Defying the Statistics...

Defying the Statistics...

In social media, I see a multitude of people suffering training issues and "problems" with their bloodhounds. People are so often struggling and  many sound desperate. I have frustrated folks message me through my page frequently asking for help and advice.

“How do I get through to this dog?!”

“This dog is so stubborn!”

“Impossible to train!”

It’s an overwhelmingly common topic in the forums for bloodhound enthusiasts. Simultaneously, I see many posts about bloodhounds being among the most statistically difficult breeds to train…

I humbly disagree. Before you start to argue, please read on… My standpoint is based on a different way of thinking that I’d like to share with you in hopes that it will help and encourage some people out there who find themselves in love with a dog that they can’t control.

So, to begin, if you hope to train your hound, you must understand how the hound thinks. Have you given a substantial amount of thought to this? Maybe you’ve considered it, but not really tried to dig deep into what makes your bloodhound tick… So, let’s look at the way the Bloodhound is wired. These dogs are The Kings of the Nose, they are scent-dogs, not sight-dogs like labs, border collies, poodles, etc. These wrinkly detectives have olfactory sensory systems wired with a mind-blowing 300-million+ scent receptors! Is that a ton? YES!

Let’s break that down for a second: Humans have a weeny 5-million scent receptors and other dog breeds most-commonly have scent receptors in the range of 100-million to 200-million. So, our bloodhound friends have 295-MILLION more receptors than we do, and 100- to 200-MILLION more scent receptors than other dog breeds… HOLY COUNTER-SURFING-HANNAH! That’s amazing!

When your nose-on-legs sniffs a scent article or odor trail, air loaded with odor particles flows through the nasal cavities, causing the scent particles to lodge in the mucus membranes and absolutely inundate the dog’s scent receptors. The olfactory bulb (the part of the brain that analyzes smell) receives chemical signals from the receptors and an “image” is created in the dog’s brain. Picture yourself sniffing a cupcake-scented candle—you can actually see the white frosting and sprinkles in your mind’s eye as you smell it, right? So, for a bloodhound with hundreds of millions more scent receptors than we have, and hundreds of millions more than other dog breeds, the image in their brain created by the olfactory system is an infinitely more detailed picture than we can really even imagine. This incredible nose-brain wiring allows the bloodhound to breathe in an odor and lock onto it in an environment that is overwhelmed by trillions upon trillions upon trillions of other odors and contaminants. They can stay locked onto the tiny fragments of scent particles for miles, never losing that mental “image” amid all the other odor particulates that make up our environment.

So, back to the training topic, you asked why your bloodster is not responding to training you’ve successfully used on other breeds in the past. You’ve said, “Bloodhounds are the number-6 most difficult breed,” and you’ve wondered why he/she is such a pain sometimes. The answer is as stated above: That big rubber device on the end of your hound’s face and the magnificent sensory system it’s attached to are to blame.

This super-freaky olfactory system is so dominant in the bloodhound brain that it gives them a hunger so deep that they’ll stick with what they’ve smelled for 150 miles! They can also detect and follow trails two-weeks old and older! (Some studies are working bloodhounds out to 30-day old trails with accuracy!) Simply stated, your bloodhound is an opinionated, difficult, counter-surfing, I’ll-do-it-my-way pain in your butt sometimes because he/she has better things on the mind than the trivial rules you try to suggest. You are up against a powerful system that you probably haven’t given enough thought and credit to.

So, where do we go from here? Is the bloodhound untrainable? Absolutely not! They are brilliantly intelligent dogs! I find training them to be so rewarding! Bloodhounds are VERY TRAINABLE. (This includes your so-called problem child, so chin-up!)

In light of all that above, ask yourself this question: “Why do I expect my bloodhound to respond to life, my household, and training the same way that a sight-driven dog would, who’s brain is wired entirely differently?  

The answer is, you shouldn’t.

