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?”
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.