How to Train Your Scent Hound Dog to Come When Called

Updated on February 8, 2016
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

An intriguing world of smells awaits....

Hounds tend to escape attracted by interesting smells
Hounds tend to escape attracted by interesting smells | Source

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, they 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 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 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, repeatedly calling the dog as it takes off burns the command. In other words, the dog may learns that it 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 of 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 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, 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 in your yard. You want to start off in a quiet area at first. with her nearby. Catch your scent hound in a moment when she is not actively sniffing the ground. Say happily ''over here!'' and as soon as she looks at you, say ''good girl or good boy!'' 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.

  • Provide Clear Consequences

A time will come where you 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. 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.-

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 ''touch'' and have your dog sniff and lick the peanut butter. Repeat, so when you say ''touch '' he comes and sniff your hand. As he gets good at this, no longer smear food on your hand, but still ask ''touch',' as soon as his nose touches your hand, say ''good boy'', 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 40 feet 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.

Does your scent hound come when called?

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    • profile image

      Susan Peck 6 months ago

      I just got a blue Tick Hound-Beagle. This will be very helpful with her training. Thank you for all the information.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 9 months ago from USA

      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!

    • profile image

      Helen 9 months ago

      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..

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      christine 10 months ago

      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.

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      Kathy 11 months ago

      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.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 2 years ago from USA

      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!


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      Tracey 2 years ago

      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

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      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!

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      rubyrosebud 5 years ago

      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 profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      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.

      Take care


    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      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 profile image

      Cardozo7 5 years ago from Portugal

      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.

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      dakota 5 years ago

      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

    • greatstuff profile image

      Mazlan 5 years ago from Malaysia

      Interesting and informative hub. Voted up!

    • arusho profile image

      arusho 6 years ago from University Place, Wa.

      Good information!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 6 years ago from USA

      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.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 years ago from USA

      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!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      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.

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