Can Dogs Climb Trees?

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Introduction

Our poor dog was constantly tormented by the squirrels living in the trees behind his house. Those mischievous squirrels would dance along the fence, waving their tails to tease the dog to come toward them. Just as the dog was drawing near, the squirrels would leap to a tree and scamper up to a limb. This frustrated pupper would run up to the tree and then sit, looking up, barking and barking as the squirrel shook its tail in a tease.  

It's a classic situation. Lucky squirrel gets away again, but not if the dog in pursuit is one with a special ability to not let the trunk of a tree stop him! Believe it or not, there are at least 5 breeds of dog known for their ability to climb trees! Now, that's something to howl about!

Signs a Dog Can Climb a Tree

The breeds of dogs known to climb trees include the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard, Tree Walker Coonhound, Jack Russell Terrier, New Guinea Singing Dog and the Raccoon Dog. These spry creatures are most likely to climb the tree when they are hunting prey that is running up the tree to get away from them. While low, horizontal branches may help a range of dog breeds climb into a tree, these rigorous pooches will literally run up the tree trunk in excitement and pursuit of their catch.

Dogs climb trees when they are excited and on the hunt. Some will naturally smell or hear birds and animals in the trees while others are in the process of a trained hunt. There are videos on the internet of owners coaxing their dogs to run up into trees to demonstrate the surprising talent of their dog. The tree-climbing behavior is one of pursuit. The dog may circle the tree, sniffing the ground or tree trunk. You may find the dog vocalizing with barks at the prey above him. The dog may try a few jumps at the hiding prey. When climbing, there seems to be a bit of a running start as the dog traverses up the tree to the lowest branch.

The dogs most likely to run up a tree are hunters and herders. Herding dogs have a strong hunting instinct and that makes them good at rounding up their herd in the field. Owners may be surprised to find their dog running up into the tree in pursuit of something in the tree.

Occasions in which this behavior may occur may be when the animal is chasing another creature. The dog will get into the tree first with a running start, a jump, and by pulling himself onto branches with the front paws. Other dogs can be trained to sport this impressive ability, as long as their build allows it!

Body Language

Below are some signs your doggo will show while tree-climbing:
  • Barking
  • Jumping up
  • Sniffing
  • Running

Other Signs

Some more signs a dog will show while in the process of climbing a tree are:

  • Chasing
  • Circling the Tree
  • Vocalizing Excitement
  • Taking a Running Start
  • Pulling Themselves onto Branches

History of Dogs Climbing Trees

With dogs, it all goes back to basic instincts. Dogs are hunters by nature. The drive to hunt that was essential for survival is still present in the modern-day dog. They have an innate drive to hunt prey and the motor and sensory skills to act on that instinct. The dogs most known for their ability to climb trees have very unique environmental experiences, breeding, physiology and energy levels. The one thing they all have in common is a voracious drive to hunt and very high energy levels. Each seems to have a breed story that has led them to evolve this specialized skill.

The Catahoula Leopard Dog is from Louisiana and named for the Choctaw first nation people who lived near the Catahoula Lake.The area was abundant with wild hogs. This official dog for the state of Louisiana has an odd appearance with a large head, long legs, a long body, merle coat and webbed feet for swimming. The breeding of the dog is thought to be a blend of the Red Wolf who hunted with the first nation people, the DeSoto war dogs, who were Mastiffs, and Greyhounds who were later abandoned and roamed freely in the area. The dogs were bred for hunting by settlers to the area. The American Kennel Club now recognizes the breed as eligible for competition.

A more popular dog that likes to run up trees is the spry Jack Russell Terrier. This peppy, little dog is described by the American Kennel Club as strong, hardy, full of life, and confident. This breed works the earth for vermin and has a fearless nature. They are playful, curious, loyal and affectionate. The dog was bred to hunt foxes, small enough to fit into the foxholes. They are very high-energy. If they are excited, they may just run up a tree!

The Treeing Walker Coonhound is another hunter with a high spirit.This true-color beauty is built for the hunt. With long legs, powerful hindquarters, and streamline frame, the dog can cover territory with little effort. This build makes it easier for the dog to propel himself up a tree when in pursuit of prey. The coonhound was bred and, with a hunter owner, likely to be trained to pursue tree-climbing critters. Not to be deterred, this powerful dog will chase right up after them.

