Dogs Chasing Squirrels

Dogs Chasing Squirrels: A Walking Nightmare for Some

It seems the problem of dogs chasing squirrels is aggravating to more dog owners than you would expect.

Here are owner’s concerns:

  • squirrel chasing ruining a perfectly good walk
  • arms out of sockets 
  • banged up knees from falls


Then the Obvious Question, “How Do I Stop It?”

Dogs Chasing Squirrels

Stopping it takes training and practice. You should start sooner than later because it can be a serious problem especially if your dog has a particularly high prey drive.

It’s not uncommon to see this squirrel issue progress to other fast-moving things like animals (cats in particular) cars, bikes, kids on skateboards and joggers – just to name a few.

It can also become quite addictive as your dog’s body releases chemicals while in the chase mode, including adrenaline.


Prevention Gets Down to Training


I know what you’re thinking! Loose leash walking and dogs chasing squirrels just don’t go together. Or, could they?

What will it take to create pleasant walks on a loose leash once again, even around squirrels?

It all gets down to training your dog. But what exactly does this include? For one thing your dog must understand to listen to you when on walks.

It should include a “Leave it!” command which should mean “stop what you are doing and make eye contact with me.”

At this point I would say that “timing is everything.”

You must say “Leave it!” right when your dog first notices the squirrel and before he gives chase. This takes practice and keen observation of your dog’s body language.

Next should be a redirect to another command like “Sit!” as you praise and a treat. Immediately back up a few steps using a treat to lure your dog to you (on your leash) as you say, “Come!” Follow that with another sit. Repeat this exercise. Praise and treat each time for a job well done. Continue on with your walk.

It’s important to understand that the “Leave it!” command should be worked on with your dog in the house first to teach him what it means.

This should be followed by proofing your dog in the back yard around light distractions before you actually go on your walk. Finally work your dog at a distance around squirrels where you get compliance to “Leave it!” with your dog. Gradually close the distance.

Basic Foundation Work Is Critical


It goes without saying that you must have a relationship with your dog where your dog looks to you for guidance on what to do INSTEAD of what he’s doing.   If it’s not, then you must start with foundation work before you can successfully start your squirrel diversion training.

Let’s take a look at needed foundation work.

Your dog should already be doing sits and downs for everything in the home; food, access to furniture, toys and affection. This teaches him to listen to his pack leader, as you are in charge. This develops better listening skills in the real world on walks.

You should be doing ongoing scheduled obedience training 3 times daily for just 2 minutes. This would include rapid fire sits and downs.

You could also incorporate the come command between two family members so the sequence is “Come! Sit! Down! This could be done back and forth for 2 minutes.

This kind of training will begin to foster discipline for your squirrel diversion training on walks.

Remember, once your foundation work is done inside, move to the back yard for distraction work. Follow that with real world training on walks.


Managing Your Dog’s Energy


One way to manage your dog’s energy is to engage your dog in a game of fetch. This burns energy in a constructive activity that can be controlled. Make sure your dog sits before you throw the ball.

As your dog gets better, require a sit-stay, throw the ball then release your dog to fetch the ball. Teaching your dog to sit-stay and watch the ball in action, can give you better control on your walks when squirrels appear.

Practicing the come command between family members is another way to manage your dog’s energy. You just have to be consistent in doing it every day.

If before you walk your dog, you play fetch or burn energy with the come command, he’ll have less energy for the squirrels and you may find he listens better.

Bottom line is that it does take time to train your dog and manage his energy. And while you’re managing his energy, don’t let your dog run loose and practice bad habits you are trying to stop.

By using positive dog training methods you develop an impressive display of training and management skills that will help you in all aspects of your life with your dog.

Thanks for letting me share my dog training knowledge with you. Don’t be a stranger. Feel free to comment below. I’d love to hear about your squirrel chasing dog.

Remember: “Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog

Jim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving over 10,000 clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.

13 replies
  1. client care
    client care says:

    I don’t see where your dog knows the “leave it” command that Jim spoke of in the article. Lots of good info in the blog post to read

  2. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    I have a dog that’s chasing the bunnies outside. Unfortunately, her being a dog, and me a mere human, she sees them before I do and takes off like a shot before I can redirect her. 65lbs of prey drives suddenly jerking you across a field isn’t great for the shoulder tendons let me tell you!
    She knows the commands, stop, no, wait, slow, leave it, look. But she ignores me completely in the presence of bunnies. Treats, why would she want a treat when Peter cottontail fluff butt is right there and way more fun!
    Any suggestions?

