Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
What's in a Hound?
If you own a scent hound or a hound mix, you may wonder if it's really true that they are hard dogs to train. You may have heard that they are stubborn or easily distracted, and some even have the courage to say they are stupid. The truth is, they are often simply misunderstood, and people who claim they are not the brightest dogs do not take the time to study these breeds and delve into their pasts to see what they were really bred for.
This article is in defense of hounds and is meant to be an eye-opener for those interested in this breed. Just to clarify, there are two types of hounds, the scent hounds comprised of Beagles, Basset Hounds, foxhounds and coonhounds, and the sighthounds, comprised of Greyhounds, Whippets, Irish Wolfhounds, etc. This article will only focus on the scent hounds.
So what is a hound? How does its brain work? What was he bred for? When you look at a hound, you may get an oxytocin overload as you look at those pendulous ears, sad, droopy eyes and big black nose. Yet, at a closer look, a hound's anatomy is built to ultimately make him a strong sniffing machine, meant to do what it was bred for. One theory has it that those long ears were crafted to collect scent from the air and sweep it right under the nose. And what about those large nasal cavities? They were meant to better process scent. And wow, are they good at that!
It's estimated that bloodhounds have roughly about 230 million olfactory cells, which gave them the reputation of being a " nose with a dog attached." A blood hound's sniffing abilities are so impressive that, according to PBS.org, they are admissible in court. You may have noticed too those loose, moist lips which are there to aid in trapping scent particles. Some scent hounds are equipped with booming loud voices, which can be a nuisance if you live in the city, but a blessing if you are a hunter.
So we know these creatures are powerful sniffers; indeed, their noses are some of the most sensitive in the canine world, next, let's take a peek at what they were precisely bred for. Scent hounds are a type of hound that primarily hunts by scent. They are built for endurance, so they can follow a scent for several miles over rough terrain. Several hounds work mainly in groups known as "packs." Yet, even within the different types of hounds, we can see different hunting styles. Let's take a look at some.
- Beagle: Along with the Bloodhound and Basset Hound, Beagles are blessed with very powerful sniffers. They do best in ground-scenting (following scent with their noses to the ground) rather than air-scenting. They were selectively bred primarily for tracking hare, rabbit, and other small game. Like other hounds, they work in packs and at a distance from their masters. They are often encouraged to hunt by voice and the use of a horn. They may bay when they catch scent so the hunter can keep track of where the beagles are. These dogs are actually too slow to catch rabbits, but when they flush a rabbit from a hiding spot, the hunter has a chance to shoot as the rabbit circles back to the hiding spot. The horn then signals the end of the hunt as assistants aid in packing up the beagles.
- Basset Hound: A Basset Hound's sense of smell is second only to the bloodhound. Their main purpose is to hunt rabbits and hare. They are also capable of covering heavy terrain with little effort. Yet, their slower speed compared to the beagle is appreciated by hunters who like to keep up.
- Coon Hounds: This category includes several breeds such as the Black and Tan Coonhound, the Bluetick Coonhound, the Plott Hound and the Redbone Coonhound. In ancient times, fox hounds were found to be inadequate and confused when hunting animals who took off and climbed on trees such as raccoons and opossum. So treeing dogs were given this task. Their purpose was to track, chase and bark while keeping their prey treed until the hunters arrived and could shoot.
- Foxhound: While the shorter-legged hounds were often followed on foot, the taller hounds were followed by hunters on horses. The foxhound worked in packs for the purpose of hunting foxes by scent. These are very active dogs full of energy that were bred to hunt for miles.
These are just a few examples of hound dogs who were selectively bred to work with their noses. Whether they hunted rabbits, foxes or raccoons, these dogs have several traits in common that add a few challenges to training. In the next paragraph, we will look at some.
Why Are Hounds Hard to Train?
As seen, hounds were accomplished hunting pals before being considered pets. Sniffing smells for these fellows often takes precedence over other activities such as sleeping and eating, explains Joe Stahlkuppe when describing Basset Hounds in the book "Basset Hounds." Bringing them into our homes and keeping them as pets has added a few challenges for those who have high expectations for a completely obedient companion. Following are some reasons why.
Hounds were used to hunt at a distance from the owner; they are quite independent creatures overall and won't mind much if their owners are out of sight. The recall command can be a challenge with this breed. When you call them, they often look up at you as if saying, "What is wrong with you? Why do you keep calling me when this is what I was bred to do? You know . . . I have been doing this for centuries; no hunter in the past has ever dreamed of calling me when dinner is right there in front of my nose! Now let me do my job, so we have dinner for tonight!"
