Do you let your Beagles off-lead?

Whenever we meet a beagle for the first time the question their owners almost always ask is “Do you let them off lead?”.

The trouble with Beagles is that they have been bred to work independently from humans for hours at a time. Historically, they were required to cover great distances, single mindedly following the scents of wildlife. When researching the Beagle breed it soon becomes apparent that the consensus is that Beagles can never be trusted off-lead. Many sources claim that they should never be allowed off-lead except in a secure garden. Many sources list the Beagle as one of the ten most difficult breeds to train.

We’ve always wanted our Beagles to be…well, Beagles! Keeping them on lead never sat well with us and we’ve always been prepared to put a huge amount of work into ensuring they have freedom to satisfy their instincts whilst remaining safe.

The day we collected Beanie from her breeder at the age of 12 weeks we took her to the park and let her off lead. She was wonderful – she stuck to us like glue and obeyed every command….until the age of around 5 months when we lost pretty much all control. Despite this setback we still managed to have her playing off-lead safely in two or three of our local parks and the beach. We kept working on recall and encouraged her to ‘check in’ regularly by rewarding her for coming to us. We gradually got more and more control – yet as Beanie got older her tendency to wander (or should I say sprint at break neck speed whilst baying her head off) further and further afield increased. She always came back very quickly – at most a few minutes and usually less than two minutes. But she is fast and would quickly get out of sight. We weren’t happy about this. Gradually our range of ‘safe-off-lead’ venues diminished to just one very safe park and the beach.

By the time Biggles came along when Beanie was a year old we were still managing safe off-lead sessions each day in our local park. We used to meet up with a group of dogs and their owners and Beanie stayed with the group and never wandered far. Biggles slotted in nicely and things went very well until Biggles was 6 months old and Beanie started seeing him as a good pal. She lost interest in the other dogs and started leading Biggles off out of sight on wonderful adventures around the park. They always came back after two or three minutes but we felt we’d lost control – off-lead play was no longer safe. And it wasn’t fair on others as our dogs were exhibiting undesirable pack behavior (Best described as inciting other dogs to riot!).

We tried very hard to buy or rent a huge field or woodland that we could turn into a safe, secure playground for them. But there’s just nothing available in the area. So, around 6 months ago we started walking our dogs separately and working extremely hard on training them to stay close and respond reliably to commands. It’s a bit of a leap of faith really as we don’t know anyone that’s achieved the level of control of their Beagles that we feel we need (please get in touch if you have!!!). Everyone we know seems to either keep their dogs on-lead or else take a risk and let them off-lead despite less than perfect control. But neither of those options are viable for us.

Things are going very well, although we’re a long way from having reliable control in all situations and not 100% confident that we’ll ever get there.

Beanie now walks beautifully on a loose lead around the park and local streets. She trots beside me like a little dressage pony, looking up at me constantly for guidance. Biggles does the same, but a little less reliably as he’s more easily distracted. Yet take them somewhere new, and often (although not always) it’s back to square one. It seems that everything is contextual with our two!!!

When we meet other dogs – including over-excited off-lead dogs, we just tell Beanie and Biggles to ‘leave’ and they walk right past them. Even when we get harassed by particularly pesky dogs that just won’t leave us alone our two will obediently walk by our sides while the other dog jumps around us, on us and generally does every thing it can to get our attention. There was a time a while back where Beanie was getting snappy and aggressive with dogs that pestered us but now she’s completely relaxed no matter what the provocation – she just does as she’s told and trusts me to sort it out. Biggles is a lot less reliable than Beanie in these situations as he’s still VERY excitable. But he’s making great progress.

Beanie no longer jumps all over people we meet and raids their pockets for treats. In fact, if I see someone about to pop a treat in her mouth I can call her away from them.

We have 50ft long training lines and we spend time each day with the dogs on these. In a wide variety of venues they’ll behave like perfectly trained collies. They come when called, they stay close to us changing direction when we do and watching for guidance constantly. They’ll do remote sits, downs, stays etc. If a playful dog comes charging over we can put Beanie in a sit and tell her to ignore the dog. 95% of the time she does as she’s told. Biggles is probably 20% reliable in this situation – but making progress. We play a very disciplined game of fetch where we put them in a sit, run away from them until we’re almost at the end of the 50ft line and then release them and throw the ball. They hurtle past us, grab the ball and sprint back to us. Meanwhile we’re running at break neck speed in the opposite direction. You can’t help but feel proud of them as they respond instantly to commands, hand signals etc – often in the face of quite extreme distractions. Yet their capacity to apparently forget everything and behave like complete hooligans for no apparent reason never ceases to amaze me!

