Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Why Are Hounds Difficult to Train?
The notion that hounds are difficult to train has persisted for quite some time, and you may be wondering what makes these dogs more challenging. Knowing what hounds were bred to do and their unique physical characteristics may help us understand why this belief began in the first place. If you are the owner of a hound and he is posing some challenges, you may feel better by learning that many hounds have attained obedience titles. The secret is knowing this breed a little better and implementing some strategies to keep their motivation high.
3 Different Types of Hounds
First and foremost, consider that there are three different types of hounds.
- There are scent hounds and sight hounds. Scent hounds are hounds who specialize in hunting using their nose. Examples include beagles, bloodhounds, coonhounds, dachshunds, and foxhounds.
- Sight hounds are hounds who specialize in hunting by using their eyes. Examples include Afghan hounds, Borzoi, Greyhounds, Irish wolfhounds, Italian greyhounds, Salukis, and whippets.
- There is actually a third category of hounds, versatile hounds which can hunt by using both scent and sight. An example is the Rhodesian ridgeback, but we won't be discussing those here.
What these categories have in common is that they are dogs selectively bred to hunt, and as such, they have a strong desire to pursue prey. This is one of the reasons why these dogs may pose some challenges, but there are other details that are worthy of evaluation. Let's go over some unique characteristics that may interfere with training.
The Challenges of Training a Scent Hound
Meet the scent hound. You will most likely readily recognize a scent hound by simply looking at those pendulous dog ears and the stocky, muscular body which is designed for endurance (ability to travel long distances tirelessly) more than speed. Several specimens have short legs, allowing them to be close to the ground, so they can do what they do best: sniff.
In general, the taller scent hounds are traditionally used by men on horses, while the shorter ones are used by men on foot. And they sure smell well, way better than other dogs! Their large nostril openings allow for maximum sampling of the vast array of incoming scents—even the most subtle ones. Their loose lips and long ears seem to also be capable of trapping scent so it can be properly processed by the nose.
Scent hounds were selectively bred to work in packs, which explains why these dogs tend to get very well along with other dogs and seek their companionship.
This also explains why some hounds are prone to separation anxiety. A hound's mellow personality, friendly nature, and intelligence appear to be quality traits for a good pet. However, owners should consider that hounds require loads of exercise and mental stimulation. These are dogs who have been bred to walk several miles a day while tracking smells. This tendency is innate, the dog was born with it, and it cannot be modified. Since most hounds today are kept in the home, there are high chances hounds are unable to fulfill the tasks they have been bred for over the years. This can lead to frustration and problem behaviors over time.
How to Train Scent Hounds
The problem with training scent hounds is that they can be easily distracted and will want to chase prey. On top of that, they are quite independent too as they often hunted at a distance from their masters. All these challenges can be overcome by resorting to some strategies.
- Start Inside. Because these dogs can get easily distracted outdoors, it's best to start training indoors in an area that is quiet. This will help the scent hound focus better. Once behaviors are fluent indoors, they can go to gradually more distracting areas.
- Use Rewards. Because hounds are stubborn, you have to find a way you can answer their question of "what is in for me?" Positive reinforcement works best. The use of high-value treats that are very smelly (dried fish, freeze-dried liver) will keep these dogs motivated. Hounds are very intelligent dogs, and when you motivate them, they will be eager to learn all sorts of tricks.
- Do Your Research. Coming when called may be a challenge, but there are several strategies that may benefit your hound. For more on this, read "Training your scent hound to come when called." However, keep in mind that in the old days, their masters were happy to see these fellows run and chase after prey. Nowadays, dog owners call their dogs away from prey which is the opposite of what they were bred for!
- Invent Challenges and Play Games. Bored, frustrated, and underexercised scent hounds may love to engage in canine nose work, brain games, search and rescue, and games where they get to put their noses at work. Fun games are the shell game, where the hound must find treats hidden under cups, the treasure hunt game where treats are scattered around the home, and hide-and-seek.
The Challenges of Training a Sight Hound
Meet the sight hounds. These are specimens who primarily hunt using their sight. Unlike the scent hounds who were bred for endurance, these fellows were bred for speed. Indeed, they are blessed with a very large heart and super-efficient lungs. Their back is very flexible and they have long legs, so they can capture fast prey such as hare and deer. The head of these fellows is long and thin, a trait that is known as dolichocephalic. This shape of the head allowed them to have a wider field of vision so they could better visualize prey. There appears to be evidence that dolichocephalic breeds have more retinal ganglions compared to other breeds, allowing them to be more receptive to rapid movements in their visual field. It is estimated that a greyhound is capable of detecting prey on a flat surface up to a quarter-mile away.
