How to Train Your Dog to Hunt Squirrels

Hard
3-6 Months
Work

Introduction

Training your pup to tree a squirrel in just the right way can be quite challenging. Especially if you have very little experience in training dogs. While you could buy a dog that has been professionally trained or pay to have someone train your pup, what's the fun in that? You can start the process almost the day you bring your pup home, and the sooner you start the better.

The big thing is that puppies love to play chase, which if you get right down to it, is pretty much what treeing a squirrel is all about to your pup. No matter what age your pup is when you start training him to hunt virtually anything, you need to also make sure he has been trained to ignore the sound of gunfire up close and at a distance. 

Defining Tasks

The task at hand is to train your dog to find squirrels and chase them up a tree where it will be easier for you to shoot them. There are, of course, many different methods to do so, but each has the same end result. Your pup will also need to either be learning the basic commands ('sit', 'stay', 'come', 'down') during his hunting training or have already mastered them. This is all about your pup doing what you have trained him to do while still seeing you as the alpha pack leader.

You will also need to decide on a command word you are going to use to tell your pup to hunt squirrels. The simpler the better, you could simply say "squirrel" or "hunt." It really doesn't matter what you use as long as you use the same word every time. Your pup needs to know what is expected of him when you give him this command word. 

Getting Started

Depending on the age of your pup, you may be able to combine basic command training along with your hunting training or you can always do it once your pup has completed "Basic Training." Also, your pup will need to be trained not to be gun shy. Beyond this, there are a few things you will need to make the training easier. These include:

  • Treats
  • A leash
  • A squirrel tail
  • Squirrel meat
  • A length of rope or string
  • A gun with blanks
  • A live squirrel
  • A cage

The biggest things you can bring to each training session are a happy fun attitude and plenty of patience. You will also need an area with plenty of trees and squirrels as a training ground for your pup. 

The Tail Dragger Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Tie the tail
Tie a length of string to the squirrel tail and drag it through the woods, creating a scent trail for your pup to follow.
Step
2
Scent training
Using the same tail, let your dog play around with it and get used to the scent.
Step
3
Follow the leader
Let your pup find the trail you made and follow him as he follows the trail to the tree where you stopped. Give him a treat and lots of praise.
Step
4
Nail that tail
Once your pup has mastered following the trail to the tree, nail the tail just above where he can reach. Let him find the tail, and if he starts barking at the tail, praise him and give him a treat.
Step
5
To amazing heights
Slowly move the tail further and further up the tree rewarding him each time he "trees" the squirrel and barks to let you know. Move it up until he can't see it but can still smell it. Finally, stop using the tail altogether. Be sure to keep up the rewards to ensure he matches the action with a reward.
Step
6
Live training
Finally, its time to take your pup out for a little live training. If your all of your hard work has paid off, your pup should have no problem treeing live squirrels. Just remember, you only get to shoot the squirrels that your pup barks at, this will continually reinforce his training.
Recommend training method?

The Tail and Cage Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Fun first
Give your pup a squirrel tail to play with so that he has plenty of time to become very familiar with it.
Step
2
Make trails
Take the same tail, tie it on the end of a long string, and drag it through the woods creating a trail that ends at one specific tree.
Step
3
Let your dog track
Let your dog find the beginning of your trail while he is on his leash. Make him sit, release him from his leash, and give him your hunt command. Let him start tracking the trail you made earlier.
Step
4
When he finds the tree
As soon as your pup finds the end of the trail at the tree, be sure to give him a treat and plenty of praise. Practice this for several weeks until your pup has fully mastered this skill.
Step
5
Catch a live squirrel
For this step, you need to trap a live squirrel that can be put in a cage. Use the caged squirrel to create the scent trail and then suspend the cage up the tree where your pup can't reach it.
Step
6
Up and out of sight
Slowly increase the height of the cage off the ground until it is completely out of sight. This makes your dog use his sense of smell to find the squirrel. Remember, you should only reward him when he barks to let you know the squirrel has been treed. The rest is all about spending as much time as you can training your pup, until he masters this simple skill.
Recommend training method?

