Friday, December 5, 2008

How to Train a Basset Hound

I recently watched the training DVD that comes with Basset Hound, Your Happy Healthy Pet. The publishers used five breeds in the video: Bulldog, Corgi, Cocker Spaniel, Basset Hound and Beagle, which represent the five breed books they released all at the same time. I didn’t participate in the training video, so this was my first opportunity to see what they had done.

Bassets don’t have a reputation for being easy to train, but they absolutely can be trained, and do well in obedience agility, tracking, and other dog sports. While researching the book, I had the pleasure of watching Cathy Wheeler and Kevin Whelan prove the doubters wrong as their dogs went through tunnels and over jumps numerous times for our photographer. You’ll see some great shots in the book. 

But on the video, the trainer is trying to demonstrate how to teach a Basset to come when called. She calls and encourages the dog, who just sits there and looks at her. (I imagine Ben Stein doing a Basset voiceover: “Why are you jiggling the leash and jumping around? You look ridiculous!”) Finally the dog just gets up and walks away in the opposite direction, giving the trainer a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how to give an effective correction. The Basset responded nicely, thank you very much. I laughed out loud…

If you find training more of a chore than a challenge, more frustrating than fun, then a Basset Hound is not the right dog for you! Tune up your sense of humor and pretend you are teaching tricks. Make it fun and interesting for the dog, or forget it.

I remember watching an obedience competitor who showed a Bloodhound when I lived in Washington State. He seriously challenged her patience. She fed him a spoonful of Fancy Feast cat food as a reward when he did something right. As the tall cousin of the Basset Hound, I saw why — yummy, smelly food for a scenthound.

Rules for training a Basset Hound:

• Keep it fun. Make it a game so he won’t get bored.

• Figure out what motivates your Basset – food, toy, tummy rub – and use it as a reward.

• Train throughout the day, not just at lesson time. Sit for food or petting, down-stay while you eat dinner, etc.

• Short sessions! A Basset is not hardwired for endless drills doing things he thinks are useless. He’ll quit on you if he’s had enough.

• Train with distractions. Once he knows the basics at your house, add distractions, like a cat, kids, skater, interesting smell on the ground, etc. to teach him he needs to respond all the time, not just when there’s nothing better to do.

If you are serious about winning lots of ribbons and titles with your Basset Hound, I recommend tracking. This is not a breed that is highly motivated to please you, so obedience is especially trying. But tracking uses their sense of smell, and a Basset is a scenthound with a nose second only to the Bloodhound in ability.

One of my funniest incidents with training a Basset was when I was teaching one to walk on a leash. They tend to lag behind, and the more you drag them to keep up with you, the more they lag. So this one just quit and lied down on the ground in a pose known as “flat-basset” to Basset Hound lovers the world over. NOTHING would get him to stand up! Totally humbled, I learned that positive motivation works much better with this hard-headed breed!

Photo above: Cathy Wheeler demonstrates that a happy Basset Hound really can come when called!

Be sure to check out the free online chapters of the book at


RockArtist said...

Love what you said about the Bassett...we had two Bassetts many years ago, Marvin and Mindy...they were quite the pair. Stubborn as all heck, but once they get the idea in their heads they never forget. They're very sweet dogs. Look forward to seeing your book!

Jeremyinc said...

That is a really informative article! I will be sure to refer the people who buy puppies from me, I breed Basset Hounds and like to give the buyers as much information as I can to help make the process easy for them.