How to Train Your Scent Hound Dog to Come When Called
An intriguing world of smells awaits....
Why are Scent Hounds More Difficult to Train?
Scent hounds are a category of dogs which encompass a variety of breeds including basset hounds, bloodhounds, beagles, coonhounds, foxhounds and dachshunds. What these breeds have in common is their predisposition to follow scent. Selectively bred to track the scent of a fox, raccoon, and other prey, these dogs are characterized by being gifted with the most sensitive noses.
From a morphological standpoint, scent hounds appear to be specifically designed to be sniffing machines. Their noses are equipped with larger cavities compared to other types of dogs, so they can process smells better...their droopy ears are thought to further help capture and collect scents from the ground keeping them at nose level...their pendulous, droopy lips (they're called flews, by the way) are believed to be designed in such a way so to trap scent particles....
With more than 220 million olfactory receptors in their nose at work, it comes as no surprise why these dogs may be a bit more difficult to train. One minute they may be paying attention, the next they may feel lured to follow an intriguing scent which calls them into temptation. Calling them while they are actively smelling is a lost cause most of the time and with 1/3 of their brain set aside for scent detection, it comes as no surprise why.
Management and Good Training is a Must to Put Scent Hounds up For Success!
So there you have it, a breed selectively bred to track smells, and therefore, extremely devoted to do what it was created for. As magnificent as it sounds, however there are times when you will likely be losing your patience over this gift!
Good management is a must for hound owners. This means that measures must be taken to prevent a hound from tracking a smell and escaping.This scenario indeed is a very common one, one minute Snoopy is right next to you sniffing a pile of leaves, the next he takes off, head to the ground quickly following a trail, completely oblivious to your commands.
In this case, though repeatedly calling the dog at the top of your lungs is counterproductive as it risks burning your recall command. In other words, the dog may learn that his recall is irrelevant, just as the noise of birds chirping on the trees. This is called ''learned irrelevance'' the dog learns that being called is no big deal, and your command just sounds like an annoying broken record, so how to remedy that?
If your dog has a history of hearing ''Snoopy, come!'' and continues tracking smells and escaping, you are better off starting from fresh and creating a new command accompanied by new training. Crafting a new command is crucial because if you keep on using your burnt cue ''Snoopy come'' the results will likely be the same.
Therefore, start from fresh and follow these guidelines to put your scent hound up for success. By the way, did you know that despite being difficult to train, some owners have actually put obedience titles on their scent hounds? It really can be done! When there is will, there is ultimately a way!
How to Train Your Scent Hound to Come When Called
We said that management is key to put your scent hound for success, but what does this entail? Management means that in order to achieve desired goals you take some precautionary measures that will prevent problem behaviors from putting roots.
So in this case, a long line will be a management tool since it will prevent a hound from taking off and learning to ignore commands. A long line is just that, a long cord as used when training horses. There are many made specifically for dogs and may range anywhere from 15 feet to 40-50 feet. To start, you are better off with a 15 feet line or you may start with a longer line but just don't give full leeway as of yet.
We also said that we will use a new cue for calling the dog. So if before it was ''Come'' now it will be ''Over here!'' said in a happy, cheery tone of voice. The long line plus this new command will teach a scent hound a whole new concept of what it means to come when called.
It all cannot be accomplished however without a pouch of tasty treats. For convenience sake, invest in a treat pouch that goes around the waist. You will be thankful for this, as you cannot train with your hands full of stuff. And make sure to invest in the tastiest treats out there, skip the kibble and those stale biscuits in the cookie jar! You want small, very smelly, preferably moist, treats such as little strips of steak, hot dog slivers or a dog trainer's favorites,freeze dried liver!
Preparation: Place the treat pouch full of bite-sized treats around your waist. Clip the long-line on your hound and head together in your yard. You want to start off in a quiet area at first with your hound nearby. Catch your scent hound in a moment when she is not actively sniffing the ground. Crouch down, say happily ''over here!'' and as soon as she looks at you, say ''yes!'' and give a treat. Repeat, and as you gradually get good responses, make the line longer and longer. A time may come where you may want to start investing in a longer line.
Back-up Strategies: Your Important Life-Lines
Now, a time will eventually come when your hound may appear more distracted. If you feel that there are chances she may ignore you, you are better off relying on some life lines, rather than calling her and risking her to ignore you. Following are some important considerations:
- Protect your Recall Command
If you really absolutely must get your dog to you fast, such as in the case of her being near a dead animal which she may potentially eat, or a pile of manure she may be tempted to roll in, you must be prepared to take action. In these cases, if she is actively sniffing, you are better off not burning your recall. Try to entice her to chase you or attract her with a noise or a toy, or make a silly voice that promises lots of fun. Make sure you reward her for moving towards you.
- Provide Clear Consequences
A time will come where you may find yourself calling her but she is attempting to ignore you, and in other words is telling you ''no, not right now'', then you need to have a consequence or she will learn to get away with it. Never call your dog twice! Rather use one of these consequences and be swift!
A: You go over to her and pick her up (if she is small and not heavy). This tells her ''your not right now, is actually now, no excuses!''
B: You use the long line to gently accompany her towards you. This is not tugging or pulling. The line is used to guide her towards you, just as you would use a fishing pole, at the same time, use your hands to attract her to you by tapping the ground or your leg. This also makes the point that ''no right, now'' means yes, right now, no questions asked!'' Of course, lots of praise and treats will make the point that being near you is always something good.
- Avoid Poisoning the Cue
Also, never call your dog for something unpleasant, this will ''poison the cue'' .Karen Pryor in her book, Reaching the Animal Mind, claims ''a poisoned cue occurs when a dog associates unpleasant things with a cue''. In other words, never call your dog for something unpleasant like snapping the collar on to go home, clipping the nails, or giving medicine your dog dislikes. Only call when something good follows, call for mealtime, call to allow out the door call to snap the leash on and going outside and so forth. '' You want your dog to think: ''Great things happen when I hear my name!'' ...-Of course, the perception of something good or bad varies from dog to dog, something to keep into consideration.
Teach the ''Touch'' Command
You can also train your scent hound a nice focus command that ultimately works on his predisposition to sniff. Smear a bit of cream cheese or peanut butter on your index, middle and ring finger and keep your hand open with the palm towards your dog. Say ''target'' and have your dog sniff and lick the peanut butter. Repeat, so when you say ''target '' he comes and sniff your hand. As he gets good at this, no longer smear food on your hand, but still ask ''target' as soon as his nose touches your hand, say ''yes!' and give a treat. You can ask touch when you need his attention and need him to come nearby.
- Manage Rather than Risk
A time may come where you may wonder if you can start trusting your hound off the line and off leash. As tempting as this can be, it is better be safe than sorry. Evaluate your circumstances carefully: is there a busy road nearby? Other dogs you may not trust? Chances for her to take off and chase wild animals into the woods? If so, you are better off to a compromise: keep her on a long line where she can freely discover the world but in the safety of your hands, knowing that she can no longer take off and escape. With stories of many hounds escaping never to come back, this may be your best option after all.
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© 2011 Adrienne Janet Farricelli