Bred to hunt small game such as rabbits, the beagle is a small hound with a knack for trailing scents. However, that same skill can sometimes get these popular family pets into trouble if they are not taught some basic obedience commands. While harder to train than some dogs because of their independent nature, beagles are intelligent dogs who can learn a variety of commands if they are trained using positive, reward-based methods.
Beagles respond well to reward-based clicker training. To begin such training, teach your young beagle to associate a food reward with the clicker sound. This is done by giving the dog a morsel of a particularly favored food each time you click the concealed clicker, until you see that your beagle is responding to the sound by expecting the treat. Continue this step until you are certain the beagle has made a strong association between the sound and the reward. Young beagles are easily distracted. Keep initial training sessions short - no more than about five minutes - to keep your beagle's focus on the lesson. As your beagle ages into adulthood, training sessions can be lengthened to 15 minutes. It is best to engage your dog's attention for five minutes before a training session and play with your dog for 10 minutes after a session so that your beagle associates training time with fun.
Once a beagle focuses on an interesting scent, the dog may lose interest in anything else and follow that scent right out of your yard. To keep your dog's focus on the work at hand, always train your beagle on-leash. Your dog should never form the idea that leaving you during an active training session is an option.
Food is an excellent motivator for your beagle. Fragrant foods such as small bits of hot dog, chicken or cheese will inspire your little dog's attention. Give your beagle the verbal command you wish to teach, such as "Sit." Use the treat morsel to obtain the response you want. With your dog's attention on the treat held barely out of reach above the nose, say the command, perhaps moving the treat slightly toward the back of the head. Focused on its desire for the treat, the young dog will sit. Give the treat instantly, along with praise, or click the clicker and give the treat. After the dog has learned to associate the reward with sitting on command, you can teach the "Down" command from the sitting position by taking a morsel held in your hand to the ground in front of the pup. Seeking the reward, the beagle will soon lie down to get closer to it. Give the reward immediately, along with praise, or click the clicker and give the reward. Use treats to teach your beagle to come on command and to drop a toy on command. If you are using a clicker for this training, click and reward when the dog responds correctly to a command. Later in training, the well-timed click alone will serve to tell the dog that the response to a command is correct, while the absence of a click will tell the dog that the response offered is not quite right. The dog will experiment to try to achieve the click and a reward.
As an alternative to training sessions, or in addition to them, watch your beagle during the day for actions you wish to teach. For example, if your dog barks, you can say "Speak" and give a treat and praise; when the dog is barking but is about to quit, you can say "Quiet" and reward the dog. This familiarizes your dog with the commands and may give your dog a sense of initiating behavior that leads to a reward. This form of training can be used for any command, but it also takes advantage of teaching moments that may not readily occur on the training field. The book "Beagles" advises that while this way of teaching commands can be harder and take longer than formal training sessions do, many beagles respond well to the method.
After starting your beagle on some basic commands at home, it is a good idea to join an obedience class appropriate for your dog's age. The regional chapters of the National Beagle Club of America can recommend training classes in many cities. Other local beagle clubs may also offer obedience training. These classes not only help you train your dog, but they give your beagle much-needed socialization with other dogs and people. Beagles are outgoing, pack-oriented dogs. They are inclined to get along well with other dogs, so training class and socialization opportunities should be positive experiences for your friendly little pet.
Beagles enjoy digging dens where they can feel safe and secure. Substitute a snug, comfortable dog crate placed in a quiet area for your beagle's den, and use treats to encourage your pet to spend time in the crate. If you place your dog safely in a crate to travel in your car, and let your dog sleep in a cozy crate near you at night, a crate becomes your pet's safe den at home and away. Crate training also helps with house training, because dogs will not soil their living areas unless they absolutely must. The crate also prevents your beagle from becoming destructive because of loneliness and boredom when you are away. The crate should never be seen by the dog as a place of punishment or exile.
Beagles have certain natural aptitudes, such as the ability to follow scents or dig burrows, that you can encourage through training. Play hide-and-seek with your beagle, hiding a favorite toy or treat and having your dog find it. Hide in a room, and have your dog search for you. If you wish, you can train your beagle for tracking competitions. This type of training plays to your dog's natural strengths, and beagles often excel in such competitions.
Repetition and Consistency
Whether you are teaching your beagle in formal training sessions or catching the dog in the act of a desired behavior, be consistent in the verbal commands you use. Ensure other members of your household do the same. For potty training, always take your beagle to the same spot outdoors. You will have to take puppies out on their schedule, but eventually your dog will be able to go out on your schedule, at the same times during the day. Feeding your beagle at the same times during the day will also reinforce the schedule for taking a potty break outside. Beagles learn quickly, which is good in terms of learning new commands, but it can also be detrimental if your dog learns unwanted behaviors early in life. Start training as early as possible to ensure your dog learns the behaviors you want.