Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
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 a scent. Selectively bred to track the scent of a fox, raccoon, or other prey, these dogs are gifted with the most sensitive noses.
From a morphological standpoint, scent hounds appear to be specifically designed as sniffing machines. Compared to other dogs, their noses are equipped with larger cavities 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. Even their pendulous, droopy lips (they're called flews, by the way) are believed to be designed to trap scent particles.
With more than 220 million olfactory receptors in their nose at work, it should come 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. With a third of their brain set aside for scent detection, calling them while they are actively smelling is a lost cause most of the time.
Management and Good Training Is a Must
So there you have it—a breed selectively bred to track smells, and therefore extremely devoted to doing what it was created for. Still, as magnificent as it sounds, there are times when you will likely lose 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 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, 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 do you remedy that?
Creating a New Recall Command
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 supported 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 set 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.
Use a Long Line Plus a New Cue
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 a long cord just like the ones 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-foot line, or you may start with a longer line, but just don't give full leeway 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!
How to Train With a Long Line and New Recall Command
- 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!'' 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.
Eventually, you may want to invest in a longer line.
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Back-Up Strategies: Your Important Lifelines
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 lifelines, 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 sniffs 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 to 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.
Fundamental Potty Training Tips for Scent Hounds
- Secret Strategies for Potty Training your Puppy
Learn effective strategies for potty training your puppy. How to potty train your puppy faster and more effectively.
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.
Questions & Answers
Question: My Jack Russell 1 year and a half has started not to come back. She doesn't go that far from me. She even comes closer, touches my hand, takes the titbits, but I don't succeed in putting the lead on cause she runs away from me. I have never ever shouted at her, never ever associated the lead with anything bad. Can you help me get my Jack Russel on her lead?
Answer: It sounds like your dog doesn't like the action of putting on the lead perhaps because she has associated it with all the fun ending. Or perhaps, she is just trying to engage you in a game where she wants you to chase her. At home, you may want to practice putting on the leash and making great things happen. Snap on the lead, drop treats, remove lead, no more treats. Great things happen always contingent upon the lead being put on. Then, practice this in the yard. Then, add the recall, snap the lead on, and give treats, then remove no more treats. Create very strong positive associations. You want her to plead for you to put that lead on. When you are calling her, and she comes to have the lead on, on top of giving the treats, make sure to follow up with a fun activity. Go on a walk or let her explore someplace or play a bit of tug with her with a tug toy you have hidden in your pocket. I like to use one covered in real rabbit fur. Anything to supersede the freedom she has lost, which for some dogs has a very strong value. Of course, avoid keeping her in unsafe areas where she can take off after animals or end up in a place with cars.
Question: My springer spaniel x beagle has great recall until he gets a scent of a rabbit. He then disappears for several minutes until he gets bored I assume. He then decides to come back to recall. If I do not recall more than once he does not know where I am so I have to keep calling. Do you have any advise?
Answer: Your dog needs more practice in spite of strong distractions. I like to use a leash/ long line attached to the dog for practicing and use a helper who who tosses rocks in a field of tall grass and I gradually desensitize the dog to that and reward sticking by my side. Then, we progress to wiggling a fake stuffed animal attached to a rope and work on recalls using high-value treats. I may then progress to using rabbit fur attached to a rope and every now and then let the dog catch it to provide an outlet.
© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli
Arie V. on March 12, 2019:
Hey there! So recently, I just adopted a 4 month old Hound Mix. And I’m a 100% sure he’s a Lab/Hound Mix. Anyways, I’ve been training him to get used to his name that he does not know at all. He doesn’t listen and I understand that there is time and patience before I start seeing any improvements before I move into any simple basic tricks. I’m not sure of any other ways to teach him.
Wayne on January 21, 2019:
Thank for the great info
andree smith on July 17, 2018:
I just adopted a "hound" type dog. I was told he was an Australian cattle dog but my vet took one look at him and told me he was a hound.
All my dogs have been off leash but I cannot see the day when this will happen with my"hound". It is a bit discouraging but will try what you suggest in your article. I will always walk around with a pouch of chicken hot dogs around my waist!!
Catja67 on July 04, 2018:
Thank you for this!! I was beginning to think that there was something "wrong" with me (my training) or with my 17 month old beagle. I was in despair as I live in a rural area with plenty of "smells" to entertain him. We especially seem overpopulated with rabbits and a brisk walk often becomes a race! Now that I know that I have "burnt" his come command, we will begin again with a new command and a much longer lead. Thanks. And, no, absolutely no, he doesn't get off leash or lead when outside!! We might never see him again.