When tracking a trail, hunters used to often rely on their hounds' baying to help them locate them. Their independent thinking doesn't make them much eager to please you unless you find a way to motivate them. Yet, because hounds were used for hunting in packs, they have a strong pack drive, which ironically makes them predisposed to suffer from separation anxiety.
You will hear a lot of people saying that hounds are stubborn. In reality, what we consider stubborn, is often this dog's desire to sniff and hunt that clashes with our desires. So if you are asking your hound to heel and your hound wants to go sniff a spot instead, you may label him as stubborn, when in reality, he is just doing what he was bred to do with his nose. When I ask owners of hounds how they managed to put titles on their pooches despite them being accused of being "stubborn," often I hear them remark, "I became equally if not more stubborn than him."
Yes, these dogs are intelligent, but in their own ways. Many can learn a trick very quickly if you let them acknowledge what is in for them. They love stinky treats and become champion beggars when they smell something good. These dogs live for food, so take advantage of this to train them. Those who have managed to bring a basset hound in the obedience ring know that with patience, persistence and a touch of creativity, you can accomplish quite some impressive things with a hound—things that can make other dog owners green with envy.
Training Tips for Hound Owners
I believe that dogs of different breeds have different needs when it comes to training. For instance, some sighthounds may find it more rewarding to chase little furry toys attached to a pole versus eating treats. Scent hounds, though, seem to do best with treats—the stinkier, the better. Following are some tips.
The earlier you start training your hound, the better. Older hounds may have ingrained habits that may take some time to change. You can start training little things as a sit as early as you get your puppy home. All you need is a tasty treat you can use as a lure to position your pup in a sit. Potty training a hound may be challenging because of their powerful sniffers, which they may use to find previously soiled areas where to soil again. Make sure you use potent enzyme-based cleaners to clean up all accidents.
Manage the Environment
Hounds can be easily distracted. They can be heeling next to you one minute, and the next minute, you are dog-less as you realize you are talking to yourself while your hound took off distracted by a smell. You want to start in a quiet room where there is not much going on so that your hound won't switch into "beagle mode." Always work with your hound on leash or in a safe fenced area. There are too many accidents happening when hounds take off only to end in a road full of traffic, poisoned by neighbors or falling prey to large animals.
Use High-Value Treats
The best way to a hound's heart is often through his tummy. Invest in high-value treats to keep your hound's interest and motivation high. Yet, you may want to monitor treat intake and adjust accordingly as many hounds are predisposed to becoming obese. If you are training indoors, and your hound is interested in his kibble, you can take advantage of using his kibble for training. Outdoors, things can change drastically, so you'll need to use pretty high-value treats since many hounds love to track more than anything else, and when you ask him to obey a command, you're basically ending the fun.
Hounds do best with positive reinforcement training. Despite being often labeled as stubborn, they are quite sensitive creatures that don't do well (as all dogs after all!) with harsh training techniques. You will find that their noses may often interfere with your training, causing them to stray away and want to pull on the leash to go sniff. Make coming to you very rewarding and teach them that great things happen when your dog is next to you and not pulling on the leash.
If you are planning to get a hound, make sure you know what you are getting into. If you are dreaming about competing in the obedience ring, you may want to choose a different breed. Yet, there are several hounds who accomplish impressive milestones, but it all boils down to a few lucky instances of the right hound paired with the right owner. Some hounds are more biddable than others, and some owners are more willing to attain results using persistence and creativity.
Put Talents to Work
Just because hounds may not excel in the obedience ring doesn't mean they should give up competing for ribbons. Letting your hound do what he was bred to do is the biggest reward. Enroll your beagle in K9 nosework, tracking search and rescue and field trials where he can put his nose to work. It doesn't hurt, though, to experiment and see what your hound enjoys doing best. Countless hounds enjoy agility even though they may not be the fastest.
Basset Hound Earns Novice Obedience Title
Further Reading About Hounds
- How to Train Your Scent Hound Dog to Come When Called
Learn effective strategies to polish or reset your recall command with your scent hound and understand why training these types of dogs can be so challenging!
- Are Hounds Hard to Train?
Hounds have a reputation for being headstrong and difficult to train. If so, you may be wondering why and what can be done to train a good recall and basic obedience.
- Pros and Cons of Owning Beagles
Why are beagles so popular and much-loved? Ask any beagle owner and they will be happy to say it all! However, there are cons to the breed, too. Here's a list of pros and cons.
