Does your dog have trouble listening in the presence of their favourite forest critters? If your dog is obsessed with squirrels, it might be impossible to get their attention in the fall, when the little rascals are racing around burying their nuts. Though it’s natural for dogs to feel tempted to chase prey, you can teach your dog to ignore squirrels and listen to you no matter what.
Why Dogs Chase Squirrels
Depending on your dog’s breed, it may be more challenging to train them to resist the urge to chase. Most dogs have some level of prey drive. The scent and the sight of a squirrel, especially as it darts around your yard, piques your dog’s drive to hunt and chase.
But most of the time, dogs do not successfully capture squirrels. Those that do rarely attempt to eat their catch. Even an unsuccessful chase results in a heart-racing thrill, and incites an exciting, fearful reaction from the squirrel.
It’s important that you manage your expectations. Chasing squirrels is exciting, and the more experience your dog has doing it, the more difficult it will be to change your dog’s habits. Even so, it is possible to teach your dog that recalling to you, rather than ignoring you in pursuit of a squirrel, is the more rewarding option.
Managing Your Dog’s Access To Squirrels
If your dog spends a lot of their time outside in your yard unsupervised, they’ll have plenty of time to practice chasing squirrels.
Your best bet is to go on more leashed walks, and supervise your dog while they’re in the yard. If you’re unable to make those changes, you can still work on teaching your dog to ignore squirrels while you are on walks. However, if your dog has lots of alone time outside, they’ll continue to use the prey in your yard to stay entertained.
Does your dog go nuts over squirrels when they’re window-watching? You can use frosted window clings to obscure their view.
Changing The Way Your Dog Reacts To Squirrels
When your dog sees a squirrel, they instantly anticipate a fun, exciting chase. Within seconds, they switch into high gear, and become too overstimulated to turn their attention back to you. When your dog is in this crazed state, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to teach them anything.
But if you can get your dog’s attention in that moment before they switch into “squirrel mode”, you can show them that it’s more rewarding for them to stay by your side.
When you and your dog encounter a squirrel, whether you’re out in your yard with your dog at the end of a long line, or you have your dog on-leash for a walk, you should have some high value rewards on hand.
It’s not enough to shovel yummy treats into your dog’s mouth. Something exciting should happen. You can scatter treats across the ground and encourage your dog to sniff about for them. You can also offer your dog some treats, and once you get their attention, sprint in the opposite direction, driving your dog to “hunt” you instead – earning another jackpot of treats.
In these beginning stages, it won’t make sense to ask your dog to “sit” or “stay”. Your dog should discover that all they have to do to earn treats is to turn their attention back to you.
There’s going to be times where your timing is off, and your dog remains fixated on the squirrel. At those times, your dog will be too overstimulated to care about treats. Setbacks are to be expected while your dog is still learning. Try, try again!
You do not have to solely rely on treats as a reward. You can actually work with your dog’s prey drive by giving them appropriate things to chase. Try chase-based activities like using a flirt pole, lure chasing, and fetch – especially with toys made out of real animal hide.
For More Help With A Dog Obsessed With Squirrels
Though most dogs are nuts about squirrels, every case is different. If you’re still having trouble getting your dog to leave critters alone, or you just want to make sure you’re on the right track, a trainer who uses reward-based, science-backed methods can help.
Healthy Houndz Dog Training offers both local, private training in Toronto and North York and remote training via Zoom for dog parents worldwide. Set up your free 30-minute consultation call today.