Some hounds will also chew, dig or destroy items – even when you are there and they definitely aren’t feeling lonely. Sometimes it seems as if they will go to great lengths to invent new and annoying ways to get you up from your chair. Attention seeking is as good a description as any, but it does have quite negative associations.
People and dogs need and enjoy attention. Owning a dog is a big responsibility and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. Expecting a young dog to be satisfied with two half hour walks round the block on the lead and then settle quietly for the rest of the day is not reasonable and you should be prepared to spend a great deal more time than this to keep him entertained. For centuries, beagles have been selectively bred to follow a hare at a flat out run for up to five hours, singing as they go, several times a week. It’s not surprising then, that a fit and healthy hound can’t sit still in his basket for 23 hours a day!
Having said that, some hounds do take attention seeking to new heights by taking objects and running away with them, but it’s often the owners that are encouraging them without realising it. Even if the attention you give your beagle seems to be quite negative to you, for instance firmly telling him ‘no’ can be far better to many dogs than being ignored and they will work hard to gain your eye contact.
If every time a beagle picks up the TV remote control you jump to your feet and chase him to get it back, he quickly learns that picking up the remote is the fastest way to start a game and get attention. If you then swap the remote for a dog toy and play with him, he’s doubly rewarded for picking up the ‘forbidden item’ and it will be the TV remote as his first choice next time. On the few occasions he picks up the dog toy first you may look at him and say ‘good boy’ then return to watching the TV. You have swiftly taught him that dog toys really aren’t as much fun as remote controls!
If you know your hound is likely to start a game an hour after he’s eaten, then why not bite the bullet and choose a toy to start the game ten minutes earlier. That way you’ll be rewarding his quiet behaviour with lots of fun and the remote control will avoid gaining extra teeth marks. In fact, you should start to think a lot more about the type of behaviour you’re accidentally rewarding on a day to day basis.
As an example, if your hound is jumping around as you prepare his food then you’ll be rewarding jumping around with a very large food reward! Next time he’s hungry he’ll jump more. However, if you teach him ‘sit’ and he sits for 30 seconds before you feed him then you’re rewarding the still behaviour instead. He’s a little more likely to sit when he wants something in the future. In the same way, if he’s jumping around and barking as you put on his lead and you open the door to be dragged out for a walk, then jumping and barking are being rewarded. If you wait for him to sit before opening the door, then you’re rewarding sitting and he’ll do it more often. If you’re really smart, you’ll put the lead on ten minutes before you leave and go and watch a bit more TV or do the washing up. That way he’ll have calmed down and you can grab his lead and instantly reward calm, quiet, half asleep behaviour.
Everything that your beagle likes doing can be used as a reward for a bit of good behaviour. A sit before you let him run and sniff in the park, a short recall with the lead on before he greets his doggy friends, another sit before you fuss him when you come back from the supermarket – the list is endless! His day is probably full of rewarding experiences and all you need to do is help him pause a while before he gets them.