Why do dogs chase squirrels?

Dog walks are one of the great joys of having a four-legged friend, with the twice-daily routine a great way to exercise and bond with your pet.

However, what may start as a leisurely walk in the local park can suddenly turn into a noisy and frantic hunt at the slightest hint of a nearby squirrel.

Squirrel-hunting dogs can be a real concern for both owners and other animals and people nearby trying to enjoy the outdoors.

So it’s no wonder these little animals are one of the toughest training distractions.

Why do dogs chase squirrels? Is there something you can do about it? This is what an expert said.

Why do dogs chase squirrels?

Dr. Mary Burch, a certified applied animal behaviorist and director of family dogs for the American Kennel Club (AKC), suggests “several reasons” why dogs are so captivated by squirrels.

The most likely reason is your pet’s innate prey drive. Certain dog breeds are connected to this predatory instinct, dating back to when they were involved in hunting.

She said news week: “Historically, sighthounds, like Afghan Hounds, Greyhounds, and Whippets, chased rabbits and other animals, and were selectively bred for their ability to chase.

“A modern simulation of dogs chasing small animals is the sport of lure coursing, where a small web, the lure, is moved by a pulley.

dogs chasing squirrels
Chasing squirrels is particularly common in dog breeds with an instinctive desire to hunt.
Godrick/Getty Images

“The operator can control the speed at which the lure moves, and stays far enough away from the dog that once the lure starts moving, the chase begins.

Another reason a dog might want to run after a squirrel is because he is curious or likes to play, and chasing is fun.

Dr Burch said: “Dogs will also chase if they have been trained to chase or reinforced to chase, such as a rolling ball or lure, as described above.”

“Dogs that are territorial may chase a creature out of your yard. When it comes to squirrels, the most likely reason is prey drive.”

Why do dogs chase squirrels?
The fascination with the movement of creatures like squirrels is part of the predatory heritage of dogs.
alexei_tm/Getty Images

How to stop dogs from chasing squirrels

Fortunately, there are tried and tested techniques available to help manage your dog’s obsession with squirrels.

The AKC states, “The desire to chase is inherent in many dogs and is a highly rewarding behavior, but because some dogs enjoy it so much, it can be an added challenge to train them not to do so.”

However, this does not mean that all hope is lost and owners can hope to successfully train a dog not to chase.

And while the task is easier when the pet is a puppy, training is also possible later in life with a little more hard work.

Why do dogs chase squirrels?
Hunting is a natural behavior of animals such as dogs, which are descendants of wolves.
Aleksey Zhilin/Getty Images

Provide training

Dr. Burch said, “Teach your dog to come reliably when called.” This may involve showing your dog that rewards, like tasty treats, come from you and not just from the environment.

The second part of teaching a dog self-control is making it very clear to him how to earn those rewards, which is done through constructive play.

wear a leash

Dr. Burch said, “In parks and in the community, wear a leash.”

If your dog is particularly independent-minded, keep a short leash to prevent him from running off and injuring himself or stopping the owner.

provide supervision

Dr. Burch said, “Don’t let your dog into your fenced yard or loose in a park if there are squirrels around.”

Although most small creatures are not known to defend themselves, squirrels can react aggressively if they feel threatened.

As a result, pay close attention to the dog’s behavior after you let it out, especially when it’s off-leash.

And it’s important to quickly spot any signs of behavioral change that might indicate they were attacked.

Why do dogs chase squirrels?
According to the AKC, sighthounds of all sizes, such as Afghan Hounds and Whippets, were bred to chase animals like squirrels.
Stuart Chirtel/Getty Images