These dogs are quite ancient and have been selectively bred to detect sudden movements of prey, so they could sprint and kill them. This required them to be somewhat independent as they worked at a distance from their master. Yet, they often worked in packs so they are quite social overall with other dogs. Because they have mellow temperaments and are visually appealing, they are often kept as pets. Yet these dogs thrive on physical activity and have a very strong instinct to chase fleeing animals.
How to Train Sight Hounds
Because these dogs were hunters and used to rely on their eyesight, they may pose some training challenges. They can get easily distracted and may want to take off when they see anything that resembles prey. Training them requires patience, consistency, and persistence.
- Avoid Distraction. To help set these dogs up for success, it's best to start training them in a room with little distractions. Once the dog is fluent in the command, he can be taken to areas with more distractions. Classes may be a good idea, so the dog learns to obey despite the presence of other dogs/people.
- Be Gentle and Use Rewards. Sight hounds are sensitive creatures and do best with gentle training techniques. After all, as with all dogs, verbal or physical punishment will affect trust and cause them to be confused, shut down, and dislike being trained. Using rewards (in the form of high-value treats) may help them stay more focused. However, many like play, so allowing them to chase a pole with a string attached to some stuffed animal may be rewarding enough to use.
- Use a Martingale Collar. Because sight hounds have a particular conformation with their heads narrower than their necks, it's easy for regular buckle collars to slip right through their neck. In this case, you may find helpful a collar known as a martingale collar or greyhound collar.
- Play Chasing Games. Their playstyle with other dogs may be a tad bit different and this at times may create a bit of conflict. Sight hounds overall prefer chasing games over the rough wrestling and tumbling styles of other dogs.
- Don't Overdo It. When it comes to sports, these fellow thrive on lure coursing. Yet, many are intimidated by these dogs' need for exercise but fail to remember that these are sprinters, so after running a few minutes and burning their fuel, they may turn into couch potatoes for the rest of the day.
Scent Hounds vs. Sight Hounds
As seen, scent hounds and sight hounds may pose some challenges, but many can be overcome by using some strategies. However, it's important to realize that instincts may always prevail so it's unrealistic to expect them to stay in a yard with no fence and ignore their hardwired desire to chase fleeing creatures or track intriguing smells. It's always best to have them on a leash or a long line and invest in a fence to keep them safe.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 03, 2020:
Hi Patti, cases of resource guarding require management and behavior modification. Please find a behavior consultant to help you out. Muzzling is important to prevent accidents. You may find this read helpful: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/How-to-Stop-a-Dog-From...
Patti on June 25, 2020:
I have an Afghan that is getting a little unpredictable. He has even turned on us a couple of times for taking something away from him. Would you recommend a muzzle when other people or dogs come over. Have any idea why he is like this.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 05, 2013:
Thanks! I am happy you are enjoying my hubs, take care!
Bala from India on July 05, 2013:
Thanks anyway Alexa, for this wonderful hub of yours! Great fan of all your work here @Hub Pages!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 02, 2013:
I really am not familiar with prices of mixed breeds. I wished I could help you with that.
Bala from India on July 01, 2013:
Very informative Alexa.. I am buying a puppy this weekend. I was wondering if you could help me out with it!
The pup is a Rottweiler-Retriever mix. I buying it from a home. The guy expects 10000/-Rs. which is $170 approx. Do you think the cost is o.k? I am new to these mix breeds. Do you think the mix is worth the price? Thanks in advance.
Great Hub you've got here. Really nice.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on July 01, 2013:
Thanks for commenting wetnose. I had a lab mix not too long that was obsessed with sniffing on walks. It took several weeks of training to make myself more interesting than all those smells she was intrigued by and teach her to walk on a loose leash with her head off the ground. Sniffing is highly reinforcing behavior and it gets habitual. The good thing is that also sniffing is a tiring activity, as clients report their dogs are always tired after search and rescue and nosework.
wetnosedogs from Alabama on July 01, 2013:
Jenny is part lab and shepherd. Might be the lab, but she acts hound-ish. She is very easily distracted outside. If her nose isn't busy, her eyes are concentrating on something and it's not me calling her.
She also likes being around the other wetnoses, especially Roscoe. She needs to make sure she doesn't go out alone, and Roscoe is usually her shadow. So I don't know if that is considered packish. I believe she thinks she is the pack leader. But then again, she doesn't do real well in crowds.