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How do I start my Beagle on Rabbits

For my full definition of what a started dog is see What is a started Dog? For the purpose of this article, a started dog is one that will chase rabbits on its own.  Here is what I do with my pups to get them running.  It should be noted that I accomplish this without the use of a fenced running pen.

Exposure to field conditions

I always begin training a beagle pup by getting him into the woods.  I normally start taking litters of pups into the field as soon as they are able and willing to begin exploring.  This seems to happen at around four weeks.  Because the pups are so young at this age, and not even weaned, keep these trips short, no more than one hour, and normally closer to 30 minutes.  If any of the pups show signs of distress they are brought back to the kennel and the protection of their mother.  As the pups get older and stronger, the length of time they are away from the kennel can be extended.  When it appears that they are fairly confident in the field we move on to the next step.

Tracking the Master

 This is another step in the training process that I think is often overlooked.  In order for the future dog to be useful to the hunter the dog must be able to find the hunter and to “check in” occasionally.  I help teach this skill by forcing the pup to look for me.  While out in the field look for opportunities to hide from your pup.  In order for this to work the dog must be distracted by something and not paying attention to you.  You simply step out of the pup’s vision and wait.  Once the pup realizes that he doesn’t know where you are he should start looking for you.  When the pup is young, make it easier for him to find you.  If he starts to whine or otherwise look distressed call his name.  Finding you by your voice is another skill that he will need.  As the pup gets older, and begins to show more skill in finding you make it harder for him to locate you.  Move farther away after you hide and allow the dog to track you.  I have done this with all my pups and it has made a real difference in the dog’s confidence in the woods. 

Exposure to Rabbits

Once you’re fairly sure that your pup is comfortable in the woods and is able to track you, it is time to introduce them to live rabbits.  I use a tame rabbit to help the pup start to connect the scent with the animal.  I do believe that a cottontail or snowshoe will have a different scent than a tame rabbit. However, once the pup has made the connection between the scent and  the animal with a tame rabbit, making the same connection with wild rabbits will be easier.  I prefer a smaller rabbit of a breed that looks similar to a cottontail.  I wish I knew what breed to suggest, but I am still experimenting with what works best. 

The best technique I have found for the tame rabbit is to allow the pup to sight chase the rabbit at first, and then force him to trail by scent later.  Sight chasing is simple to set up.  Find an open area like your back yard, or a recently cut field.  Bring your pup on a leash, and the rabbit in a cage, or in your pocket.  Walk to the center of the area, and allow you pup to run around a little.  Call him to you, and show him the rabbit.  As soon as you are sure the rabbit has his attention let the rabbit run.  Give the rabbit about a 10 second head start and allow the pup to chase.  If the rabbit has been in a cage most of its life it is likely to run in a very small circle, and tire very soon.  Allow the dog to catch the rabbit if it can, but don't allow it to maul the rabbit.  Part of this exercise is to teach the dog that the rabbit is yours, and he is to chase it for you.  If your pup shows little or no interest in the rabbit, work on basic obedience or some other skills first.  When the pup is ready he will be very interested in the rabbit, don't rush it.

Allow the pup to sight chase the rabbit only a few times, then move on to the scent chasing.  This exercise is not much more difficult to set up than the sight chase, but it does put  the rabbit in more danger.  Find a transition area between an open area and an area with significant ground cover.  A brushy fence row along an open field is a good choice.  As before, lead the dog the area and carry the rabbit.  While holding the dog on the leash, put the rabbit on the ground near the heavier cover.  The rabbit will likely do one of two things.  First he may freeze and try to hide where you left him, or secondly he may run for the cover.  Allow your dog to see this.  If the rabbit runs let the dog chase.  He won't be able to sight chase in the heavy cover, and will be forced to trail the rabbit by scent.  If the rabbit doesn't run as soon as you put him on the ground he will when the dog gets near him.  Don't expect too much the first few times you are out.  The idea is to give the dog some exposure to rabbits, and allow him to explore the instincts that he has.  As the dog gets better at scent trailing the rabbit, make it harder for the dog.  Give the rabbit more head start.  Don't allow the dog to see the rabbit at all.  Work up to the point where you can release the rabbit 10 minutes before you bring the dog into the area.  When the dog can cold trail the rabbit and then jump and run the rabbit it is time to move to wild rabbits.

Running Wild Rabbits

This is the part that you have been working up to with your pup.  Running wild rabbits.  This is also the area of training that you have the least control over.  Wild rabbits are not always that easy to find.  If they were, you wouldn't need a dog to hunt them.  If it is legal in your area a live trap can be of great use here.  A live trapped rabbit can be used to help the pup understand the connection between the scent and the animal.  If you have been working with a tame rabbit, this will be very easy to accomplish.  Using the same technique that you would for scent chasing a tame rabbit, set your puppy up for success, by releasing the rabbit and the pup at the same time.  Wild rabbits are very fast, and don't need a head start.  This should result in a short sight chase, and if things go very well a scent chase of some duration.  Once your dog is able to chase a wild rabbit that has been released in front him, he is almost started.  The next step, or the first step if live trapping rabbits is not legal in your area is to try to get the dog to chase a rabbit that has not been trapped.  The best way to accomplish this is to take the dog where there are a lot of rabbits, at a time when the rabbits are the most active.  This means early morning just at first light, and evening just before dark.  Walk along likely areas, and try to find a rabbit that is sitting.  Allow your dog to "hunt" for the rabbits to chase.  Kick the brush in hopes of scaring out a rabbit.  Once a rabbit is spotted, put your dog on the track as soon as possible.  This is where good obedience work really pays off.  Gently push his nose into the track if needed.  If there is snow, walk along the track with your dog, and put his nose in each track.  If he doesn't catch on right away don't worry, just keep trying.  Once the dog is able the run and bark at the track of a wild (non-trapped) rabbit, you can call him started.  Finishing him is a whole other job.


Versatile Beagles  a short story
My History with Beagles My Beagle Biography
Myths of Hunting Beagles A few of my ideas
What is a started Dog?
What is a finished Dog?
How do I start my Beagle?
The reign of Princess Leah
Handgun hunting for Rabbits
Above ground kennel construction
Tracking Collars
What does it cost to start hunting with Beagles?
Starting Pen Contstruction