We highly recommend puppy classes or training classes of some kind. The earlier you can start training your puppy, the quicker they will get it. We personally believe that positive reinforcement training works best with beagles (they ARE very food motivated), but this is a personal decision. We have used negative reinforcement training with our beagles for rattlesnake avoidance, all other training has been positive reinforcement. How much training you do is up to you, here are some hints for some of the basics that have worked for us. We do recommend talking to the instructor before signing up for a class of any sort, if they say something like “beagles aren’t trainable” go to someone else. Beagles are very trainable, you just have to know how to do work with them.
Once you start training, make your beagle earn all its treats and meals by doing something, even if it is just responding to their name or a sit. It will help reinforce those commands and the positive reinforcement afterwards. For training sessions, we recommend treats that can be cut up or broken up into very tiny pieces. Initially keep your training sessions short, just 5-10 minutes at a time and then give the puppy some good play time. Puppy attention spans are very short!
Decide on phrasing
Decide what words you want to use for your commands and be consistent with those words. If you say Down when you mean Off, your puppy will just get confused and may lay down instead of get off. If you decide to use positive reinforcement training, you will want to come up with your reinforcement word, “yes”, “good” or something else that works for you. Also choose a release word, “OK”, “done”, “over” or something else. You will use these two words a lot so make them comfortable for yourself. To teach the reinforcement word, have small bits of treat in your hand, say the word, hand the puppy the treat. Eventually they will understand that they will get the treat once you say the word, even if you are bit slow on the treat handover.
The names we have given the puppies while they are with us were intended to be temporary names to help us tell them apart in a way more fun than just calling them numbers or “puppy” all the time. We fully expect all of our new puppy families to find new names for their puppies, don’t be surprised if the first name chosen doesn’t stick, some puppies will help you find the right name. To help reinforce their new name, you can play the name game. Hold a tiny treat piece in your hand, say the puppy’s new name, when they look at you, say your reinforcement word, give them a treat. Repeat this often so that they always look at you when you say their name. Beagle ears can turn off when they get a good sniff and decide to follow it, it is important to teach them to ALWAYS, ok, almost always, look at you when you say their name.
Have a treat in one hand between thumb & index finger; palm is open & facing ceiling; lift hand with food slightly above puppy’s eye level, pushing hand back slightly over puppy’s head. Puppy looks up and probably sits to maintain balance; do not say name or give cue “sit” just wait for puppy to sit by following lure. Now release him with chosen “release word.” When puppy is reliably sitting by following lure, say “sit” once right before puppy sits and as you lure him.
Settle means to teach puppy to calm down, maintain a quiet position with a relaxed posture. Puppy energy levels can be so high, that sometimes you need a break and this is a good way to get one. We must learn how to “turn the puppy off.” Puppies don’t automatically mellow with age and chances a puppy that is allowed to indiscriminately run, play and carry on endlessly whenever, wherever will likely exhibit this same uncontrollable behavior as an adult dog. Start by adding frequent little quiet moments as part of the puppy’s daily routine. As you delay giving the treat, pet and massage the puppy, praising him in a calm voice. Do not give the treat if the puppy is pawing, nibbling and biting at your hand. Wait for him to cease, pause for a second or two as you praise, and open your hand as you continue to pet. Wait 2-3 seconds and release the puppy. Do this several times until puppy learns that rewards come when he is calm and relaxed and laying down. When he begins to relax and be still consistently, tell him to SETTLE and reward and then release. You can slowly increase the time your puppy is holding the position by give a few treats, 5 seconds apart. It is important that puppy learn that the treat is not the release from the settle. Release word is the only thing that allows him to get up.
Some puppies take food nicely from you and others will grab at it. To make sure your puppy takes food from you without taking part of your finger try the following: hold a small piece of treat in your closed fist; hold your fist near the puppy’s nose so they know the treat is there; do NOT open you hand until the are politely looking at your hand, not trying to paw at it or stick their nose in there. Use your reinforcement word and open your hand and let them have the treat.
