Are Hounds Hard to Train?
Should I come when called or take off?
Why Should Hounds be 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 determine why this belief was crafted 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 there are several hounds who have attained obedience titles. The secret is knowing these dogs a little better and implementing some strategies to keep their motivation high.
So what is a hound? First and foremost, consider that there are 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.
What these categories have in common is that they are dogs selectively bred to hunt, and as such, they have 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.
Scent Hound Challenges
Meet the scent hound. Most likely you will readily recognize a scent hound by simply looking at those pendulous dog ears and the stocky, muscular body which is ultimately 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 were mostly used with men on horses, while the shorter ones were used with men on foot. And they sure sniffed well, way better than other dogs! Their large nostril openings allow a large area that is meant to be exposed to 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, 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.
Training 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 though can be for a good part overcome by resorting to some strategies.
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 be asked in gradually more distracting areas. Because hounds are stubborn, you have to find a way that 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.
Coming when called maybe 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". Hounds are very intelligent dogs, and when you motivate them, they will be eager to learn all sorts of tricks. However, keep in mind that in the old days, their masters were happy to see these fellows run and chase after prey. Nowadays, instead, dog owners call their dogs away from prey which is the opposite of what they were bred for!
Bored, frustrated and under-exercised scent hounds may love to engage in canine nosework, 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.
Sight Hound Challenges
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, 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, 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.
Training 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. To help set these dog 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.
Sight hounds are over all 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 under 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.
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 martingale collar or greyhound collar.
Their play style with other dogs may be a tad bit different and this at times may create a bit of conflict. Sight hounds over all prefer chasing games over the rough wrestling and tumbling styles of other dogs.
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 fora good part into couch potatoes for the rest of the day.
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. Always best to have them on leash or a long line and invest in a fence to keep them safe.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.