then take something with your scent on it and toss it into the pile and tell the Beagle to find it. Of course, you may want to practice this without an audience first.
Then there’s the sensation of being on a constant bounty hunt when you are out with your Beagle. “You never know what great things they’ll find when you’re out walking: balls, toys, even money, occasionally,” Nord says. “It’s fun to watch them. Last winter after we’d had about a foot of snow, I was walking with my two Beagles when all of a sudden Rio alerted and went racing about 20 feet from me, ducked down through this foot of snow and found a piece of bread,” Nord recalls with a laugh. “They don’t miss a whole lot.”
With their snouts offering clues, Beagles can re-enact what went on in your yard while you were away faster than Sherlock Holmes. Janiece Harrison, of Nashville, Tenn., who’s owned Beagles for 17 years, recently became involved in obedience and agility trials with her first pup from a show background, Whiskey Creek’s Annie Oakley CGC. Harrison shared this tale:
“We drove up to our house with the Beagles in our van, and my husband and I saw a fox. It jumped over the fence into our backyard, ran across the yard, then jumped over the other fence. The dogs did not see any of that, but the second we let them into the yard, it was like they were watching a video of what had happened. The Beagles went right to the spot where the fox had come in, traced it across the yard and stopped exactly where it had exited the yard. It was beautiful to watch how remarkable their noses are.”
Led Into Temptation
Taken by the scent of a deer or rabbit or fox-or possibly a nearby fast food restaurant-a Beagle is likely to bolt, leaving its owner to worry and fret-and hope for the best. For that reason, Beagle enthusiasts insist that the dogs belong on lead when not in a fenced area.
To allow Beagles to romp seemingly unencumbered while keeping your peace of mind, Nord suggests letting the dogs loose in a fenced-in tennis court, ball park or even outdoor hockey rink that’s not in use, warning that constant confinement seems to intensify the desire to bolt.
Around the house, living with a Beagle presents even more challenges. When housetraining the average puppy, most owners watch for the nose to go down as a sign it’s time to head outdoors. “With a Beagle, their nose is always down,” Nord warns. “I just put them on a really strict schedule. Beagles will get antsy, pacing and running around. That’s a good time to grab them and run outside.”
In addition, generic puppy-proofing simply won’t do. The Beagle’s incredible nose means it’s incredibly food-driven, and special precautions must be taken around the house to keep a Beagle out of trouble. These steps must continue throughout the dog’s life and require special vigilance by the owner.
Pests though they may seem, Beagles are great to have around, says Sue Pearson of Iowa City, Iowa, a 40-year Beagle veteran and professional dog trainer. “Beagles are versatile, generally quite friendly to people outside of family and have a wonderful sense of humor. These dogs are wonderful problem solvers, which can work to your benefit or your detriment. It’s amazing what they can figure out, and it’s fun to watch them do that. However, if the Beagles figure it out while you’re gone, it can cause problems, such as when they figure out how to open doors or pull out drawers.”
For this reason, many Beagle owners crate or confine their dogs when they’re not at home. Pearson offered this tried-and-true method for making an always-hungry Beagle look forward to crate time: “When it was time for Jessie and Scout to get in their crate, they always came but they came reluctantly; they weren’t very happy about it. After they got in the crate I would toss in a treat and close the door.
Then Ian Dunbar suggested I put treats in the crate, then shut the door and not let them in. I knew immediately that would be a big hit. So, every day before I leave, five minutes before I’m ready to go out the door, I hide 6 tiny pieces of treat in the blanket they sleep on. I shut the door and finish getting ready. I never have to call my Beagles to the crate anymore; they are always sitting right there.”
Channeling That Drive
With all the trouble Beagles being so scent-driven can create, how do owners cope? It’s all about channeling a Beagle’s drive toward positive outlets, enthusiasts agree. Obedience is essential, as is regular exercise, whether it comes in the form of a brisk walk or a tracking trial.
“The Beagle is a very loving, good house dog, if, by the time they are 3 months old, you do some form of obedience training,” says Carole Bolan of Groton, Mass. “If you don’t, Beagles become very dominant dogs.” Bolan, a tracking judge, has finished many Beagles in conformation, obedience, tracking and agility.
Many options exist for an owner who is looking to go beyond the daily walk. For the sports-minded enthusiast, there’s beagling, an age-old activity in which Beagles work in packs to hunt down small prey such as rabbits and foxes. You can find a beagling club pretty much anywhere in the country by contacting the National Beagle Club.
While the Beagle’s food-drive makes living with them a challenge, it makes training sheer joy, enthusiasts agree. “They’re always interested, they’re always motivated,” Harrison says. “Beagles will work and work and work for kibble where with some dogs it would take steak to motivate them. I can have a pocket full of their dog food in my hand and they’re just as happy as can be to work for that.”
Training builds a bond between dog and owner that just isn’t there otherwise, Harrison says. She didn’t work with her first two Beagles, Daisy and Sadie, as she has with Annie and Bo (a free-to-a-good-home Beagle who has since earned his CD). “What I love about training is it creates this way to communicate with your Beagle,” Harrison says.
“My dogs now are just so in tuned to me. They’re always wondering ‘Where’s she going?What’s she going to do next?’ because I might pull out the dog food and start training. I get a lot of great attention and response from them. I just feel like we’re on the same wavelength a lot of the time. Daisy and Sadie were dear, dear pets, and we loved them. But I feel as though because I didn’t know how to use the right training methods with them, they never quite understood what I wanted them to do.”
As happy as an obedient Beagle-owner pair may be, throw tracking or agility into the equation and you start to approach Beagle ecstasy. Nord, who’s Rio (a.k.a.: Ch. U-CD/AGL Teloca Miami Sound Machine CDX, TD, NA, CGC, ASCA CD) was only the second Beagle in the country to earn AKC titles in conformation, obedience, agility and tracking, finds great joy in watching her Beagles work. “I like to see my dogs having a good time,” she says. “It’s fun to earn the titles, but I wouldn’t do it if my Beagles didn’t enjoy it. If the dogs aren’t not having a good time, then it’s time to quit and do something else.”
Tracking is also what saved her sanity while raising three Beagles in a third-story apartment. “My first Beagle, Chelsea, was out of field lines. She was a terror as a puppy,” Nord recalls. “She was 2 years old before she would come and lie on the floor and hang out. She was always into things. I was at my wit’s end, so my vet suggested taking her to puppy kindergarten, which is how I got into obedience.
At that time, I was still doing a lot of real correction-based training, and while she had a lot of ability, I wasn’t getting it out of her and was very frustrated. Somebody suggested I try tracking. For me, that was the thing that made me hang in there with all of it, because now I had this Beagle that seemed to say, ‘This is what I was bred to do.'”
Life with Beagles is fun-filled, as well as filled with challenges. However, for the people who fall for Beagles, there’s no other dog breed. “They’re not bad dogs; it’s just that their whole world revolves around their noses.” Nord says. “It’s like, ‘Hmmm. This smells good. Let’s see if it’s edible.’ You get used to it. I’ve been living with these noses for so long, it would be strange to live with a dog that didn’t have a nose like this. I enjoy watching them, trying to observe and see the world the way they see it.”