© 2013 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 08, 2020:
Hi Carla, your pups must be super sweet! Have fun training them, and make it rewarding! And enjoy puppyhood as it doesn't last long!
Carla Chatterly on September 07, 2020:
Thank you for your article , we just rescued two pups, an 8 week old & an a 14 week old . The younger one is a plott hound mix , the older one is a lab hound mix . Thanks for the insight .
Julia Levy on May 17, 2020:
Thank you so much for this article! It's very helpful; lots of great information and it's showing me that it's not just my sweet Elmer Fudd who has "selective hearing" ;) I will certainly be trying these tips! I must not have found the right treat to fully coax him into following my lead ALL the time.
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Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 13, 2019:
I know this was written for beagles, but the same likely applies to basset hounds. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/How-to-Potty-Train-a-B...
Carol on August 12, 2019:
Our Basset Hound has been all over the place with house training a month ago she was letting us know she needed to go out side NOW not so much. I feel like such a failure I’ve had dogs my whole life and have never had this problem she is just over nine months old and I feel like we are going to need to go back to the crate training which will break her heart and our ears.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 28, 2019:
Although this was written with beagles in mind, this article may help you. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/How-to-Potty-Train-a-B...
Fletchers Mom on May 19, 2019:
Thank goodness I found you! I am so happy to get this insightful information and now have a better understanding of the traits and characteristics I'm seeing in my Hound Mix Puppy who we find so sweet and lovable and yes, independent with selective hearing. We are going through house training right now and since he was a rescue and was trained on pads for weeks, this is what he knows but showing some success outside with reward treats but heavily distracted still. Fletcher is very different from my Lab Mix Tipper who picked up house training quickly so this is very new to me and I'm cleaning up in "new" areas in the house that are not protected by pads so I'm thinking he's found some spots where Tipper went many moons ago! Any other tips to help me reinforce Fletcher's training? Thank you again..all of you for your inspiring comments about your successes, it makes me feel so much better!
Leah on April 29, 2019:
We have had many beagles and they are great dogs. Smart, loveable and yes at times free willed. They have totally been given a bad rap. Beagles are very trainable, you just have to find the right treat. The right treat and positive reinforcement and you have success. I cant say how much our beagles have enriched our lives.
Daviddoolittle on February 05, 2019:
My Lt Dan is a Bassett Hound. He is well behaved and fully trained. He will not even pee in a hotel.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 27, 2018:
Dixie,kudos to your for attaining so many titles with your hounds. You are inspiration for many hound owners!
Dixie B. on December 20, 2018:
My two Bassets are closing in on 75 performance titles between them. Surprise, surprise, we have a preference for nosework events, because, hey we love it and we are very good at it. But we also do rally obedience, obedience, trick dog, and several types of agility. And we have drawers stuffed with placement, title, and high in trial ribbons. I have trained a lot of different breeds and these bassets are the easiest dogs I have ever worked with. Totally positive training is the way to go.
Kan on September 21, 2018:
My Foxhound is so smart! Literally makes good judgement calls. Able learner. Got tired of a Trainers repetition and vocalized it. Did all she was taught and is done with that! Still stays on que.
Eiddwen from Wales on July 22, 2013:
I really enjoyed this gem; I will always remember my Beagle when I was small and so much of what you have said here I can relate to. Wonderful as always and voted up.
Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on July 21, 2013:
Very informative. Our neighbor has a hound and she's super sweet- just has a bit of a howl. This is helpful information for those with a hound- voted up!
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on July 19, 2013:
A very informative hub on dog group that I can relate to. I love livestock guardian dogs and find the same piece of advice as contained in this article to be applicable to them.
You wrote: "When you call them they often look up at you as if saying " " What is wrong with you? Why do you keep calling me when this is what I was bred to do? You know... I have been doing this for centuries, no hunter in the past has ever dreamed of calling me when dinner is right there in front of my nose! Now let me do my job so we have dinner for tonight!"
This happens with our Kuvasz boy all the time. When called, he looks at us as if asking, "I will respond, but first tell me what is in it for me?"
When thrown a ball and asked to 'fetch', he brings it back once or may be twice, but if you repeat the process, he looks at you and seems to say, "Well, I brought it back twice, but you chose to throw it away again. Your fault".
I am taking good learning from here. Voted up!
Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 19, 2013:
Once again you provide some marvelous information here. When I was young I read a book called "Where the Red Fern Grows," by Wilson Rawls. It was about a boy and his Redbone (I think) Coonhounds. I loved that book and this brings back memories. Great hub!