Everything that makes a bloodhound one of the most incredible talent-giants on earth is also what makes them not quite fit into the training mold that the masses think they should. So, that list that puts bloodhounds in the top-6 most difficult breeds to train…While I admit those stats are probably correct, I believe the reason that the stats are this way is because bloodhounds are not being trained in a manner that is tailored to their different makeup. People are trying to put a round peg in a square hole, so to speak.

I would say a vast majority of the time, bloodhounds are being trained with the very same methods that are used on dogs dominated by sight, and brains that operate accordingly. A sight-dog, like a German Shepherd, for example, is much more keen to naturally watch your gestures, eye movements, hand signals, etc., because they observe their world with their eyes as the go-to sensory system. To the person that wants to argue with me right now—if you’ve spent any time around bloodhounds, you’ve seen them running around, nose huffing, and BAM!! –they slam face-first into a tree or park bench… Why? Not because they’re stupid, as some ignorant people may claim, but rather, because bloodhounds see their world with their nose. Literally, the bloodhound’s nose paints a vivid image of their world with more information included in it than we can formulate with our eyes, ears, and noses combined.

Think about it—can you imagine going somewhere and being able to smell and “see” (in your mind’s eye) every living creature that went through an area for the last handful of days? And on top of that, smelling various pheromones, and even foods those animals were eating and fibers they were carrying. I’ve had my hounds stop and avoid the thorny plant called “goat-head” amid thick brush where you can't discern one plant from the next. They learned the smell of the awful weed, though it has no odor whatsoever to me, and know that the smell means huge, painful thorns are present. Even the odors of the fauna around them are magnified to a level we can only imagine! What these hounds can detect and visualize in their world through the sight-picture formed in their olfactory bulb is nothing short of miraculous!

With an instrument of that great magnitude in front of them, it’s no wonder bloodhounds almost fail to see and hear things sometimes…even to the point that they can tune-out roaring traffic on a busy street in pursuit of a scent trail. So, to recap, the sight-dog breeds see the world with their eyes, more like we do, and their noses add info to what their eyes tell them. Bloodhounds see their world through their nose, which gives them microscopic detail that we can’t even relate to. Sight-dogs and scent-dogs have very different ways of relating to the world around them, and since the sight-dogs’ brains operate in a way easier for most folks to understand, they are often “easier to train.”

If you ponder all this, and embrace the concepts, you will see that the same training techniques will not necessarily work on a scent-dog as they will on a sight-dog. It's not that bloodhounds are stupid. It's not that they are stubborn. It's not even that they are difficult to train. They are simply wired in such a way that their nose absolutely overrules all other thought when they are triggered, in drive-mode, or “busy” doing whatever interests them. With that in mind, take a deep breath and embrace your hound with awe rather than frustration. Be ready to laugh and admire these incredible dogs while you practice some major patience…and perhaps you yourself can learn a few new tricks.

For a quick “starter” lesson, let’s talk about “Recall.”

I’ve had so many people ask me, “How do I get this hound to come when called?! She just refuses!”

The common statements are:

“He won’t come back!”

“She acts like she’s deaf!”

“Totally ignores me!”

“Selective hearing!”

The plain fact of the matter is that you are not as interesting as whatever your hound is doing. It’s that simple. But, let me break it down bit by bit:

What does your method of teaching the recall look like to your dog? Let’s visualize it…

Hound is out in the yard. Nose gets a whiff and that beautiful brain builds a picture. He can see the neighbor cat clearly in his mind, he can smell that awesome fishy food the cat eats because tiny odor molecules from breakfast clung to the cat’s fur and ended up deposited in the yard. It smells so good. Where did that cat go, I’m gonna find it…

Meanwhile, you’re at the door: “Rufus! Come here!”

You know the teacher on the Peanuts cartoon? Mmmwwhuu buuubaaahhh blawww whhaa…

Mumbling non-sense in the background, barely noteworthy—That’s what you sound like. You’re just not interesting. Not compared to the fantastic nose-brain slideshow of incredible images your hound is delighting in.

