How to Train Your Dog to Ignore Squirrels

Hard
1-3 Months
Behavior

Introduction

Most dogs love to chase toys, balls, and wildlife. One particular animal that seems to really get dogs going is the squirrel. While allowing your dog to hunt or sniff after squirrels might not seem problematic, this behavior can quickly escalate and cause potentially dangerous situations to occur. Anything from pulling you off balance while walking or graduating from chasing squirrels to chasing children or bikes or joggers can cause serious injury to you, your dog, and other people.

Training your dog to ignore prey animals like squirrels can take time and requires patience and consistency. It’s in your dog’s best interests to acquire this training for his safety. A dog who obsessively chases after squirrels is more likely to run into the street after one and possibly get hit by a car or get lost wandering away from the yard. Teach your dog to ignore squirrels and other small animals, and you’ll be doing yourself and your dog a favor.

Defining Tasks

Dogs chase squirrels because it’s an enjoyable activity for them and one that is hard-wired into certain breeds. Hunting wildlife is a primal instinct in dogs, so the training process to control or override that intuition can be a lengthy one.

Certain breeds have a more intense prey drive and may take longer to train. It may be more difficult for herding dogs like Border Collies or a dog bred to flush out small animals, such as a Beagle or Wire Fox Terrier, to suppress their prey drive around squirrels. Extra patience and practice will be required for these breeds of dog. Regardless of breed, with dedication and concentrated effort, your dog can learn to ignore squirrels too.

Getting Started

The three training methods require toys, treats, and a durable leash. Being creative as well as patient will make the training process easier and more enjoyable for you and your dog.

Remember to take a break if you become frustrated or angry with your pup and keep the training sessions short enough, so your dog doesn’t become bored.

The Find It Game Method

Most Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Place treats around your yard
Take some of your dog's favorite treats and hide them in areas around your backyard.
Step
2
Put your dog on the hunt
Let your dog loose in your backyard so he can scent and "hunt" out the treats instead of focusing on chasing squirrels.
Step
3
Repeat
Repeat the "Find It" game with treats up to two times per day, preferably around meal times. This process can redirect your dog's focus and energy away from the squirrels in the yard.
Step
4
Change it up
Keep your dog engaged and on his toes by switching the "Find It" game up every few days. Instead of using treats, hide chew items or food puzzle toys around the yard.
Step
5
Try alternative scent trails
To keep things interesting for your dog, consider using alternative scent trails on the dog's toys, like game scent.
Recommend training method?

The Leave It Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Teach 'leave it'
Begin practicing this command indoors with one of your dog's toys. Have your dog on a leash. Throw the toy and say "leave it" in a confident tone. Restrain your dog if he moves, then practice this step again. Once your dog masters this skill, you can move him outdoors for further training.
Step
2
Observe your dog's body language
Watch your dog carefully so you can intervene with the 'leave it' command the instant he notices the squirrel.
Step
3
Redirect
Keep your dog focused on you by immediately giving him a second command. 'Sit' is a popular and natural follow-up command to 'leave it'.
Step
4
Praise and reward
Once your dog successfully completes this training, be sure to praise him and give him a small treat.
Step
5
Go for a walk
When your dog is ready, leash him and take him for a walk while practicing these commands. Praise and reward your dog each time he does what you ask of him.
Recommend training method?

The Sound Aversion Method

Least Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Observe body language
Get used to recognizing how your dog responds when he sees a squirrel.
Step
2
Choose your sound device
Pick a sound device that will make a loud noise, loud enough to distract your dog from the squirrel.
Step
3
Make a noise
As soon as you see your dog being to chase after the squirrel, make a loud noise such as clapping or shaking coins in a bottle. Your dog will learn to associate chasing squirrels with a loud, unpleasant noise.
Step
4
Repeat
As this training process takes time, be sure to practice this method repeatedly in short sessions until your dog has mastered this task.
Step
5
Consider a hissing device
If loud sounds are not promoting success in breaking your dog's squirrel obsession, consider using anything that makes a hissing sound. This sound will distract the dog and force him to refocus on what you are doing.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Daisy
Labrador
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Daisy
Labrador
3 Years

My dog has a high level of energy and she is willing to please but I have a hard time when I take her out for her regular walks because she cannot stop pulling on the leash and gets highly distracted when there is a squirrel or other dogs out. She pulls constantly and lunges in other directions to the point where I almost fall. She does not listen to my calls and I am scared that she can get hurt if she tries running away if I let go of the leash and she tries going after a squirrel across the street. I just want Daisy to be able to walk calmly and not feel the need to chase things so that I can have some ease of mind when I go out with her. I take her out behind my building where there is a huge park but I don't want to make so much noise where all the buildings in my complex can hear me calling her. I constantly reward her when she does good things but it's like she forgets them once she sees a squirrel. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
671 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mina, I suggest working on the following commands: Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Collar fitting and intro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23zEy-e6Khg Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Daisy's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Herbie
Golden Retriever
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Herbie
Golden Retriever
5 Years

My dog has a hyper sensitive nose and will show extreme interest in elderly dogs; sniffing intensely and then often humping. Elderly dogs seem to not tell off other dogs. I think he's picking up on health issues like urinary tract infections etc. I've just started using a remote control spay(odor free) which is working on getting him to pay less attention to other dogs generally but we don't meet elderly sick dogs often enough to get repeat training in this crucial area. Should I just persevere with the spray?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
671 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sue, Since it seems to be working I do suggest continuing it but I would also see if any of your friend's have patient older dogs and practice what you are doing in regular sessioms involving those other dogs, while also practicing an Out command, Leave It command, and rewarding pup for staying calm arouns the older dogs to begin with. Leave It: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Out - which means leave that space: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Herbie's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Gibbs
Golden Retriever
5 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Gibbs
Golden Retriever
5 Years