Eva on May 24, 2018:
Great instruction. I have rescued a straying Bleue de Gascogne (bloodhound) just over a year ago and have quite good success with the postive reinforcement method. I let him off the lead often and he does his own thing, but 'checks in with me' regularly during a 'silent walk' and stays away hardlymore than a few minutes. In tonw he walks very nicely heel most of the time. But the emergency recall in the forest is just not happening. What do hunters do to get them back in mid-hunt?
May on April 11, 2018:
I have a 4mo treeing walker coonhound and he reliably comes when called within the house. Outside (with distractions) I find it helps having directional terms (gee and haw) as well as leave it/drop it commands. We work on these commands inside with treat rewards, And outside with praise.
He will still pull when he wants to smell something, but I'd you consistently NEVER give in to his pulling and tell him to leave it, he'll stop for a moment and then run to catch up and continue on his walk.
Don't know if I'll ever trust him off lead, but allowing him to walk ahead of me and telling him which direction we are going or to ignore a potentially distraction makes walks a lot more fun.
New User on March 25, 2018:
Just adopted a foxhound from a high kill shelter. She's 1-2 years old. I've been talking her on lots of walks, she has lots of energy. She can sit on command but only when there are treats around. She's a terrible leash tugger. A walk that usually takes 20 minutes turned into 40 because of all of her sniffing. I feel bad for enabling it, but I don't want to hurt her by tugging too hard, as I tried tugging her away and she put up a great deal of resistance. Thanks for this article, I will use it today as soon as possible.
Susan Peck on June 06, 2017:
I just got a blue Tick Hound-Beagle. This will be very helpful with her training. Thank you for all the information.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 07, 2017:
Helen, glad to hear you have trained your beagles so well! Kudos to you! They are smart dogs and great owners like you know how to motivate them!
Helen on March 04, 2017:
I have two beagles, the older one has her obedience titles,, she has many rally obedience titles....Twomyears in a row she was number one in Canada. The younger one is well on her way to get her titles...I totally agree with this method, it so works...Both my dogs have a good recall. I find with a beagle if you allow them to use the nose often, the will not ignore you when you want there attention. I play the go sniff game, allow them while on a long lead to go sniff, when Inwant the attention, I say here. After a while with me again I release them to sniff, eventually they understand...They are very smart, if you let them get away with a second and third command, they just milk it. One command , always... Keep it fun for them...Incredible dogs,, and yes challenging..
christine on February 11, 2017:
This is a great site. Yes I have burned my recall. I am too impatient --- I have a scent hound, I only got him nine months ago and he is nine years old.
He used to be a chasseurs dog - so hunting is what he knows. If he was off his chain, he was hunting.
Does he come when called ---- hmmmmm sometimes, rarely, a little bit. But he can come so he DOES understand what I want it is just he doesn't seem to think it matters. As far as he is concerned it is a request, an option to be weighed --- not a command to be obeyed.
It is SO annoying. Stupid dog. (Stupid owner too I know) because he is SO big that I want him to be able to run free and so I do do it ... but I don't know, sometimes he is just off and recall totally non-existent. Annoying dog!
Why did I not realise this before accepting taking him on ?????
And WHY is it so hard for him just even just to stop - not even come back but just stop if I say wait. Irritating. Just WAIT if I say wait. He knows perfectly well what it means, he just chooses to ignore it.
I hate being ignored by my dog but I equally hate being pulled at a million miles an hour. GRRRRrrrrrr. The most stupid breed ever.