Off lead (individually) they’re frequently as good as they are on the training line. Some days we can wander around the meadow for 20 – 30 minutes without our dogs putting a foot wrong. We can call them away from other dogs, call them off scents, zigzag all over the park with complete confidence that our dogs are watching us and staying close at all times. From time to time they will get a little over-exited and run further away from us than we’d like or become unresponsive for a short time. But the ‘out of control’ moments are becoming less frequent. The longest they’ve been out of control (i.e. running too far away or not responding to commands) in recent months is probably less than a minute.

Lots of people we meet comment on how well-trained our dogs are. But they don’t know the full picture! We still couldn’t risk letting them off-lead anywhere other than our local park. If we let them off-lead together we loose control. If we don’t give them 100% of our attention we loose control (we don’t play with them or talk to them constantly, but we need to watch their body language and give commands at the right moment before they make the decision to be naughty). And when we loose control you’d think our dogs had never had a day’s training in their lives!

We really miss the freedom of just unclipping their leads and relaxing while they have fun. You’ll notice far fewer photos of our dogs at play on our blog in recent months – they’ve been playing, albeit to a lesser extent, but we can’t afford the distracton of photographing them. Their play has been much tamer than it used to be. They don’t get to sprint at break neck speed around the park baying their heads off any more. But we think we’ve reached a point now where we can start building up their off-lead activities again rather than constantly cutting back as we battle to gain control. Their training is really starting to work and they’re both maturing and calming down – gradually we’ll be able to trust them more and more. The last thing in the world we want is Beagles that stay close because they’re too dull, unfit and lathargic to do anything else!!!

14 Replies to “Do you let your Beagles off-lead?”

  1. Kym

    I have 2 Beagles who are brothers and 2 years old and I cant let them off the lead, even though I would love to! They just get too distracted! I did have a period where I could let one off on their own and they wouldnt wander far but now everything else is more interesting. I let them both off a couple of times quite some time ago and they vanished into the distance. They’ve even managed to get out of my office and 1 of them ended up on a dual carriageway, a definite heart stopping moment. I too would love to have a safe enclosed area they could run around with other dogs in but there just isnt anywhere near me. I do love my Beagles but my word they are hard work!

  2. Sam & Chigley

    I have a 20 month old beagle, Chigley, & I too have “safe” places where I let him off lead without worry,and new locations off lead are a definite no, no….too many new smells to distract a beagle nose!
    I have found that as he’s got older, incidences of beagling have got fewer, but I’ve also found a solution for off lead action…mountain biking! Chigley absolutely loves it, so much so that as soon as I put his harness on he starts barking & we always set off to a full beagle fanfare! It’s like setting off on a one beagle/bike hunt! ( at quite a pace too until the initial excitement wears off!)
    I use a Trixie Biker set which has a distance keeper to keep the dog away from the bike & an elastic leash to take the shock out of any lead jerks,etc. We use this to travel along the cycle paths & then when on forest trails & bridleways I let him off & he runs along with me….usually in front, but any dalliances to stop & sniff are kept short as he doesn’t want to be left behind & wants to “lead the hunt”. I think this satisfies his in-built need to run & I can keep up! He’ll now stop at junctions to see which way we’re going too! We can happily be out for several hours ( with stops for me to recharge!) & Chig never shows any sign of tiredness & gives the impression he could go all day! ( as he would in a days hunting).
    I’ve successfully visited several new forestry commission sites with cycle trails & had no incidences of beagling off into the distance. The only downside is that I’ve got a very fit beagle who has lots of energy to burn!

  3. Julia

    I love your blog, and I read it regularly although I don’t often make time to comment lately. I don’t train Dolly, my 4 year old Beagle, as regularly as you do B&B, but we have done agility & obedience classes, and we work on manners & general good citizenship every day. I let her off lead when we’re hiking, on the beach, and in fenced parks. She’s tightly bonded to me — I work at home, and she’s a solo dog — she doesn’t like it when I’m too far from her. I exploit that. I clicker train her, use super delicious treats when off lead, and I keep her close by running away from her a lot. It’s not so much that she’s good . . . it’s more that I focus on her body language, respond to it, and leash up when I get that feeling she’s not so tuned in to me. Dolly is, in many ways, sensitive and smart, but now and then she gets that thousand-yard stare and forgets everything she ever knew. I think that’s a core Beagle trait, which makes a truly reliable recall a sort of snowball-hell scenario. I don’t trust her as much as I predict, and calculate risk.

