PBGVs are not often the first breed to come to mind when choosing a dog for performance events, but more and more owners of these fun loving hounds have come to discover the talent and love our dogs have for training and competing in a variety of activities.
PBGVs were originally bred to hunt rabbits in packs. Hunt tests offered by the PBGVCA give them the chance to demonstrate this natural ability and provide breeders with the opportunity to evaluate breeding stock on their temperament and working ability. Club titles, which are now recognized by AKC, can be earned up to Master Hunter level. Hounds can run solo, brace, or pack and are scored on items such as endurance, use of nose, searching and pursuing ability, and cooperation with the handler and pack. At a hunt test, the dogs are given on hour to locate game and follow the scent trail. They are expected to give voice (i.e. bark) when they are on the trail and to honor the others hounds on the field when they indicate that they are in pursuit. The dogs are not expected to catch the rabbit, but should pursue in such a way that the rabbit could be shot by the hunter. The tests are held at Beagle Club hunt grounds which are stocked with wild rabbits and securely fenced. However, the fields are at least 25 acres and are often larger, so a recall and basic off lead responsiveness is necessary.
Obedience training is important for a successful hunting dog, but PBGVs have also been successful in the obedience and rally rings. They are often very food motivated and respond well to positive reinforcement based training methods. Rally is often as excellent starting point for competition obedience, as heeling can often be a challenging exercise for many dogs. PBGVs in particular can be focused on their environment and sometimes lose focus on the handler. In rally, the handler is allowed to talk to and encourage the dog, giving feedback during the performance that can make it much easier for a distractible dog to remain focused and be successful. Competing in rally before regular obedience can give a PBGV more experience working in the ring at a show before he has to handle off lead heeling without additional cues. While earning a CD with a PBGV can be challenging, many of them seem to enjoy the advanced obedience exercises like jumping and retrieving and have gone on to compete in open and utility.
As scent hounds, PBGVs have excellent noses and often excel in the sport of tracking. Again, positive training techniques and the generous use of food are most likely to result in success. One challenge can be in getting an experienced hunting dog to follow human scent, when rabbits and other critters are much more fun and exciting. In my experience, it helps to train a puppy to track before introducing them to game. Tracking is a low impact sport so it can safely be introduced to very young puppies, gradually making the track longer as the puppy’s attention span increases. PBGVs who are introduced to tracking prior to hunting seem to have a better concept of sticking to a trail on the hunt field even when the rabbit is out of sight. The dogs do also seem to understand contextual cues, such as harness and long line means follow human scent to find cookies, but off lead and wearing a flat collar means find rabbit scent and chase bunnies.
Outside of hunting, agility is the performance event where PBGVs have had the most success. A foundation of obedience training is important for this sport, as obstacles typically pose less of a challenge on course as the space in between them. Foundation skill work for PBGVs can sometimes progress more slowly than with other breeds, but patient trainers are usually rewarded with reliably, happy dogs who often have long agility careers.
One challenge in agility training with PBGVs is that many agility trainers rely heavily on the use of tug toys are the primary reward. This type of play can be very reinforcing for working and herding dogs, but PBGVs tend to prefer a more tangible reward, like food. To some extent, play can be taught and tools like tug toys with compartments to hold food treats are very helpful, but food is likely to always be a big part of the picture when training a PBGV. For agility skills like distance work and independent obstacle performance, devices like the Ready Treat or Manners Minder can be very useful when training a dog that prefers food to toys. Both of these are remote control operated treat dispensers that allow the handler to reward from a distance.
Another consideration for agility is jump height, as PBGVs are significantly heavier than more traditional agility breeds of similar height. The PBGV breed standard for height of both sexes is 13 to 15 inches, but in AKC agility 14 inches is the cut off between jump heights. Most PBGVs can compete very successful when asked to jump twelve inches in agility, but sixteen inches can be difficult for them in the long term since agility dogs are asked to jump so many times in the course of a career. Most handlers of PBGVs taller than 14 inches choose to compete in the preferred classes to allow their dogs to jump twelve inches.
In addition to the above activities, PBGVs have also excelled in sports like nosework and flyball and as therapy and search and rescue dogs. The temperament and talents selected for by French hunters has resulted in a versatile hound capable of enjoying a variety of activities with his owner.