Dogs chasing squirrels is a common occurrence that dog owners have experienced at least once. But why do dogs chase squirrels exactly? Is this something that owners should be concerned about? Below are ways to stop your dog from this behavior.
Do dogs hate squirrels?
Previously, we discussed why dogs chase cats and concluded that it is because of dogs' natural hunting instincts. The exact reasons apply here too, and just like with cats, dogs do not necessarily hate squirrels. They are merely captivated by squirrels thanks to their innate primal instincts.
Since dogs were originally bred for hunting, they have a stronger sense of smell which they use primarily for hunting. According to Phoenix Veterinary Center, dogs “possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses” in contrast to an average person with 6 million receptors, hence why their instincts for critters are much sharper than humans.
Why do dogs chase squirrels?
Other than their strong primal instincts, dogs will chase squirrels purely out of fun and curiosity.
Dogs are playful animals who like to play chase. To them, these small and nimble squirrels are fascinating creatures that smell interesting. If the dogs are still young, they tend to be more curious than their seniors. You may find your young pup gets excited in the presence of a squirrel and show a strong desire to chase after them. And since squirrels can run fast, this only exhilarates the dogs more, inciting a full hunting slash zoomies mode.
Their desire to chase squirrels is not always rooted in agitation. Although their curiosity stems from their strong primal senses, they do not always want to harm smaller animals. Sometimes they just really want to play with them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, even though their intentions are pure, it is not safe for them to freely approach wild creatures like squirrels. They can still get attacked by other animals, so it is important to discourage them from chasing squirrels or any other critters.
According to American Kennel Club, your dog’s obsession with chasing squirrels is due to their predatory heritage. Dogs were originally bred from wild wolves. They have since evolved into friendlier and domesticated companions for humans. However, as descendants of wolves, dogs carried the same strong hunting instincts wolves naturally have. This is also why dogs were primarily bred for hunting and protection. They are keen creatures that will go after small prey, just like squirrels.
Which breeds are the biggest chasers?
With that being said, some dogs have stronger hunting instincts. These types of dog breeds are even classified as “Herding Group,” “Sporting Group” and “Hound Group” by American Kennel Club.
Herding Group dogs are a group of dog breeds that are commonly used in gathering, herding, and protecting livestock. Breeds like Australian Cattle, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, and Cardigan Welsh Corgi are some of the most common breeds in this group. We discussed the Herding group dogs in a recent article.
Sporting group dogs on the other hand are dogs that are molded to work closely with hunters. They are more active and alert than average dogs and are known to have great instincts in water and woods.
Here are some dog breeds that belong to the Sporting Group:
- American Water Spaniel
- Cocker Spaniel
- English Setter
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- German Shorthaired Pointer
The Hound group dogs are also used for hunting. They “demonstrate a phenomenal gift of stamina as they relentlessly run down quarry,” hence why they are considered big chasers.
Some dog breeds that belong to the Hound Group:
- Afghan Hound
- Basset Hound
Is squirrel chasing bad for your dog?
Squirrel chasing is all part of natural dog behavior, so it cannot be avoided. However, there are risks involved when this behavior is encouraged. It can be dangerous for them because they can get lost, get attacked by squirrels, or sprint into oncoming traffic.
Since squirrels are wild critters, they pose danger to your dog. They may carry a variety of diseases through bacteria, parasites, fleas, and ticks. If you let your dog chase squirrels, these diseases can be transferred to them. Squirrel droppings can also carry diseases like Salmonella and Leptospirosis. They can also get bitten by squirrels which can potentially cause infection. If this happens, bring your dog to the veterinarian immediately.
Other than the possibility of getting bitten, your dog can get so blindly excited by the chase that they might hurt themselves. If they managed to get away from you, they can get lost in the woods (if you’re walking in a wooded area), or run into the traffic. This is why it is very important to discourage dogs from chasing squirrels and other small animals.
It is so important to train your dog early on so they can avoid creating bad habits like disobedience and impulsiveness. To prevent this from happening, you should conduct leash and walking training for your dog. You can also train them to listen to basic commands like “No” or “Leave it.” By giving them proper training, you will only enforce a better-disciplined lifestyle on your dog and ensure their safety in the future.
How to train your dog not to chase squirrels
To train your dog not to chase squirrels, you can use simple verbal commands like those mentioned above. The “Leave It” command might be the most effective one when it comes to chasing squirrels because this enforces obedience and makes them understand that not everything they see is up for grabs.
A leash training should also be done especially for younger dogs. Over time, your dog should be able to go on a walk with a calm demeanor. This is beneficial because they will feel more comfortable with their surroundings, and it will be safer for both of you and those around you.
Discourage the behavior
Chasing squirrels or any other animals must be discouraged. You do not want to instill their impulsive behaviors. Do not encourage them to stalk and chase prey unless you’re actually hunting or you’re participating in scent trail training. Otherwise, refrain from giving them positive cues or rewards when they exhibit such behaviors.
You can discourage your dog from chasing squirrels by familiarizing yourself with the natural sequence of predatory action. When they are taken over by their predatory instincts, they will start to search, stalk, chase, and grab their prey. When you start to see these signs during your walks, create a distraction. You can use a clicker, a verbal command, or a toy.
Manage your dog’s access to squirrels
You can manage your dog’s access to squirrels by securing your backyard. Although there is no guarantee that squirrels will not get into your backyard, you can at least guarantee that your dog cannot break out of your fences.
Focus on safety
Always keep a watchful eye on your dog whenever you let them out. Make sure that they are safe at all times by training them well, securing your house, and using a proper harness.
It is not uncommon for dogs to have a strong desire to chase squirrels or any other small animals. This is rooted in their predatory instincts and sometimes it is driven by their breed. To prevent them from chasing squirrels, you should discourage them immediately, train them properly, and focus on their safety.