Dogcharmer: Becham

The terrier mix puppy Becham is proving difficult to train. —Jonathan Burke

Hi, Dogcharmer,

You know my terrier-mix puppy Becham. He is adorable, and is a wonderful addition to our family. We love him, and cannot imagine life without him. He has, however, proved difficult to train in some respects. I think much of this is attributable to an independent character and a natural predatory instinct.

We do not know his exact breed, but he is a terrier and seems to have some Jack Russell and possibly some beagle in him. Now, at 2 years old, he is pretty good. For the most part, he comes when we are outside and I call him.

Recently I had a real scare. I was walking him outside and had dropped the leash so he could walk and stop and smell as he wanted. We were about to cross over into a conservation property when a deer bounded across the road. Becham took off like a rocket! I yelled, and he did not hear me at all. I raced after him into the woods. I could not keep up in the brush and briars, and was running across people’s lawns, hoping they were not home. I caught sight of and then lost him.

I was near the Lagoon, and went down to the beach, hoping he was there. He was not. I took some stairs back up from the Lagoon, and came out on a property whose owner did not want me there even after I explained what had happened. He softened a bit, and let me across his property. I went back to where I had lost Becham. I was terrified and very upset. I envisioned him running across a road and being hit by a car. He would not run out into the road intentionally, but he is oblivious when locked on the scent of something.

I could not imagine losing him. It had been about 10 minutes since he had run off. I was at a loss, and was trying to call my mother to come help search. Then, all of sudden, he came bounding down the road to me as if nothing had happened at all! I do not want this to happen again, but I also do like to be able to drop the leash sometimes so he can walk and run without any restraints. Any thoughts on what I should do? Thanks!


Dear Jonathan,

Thank goodness for the happy ending, but still sorry to hear about your trauma. My guess is a whole lot of dog owners, if not the majority, including me, have had a similar missing-dog experience.

And you’re right about predatory instinct! Terriers are bred to hunt and kill the vermin in the barn, and generally speaking, Jack Russells are dyslexic, they look in the mirror and see the word GOD. As for Becham’s beagle half, that’s the scent hound in him. Unlike the working-group dogs, whose attitude is, “Gimmie a job to do so I can please you,” or the herding group’s attitude, “Gimmie something to herd!” the scent hound’s attitude is, “I’ve found a scent, need to follow it, see ya!”

One of my training mantras is, “Increase the intensity of the distraction that the dog has to leave alone, to turn from, and come to you when called.” The intensity of a dog’s predatory response is mostly genetic, and can vary greatly. When was the last time you saw a seeing-eye dog drag his ward into traffic chasing a pigeon? Yet I’ve had a ton of lessons helping Manhattan dogs that became totally demented upon seeing a squirrel. Two commands, Jonathan — “Leave it!” and “Come.” The “come” is easy. Call Becham to come, a lot! First four times he gets a treat when he arrives, then he gets them intermittently. If we walk a loop around Tradewinds together, you will see me call Paula Jean at least 20 times, and if she’s running away from me, you’ll see her flip around and come back to me for the possibility of a treat. Every time. The “leave it” starts in the house. I’d put a piece of meat on the floor on a plate; using a leash correction, it would take about two minutes for Becham to see the meat as something nasty, something to be ignored when he hears the words “leave it,” and instead come to me for a treat. When his off-leash “leave it” response is extremely reliable indoors, it’s time to bring him outdoors, perhaps using a long line on a harness. In truth, training methods can vary greatly. I taught “leave it” to a young 108-pound bullmastiff who had caught and killed several woodchucks with a very different approach from what I used on a sensitive standard poodle who wanted to kill cats. Jonathan, I need to take a walk with you and Becham to see what approach would be most effective.

P.S.: I wouldn’t drop a leash unless it’s attached to a harness. If the lead is fastened to a collar and he takes off at full speed after a rabbit, and the lead catches on something, it can break his neck.

Good luck

The Dogcharmer

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