• August 6th, 2021
    Written by: Kimberly

    Chasing squirrels is a favorite pastime for many dogs. Some have a natural prey drive that spurs them to chase anything that moves or gives off a scent. Other dogs are protecting their backyard from invaders. And some squirrels will even tease dogs as a boredom-relieving game.

    While you may appreciate your dog keeping squirrels out of your backyard, this is actually a behavior worth curtailing. It may be annoying to have your dog sprinting around the yard and barking, but it can also be a safety concern if your dog darts off after a squirrel or other small animal when not in your backyard when they can run into the path of a car or get lost.

    Techniques for Reducing Prey Drive

    There are a few methods you can use to limit chasing behavior spending on the reasons your dog goes after squirrels. Regardless of which method you use, you will need to be consistent during the time you are training. Because of this, it is often best not to let your dog in the backyard without supervision during this time. Try one of the following training ideas:

    • Scent Games - If your dog is chasing squirrels because of their scent, give them treats to track instead. A couple times a day, toss a handful of kibble into the grass or hide treats in different places around your backyard. Your dog will scent out the food instead of the squirrels. You can also use toys if he is toy motivated.
    • Leave It Command - This is a great command for many occasions, not just squirrels. Start in the house with your dog on a leash. Throw a toy. Pull your dog back by the leash if your dog goes after it and treat if your dog ignores it. Once he is reliably ignoring the thrown toy, add in the verbal “leave it” command. You can then try moving outside. When your dog notices the squirrel, say “leave it” and treat when he does.
    • Redirect Attention - This method involves making yourself more exciting than the squirrel. When your dog’s body language indicates he is about to run off after a squirrel, distract with a toy or a treat. After enough practice, your dog should begin to come to you everytime he spots a squirrel since he knows good things are coming.

    If chasing behavior has progressed past the point at which you feel comfortable training - if your dog is jumping fences or attacking small animals, for instance - you may want to contact an experienced dog trainer who can help.