Beagles – tiny, stubborn, determined and loving. Yes! But if you have been wondering why you are unable to train your beagle puppy, it is worth knowing that they have an extremely brilliant sense of smell and were originally bred to be hunting dogs. With this knowledge, we can explore so many options to make the mental stimulation games interesting for them, that it may really solve half your training problems and you and your puppy will both end up having a great time!
Beagles were originally bred for hunting rabbits and over the centuries have now been shown to detect cancer with 97% accuracy. Overtime, because of their size and their low-maintenance grooming, they have become a popular breed to have as a four-legged family member. What is common between then and now is their extremely powerful sense of smell. Once you do get that Beagle home, you will realize that all those “training” tools you learnt are of no use with them. And this is mostly thanks to their nose. Here’s an interesting fact to get a sense of their olfaction strength – humans have 5 million olfactory receptors and in comparison, Beagles have 225 million olfactory receptors. And that is why we will never be able to understand the full extent of their powerful sense of smell.
Let us get the history out of the way first, shall we? Most dog breeds we see today, from Golden Retrievers to German Shepherds to Beagles have all been bred to satisfy a specific purpose. Beagles, who belong to a class of dogs called scent hounds, were bred to be hunting animals. What do hunters do? Find their prey; be focused on the prey; be determined to catch it and finally; use all of their strength; ability and tactics to catch it. While catching and killing was mostly left to the humans, the rest was the responsibility of the Beagles. And so you will see all of those particular traits in beagles. Their olfactory senses are extremely powerful and aid in finding the prey. In addition to their nose, their ears also pick up scents that help them follow the trail of their target. Their body is small and fast to help them move quickly and not lose the trail. If we look back at traditional hunting, we see that it went on for hours and these scent hounds used their nose and determination to lead their human hunters to the prey.
Although Beagles were bred for hunting, they did not lose their “jobs” once the hunting became a thing of the past. If you are an international traveller entering the United States, you are likely to see some trained Beagles walking around near the luggage conveyor belt and sniffing baggage. These beagles are trained to catch your luggage if you are carrying prohibited fruits, vegetables, plants and meat, and God forbid narcotics. There are also recent studies of Beagles being able to detect the cancer cells with an accuracy of as high as 97%. They have also become a very popular breed of dogs being brought home as a companion animal. They are small, have less grooming requirements and to top it off, they are very loving and docile in nature. All these traits have made them common in urban settings, especially in apartments.
The Other Side – the Grim side!
The above examples of how Beagles were used to aid humans still don’t tread on the side of cruelty. But around 1950s, Beagles started being used in laboratories for animal testing. Though the number of Beagles used for laboratory testing has been on the decline, it is still being practiced in many places. Toxicity tests of a variety of products like pharmaceutical drugs, industrial chemicals, pesticides and household products are carried out on these voiceless docile dogs to study the effects. They became the right choice of breed for the same reasons for which today they are a popular pet breed – small size and docile temperament. They are kept in cages, possibly for all their lives without knowing any life beyond these cages.
Over the recent years, some of these laboratories released the beagles for rehabilitation and rehoming and some organizations take up the task of ensuring these beagles come out of their old lives into a much better life filled with love and freedom. Here in Bangalore, India, we have the Freagles of India who tirelessly work in the release, rehabilitation and rehoming of the laboratory released beagles. This is just one of many stories where humans have gone a bit too far in breeding and using animals for human advancement or needs. And just like there are those humans, we have the humans of Freagles of India whose motto is “Freedom, Sunshine, Love” and as long as we have such humans, we can still fight and have hope of a better life for these loving animals!
Stubborn? Or Determined?
Now that we have seen the popular uses of Beagles as a breed, I would want to focus on Beagle, the pet dog. And with that I would like to introduce my very own Beagle, Zoey. One day, not too long ago, Zoey kept climbing the television cabinet. This is not new. But what was new is that she went at it for a good 30 minutes. What I saw was nothing. I just could not find anything that might have her interest for so long. But I also knew better to trust her senses. And I did look around. And what did I find? On the top-most shelf, hidden from both our eyesight (and my nose, but not hers!) was a plate of cut apples. I have had days when she was a young dog and used to sniff every inch of the house for HOURS and just not stop. Fast-forward 4 years, she still explores every nook and corner of the same house with the same people around and still does not get tired of collecting all that information.
Once we realize how strong their sense of smell is and how they are just wired to follow scents that are interesting to them, we realize that it is nothing but determination. And is it not that quality that was required in them while going on a trail to find the rabbits?
This is also the reason that traditional training methods fail for beagles. They have a mind of their own, which is very strongly guided by their nose, and was definitely not meant to be reduced to mere show of tricks!
Beagle’s sniffing – Boon or Bane?
After having understood so much about their innate sense of smell, this should really not come as a surprise that they are seasoned escape artists. If a beagle can be enticed by the regular everyday smells of their own house, can you imagine the temptation of the world outside? And once on the trail, they can just tune out everything around them and just focus on the scent that is driving them. So, leave the house door even slightly open, and they have the perfect size and reason to escape. This is when their determination and olfactory senses become a bane to us. This is the reason why when people bring home beagles, they are asked to make it extra secure to avoid any such instances.
While the above seems to be the only grim news for beagle parents and can be easily avoided and tackled, the fact that their noses are so strong is definitely a big boon for us. Let us look at how it can be well used to have calm, thinking and well stimulated dogs.
Dogs, just like humans, tend to calm down and be less stressed when mentally stimulated or when they are urged to think. Anybody who has anxiety attacks would know that the first go-to advice is to start making lists. They also urge you to use your senses to make this list – things you see, smell, hear or feel. The moment you tune your brain to think, your mind and body tend to relax and calm down. Now, with dogs too, making them think can calm them down significantly. And by using their senses, we can arrive at the same results as humans.
It is here that a beagle’s strong sense of smell comes quite handy and makes it extremely easy for us to provide them mental stimulation. Additionally, studies have shown that sniffing can significantly reduce the pulse rate in dogs and lower pulse rate means a calmer dog. So, we now have a dog that absolutely LOVES sniffing and makes our efforts that much minimal in calming down our beagles. Treat search, sniffing walks, hidden treats in boxes/cloth items are all some of the things that your beagle will love and will keep their minds engaged and calm them down and make them less likely to be stressed. Experts on sensory stimulation also encourage people to make use of multiple senses to make weaker senses gradually strong by combining them with the inherent stronger senses. Beagle’s stronger sense is obviously the nose. You can combine their olfactory senses with hearing or sight to improve these senses as well. There is so much we can do to make use of their noses and keep them engaged, if we have the motivation for it and can get creative.
Yes, they are small, cute, and loving to their humans. And that is a major reason why people bring them home, hoping it to be a breezy life with them. It may not be breezy if you are looking for an “obedient” dog. In fact, no dog should be reduced to just being obedient subordinate beings. But it is breezy once we know of their immense love for tracking, searching, and solving problems and how to keep them engaged with their nose, we will never feel the need to “train” them. And we will soon know to fully appreciate them, and dogs in general, to be who they are and to help them live to their full potential.
Do you have a beagle who Constantly escapes from home, or is going on expeditions you don’t quite understand? Have had similar stories and experiences? I would love to hear them!