This is critical with beagle puppies who love to pick up anything! Sometimes it’s something very bad for them or dangerous or very precious to you. Further, releasing things when asked allows you to play fun games with puppy such as tug. Owners have been admonished for decades to never play tug of war with their dogs because of the risk of it increasing aggression and/or dominance in the dog. Even many dog resource people such as breeders, trainers, and veterinarians caution against this game. Partly this caution is because of a lack to discriminate between agonistic behavior (conflict resolution and defensive aggression) and predatory behavior. People also have issues with witnessing intensity. Intensity is not aggression. Tug played with rules is a tremendous energy burner and good exercise for both dog and owner. The game does not make the dog a predator – he already is one! The big payoff is in lowered incidence of behavior problems due to under stimulation and a potent motivator for happy training. The game is a way to vent and burn off energy. Tug has rules: (1) Puppy is not permitted to grab at the toy until told with a take it, (2) puppy must release the object when you ask by using your release word, such as give, (3) Accidental misses (“oops, your shirt got in the way”) will not be tolerated and the game ends. (4) if the puppy gets the toy “wins” don’t worry about it – show little interest – the puppy will soon realize the toy is “dead” and if brought back and given the toy is brought back to life; (5) You do not allow the intensity of play to increase to a point where it may be physically unsafe, (6) You say when game begins and ends – don’t allow the dog to initiate unsolicited play sessions; (7) don’t allow the puppy to indulge in any enjoyable activity for long periods of time uninterrupted and then stop all together – it is best to play for as long as you like, take a short break, play, take a break, etc. If puppy breaks any of the rules, the game is over. Teach by approaching in a positive manner versus a demanding or threatening one. GIVE can be the word used whenever you want puppy to relinquish something. Teach him what this word means, by approaching him while he has a ball or toy in his mouth. Present a yummy treat at nose level (treat has to be more appealing to puppy then toy); puppy should release the toy to take the treat. When he does, immediately praise him, give treat and return his toy. After a little practice and puppy is dropping or releasing toy reliably, tell him to GIVE as you offer the treat, so he will associate this word with the behavior of releasing the toy. Once puppy reliably responds to the cue of GIVE, ask him to do so without a visible treat. When complies reward him with lots of verbal praise and an immediate treat from pocket. Progress slowly with random food rewards along with praise and ultimately to verbal praise alone and the return of the toy. Even at this level “surprise” the puppy with the occasional food treat to encourage continued success. When introducing the game of “tug” tease puppy with the toy and tell him to take it. Encourage his interaction and interest by verbally praising him. Once the puppy has toy in mouth begin to tug on it and praise him. Stop tugging and ask puppy to GIVE object. If he continues to tug, just remain calm and wait for him to give it up. Once he does, praise and reward him with a treat for his compliance. If he is really pent-up, show him the treat to help him release the toy. Then ask him to TAKE IT again. Keep working on this until puppy is quickly releasing the toy upon request. Starting the game of tug again can turn into the reward.
This is similar to Trade, but in this example, the object is not in the puppies mouth yet and you don’t want them to pick it up. Take a treat object like a kleenex to start (use a treat when you think they have a better handle on this command) on the floor a little ways away from puppy. If he starts to go toward the treat, cover it with hand or foot and tell the puppy to LEAVE IT once. Be patient. When the puppy stops attempting to get the treat on the floor from under foot or hand, mark it with the YES and reinforce him with a treat from the other hand. Once he gets the idea and doesn’t approach the treat on the floor, but instead looks up to you, you can begin to say LEAVE IT right after you toss a treat to the floor. We want puppy to learn that when he hears LEAVE IT he comes to you for a reward rather than picking up what is on the ground. Watch puppy carefully for signs of avoidance when treat is tossed to the ground. Signs of avoidance are different for individual puppies. Typical signs can be looking away, looking up at you, or moving his head away from the treat. Once puppy shows signs of avoidance, immediately praise him and reward with a treat from hand or another source. Give TAKE IT when offering the treat from hand. When response is reliable puppy should immediately and consistently avoid anything when you say LEAVE IT.
