BEAGLE SHYNESS

by

Dr. Bruce Gabrielson
Tikiline Begles


        Over the years Beaglers have brought me their young hounds to start, many of which were almost too shy to work with.  These pups are difficult to deal with, to handle, and often don’t get over their shyness even after they start running.  Since this seems to be a widespread problem, I put on my professional scientific cap and started a real engineering investigation into what was going on.  I should also mention that besides my background in engineering, I also have an extensive background in adolescent psychology, and this was a real genuine study of cause and effect among many hounds.  If you were one of those who had me start their pups lately, now you know what I was talking about with all my questions.

        I started the study about 5 years back by quizzing many of those who bring in the shy pups.  I was looking for any discriminators, breeding or environmental.  I next started trying some different approaches to raising pups on my own, seeking the one “great cure”.  Now I think I’ve found at least one way that always works for me to help prevent shyness, and most important, I’m willing to pass it on to the general public.  Try it on your own and let me know your results.  I don’t know of any other field Beagle breeder who has tried to study this problem in a similar way.

Some Background

        When my kids were young, they liked to play with my pups on a regular basis.  My Beagles didn’t have any shyness that I could tell; just an occasional pup that seemed a little shy until after it got older and running rabbits.  Then it was all business and no time for the shyness.  One thing we had more of then nowadays was hyperactive hounds.  The hyperactiveness has mostly been bred away from in the past 20 years, so current hounds are generally well mannered, not always noisy in the kennel, and seem very controlled when they follow their rabbit.

        When my kids grew up and quit handling my pups, I kept on handling them at least a few minutes everyday, always taking each out of their pen and making a big deal with them.  I did start to notice an increase in shyness among my older dogs, but at first put it off to not having kids playing with the pups plus having many hounds in my kennel.  It wasn’t until I started to get even larger numbers of other shy pups to start, sometimes from those Beaglers with young kids and not many other dogs in their kennels, that I smelled a problem in the wind.

My Own Pups

        Four years ago I selected three bitches to experiment with.  One was a normal, non-shy female that was born in my kennel from parents and grandparents that were born in my kennel.  One was an extremely shy female I was given by another field trial Beagler.  This bitch was a litter runt, and was so shy that she wouldn’t come out of her box even with prodding.  I had to keep her in an accessible box with a door in the back to catch her.  The third bitch was also not from this kennel.  She wasn’t shy at all, but had a nervous problem and was a severe kennel barker.  All three bitches were bred three times; with at least three from each litter (one male and two females) kept to running age.  All three females were bred to my same Field Champion male who wasn’t bred here but exhibits no visible shyness.  In two cases, female pups from the mother were also bred; both to a different non-shy Field Champion male, with at least one male and female from each litter raised to starting age.

Nervousness

        There was another trait I noticed that I wasn’t looking for.  The very noisy bitch in the kennel was constantly nervous and always barking or making noise.  She also had the bad habit of dumping her food over.  I tried correcting the food problem by using a self feeder that couldn’t be turned, and also by putting her into a larger kennel that gave her a lot of room to move around in.  She started pacing, a psychological disorder often found in zoo animals that are penned after being in the wild.

        I tried several things with no success to cure her of her nervousness, nothing that worked.  She was friendly but had an ingrained psychological problem.  Her pups, however, gave me the greatest insight into environmental based disorders.  She was well bred, whelped with no problems, and was a nice easy running hound.  I decided to keep all her pups from the three litters to starting age, tracking their personal characteristics as each developed, and then breeding one of her pups. 

        The first litter, as with the litters from the other two bitches, were left with the mother for over 10 weeks.  She had 5 pups, one a real bully male.  There was also a small female runt.  The pups were raised together in a good size puppy pen until about 4 months old, then slowly disbursed to other individual kennels.  They were all handled extensively every day.  All puppies were shy, the runt being the most shy.  Also, 4 of the five pups were nervous, non as bad as the mother.  The only non-nervous pup was the bully.

        All these pups were started.  They weren’t overly difficult to catch, but I did always need to train with a long lead so I could easily catch them.  All were started individually and all except the bully turned out to be fast jump type dogs rather then solid line type dogs.

Nervousness in the Other Early Litters

        My other two bitches had two pups and four pups, all left with their mothers for the 10+ weeks.  Both pups in the overly shy bitch were fat and easy going as pups.  They were both shy, but not as shy as their mother was.  The mother was very well bred and a medium speed hound with very little mouth.  Both pups were slow to medium speed, slightly nervous, and both had plenty of mouth. The female pup that I kept and bred again was the least shy, and she was difficult to catch in the field.  The normal bitch had shy pups as well.  Not like the others, but still so shy that they needed to be prodded out of their boxes.  Only the pups from the normal bitch could be caught easily once they started hunting.  The female I kept is still slightly shy.

