How (Not) To Train A Beagle

Please click on the photos to enlarge them. – PB

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.

Max Comes Home 030

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.

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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.

He was so much happier sleeping with us. That’s all he wanted.DSC02188

Please don’t get a beagle if you’re not prepared to cheerfully lose many the typical dog-person arguments. Beagles will persist. You have to love their persistence and give them a chance to be who they are or they’ll become hurt, bewildered and miserable, and probably act out.

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.

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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.

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Posted in Random Reflections | 4 Comments

Tips For Healthy And Fair Community Conversations

I recently attended a community conversation about policing and the African-American community. I offer these suggestions not so much in specific response to that event as a general reminder for anyone organizing, speaking on a panel or attending a similar event.

1. When speaking from the audience or from the dais, please do not stand and say, “I don’t need a mic!”

You need a microphone. There are people there with hearing problems and your assurance that you “have a loud voice” is not appropriate or accurate. Using a microphone is about inclusivity and even justice: everyone should get the mic, and everyone should be expected to use the mic. At the event I attended, I was dismayed to see an African-American woman speaking passionately about the death of her child and not get a microphone even when it was obvious that she would be speaking for more than a few seconds. Her testimony will be lost to posterity, even as other speakers’ voices will be heard on the recording of the event.

Everyone gets the mic. Everyone uses the mic.

2. Organizers, don’t obsess about your agenda for the evening.

It is  commendable to have an agenda and to honor it. However, if the community has an obvious need to ask more questions, process information or hear more testimonial, be flexible. Respect the community spirit. If necessary, ask the community if it wants to spend more time on one agenda item before moving on. It causes anxiety among those assembled to have a leader on the dais constantly interjecting how “we’re not on schedule” or “this is a big mess” when it is not a mess, and the community attending is appropriately and respectfully steering the conversation back to where they need it to be.

Religious leaders who respect the movement of the Holy Spirit but protect their agenda in a controlling way are respecting their ego more than the Holy Spirit. Be flexible in your leadership, and don’t insult the proceedings because they happen differently than you want or need them to.

Don’t be a control freak.

3.  Be mindful of when the conversation is personal and when it is political.

When the community asks about systemic change or institutional accountability, leaders should not respond in a personal way about their feelings until after they have fully answered the questions at hand.

Everyone involved in any issue that brings a community together has strong feelings, or they wouldn’t have made the time to be there. Good leaders answer questions to the best of their ability and do not divert the conversation into sympathy-garnering revelations of their or their employees’ feelings. When leaders of a community are asked to address the community, they come in a role of power and authority.  When leaders get defensive about questions regarding accountable professional practices and specific plans for institutional improvement, they often move into personal feeling territory. This isn’t productive.

Leaders, don’t take it personally. Process your feelings of hurt and anger and fear somewhere else. Talk about how hard the job is in an appropriate and supportive place, not during the community gathering.

4. Leaders should never use “we” and “you” language.

At the meeting I attended, one police leader said, at one point, “Don’t judge us by our uniform and we won’t judge you by the color of your skin.”  This remark is an example of divisive rhetoric, revealing that the person who said it is thinking in literally black and white terms. I hope that was just the case in a stressful moment. There were many white people in the community who care about accountability in policing. There were many men in uniform who are men of color. Leaders must always remain aware of the complex nature of the communities they serve.

Leaders must remember that, in the ultimate sense, we are all “we.” 

5. Please do not stand and take the mic and start your sharing by saying, “Everyone knows who I am.”

Always introduce yourself. Not everyone knows who you are. Communities are always changing and evolving. We want to know who you are. We want to get in touch with you later in order to network. Tell us your name and the organization you represent. Spell your name if that can help someone like me connect with you. You never know who is in attendance.

 Never assume that anyone knows or remembers who you are. Leaders and participants should always be asked to identify themselves for the record and for networking purposes. 

The practice of community is incredibly challenging and demanding. It can be scary, and especially for leaders. Blessings and gratitude to all those who do the work of creating community. Blessed be those who stand on the dais taking the heat, and blessed be those who show up to support or hold them accountable.  If God wants anything of us, it is to come together and care about one another. Good community practice gets easier the more we do it, and makes us better at being human.

What tips do you have? Please leave a comment.






Posted in Mind of the Minister, Social Justice | 2 Comments

Celebrating Ten Years Of PeaceBanging!

100_4945Hey, can you believe it?

This old gal began blogging as PeaceBang on December 30, 2004. Beauty Tips For Ministers was my second blog, and came along a couple of years later. I cannot believe I — and WE — have been using social media for a decade! Let’s sit on the porch in our rocking chairs and reminisce.

Please join me in celebrating TEN YEARS OF PEACEBANG AND SOCIAL MEDIA MINISTRY on December 30 and 31st. I would like to go live on Google Hangouts from 2-4 pm EST on Tuesday and then again the next day in late morning. I am not leaving myself a lot of time to plan this but it could work if I get folks on board early!

Do you have a favorite PeaceBang story, quote, memory or comment? Did PeaceBang touch your life in some way in the past decade? Let’s hear about it!! Your comments are most welcome here and to my personal e-mail at (my real first name – dot – my real last name @

I’ll be getting in touch with some of you to call into the Chat on Tuesday and Wednesday. If you’d like to call in, please let me know and we’ll get it set up.

See you then, and thanks for the memories!


Posted in Travels and Public Appearances | 1 Comment