So, what do you do? You repeat yourself again, and yell louder, “Rufus!! Come!! Come here! Rufus, come!!! Ruuuuuufffffuuuuuussss!!!! Commmmme HEEEEEEERE!!!!!” Over, and over…and over…

Now, at this point, you are desensitizing the dog to your command entirely. You are now actually training the dog that your “come here” command means NOTHING. You are teaching your hound to completely tune-out all the hollering and noise you’re making.


So, how do we fix this?

Well, you have to interrupt the hound-brain from the task it’s engaged in and make your command mean something again. You have to change the dog’s thinking by imprinting your command to something far more interesting than anything in your yard.


Like this:

  1. Choose one treat—one incredibly special treat—that you will give ONLY at the time of a recall command. You don’t ever give this most-amazing treat except when you are training and reinforcing “come here.” I like to use bacon. Who doesn’t love bacon? And it smells like heaven to a hound. (I will note here that I use food reward for many things, but I will only use one very unique, special treat for recall imprinting. Example: Hotdogs for casual treats, sardines for trailing rewards, bacon only for recall, or whatever your dog is most psycho about.)
  2. Put your hound out in the yard on a long line (25 to 33 feet long is good) and just wait by the door until the dog is distracted, busy, and ignoring you completely. (Dog should not be notified that you have the bacon in the baggy in your pocket, try to be very discrete about that part, if possible. Haha that's funny actually, good luck!)
  3. Call the dog ONCE. “Rufus, come.” DO NOT say his name or “come” again. Give the command only ONCE.
  4. If dog doesn’t respond, you promptly reel the line in, brining the dog to you.
  5. When the dog is close to you, say, “Rufus, come,” ONE MORE TIME ONLY to reinforce the command/reward connection, and immediately, reward him with the bacon and tons of love and excitement. You must make this the best thing he’s ever done, every time. He gets praised, loved, it’s exciting, fun, and he gets the best snack EVER when he comes to you. Over and over, every time you take him outside, you do this. Consistent, quality repetition is key.

This process “imprints” recall into the hound’s brain so quickly and so well. If you do this with a puppy, it’s easy. But, like any training, you have to do this consistently. Do not take the line off until you have a really well-conditioned response that you can count on, where the hound is snapping his head up and running to you to get the reward and praise every time you call him/her.

This might take a couple sessions only, or it might take many sessions, especially if you’ve already trained the dog to completely ignore you when you call. But, even if you’ve been hollering at your hound with no response for a while now, if you do this as described, you can literally create an imprinted-command that can snap your hound out of what he/she is engaged in and cause the dog to desire coming to you when you call. Notice I said desire—In all training you do with your hound, ask yourself, “Am I training in a way that makes my dog desire to do what I ask?” If you ask this and can answer yes, you will be a better trainer. 

This little tidbit of training is a very basic concept that works well on all breeds, but it’s a good intro to the philosophy behind something I call “conditioned-interruption.” I’ll get into that more in future blog posts, but as the words suggest, conditioned-interruption is a conditioned-response achieved through training that a handler can use to interrupt and modify thought patterns. That is obviously something much-needed to coexist smoothly with bloodhounds in the family!

In closing, I'd like to add that there are tons of training methods out there. Some have better philosophies behind them than others. There are trainers who use force. Trainers who use consequence/punishment. And trainers who figure out how to get into an animal's head, understanding each one as a unique individual and coming up with a way to alter their thinking and behavior. I believe the best trainers cause an animal to decide to do what is desired as a happy choice--almost at a level where the animal feels it's their own idea, rather than an option they are given to avoid consequence.

I certainly hope that this article gives some helpful insight into this incredible breed. I hope that some of your frustration might be turned into admiration and understanding. And I also hope that you will have success in changing your relationship with your bloodhound for the better! Remember, even .05% success each session equals 100% success eventually if you persevere!


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