Second Litters

        The second litter from each bitch was raised differently.  They were all removed from their mothers at between 6 and 7 weeks to similar kennels, and all handled on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, the litters were small, 3, 3 and 2.  Luckily there were males and females in each litter.  This time there was a very noticeable difference in the pups.

        In the litter with the overly shy female, there was a bully male.  He tended to intimidate the other male and female in the litter, and both were slightly shy as they got older.  They all came readily to me when I was there to pet, but the female held back more than the two males.  All three pups started easily, were easy to catch and all were medium to slow speed.  Also, except for the bully male the other male and female were slightly tight mouthed.

        In the litter from the nervous bitch, the 3 pups were all well adjusted, but one male is still overly noisy in the kennel.  When he knows I’m in the starting pen, he goes overboard, can’t stop barking even when wearing a shock collar.  He also tends to pace and dump his food.  He runs well, is a good trial hound, and also happened to be the bully of the litter.  A female from this litter was easy to start and has developed into a competition hound.

        Unfortunately, the third litter from the normal female consisted of only two pups, a male and female.  These are both very good field trial hounds.  The male sometimes barks in the kennel, but is well mannered for the most part.  He has a very slow, methodical running style, and has a solid average mouth.  The female is also slow and methodical, plus the she has a ton of mouth.

Third Litters

        This time I wanted to check what I had done in the second litter and try to find an optimum.  The pups were kept with their mothers for just about 8 weeks.  The nervous mother had 6 pups, the shy mother had 5 pups, and the normal mother had again 3 pups.

        The nervous mother was the first of the three to whelp; she had a bully male pup.  When I removed the pups from their mother, the male bully started fighting early on.  I took him away from the others at 9 weeks.  This litter is only slightly nervous and very little shyness exists.  I only started three of the pups, and all three are medium speed with good mouths.  They are also all easy to catch in the field, and started with about the same work as the previous litter.

        The overly shy female had a bully female in her litter as well.  Having learned from the nervous female a couple of months earlier, I removed the bully early on and all the pups turned out only slightly shy.  They are all decent field trial hounds with plenty of mouth, but two are a little hard to catch when you try to pick them up if they aren’t running.  They were also all harder to start than the previous litter from this bitch.

        The normal female again had very good running pups, but they exhibit more shyness than her previous litter.  They also started a little slower than the previous litter, and tended to play and run around more in the starting pen then the previous litter.

Second Generation

        I liked how easy the nervous female whelped her pups, and I did get a decent female from her second litter, so I decided to breed this pup to see what developed.  I picked a stud dog with no nervousness and slightly tight mouth.  He had similar breeding to hers and was producing quality field trial pups.  She whelped 4 pups, 2 males and 2 females, and they were removed from the mother at 6 weeks of age.  One male was a slight bully, but I left him with the others.  They were kenneled together until about 3 months old.  These pups have now been started at six months old with very little work in the starting pen.

        Now for the results.  All four pups are well adjusted with no obvious shyness or nervousness.  All are easy to catch in the field, coming readily when called.  They also will come immediately to the kennel door when opened.  Only one, the bully male it turns out, has a problem with kennel barking.  It doesn’t happen all the time, just when I go to feed or when I’m running dogs and they get near the kennel area.  He will usually quiet down if I yell at him.

Study Conclusions

        While I’m not a formally trained expert in dog psychology, some of the conclusions on the practical side of this very limited study are obvious.  I really think that field Beaglers should at least consider this study and maybe try its results if they are having similar problems.  I can’t guarantee it will work for everyone, but I’m now a believer for my own pups.

        For shyness, with all three bitches I noticed that when pups were left with their mother longer than necessary, more shyness started to develop, especially if their mother had any shyness in her personality.   First I left the pups with their mother for over 10 weeks and had all kinds of problems.  Next I tried taking away from their mother at just over 6 weeks.  Finally, I tried taking away pups at 8 weeks and there still seemed to be a problem with shyness.  The 6-7 week separation age seems to be the best overall.

        Also, when I bred both the overly shy and the nervous mother, I noticed that if there was a litter bully with 4 or more pups, shyness started to come back in the form of first a quiet pup, and then a shyer older pup.  When I took the bully away at about 9 weeks, both the bully became friendly and so did the shyness go away.  If the mother was very shy, or if the litter is 3 or less, get her away from the pups at 7 weeks or risk a real shyness problem.

        The final thing I noticed was the ability to reduce nervousness.  For most of my 45 years of trial Beagling, I was convinced that you couldn’t breed nervousness out of a dog and that you were better off not to mess with.  I’m not so sure now.  If there are things you like about the female, try the combination of selective stud dog mating and environmental changes.  It seems to work after the second generation, and you can likely keep the characteristics you want from the grandmother.  This just may be a reaffirmation of the old houndman's opinion that good things come back the second generation around as my original nervous bitch did have good parents.


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