Kathy on January 12, 2017:
Helpful information. Have a coonhound recently showed up here. We took him on since he decided to stay. We don't tie him and he is out doors. Wonderful dog, but has been very well trained in his past to hunt coon. Problem being that sometimes he will stay as long as 24 hours on a coon without even coming in to eat. There's no calling him off. Even sometimes coming in with injuries. Maybe if I try some of your ideas it may help.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 25, 2015:
Hello Tracey, great to hear you're a professional training using positive reinforcement. I wrote this article 3 years ago and have found other more effective techniques in the meanwhile. My articles are always evolving throughout the years and this article seems lacking important stuff. Something that helped me a ton was Leslie Nelson's Really reliable recall and rewarding voluntary check-ins. With hounds, I wouldn't keep expectations too high as to expect them to reliably come as another breed would, but I would also not be too fast to say it's impossible to train certain hounds, until a variety of techniques were used (of course always positive ones!), but I would never risk it to the point of taking a hound on walks off leash or in an un-fenced area where there are risks. With hounds, we must remember that they were selectively bred to work at a distance and take off after rabbits. If we put ourselves in their shoes, it doesn't make sense to come to us when they're after scent as they were bred to follow it. A clingy hound who ignored rabbits, was pretty much worthless in the past. Here are some updated articles I wrote the last time I had challenging hounds over for training. The last article has my video on magnet training which was also helpful. Worth trying is whistle training too.
I hope you stumble on something helpful, my best wishes and happy training!
Tracey on May 25, 2015:
Thank u so much great advice. If I've been working with a long line and not seeing any progression, is my Gascogne just never going to have a recall? Do u think it's possible that at some point their nose just will always win? I'm a professional full time positive reinforcement trainer and never have seen s nose like my Gascogne. I agree with the previous writer, most of the time I'm simply in awe of the magnificance of her howling and treeing. She is a beauty to behold but I'd like to recall for safety. Thank u so much
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 26, 2012:
I think training a dog to hunt rabbits and not foxes may be quite arduous as it requires some discrimination training which would be at an advanced level. To keep them close but still use their awesome abilities why not invest in a 40 to 50 foot long line? This is what trainers use to train dogs for nose work. Best wishes!
rubyrosebud on January 25, 2012:
The absolute best part of this hub was reading that some scent hound owners have obedience titles on their dogs! Halleluja! I just knew it could be done, and that one line is very encouraging! I have 2 coonhounds and we hike a lot off leash. Both girls do pretty well with obedience basics like heel, sit, stay in the yard and around the neighborhood, and I am very proud of them! BUT... in the woods on a trail they'll stay pretty close until one of them will "latch on" to a fox trail. At that point, my calls are nothing but background static to them. I learned to stop. I also learned to "manage"- watch for when the get very interested in sniffing a certain spot, and call them off. I wish they were more interested in rabbits than foxes. My thinking is that rabbits are fun to chase and fast, but not so far ranging. How can I train them to one type of game and off another? And, what do you think of that as a way to keep them close but still use their awesome abilities? This is a great hub. THANK YOU!
Eiddwen from Wales on January 21, 2012:
What a great hub;I had a Beagle when growing up and she was my best friend with a will of her own.
Thanks for sharing and I vote up up and away here.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 17, 2012:
Thanks, hope my tips help you. I often recommend my hound clients to invest in a long line when going outdoors to prevent them from taking off during recall training sessions. Best of wishes;)
Cardozo7 from Portugal on January 17, 2012:
Wow nice hub!I have tried the recall command with my Beagle and failed to suceed when going outside. Works fine indoors but outside it's really a problem. I'll try your tips for sure.
dakota on January 07, 2012:
dakota again thanks im trying it right now and you were right it works on other breeds too you just have to be persistent if its an obstinant dog thanks again
Mazlan A from Malaysia on December 23, 2011:
Interesting and informative hub. Voted up!
arusho from University Place, Wa. on December 18, 2011:
Shasta Matova from USA on December 18, 2011:
I have a mutt, and he is pretty good at coming, but he does get easily distracted, and sometimes thinks it is optional. This is terrific advice, and we are going to have to teach the over here command. Voted up.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 18, 2011:
Thanks you, happy you enjoyed the hub. Since you mentioned it, I checked out your hub about Beagles and found it rich with great information! I am sure a long line may be helpful for you, so you can keep up better on her sniffing adventures!
Kristin Trapp from Illinois on December 18, 2011:
This is terrific information. This is the one command we struggle with, with our beagle. I am pretty sure that when her nose is working overtime, her ears no longer function for hearing. In fact I wrote a hub about how all the various beagle body parts aid them in tracking a scent. However, I was unaware about their droopy lips playing a role as well.
We have definitely poisoned the "come" command and will take your advice to use a new one, as well as the additional methods you mention.
I have to admit though, watching our beagle track a scent is very fascinating, especially now with snow cover. The only problem is I cannot necessarily run as fast as she needs to go when tracking since I am on the other end of the leash!
Voted up, useful and bookmarked.