My 90 lb., usually docile and well-behaved golden retriever, has become obsessed with digging holes in search of chipmunks when we walk in the park. He does not dig holes in our fenced yard.
This need to dig has developed over the past two years. I believe it began when he found, on a trip to the beach, that he could dig in the sand and find crabs. He is now applying that skill at home in the park. It has become an obsession.
Although I try to avoid walking him in the wooded section of our local park, he always seems to spot a chipmunk hole somewhere. He lunges for it, dragging me with him, and starts digging. Once he begins to dig it is as if he zones out.
I have tried bribing him with treats, spraying lemon juice on his "dig," using the "leave it" command, which works quite well in other situations, standing over the hole (he just watches and waits for his opportunity to start digging again), or dragging him away which is a battle of wills that he usually wins. If I do get him a couple of feet away from the hole, he will usually just lunge right back. Or, sometimes, if I get him a few feet away and can break the spell a little, he will respond to the command to sit. He will sit but not budge. If I try to have him walk away with me, he simply lunges back to the hole and commences digging. Usually this only stops when he becomes exhausted.
Yesterday, this drama went on for over 20 minutes, and it took the help of the groundskeeper with a noisy grass trimmer to get him to move away from his "dig."

This has become both destructive and exhausting.
I hate to walk Gibbs only through the streets of our neighborhood, and I don't want to use a shock collar. But something has to change.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
671 Dog owners recommended

Hello Pat, First, keep treats in your pocket during the walk practice Leave It at home - to make sure he is brushed up on that command. Bring a pet convincer with you on the walk also - which is a small canister of pressurized, unscented air. Don't use the citronella - it lingers too long, just unscented air. Start the walk off by practicing a very structured heel, with lots of turns, changes in pace, pup's nose behind your leg, and periodic Down-Stay commands. You want to get pup in a more focused, calm and submissive state before you reach the park and holes - not full of adrenaline and ignoring you before he even sees the holes. Make him work during the walk on the way there - turning around when you get to the park if pup hasn't been calm on the way there. Pup will likely be tired by the time you get back home, even with a shorter walk, just because they had to work so hard mentally and use self-control on the way there. Practice just heeling to the park until pup can stay in a calm state on the way there. Once at the park, practice this heeling routine in the area of the park where he tends to find holes, but in a spot where pup hasn't detected a hole yet. You want pup's entire mindset to be more respectful and calm while in that location. Practice the structured obedience for a while there, then leave before pup finds a hole; do this until pup's entire demeanor while at the park is attentive to you and staying calm. At that point, practice the walk across the park - knowing you may run into a hole. Watch pup's body language and continue your obedience heeling routine through the park. As soon as pup stars to tense up, tell pup "Leave It" and if pup doesn't relax again and focus back on you but continues to get into a fixated state, spray pup's side with a puff of the Pet Convincer and turn around to go home. Repeat this every time pup starts to get aroused while at the park. The goal is to catch pup during those seconds when pup first catches a scent or sees an area and starts to get excited, before they have dragged you over there. You will only have a couple of seconds to respond, so probably won't catch pup in time every time. When you don't catch pup and they are already fixated, try to hold your ground, tell pup "Ah Ah", and spray the pet convincer. If you find that you can't catch pup early enough to stop pup from dragging you over there, and then pup is too fixated once at the hole to respond to the training, it's time to use a corrective collar to help with management while you work up to being able to keep pup in a calmer state. I suggest using a gentle leader or prong collar for this - it needs to be something that prevents pup from pulling you there. Don't use a choke chain, they can damage a dog's trachea and likely won't prevent pup from pulling you over to the hole. Prong collars are often fitted poorly, which makes them less safe and less effective, so spend time learning about them first if you go that route. The collar will not do the training for you, you ultimately need to practice pup's calmness and focus on you while in that location, but to do that, pup's ability to pull you over needs to be better managed. How to Introduce the Prong collar – plus how to connect to buckle collar with carabiner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23zEy-e6Khg How to walk with a Prong collar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVvy6fztL2Q&t=6s When pup responds to your leave it command or maintains their heel through park without looking for holes in general, then give a treat as you practice. Pup may not be able to earn any treats at first - that's to be expected. As pup improves and their focus on you increases, pup will likely be able to earn more treats, and the training will become more positive reinforcement than corrections as it progresses. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenen

Add a comment to Gibbs's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Louie
Cavapoo
Three Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Louie
Cavapoo
Three Years

My dog obsessively watches out the window at the bird feeders waiting for the squirrels and chipmunks and then barks so they run away. He goes absolutely crazy running all over the house from window to window looking for them. It's getting really bad, and he is running over our leather furniture and ruining it. How do i stop his obsession with the squirrels and chipmunks and regain some sort of peace?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
85 Dog owners recommended

Hello, it sounds like this activity is the highlight of Louie's day and his intense drive may not be that easy to train out of him. I think the best way to start is to remove the temptation by putting a barrier between him and the window so that he cannot see the prey. Give Louie lots of diversions in the form of interactive toys and treat feeders when he is inside. When on walks, keep him focused so that he does not have the time to react to the animals.Work on the Turns Method here: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel. You can also train him to get off the furniture when asked: https://wagwalking.com/training/stay-off-the-furniture. Good luck!

Add a comment to Louie's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd