Please do not get a beagle if you don’t believe that dogs have real feelings. Beagles are truly sensitive and they most certainly get their feelings hurt. They mope when over-corrected and when treated with severe discipline, their hearts break. You cannot “break” a beagle, nor should you ever try to. Humiliating them, spraying them in the face with water, shocking them, abusing them for barking, or in any other way applying cruel measures to their normal behavior will destroy their spirits. Those of us who love beagles beg you to consider carefully before bringing one of these brown-eyed darlings home. They are the cutest dogs in the world, among the smartest (hey, just because we don’t know what it’s like to millions of scent receptors doesn’t mean beagles are dumb — it means WE are dumb for expecting them to listen when they have an interesting smell up their snouts!), and incredibly loyal.
There is a reason that this breed is used for almost all of the laboratory experiments done on dogs. It is because they are so sweet, cheerful, trusting and responsive to human attention, they do not become aggressive even when kept under the horrible conditions in labs, and tortured in the name of science or product safety. Beagle people support The Beagle Freedom Project, a group that will figure prominently in the story I am about to tell. But before I tell you that story (which really is about training, I promise), let me tell you about my own beagle, Maxfield.
Max was one of the lucky ones. He was raised from a puppy by a family that loved him a lot and provided him with everything he needed. Unfortunately, they had to surrender him to the shelter when they faced a housing transition and could not take him with them to their new home. Although he had known great love and was treated very well and with lots of affection by the great folks at the Scituate Animal Shelter in Massachusetts, Max’s heart was broken. He was nervous, skinny, and skittish, with stressed-out bloodshot eyes and an air of deep insecurity.
When my then boyfriend and I filled out an application to adopt Max, the shelter director really grilled us. Did we have a fenced in yard? Beagles can climb chain link fence. Beagles can — and will — dig to escape enclosures. Did I own my own home? Beagles can be destructive! Beagles can chew through floors! My eyes got bigger and bigger and I looked at Greg like, “Do we WANT this dog? Are you nuts?” Greg stood stoically while the director continued on. Are we prepared to love a dog who barks, who “counter-surfs” for food and steals every bit he can get his paws on? Beagles are stubborn, they’re willful, and “you’re going to need an obedience trainer.” She asked us to sign up for obedience training right then and there! Greg and I looked at each other and at Max, the small, smooth guy who was sitting at our feet pressed against Greg’s leg in a position we dubbed “The Max Melt-In.” We politely declined the obedience training and took our beagle home. The shelter required a one week foster period to make sure the adoption would work out.
Given all the warnings we had received, we were very nervous about our new beagle addition to the family. We expected him to howl and bay a lot.
He never howled and bayed. He just cried and cried when we put him in his crate at night.
We expected him to chew everything.
He never chewed anything but the pads we put in his crate.
We never let him off leash because we had been sternly instructed to NEVER do that. EVER, as beagles are scent hounds and if we let a beagle off the leash, he would immediately run off and get lost or killed.
He didn’t get let off leash for over a year.
Eventually I tried traning Max with treats, and to my great delight he proved responsive to training. Food, my friends. I never leave the house with him without snacks on hand. I use a special whistle and a hand signal to alert him that I have a snack for him. He runs right to me.
Of course I am taking a risk, the way any dog guardian takes a risk in letting her dog off leash. Some beagles cannot be trained this way. You have to get to know your own dog.
Eventually, although we had been told by everyone in the dog world that dogs LOVE crates and that Max would grow to LOVE his crate, we had to listen to him and respect his sincere, insistent crying message that he did not LOVE his crate and felt very hurt that we were making him sleep in a crate, and so we had a long talk about it. We told him that he could sleep with us but that we were worried that he was going to destroy everything in the house if we didnt’ crate him when we left.
Beagles are obsessed with food. They’re never NOT going to be obsessed with food. As I said, they have more scent receptors than the other breeds, so if your childhood golden retriever was notorious for occasionally snitching the roast beef off the counter, prepare to guard all of your food all the time with a beagle. You’ll get used to it, and to commanding DOWN or OFF a thousand times a day. If you can’t love an animal who will watch you eat with huge, pleading eyes, pre-clean the dishes while they’re stacked in the washer, tremble and moan when there’s a chicken roasting (the first time Max did this I thought he was having a seizure), and counter-surf, please do not adopt a beagle.
He’s not counter-surfing yet, but he’s thinking about it.
I belong to a Facebook group called I Love Beagles (I know), and we regularly hear about beagles being rejected by — to put it bluntly — unkind and stupid humans. Recently, in early February of 2015, a member of our community found a Craiglist ad by a woman who said she was giving away her beagle because she was incorrigible.
First of all, please — no matter what — please don’t ever give away a dog on Craigslist. They will mostly likely meet a terrible, torturous fate. Please for the love of God, find a local shelter and leave them there. Even if they’re euthanized the dog won’t suffer in a lab or be used as bait in a fight dog. Beagles are mostly submissive and get stolen for these two purposes. The best thing you can do is get in touch with a regional beagle rescue organization or a no-kill shelter, of course.