A mountain cur barks “tree” in a frost-bitten Ohio field edge. brad fitzpatrick
It’s hard to argue with Allen Franklin’s resume as a squirrel dog trainer. His mountain dogs have amassed an incredible 26 world championships in squirrel, raccoon and bank show competitions, and the dogs he is hunting with now are the third and fourth generation born on his Ohio farm. But his dog doesn’t have to come from such a lineage to be a crackerjack squirrel dog. Over the years, I have known hunters chasing bushy tails with all kinds of canines, from border collies to bluetick coonhounds. Many dog breeds (and many mongrels, for that matter) have the keen intelligence and prey drive necessary to be a master squirrel hunter.
Franklin offered some key training tips that have helped him achieve such success. These won’t work with every dog, but hunting squirrels instead of dogs is inexpensive and exciting, and is a great way to introduce kids to the sport. So give your four-legged companion a crash course to see if he’s got what it takes.
1. Bonding and yard work
Franklin points out that all training starts here. Ideally, this occurs when his dog is young, he says, but even if his canine companion is of legal age, this is the foundation from which to begin his hunting education. Primarily, this job is for your dog to follow your commands in the woods, but basic command training also teaches you and your dog to work together as a team, an often overlooked benefit of basic work in the garden. In addition to the basic sit, stay, and come commands, Franklin wants his young dogs to lead and talk (this will be important later), and says they should be comfortable on the leash.
2. Introduction to Squirrels
Franklin starts his young dogs off with a squirrel tail tied to a post. This teaches them to follow their prey instincts and helps them become familiar with the squirrels’ scent, but it is also a visual training method. Unlike bloodhounds and bird dogs, which operate almost entirely without scent, squirrel dogs need to master hunting with their noses and eyes. After tying the squirrel’s tail to a tree, Franklin asks the dog to speak. These first “tree” barks are rewarded, and this lays the foundation for more complex training. Franklin sometimes uses a live squirrel in a cage trap, and he always places these squirrels in trees so the dogs get used to looking up.
squirrel dog praise
Providing would-be squirrel dogs with access to bushy tails is perhaps the most important part of training.
3. Live chase
When you decide it’s time to introduce your dog to wild squirrels, you’ll want to make things as easy as possible. It may sound simplistic, but for Franklin, that means starting in small patches of woods where there are a lot of squirrels.
“I try to place my pups where they will always find squirrel tracks and in smaller trees where they have a chance to see the squirrel,” says Franklin. When the dogs catch a squirrel, he praises them and encourages them to bark.
These live sessions will ignite the dogs prey drive and little by little they will realize that they are going into the woods with a purpose. The instinct will not take long to activate. Once he does, positive reinforcement and repetition will make squirrel chasing part of the dogs nature.
4. Short and positive training sessions
Keeping your dog enthusiastically engaged in the learning process is especially important early on.
“A short session every day is better than one or two long sessions a week,” says Franklin. These short sessions can be a short obedience lesson in the garden, a 20-minute session of chasing a squirrel’s tail on a fishing rod, or a brisk walk through the autumn woods. One key is to be patient and allow the dog to figure things out at his own pace. Most puppies will eventually get the hang of it, but boredom can make the process difficult and lead to training mishaps.
Another secret? Always end each short session on a positive note. These short training sessions will ensure that you and your dog look forward to the experience, increasing your chances of success.
4 breeds of dogs to hunt squirrels
1. Cur Mountain
The Mountain Dog was bred as a farm dog by early American pioneers. Mixing the blood of hounds and terriers produced a compact, intelligent canine that served as a herder, hunter, and guard dog. Today, the mountain cur is one of the most popular hunting breeds of squirrel.
Most people associate beagles with rabbits, but these hounds have a strong prey drive, a protruding nose, and a loud voice, and with proper training they make excellent squirrel dogs. They are also wonderful family companions.
jack russell terrier
jack russell terrier
3. Jack Russell Terrier
Many new Jack Russell owners find out the hard way that there is a lot of personality in that compact four-legged pack and for that reason this breed is frequently abandoned for re-adoption. But Jack Russells are extraordinarily intelligent and brave, and have a prey drive out of proportion to their small stature. Introduce them to the squirrels and let instinct do the rest.
4. Border Collie
The border collie is considered the most intelligent of all dog breeds, but this brilliance sometimes manifests itself in misbehavior, especially if the dog is out of work. Task-oriented border collies learn to hunt squirrels very quickly.