    I think if she had a Beagle pal, I’d be toast. Her off lead areas are not heavily populated with other dogs — beach, hiking — because she’s less reliable around ANY dog at all. A buddy? All I would see is Beagle butts, bouncing over the horizon. When Dolly is with her Beagle pals at the dog park, I think of it like this: 1 Beagle + 1 Beagle = 8 legs, 1/2 a brain. And those aren’t dogs she lives with.

    It sounds to me like you are doing everything right. I think you’ve had amazing success. I agree that a few years on them will help immensely. Dolly’s high energy still, but much more reasonable. Best of luck, and thanks for blogging about this.

  4. Susan Post author

    Thank you all for your responses – it really does seem to be an issue that all Beagle owners struggle with.

    Kym, it must be impossible with two littermates. It’s bad enough with young dogs 10 months apart!

    Julia, Dolly sounds a bit like Biggles. He’s quite ‘needy’. If he were our only dog I think he’d be one of the few Beagles that you really could walk in any reasonably safe place. Beanie on the other hand has a strong independent streak. But on the plus side she’s quite calm and focused and is very good at checking in with us regularly. The combination of the two of them is bad. Biggles latches onto Beanie and ignores us when we’re all out together. Also, Biggles is extremely excitable and he manages to get Beanie wound up and looking for mischief. When we first got Biggles a lot of people advised us to keep them apart for the first few months so that Biggles would bond more with us than with Beanie. We did try, but they were going frantic to be together and we gave up for the sake of peace! Fortunately we did always do lots of separate walks, training and play sessions so we do have a good relationship with Biggles. It’s only outdoors that he latches onto Beanie – I guess because she’s more fun.

    Sam, I had a bike as a young child but was never interested and haven’t been on a bike since about 6 years old!! Paul has never ridden a bike. However, I do think that it’s the solution to our problem. Things are going well on the surface with our two – we make sure that all activities they do involve us and it is keeping them close. But we worry that they aren’t getting enough exercise and also we feel that we aren’t able to satisfy all of their needs and there could be a rebellion at some stage! We run with them but it’s just a slow plod for them. I really think cycling could be the missing piece of the puzzle that keeps our two fit, happy, contented AND IN SIGHT!!!!

    So, watch this space if you want a good laugh. We’re going to buy a couple of mountain bikes, learn to ride them and then tackle being in control of a bike and a couple of unruly Beagles! We’ll try and get the highlights on camera for your entertainment!

    Any suggestions on a first bike? What kind of price range should we aim for to get something that won’t fall apart after 5 minutes? How did you go about introducing your dog to running beside the bike? All tips welcome!

  5. Julia

    I just LOVE how good you are to your dogs!! Taking up mountain biking – as adults. I totally salute you ;-)

    I think biking will work, too. My sister and I hiked with Dolly yesterday, and the mosquitoes were really bad so we ran for the last two miles — Dolly thought it was a game and stayed right with us – she loved that we were going so fast. Of course, we were doing a lot of screaming and dogs always like foolishness, too!

    I’m guessing that if you keep up your great job of training and add this for fun & exercise, you’ll see a big difference in even just a year. Maturity will sneak up on your two, and you’ll have the best behaved Beagles ever. I can’t wait to hear about it!

    I don’t bike with dogs, but have done a lot of urban biking, and my hubby grew up in the wilds of Canada and has done a lot of mountain biking. I consulted him, and we agreed that the fit of the bike is the hardest thing to get right, and the most important. It depends on what you’ll be doing, terrain-wise, and how comfortable you are. I always ride a bigger bike than a real, hardcore mtn biker would, because I feel unbalanced on the smaller frames. Maybe take some lessons, just to talk about bike fit and strategies for staying upright — it’s really different than road biking, in my experience, and mtn bikers know a lot of cool tricks for not wiping out.

    Expensive helmets fit better & are lighter. Fingerless gloves with padded palms are awesome — cuts down on fatigue, protects your skin if you wipe out.

    In terms of bikes, they’re so hi-tech now we have no idea what’s good. But we both doubt the need for titanium frames with shock absorbers, and 4k price tags. And here’s our final thought — tandem??

    Even without dogs, in our house we call them divorcycles. With dogs, it’d be a bloodbath! I’ve seen people mountain biking on them, and I think they’re crazy. That gasp in the forest is me, staring. Lumpy terrain and two bodies shifting around . . . nope.