Start by asking puppy to sit once. After one second and while she is still sitting feed treat, calmly so she doesn’t get up, quickly feed another treat, keeping treats close to puppy. Continue to feed treats, 1-3 seconds in succession until you have built up to a one minute sit stay. Remember treats must be delivered in “rapid fire.” As puppy begins to demonstrate they wish to remain sitting, then begin lengthening the time between each delivery of the treat (in rapid fire) until you can have your puppy sit for more time before treats are delivered. Pause after “last treat” and then release her with “release word.” Don’t give a treat on the release or otherwise the release will be increased instead of the SIT STAY. If puppies “release” themselves – give release word anyway. Stays are best “proofed” when the puppy first learns DURATION, and then DISTRACTION and finally DISTANCE. So if you want a good 1-2-5 minute stay – work on duration first. Small amounts of time added as each the puppy accomplishes Solid Stay. Note: Always return to the puppy to release them. Please remember to not call puppy to you from a Sit or Down Stay – puppies may start breaking the stay in anticipation of the joy of being near you – and the reward that ends the Stay. If she thinks the stay is never over until you return, you will have a SOLID STAY.
Using same method we used for “sit” ask the puppy for a sit but don’t give a reward – keep treat in front of puppy’s nose and move it slowly toward the floor, straight down, having the puppy follow the lure/food. Keep food close to puppy’s body and puppy should follow lure he will lie down on his hip. This is a relaxed down; don’t say name or “down.” When he is all the way down, the moment his elbows touch the ground – reward with lure treat while he is still down. Then release him with “release word.” After a dozen or so repetitions, you are ready to say “down” in a happy voice as he lies down. Repeat and practice. When puppy is doing “down” consistently, then you can ask for a down while standing. Say “down” in happy voice and wait two or three seconds. If he lies down, YES! (Marker) and give him a jackpot! If he does not lie down, move your hand to lure him into the down, YES! REWARD! Before long, he will realize that the lure (however – air cookies) motion follows word and he will start to anticipate by going down on the word instead of waiting for the “air cookie” to the ground. If puppy stands up, try moving lure more slowly to floor. May need to shape the Down incrementally by waiting for him to lower his head a few inches to follow the treat and but before he gets up, mark - YES! REWARD! We want him to understand that the movement of his front feet and chest towards the ground with his bottom on the floor earns the reward. Still won’t go down – try sitting on the floor with your knees raised just high enough for him to crawl under. Have him sit next to you and lure him under your knee with the treat so that he has to lie down to follow it. YES! REWARD! Or try a chair, something low enough that he has to follow it down and crawl under to get the treat. If all else fails, he has to lie down sometime so “Catch” the behavior! When he lies down on his own, YES! Reward! When he realizes that this behavior gets rewarded, he will start offering it to you. Patience here will be your success.
Off in our house is the word we use to get the puppy/dog off whatever they happen to be on or to not jump up on people. Amazingly, not everybody out there wants our dogs to jump on them, go figure. Dog people tend to ruin this for each other since we generally don’t care about this behavior as much as non-dog people. This command is easier to teach if your puppy is laying or sitting on something you don’t want them on (like the bed if you are trying to change the sheets and they decide to “help” you). Have a treat in your hand, call the puppy’s name, show them the treat, say “off” or whatever word you decide to use and if they move toward you and off the item, reward and release them. Stopping them from jumping on people is a little trickier. In a situation where you know they will jump up on you, have your treat in hand, say “off”, turn so the puppy has no choice but to put all 4 paws back on the ground, reward and release. Repeat this one often. Eventually they get that Off means all 4 paws on the floor. For counter surfing a gentle push away from the edge of the counter while saying “off” is a good start. We practice this one a LOT in our house...
Walking on leash
Puppies are rewarded for “checking back” with YOU - just stand still with leash divided in half; when the puppy pays attention to you – reward – take one step-reward – next step – reward and so on; don’t try for distance walks; get the behavior first and start to add more distance. Don’t stop to reward – you will be rewarding the puppy for stopping, this is tricky with smaller puppies as you have to kind of squat down to get your hand in range of their mouth but with a little practice gets easier. As the puppy get the idea and you can start to walk further, start to treat them whenever they look at you. When your puppy stops to sniff and you want them to keep going, say their name, when they look at you treat. Add a comman “let’s go” or something similar to their name and treat. Start to use just the word without their name and they will soon understand that there are times to sniff and times to get moving again. Avoid tugging on the leash and have lot’s of patience, but occasionally you just have no choice but to give them a gentle tug if that nose is simply way too caught up in the news of the day. Some puppies will pull to get going on their walk, we stop wait until they pay attention again (this can take awhile!), reward and then keep going. Some times getting 10 feet can take a long time if you have a puller. Also consider a harness or gentle leader if your pup is a big puller.
G-d made them cute so you won’t kill them!