SQUIRRELS! Teaching Your Dog To Ignore Them

Struggling with a squirrel-obsessed dog? We’ve got you covered! Learn effective techniques to enjoy walking your dog again.

Ah, the crisp air of a morning walk, the gentle rustle of leaves, and the sudden, heart-stopping lunge as your dog spots a squirrel. Sound familiar? If you’ve ever found yourself sprinting down the street, desperately trying to keep your shoulder in its socket while your dog transforms into a furry missile, then this guide is for you. Because it’s time to stop the madness!

A squirrel is standing up on its hind legs looking across a grassy lawn.

Understanding the Squirrel Obsession

The Natural Instinct

Dogs are natural-born chasers. It’s in their DNA, passed down from their wolf ancestors who needed to hunt to survive. Fast-forward to today, and while your pup’s hunting may only extend to the kibble in their bowl and their favorite fluffy toy, that instinct remains. 

Squirrels, with their jerky movements and tantalizing tails, are the ultimate temptation. From the squirrel’s point of view, they’re scampering around gathering nuts, chasing their buddies, and living their best life. And, oh yeah – taunting dogs. 

A small dog is bounding across a green lawn with all four legs off the ground like its flying.

The Art of Distraction: Keeping Your Dog’s Attention

Training with Treats

One of the most effective (and delicious) ways to keep your dog’s attention is through treats. Not just any treats, though. You need the kind that makes your dog’s eyes widen and their nose twitch—the doggy equivalent of a double chocolate chip cookie.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Arm Yourself: Load your pockets with high-value treats before the walk.
  2. The Lure: When you see a squirrel, immediately call your dog’s name and show them a treat.
  3. Reward Focus: The moment your dog looks at you instead of the squirrel, give them the treat and heap on the praise.

Repeat this every time a squirrel appears, and soon your dog will associate squirrels with focusing on you and getting a tasty reward.

Interactive Toys and Games

Toys aren’t just for playtime—they’re powerful tools for distraction. Bring along a favorite squeaky toy or a tug rope. When a squirrel shows up, whip out the toy and engage your dog in a game. Interactive toys can also work wonders at home, especially for dogs that stare out the window like they’re the canine equivalent of Liam Neeson from Taken: “I will find you and I will kill you.”

Leash Training: Mastering Control

The Right Leash and Harness

A strong, comfortable leash and harness are essential. Opt for a standard leash, not a retractable one, that gives you better control.  A harness is much better than just a collar. It  distributes pressure evenly, preventing your dog from hurting themselves during an enthusiastic lunge.

Teaching Heel and Focus Commands

Training your dog to heel and focus takes patience, but your shoulders will thank you.. Here’s a simple method to get started:

  1. The Heel Command: Start walking with your dog at your side. Use a treat to guide them into the correct position, and say “heel.” Reward them when they stay by your side.
  2. The Focus Command: Hold a treat near your face and say “focus.” When your dog makes eye contact, reward them.
  3. Rinse & Repeat – Rinse & Repeat

Practice these commands regularly, and soon your dog will be walking like a pro, giving just the stink-eye to those little rats in fancy costumes.. 

Creating a Calm Environment at Home

Window Watchers: Managing Indoor Excitement

Does your dog turn into a howling, pawing maniac at the sight of squirrels through the window? Here’s a battle plan:

  1. Block the View: Use curtains or blinds to limit your dog’s line of sight of squirrel occupied territory..
  2. Distract with Fun: Keep your dog busy with toys or interactive games. Puzzle toys filled with treats can keep them occupied for hours.

Yard Training Techniques

When your dog is in the yard and sees a squirrel, call them back to you. If they respond, reward them with a treat. This reinforces the idea that coming to you is more rewarding than chasing a squirrel. I see you rolling your eyes. Remember, use their most favorite treat EVER. And cross your fingers for luck. 

For more advanced training, let your dog see a squirrel while on a leash. Gently pull them back to you and use a calm, reassuring voice. Once they settle down, give them a treat. Over time, they’ll learn that calm behavior earns rewards.

A small dog is bounding across a green lawn with all four legs off the ground like its flying.

Consistency is Key: Developing a Routine

Daily Training Sessions

Consistency is crucial in training. Short, daily sessions are more effective than occasional marathon training. Here’s a sample routine:

  • Morning: Practice heel and focus commands during your walk.
  • Afternoon: Play interactive games that encourage calmness.
  • Evening: Reinforce calm behavior with treats and praise.

Reinforcing Good Behavior

Good behavior deserves praise—and the occasional treat. Gradually reduce the frequency of treats (I know, I know!), but always offer plenty of verbal praise and affection. This helps your dog understand that good behavior is consistently rewarded. Scritches over squirrels!!

Here are some suggestions for three unique techniques to add some variety to your training.

Professional Help: When to Seek Assistance

Training Classes and Professional Trainers

Sometimes, a particularly stubborn dog might need extra help. Professional training classes can provide the structure and expertise needed to curb that squirrel obsession. Plus, it’s a great way for your dog to socialize with other pups.

Dog Walking Services

If you’re short on time, consider hiring a dog walking service. Professional walkers can reinforce training and provide the exercise your dog needs. Look for services that understand and implement positive reinforcement techniques.

Conclusion – Hopefully

Summing it all up: patience, persistence, and a sense of humor are your best friends in this journey. Training your dog to ignore squirrels isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon

Keep a sense of humor, celebrate the small victories, and remember that every dog is different. Your furry friend will get there, one squirrel-free walk at a time.

By following these steps and keeping your cool, you’ll transform those chaotic squirrel-chasing escapades into peaceful, enjoyable strolls. Here’s to many more relaxed walks with your beloved canine companion, without the squirrel drama!


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