The Bonding Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Start with the basics
In the early days after you first bring your dog home, let him go everywhere with you while you teach him the basic commands, but this time add in the 'speak' command. You can do this by holding a treat out in front of him while he is sitting. Encourage him to speak by using the command and waving the treat around until he barks. When he does, give him the treat and praise him. He will learn to associate the 'speak' command with barking.
Step
2
Tail on a pole
Tie a squirrel tail on a long pole and hold it out where your pup can smell it. Walk down the trail with your pup, following the tail on the pole to create the trail. This teaches your pup to track by scent and sight as he will be keeping his eyes on the tail the whole time.
Step
3
Tie the tail up
Tail the tail up in the tree and when your dog comes to the base of the tree, give him the 'speak' command. When he barks, give him a treat and lots of praise.
Step
4
This pursuit is now live
Choose a spot in your local woods where the trees are short, and the squirrels are plentiful. Take your pup out there and let him run around until he finds an active trail to follow. When he trees a squirrel and barks at you, shoot the squirrel and give him a nice treat and plenty of praise.
Step
5
And in the end
The rest is all about repetition. Frequent short training sessions are far more effective than long ones on a casual basis. This training can take months or even years to master, but you and your pup can certainly have a lot of fun the whole time.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Harmon
Beagle
7 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Harmon
Beagle
7 Years

My name is Audrey and I would love to start squirrel hunting with my dog, he is very obedient and smart. He loves to stay outside and fetch and chase the squirrels in the yard. I have been trying to get him into getting excited when a tail is in a tree but he doesn’t bark and doesn’t stay on the tree for long. I’m a little lost on how I should further his training.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
394 Dog owners recommended

Hello Audrey, Right now, he has learned that once the squirrel is in the tree the fun is over and nothing exciting will happen, so at that point he walks away - you will need to reward him for staying there and reward him for barking after giving him a "Speak!" command (which has to be taught first) to teach him to stay at the tree and to bark when he sees a squirrel. First, teach him Speak by following one of the methods from the article linked below: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-speak Next, I suggest following the "Bonding" method from the article you commented on: (https://wagwalking.com/training/hunt-squirrels) and using a squirrel tail (real squirrel tail) on a pole to drag the scent along the ground, then hold the tail-end of the pole against the tree out of his reach. Have an assistant let him go and help him stay on the scent trail, praising him when his nose stays to the ground and he follows the scent, and leading him back to the scent when he wanders away. When he arrives at the tree you are holding the tail against on the pole, command "Speak" and reward with a treat when he barks, wiggle the tail with the pole and when he looks up at it, also reward with another treat. Practice rewarding him for obeying your "Speak" command, for looking up at the tail, and again if he continues looking up for a couple of minutes. Practice the tracking and the looking up at the tail, and barking at it on command until he gets better at following the trail without needing to be guided, will bark before you have to tell him to when he gets to the tree, and when he keeps looking at the tail constantly. When he can do all of the above, then nail the tail to the tree and practice tracking, rewarding his barking, and rewarding him for looking up at it. Pin the tail higher and higher as he improves - continuing to reward him for barking at it and looking up at it. - At this point the tail will be still since it's not on the pole, which is a bit harder. When he will stay focused on it and bark when he finds it, then use a live trap to trap a live squirrel and put the cage in the tree and practice rewarding the same things - moving the cage carefully along the ground to the tree for him to track before putting it up in the tree. When he can track the live squirrel, bark at it when he finds it and keep watching it in the tree, then move onto real squirrels. While practicing this, reward him again when he continues to watch the squirrel, such as every one minute, then two minutes, then five minutes, then ten minutes - gradually spacing your treats further apart as he gets better at staying focused on it for longer. When he has mastered the training with the caged squirrel, then move onto wild loose squirrels. Make sure you practice all of the training in multiple locations and trees so that he will generalize the training and be able to do it in other locations too. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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