How can you train a dog not to chase squirrels? That was a question from a reader, and of course I had to turn to my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to respond. Anyone who’s visited our home would know we failed miserably at accomplishing this with our own dogs. Physican, heal thyself!
Q: Our dog is obsessed with chasing squirrels! Is there any way to get him to leave them alone?
A: Dogs are indeed passionate about protecting their yards from the furry tree climbers.
Some are determined to find and eliminate squirrels, sniffing their trails hours after squirrels have returned to their nut stash. That can become hazardous if dogs escape the yard in pursuit of their prey. Dogs who can’t resist the urge to stalk squirrels need other ways to channel their predatory and chase behaviors.
There are a few ways to redirect your dog’s attention away from squirrels, and your success may depend on whether your dog is intrigued by the scent or the presence or motion of squirrels. Try the following methods to see what works best. And consider keeping your dog close to you on leash in the beginning to help him stay focused and not be tempted by the squirrels.
Scent games are one way to redirect your dog’s desire to pursue interesting smells. A simple version of “find it” is to scatter kibble in the grass and let your dog search for it. Doing this once or twice a day can help channel your dog’s focus away from squirrels, and give him something else to do when he’s in your yard.
If your dog’s favorite part of squirrel hunting is the chase, turn the sight of a squirrel into an opportunity to engage with you by immediately bringing out a toy such as a flirt pole. You can also use “come when called” to turn a squirrel sighting into a fun game of canine tag, followed by treats to reinforce the behavior.
If your dog’s chase behavior is becoming a concern, contact your veterinarian for guidance and potential partnership with a reward-based trainer or referral to a veterinary behaviorist.
There’s more – including all about cats and heartworm – in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.