    Then again, if anyone could train two Beagles to tandem mountain bike, it’s you two. But, I’d suggest stacking the odds more in you favor and going in pairs. 4 wheels good! No offense Kirby.

    Check out
    She does a lot of biking and bikejoring with her sled dog team in the Yukon. She might have some tips!

  6. Paul

    tandem => divorcycle

    Sounds right to me. Every time we fall off it will be my fault!

    And then there’s those pesky Beagle types to think about. I’ve tried running with both of them tied to my canicross belt and they can never resist having a play fight when I least expect it. It’s one thing dragging two wrestling dogs behind you when you’re on foot, but on a tandem? Nope, I’m dedicated to my doggies, but not that dedicated.

  7. Gillian

    the enclosed dog area is still in talks! i received a letter back saying to come to the next meeting they are having to propose my plan. just waiting to hear back when it is. was thinking about going down to the park and stopping some dog walkers to get some opinions, thought it would look good to present some actual local feedback. :)

  8. Susan Post author

    Well done you!!

    I didn’t know that you’d taken things so far! Just a thought and it might not be appropriate but have they considered an enclosure that could be rented out at certain times – for agility practice etc?

  9. Gillian

    i could certainly mention such an idea, but i doubt it could be done in the same area as people would be wanting to use it all the time (hopefully!!) but i could bring it up and see what is said.

  10. Susan Post author

    I know what you mean. I can’t think of any way to practically do something like this. But I do know that lots of people would love to be able to rent somewhere for agility, training etc. That isn’t allowed in the park (I asked!). Perhaps people would even use it to give lessons – so classes in the park.

    Also, think how useful it would be for people with aggressive or very timid dogs.

    I would have thought that there aren’t that many people in our situation where your dog loves to play with others but can’t be trusted to stay close. Most breeds aren’t like that. A lot of people would value an enclosure to keep their dog away from others – either during training or because of behavioral problems.

    There’s a dog enclosure at Ballahouston (too close to the road for my liking). Sometimes when you use it everyone is very considerate and if a dog is in they’ll always ask if it’s OK to enter. Other times you go and there are some really inconsiderate people that shove aggressive dogs in and drive everyone else out.

    I was told that there used to be an enclosure in RG but they did away with it because it wasn’t used. The majority are happy to let their dogs run free in the park. So to make it worthwhile and of value to more people maybe a bit of creative thinking is needed?

  11. Gillian

    there was a tiinnnny area that was enclosed for dogs but it only ever got used for dogs to poop in!!
    these are all things to be considered anyway. and if i do get round to asking people in the park, i could bring up these ideas with them and see what the general consensus is.
    the unfortunate thing about areas such as these are like as u said, people abusing them byt just letting their dog loose and not watching how they behave. it should be an area all dogs can enjoy. not one for people to just shove their dogs in and not care.

  12. Fiona

    We’re incredibly lucky with William, who we can let off the lead pretty much anywhere that’s not too close to a road (no point in tempting fate!) I think there are 2 key factors in this. 1) His age – at 10+ he doesn’t run around like a mad thing any more but is contented to trot along having a good sniff at everything in his path. 2) He’s a rescue and as a result he is VERY clingy. He really doesn’t like it if he gets more than about 20 yards away from us.

    But even with all that going for us there are still 2 things which cause problems off lead. William isn’t a very social dog, and if other dogs leave him alone, that’s fine, he ignores them. But if another dog gets in his face and won’t go away, then he can get snappy. We always warn other owners that this can happen if their dogs approach William, then it’s up to them if they want to call their dogs away. The good thing is that he never goes after another dog unprovoked.

    The second problem is that William is a big scardy cat :) Sometimes he gets spooked by a noise or another dog barking, and if that happens, he can just run. We’ve worked really hard at the wait command for just such occasions, and now we’ve got to the point where we can break that panicked dash for cove. Even so we’ve had one or two scary moments.

    Sadly I think any dog, no matter how well trained, can have a bad moment and be inattentive. But you’ve done amazing things with your 2, and I’m sure as they get older and calmer, they’ll become much more reliable.

  13. basher

    i have a beagle called ‘oscar’ and he great off the leash he is about 9 mouth now but the one thing that really pee me off about him is he just want leave golf ball and the park i walk him on is allso used as a golf cors :( but apart from him getting the balls it all good let them off and if thay play up soooo what that what A DOG SHOULD DO :D

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