    [email protected] says:

    Kim: Based on your questions it does not look like you have done any of the training suggestions I explained in the blog post. I gave multiple things to do and how to do them.
    You might try putting those things in place to address this problem

  4. Kim M
    Kim M says:

    I have a similar comment to Jean. I just adopted a very sweet lab/sharpei mix from a shelter who rescued dogs from Hurricane Harvey. She listens to me really well, understands sit and come.

    I ordinarily can break her attention to the squirrels if I notice them first, the problem is, our housing development is over saturated with squirrels. They are at every tree, even when I don’t see them they jump out and then she starts to try and chase while I’m on the leash.

    She normally listens when I call to her, but if the squirrel is close, her attention is solely on trying to get the squirrel. This is going to be much more problematic to me in two weeks because she about to undergo some serious heart worm treatment that demands her heart rate stay low, which means no squirrel interaction and short, focused ten minute walks for bathroom breaks only. It’s difficult for her to focus on going to the bathroom when the squirrels are out.

    My tactic as of now is to take her out early enough in the morning to beat the squirrels (6 am) before work, but in the afternoon, they are out full-force.

    Any additional tips for how to manage the squirrel chase problem for at least the duration of her rest period following the HW treatment?

  5. client care
    client care says:

    You’re trying to overcome the natural instincts your dog was bred for. I would walk her more around your neighborhood and when you have her in the back yard have her on a leash and re-direct her attention when
    a squirrel comes around – that will NOT be easy

  6. Helene Stevens
    Helene Stevens says:

    My 3 year old daushand is extremely obsessed with squirrelsome. She will circle the yard and tree in an absolute manic state until I physically remove her to the inside. How can I train her; she actually ignore food and water for hours. I hate to keep her locked in the house. Loads of rabbits on our yard as well increase the scenting area.

  7. Jean L.
    Jean L. says:

    I recently adopted a dog from a local shelter. She is between two and three years old, part collie and maybe part hound (though her face looks Bernese – but she has no other Bernese characteristics). She has lots of energy. She seems to have had some training and is good in the home, fairly good on the Come command, although we are still working on that. We live in an area where we are able to walk freely in an undeveloped conservation area, and most of the time, off leash. And she needs that exercise. However, the squirrel obsession is a problem. She eventually comes, but only after lots of calling. I will definitely try the Leave It command, and see what the response is to that. Any other suggestions for an off-leash situation?

  8. Jim Burwell
    Jim Burwell says:

    Kathy: Do you have her on a leash? Do you say OFF (meaning stop what you are doing) and the redirect to something you want her to do? That would certainly stop the problem

  9. kathy
    kathy says:

    Hi Jim,
    We have a v lively 3 yr old lurcher who is squirrel and ball obsessed. She is
    extremely quick and has caught and killed 12 so far. We’ve had a lurcher
    before so understand the breed but our current lurcher’s behaviour has become a nightmare – can’t get her back (with treats) after she’s seen a
    squirrel – she just runs round all the trees at a million miles an hour.
    We sought the advice of a dog behaviourist who said the ball had to go as that was ramping up/chase prey habit as well as her adrenaline. It’s been 6 weeks with no ball and now she’s 100% fixated with squirrels. Our dog is
    perfect in the house (& with people, kids & other dogs – NOT cats!) and is trained to a good standard in all areas – her recall is v good if she doesn’t see
    a squirrel … yeah, walk elsewhere I hear you say … sadly only possible at
    w/e’s when we can drive some distance somewhere different.
    Your advice much appreciated. Thank you Jim. Best, Kathy

  10. Iris Somerton-Jones
    Iris Somerton-Jones says:

    Very helpful . My dog she is a lurcher and I have taught her to leave when she see’s a squirrel and she responds, but if she is quite a bit in front of me and I am walking with someone in the park and she notices a squirrel she will chase and I have to scream several times before she responds. Today there was an instance this happened and she actually caught the squirrel and I screamed drop it and she did,the squirrel ran off towards the tree but it was at the bottom of the trunk it did not seem to be able climb up high enough so I tried to move it to a safer place as i thought it was suffering from shock and it would recover but I got bitten by the squirrel. I saw a park ranger and he thought maybe the leg was hurt but it had run when my dog dropped it. I found this quite up setting.Your comments will be appreciated.

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