One of the most important things you can remember when starting puppies is to get your mind right. Puppies are puppies. Often times, pups have spent most of the last six months in a small pen. They don’t know how grass smells, what concrete or gravel is, even how their own track smells as it lays on the ground. All of this to say, can we really expect a pup that has never been out of his pen to know much his first time out?
How you condition, train and socialize young pups is very important for you and the pup. Since we would rather discuss the nuts and bolts of puppy starting; I’ll save the 6 weeks to 6 month old training for another article and jump right to starting the pup. You can talk to half a dozen good dog men and you may get six different answers as how to start a beagle pup. One of the most important factors to consider is the size of your operation. If you only need to start a couple pups or maybe a litter you might want to proceed in the method I’ll outline today.
Why do I think 6 months is the right age? The main reason is that younger pups, more often than not, just don’t have the physical size to push briars and tall weeds aside. Sure, you can get younger pups to start. Often the pup will learn life long habits trying to overcome his lack of size and strength.
First, find a place that will offer few distractions. Some pups tend to loose their focus if there’s lots of interesting things going on around them.
For this method you will only need two things; a wire cage, and rabbit. Place the rabbit in the wire cage. Bring the pup into the area where the rabbit is. He should spot it as it hops around in the cage. He may double take at this new creature a time or two. He may even back off as if he is scared. Don’t worry this is normal. If the time is right the pup will soon start to sniff the rabbit through the cage. This will be followed by the young hound scratching and biting at the cage in an attempt to get the bunny. As the rabbit is safely in the cage the pups frustration at not being able to get him will quickly lead him to bay at the rabbit. This will likely be the first time you will hear the actual note he will use while he runs a rabbit. Once the pup starts tonguing at the rabbit you will notice his intensity will increase as he works himself into a tizzy trying to get that rabbit. Now the pup is ready to start running. It is important to note, this author has almost never seen a pup start tonguing on a track if that pup would not first give tongue to a rabbit in a cage when given the opportunity. That’s not to say a pup can’t start with out the cage exercise, but I have observed through the starting of many pups, the pup that refuses to bay at a caged rabbit will not take track.
I will typically allow the pup to bay at the rabbit for about one minute before I move on. It is ideal that the place you are working has some tall weeds or brush that will allow a rabbit to get out of site of the pup quickly. Now place the pup on a lead and open the rabbit cage. Hopefully you have a good rabbit and he will quickly run towards weeds. You pup should be pulling on the lead and barking now as much as ever. Just as the rabbit goes out of sight “RELEASE THE HOUNDS” ( I always wanted to say that) and the pup will take off after the rabbit. Now we need to be rooting for the rabbit to get away as it is important for the pup to loose site of the rabbit. As the pup cast about looking for the rabbit he will start to realize he can smell the rabbit. It is at this very moment most pups will put there nose to the ground and start tracking the rabbit tonguing aloud as they make progress. If the pup looses interest or looses the scent don’t over react. Just encourage him to look for the rabbit. If needed you can walk him in the direction the rabbit went. Hopefully he will smell it before he sees it. Because tame rabbit from a cage can’t run for very long the rabbit will still be in the area. Just look around you will find him. On occasion you and the pup will loose the rabbit. If you were doing this exercise in you own yard you will be in luck. The next day or so you will see the rabbit again eating on the lawn. This time go get the pup and take him over to where the rabbit is (was.) He should pick up on the scent and start to bay as before. Your pup is almost started. All you have to do now is take him for a walk where wild rabbits live. Soon enough he will smell one and start to run.
Now let me caution you before you start. Once your pup can see the rabbit in the cage and will bark at it, only let him see the rabbit sparingly or not at all. You do not want the young fellow to think it is his eyes he should be using to find Mr. Bunny.
Remember I said this is not the only way to start a pup. It takes a little time with you and your pup. Time I will add you should find as rewarding as any you have spent. I would also like to mention that I have used this method on several dozen pups my self and have found it to work 100 percent of the time.
I hope you will consider starting your pup your self, instead of using the starting pen. There is nothing quite like the feeling you get when you hear that pup open on the line for the first time. If you have any question or comments feel free to drop me a line.