The New Guinea Singing Dog is considered to be a wild breed, although, now that they have been discovered, people are wanting to take them home. They are small and look like a fox. Their delightful howl sounds like they are singing. Similar to the Dingo, these dogs have extreme hunting drives that can overpower their training. The animal has not been studied in the wild. He is described as very high-energy and not recommended for families with children.

Another wild animal not recommended for domestication is the Raccoon Dog. They are known as one of the earliest forms of dog - a cross of fox and wolf. Do not be too charmed by the cute, raccoon face with bandit's mask. They are nocturnal and they are not happy living with humans in homes. Spreading across Asia and Europe, they have created problems because of their hunting of frogs, birds and small prey. Sadly, they are hunted for their fur. And, like a raccoon, they can climb trees.

The Science of Dogs Who Climb Trees

What do these tree-climbing dogs have in common? They all have extremely strong hunting drives and a very high energy level. The Catahoula Hound, Treeing Coonhound, and Jack Russell Terriers seem to have evolved to cohabit with man and be trained for the hunt. Others, the New Guinea Singing Dog and Raccoon Dog, are yet too wild still for successful cohabitation with man. What is it that we can learn about the hunting instinct?

Studies of hunting behavior have established that it is not so simple as a dog seeing prey and going for it. Rather, there are a number of factors that influence the hunting behavior. These include:

  • Breed tendency

  • Experience with the hunt

  • Opportunity to act in the prey environment

  • Motivation

  • Socialization or the presence or absence of pack members.

There are two phases to the hunt: the appetitive phase and the consummatory phase. Of course, hunger drives the appetite. Dogs use every sense, but the sense of smell is the strongest and it is the scent that they most utilize to track and find their prey. 

The consummatory phase is the kill. Within the pack, dominance and rank play a role as to who gets to eat first. The pack works together to isolate the prey, encircling it, with the lead dog bringing it down while the others devour the prey. Because dogs living in domestication are not in this hunting environment, we only see glimpses of the hunt drive when our dogs do things like chase squirrels up the tree, or with these special high energy breeds, just run on up the tree after that squirrel.

In the domestic situation, you will see the hunting drive in behaviors such as chasing cars, herding children or animals, shaking a toy or slipper, digging in the yard, nipping at heels, or barking at vehicles.

Training a Dog to Climb Trees

Before we get into this one, let's make one thing clear. Not all dogs can climb trees. Please don't try to make a dog who is too small, sick, or physically incapable of climbing get up a tree.

That being said, many owners of common dog breeds have uploaded video proof that their pooches can get up trees just as good as the super-breeds mentioned earlier. Cattle Dogs, Border Collies, Dobermans and even the odd Golden Doodle have been seen showing off their tree-climbing skills, among others.

To encourage your pooch to try tree-climbing, the first thing you need to do is establish good trust. This is done by regular, vigilant training. Keep sessions short, but fun. Motivated breeds are the best at this amazing trick. You might start by teaching your dog the "up" command, using a large, sturdy box or something like it. Reward your dog for successfully jumping on it when asked.

The next, key step to getting your dog up a tree is finding an appropriate wooden host. Look for thick trees with a gentle slope or a trunk that splits into branches relatively close to the ground (10 feet or less).

Take your dog to the tree, point up, and give the command. At first, your dog may bark or circle in confusion, Try to get them as amped up as possible. Use lots of positive, verbal encouragement. If they already know about squirrels, lead them to believe there is one in the tree, or better yet, wait until there actually is one!

Chance are, your agile pupper will bounce and run until they figure out how to get up in that tree! If at first, you don't succeed, keep trying, or scope out an easier tree. Onlookers will be so impressed by your tree-climbing pooch, and your dog will love giving those pesky squirrels a run for their money!

How to React When Your Dog Climbs a Tree

  • If your dog runs up a tree, your first reaction may be surprise and delight.
  • Stay calm and positive with your dog.
  • Approach the tree and make sure your dog has secure footing.
  • Encourage your dog to come down.
  • Praise your dog for coming when you bid him down.