The voice

Reward something your dog does and they will do it again.

Positive reinforcement works. Timing is important. Dogs work on a different timeline than people. Everything happens faster for them. You can read Alexandra Horowitz’s book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know if you want to know the details but it’s enough to know that when it comes to experiencing the world, you are driving a minivan and your dog is driving a mustang GT. You need to reward when it happens, before your dogs brain has moved on to the next thing.

Treats work very well for rewards for good behavior. Beagles love treats. It’s embarrassing the things they will do to get them.

I don’t always carry a pocket full of treats. Every time I reward a dog, I always talk to them. I use a low, slow, calming voice. I’m usually telling them what a great dog they are, but the words aren’t important, it’s the tone of voice and rubbing their belly and scratching their ears that they love. Along with treats. Every time there is treats involved, I use the same voice.

My dogs associate that voice with REWARDS. When I don’t have any rewards to give them, that voice means something really good. Almost as good as a treat. Like today, when I had 12 dogs out and I called one by name and she came to me and I got down on her level and used the voice to reward her and I soon had 11 more dogs wanting some. That’s part of how you teach recall, among other things.

One time at the Mayo Lisa had to be intubated and because that is such a horrible experience they kept her sedated for about a week. When they removed the tube and stopped the drugs, she should have come back. But she didn’t. Her tired brain had been through this stuff so many times that it couldn’t find the way back to normal for a while.

Somewhere inside she knew, and she tried, but she couldn’t. She became very agitated. I started using That Voice, the one I use with the dogs. Don’t remember the words I used, probably not “good dog”, but the words didn’t matter. That voice calmed her down, let her quit fighting and relax. It reached some place that nothing else could reach.

If you want to communicate with dogs you need to find your own voice.

Resource Guarding

A family that got a puppy from me last summer contacted me and said their puppy was guarding things and growling at them if they tried to take it away. They asked for my advice and I have to admit, the answer I gave them wasn’t very good.

It has been bothering me ever since and I have been giving this a lot of thought. This behavior is called resource guarding and it is fairly common. I see it every day. Directed at other dogs. Never at me. I have to say, I can’t ever remember a dog growling at me or threating me in any way.

I just assumed it was like that for everyone and it is hard for me to accept that one of my puppies would act that way toward a person. What is the difference? I don’t know. I do know that dogs are very good at reading your body language and facial expressions. I have never been afraid of any dog. People, yes but not dogs. I have been bitten, hard enough to leave bruises and scars. But that never bothered me or made me frightened. Maybe dogs can sense that? Maybe other people have more sense than me? I don’t know.

But resource guarding at some level is in most dogs and mine are no different. I even know where it comes from, an outcross we made several years ago, and have been trying to breed it out, with some success. But I know it will never go away completely and some dogs will have it much more so than others. At a low level it usually isn’t a problem. At a higher level it starts to become trouble and when it is directed at a person it definitely needs attention.

I can’t tell you how to train it out of your dog because I have never tried. But there are several good trainers that do this on a daily basis and are very good at it. One very good one is Patricia McConnell, I would highly recommend you listen to anything she has to say about dogs.

Resource Guarding: Treatment and Prevention

In the blood

Standing in the snow under the red pines up in the forest, a big white rabbit runs by in the hazel brush along the swamp. The pack comes by making their music, working the line.  I whistled a couple times, kind of soft. Monroe came out and ran up to me with that look on her face. I let her know what a great dog she was and sent her back into the race.DSC_0072m

Monroe is kind of an unusual dog. I don’t run her with a tracking collar on, she doesn’t need it. She don’t need any kind of collar. Not that unusual. Happy and Crystal and a bunch of dogs that I can only see in my memories now were the same. Rose, one of the best rabbit dogs I ever had never needed much in the way of training. They just want to be with you. But they will also hunt all day long and do it well. Kind of a contradiction but there it is.

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I have four puppies now from Monroe’s last litter. Their kennel door is always open when I am home at the farm. They have a couple acres fenced in to run loose in when I am working.

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I save all kinds of good things to eat for them and I go out and call them and make it worth their while when they come to me. They don’t know their names yet but they come running when they hear me call.

I walk them a lot. Keep it short and fun. Stop all the time and get down on their level and give them lots of attention. They follow me anywhere, get underfoot and in the way. They want to be with me. It’s fun and rewarding and it’s in their blood.

Off Leash

The Eagles had a new hit on the radio called Take It to the Limit when my folks got me an Irish Setter puppy named Jesse. I spent a lot of time in the woods and fields with that dog. We had to walk down the street past a bunch of houses to get there. I trained her to heel without a leash. She would walk by my side anywhere. I don’t remember it being that hard to teach her.

Then I go a drivers license and started getting coon dogs and beagles. You got them off a tree or caught them in the brush, snapped a leash on them and they dragged you back to the truck. It’s what everyone did. I can’t explain it. I must have lost the ability to think how easy life is with a trained dog. Temporary amnesia.

Many years later Kila and I went to Missouri to coon hunt with some boys down there that had a stud dog named Coma. They had a young walker female named Snap that they were selling. When we got to the tree deep in the woods where the dogs were treed they put a leash on Snap and dropped it. Snap followed them out of the woods and then jumped onto the tailgate and loaded herself in the dog box when we got to the truck. We brought Snappy home with us.

After that I quit leading dogs through the brush. I just trained them to follow me when I put a leash on them and let go of it. Wasn’t hard to do.

Terry Daniel had a good beagle named Shy that we bred to. We hunted some with Terry in Iowa where he lived and up north in Minnesota also. When we were ready to quit for the day Terry gave an old rebel war whoop and next thing we knew Shy was by his side. I had to go tackle my dogs in the brush and get them back, the way we always did it. It was one of those moments when it dawns on you how dumb you are.

I finally got smart enough to quit coon hunting and just hunt beagles. I very seldom use a leash anymore. It’s been months since I last put a dog on one.

I say “come on” and my dogs follow me. Sometimes a couple and sometimes 15 or more. Doesn’t matter how many. How I train them is kind of a long process and I’m not sure I understand it all myself, but some day I will try and write it down if anyone cares to read it.

I also train all my dogs to come when I call. I hunt these dogs on snowshoe hare. The snow can get deep and the next road can be a long ways away and they don’t like to quit and there are wolves out there. They need to come when I call. We are not perfect but I don’t have to head them off in the brush anymore.

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Beagle training

I hate writing “how to” stuff. You can’t do it without implying that you think are some kind of expert that knows more than anyone else. I’m no expert. There are a whole bunch of people that know more about training dogs than I do. If you want good training advice it’s not hard to find.

One thing I can claim is that I have had a lot of dogs. Hundreds. All kinds, but more beagles than anything else. I have been breeding this line of dogs for a long time. Something like thirty years of selecting for the same traits over many generations. I guess I know more about them than anyone.

I can tell you what I do and how I do it. If you have one of these dogs maybe you will find something you can use, or at least you might gain a better understanding of where your dog comes from.

I’ll try to keep it short and add more from time to time.

One of the young dogs I’m working with now, Forest. His dad is Ray and his mom is Pumpkin.