Why Do Dogs Chase Squirrels? (Explaining the Hate)

why do dogs chase squirrels

Our house backs onto woods and every morning we have squirrels coming down onto our lawn and it drives our dog crazy with barking… he can see them through the window – so close, yet so far away.

The madness doesn’t stop there. We then do our morning walk in those very same woods. Without fail, my dog will see a squirrel, bolt off and be gone for 10 minutes on a squirrel chase.

Needless to say, my dog chases squirrels daily. My dog absolutely hates squirrels. Has he ever caught one? No, they are way too crafty and fast for him.

Why do dogs chase squirrels? Many dog breeds have a built-in prey drive which makes them want to chase squirrels on sight, or even sound and smell. Many dogs hate squirrels and get driven crazy by them.

That’s the short answer.

Let me now explain what drives this fascination in dogs to chase squirrels in more depth, including why dogs hate squirrels, and how you might be able to stop yours doing it.

Why do dogs hate squirrels?

Although the majority of us primarily think of our canine friends as soft, cuddly, fluffy, and loveable companions, many of them are also expert hunters with a strong instinct to chase down prey.

Dogs hate squirrels due to their prey drive and need to chase and hunt. The scent of a squirrel will linger for some time, meaning your dog will go crazy for squirrels even if you can’t see any in the trees or woods any longer.

Interestingly, it is worth mentioning that the strength of this instinct can vary in intensity between breeds, with smaller dogs often having more of a prey drive compared to larger dogs.

Likewise, some dogs are natural hunters that will go crazy for squirrels, whilst others are less inclined to engage in this behavior and will rarely chase a squirrel or any animal.

why do dogs hate squirrels
Some dogs hate squirrels with a passion and just want to chase them all the time. (Image via https://pixabay.com/photos/squirrel-animal-tree-rodent-mammal-5728047/)

Your dog’s personality can also play a role in this, with lazier or more laidback canines sometimes half-heartedly giving chase to squirrels and other small animals.

On the opposite end of the scale, highly energetic breeds, such as Jack Russells, Beagles, and Yorkshire Terriers, will often be away and running at the slightest sign of a bushy tail disappearing into a bush or around a tree. Here’s a list of dog breeds that are said to have the highest prey breeds.

Afghan HoundsGreyhounds
Airedale TerriersIrish Wolfhounds
Alaskan MalamutesJack Russell Terriers
Australian Cattle DogsPharaoh Hounds
BasenjisRhodesian Ridgebacks
BeaglesSalukis
Border ColliesSamoyeds
Bull MastiffsShiba Inus
Bull TerriersSiberian Huskies
ChihuahuasWeimaraners
Doberman PinschersWhippets
English Springer SpanielsYorkshire Terriers
German ShepherdsXoloitzcuintlis

However, when it comes to canines as a whole, most do at least have a certain amount of prey drive which can cause even the largest and most relaxed of breeds to occasionally exhibit squirrel-chasing behavior.

The bottom line is this; I have personally never met a fit and healthy dog who won’t chase squirrels given half a chance.

Why do dogs chase squirrels?

To better help us understand how and why dogs chase squirrels, we need to understand the prey drive in dogs. The prey drive that makes dogs chase after squirrels so much originated way back in the past.

As you will most likely be aware, all dogs share one common ancestor, the wolf. It is from this predator that their prey drive originates.

However, unlike wolves, dogs no longer need to hunt and kill prey like squirrels to survive. Instead, their food is usually provided by us, humans.

Over hundreds of years, this prey drive has been watered down and adapted into different forms intended to help people with their jobs and livelihoods.

For example, in the 1800s and early 1900s, diminutive breeds of dog were often bred and used for ratting and the extermination of other small animals, and due to this many small breeds now have a strong instinct to chase squirrels and other rodents.

Similarly, other breeds of dogs are still used to hunt and retrieve game today, and for certain dogs, this instinct takes over when they see a squirrel. The sight, smell, or sound of a squirrel can drives dogs like this crazy.

Therefore, if you are looking for someone to blame when your pooch runs off, look no further than the unexpecting breeders of years gone by!

What else can cause a dog to bark at squirrels?

Dogs are excitable creatures and in new environments, this excitement can get the better of them. For example, if your dog has been at home all day, they will be eager to play and expend their energy.

Just like my own dog, once he’s sees one through the window, the sight of a squirrel can be enough to send him into a barking frenzy.

If your dog is anything like the other 99% of canines then you have probably experienced this situation at least once in your life, perhaps even countless times, especially if you are the owner of a small breed of dog.

Thankfully, not every encounter with a squirrel turns into a Hollywood chase scene, and most owners will quickly become experts at avoiding areas that are hotspots for these nut-burying pests.

However, for most dogs, the desire to run after small animals is very strong and even the most well-behaved of our furry friends can sometimes misbehave when a squirrel or other small animal crosses their path.

Likewise, it is not always possible to avoid squirrels and they can turn up in areas you least expect, from urban areas to yards to even your neighborhood.

Why chasing squirrels can be dangerous for dogs

Unfortunately, dangerous altercations involving dogs and squirrels are not uncommon, and accidents can quickly happen when roads and cars are thrown into the mix.

Similarly, dogs can easily get lost when chasing squirrels in unfamiliar places or remote areas, causing owners to panic. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have thought my dog wasn’t coming back after a particularly energetic squirrel chase.

Can dogs catch anything from squirrels?

There are also health implications to consider.

Some squirrels will carry ticks and fleas. If your dog is managing to chase and catch squirrels, there is the potential for the parasites to jump between animals.

Some ticks and fleas carry disease. Ticks are vile and can transmit nasties such as Canine Ehrlichiosis, Canine Hepatozoonosis (ACH), Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tularemia… to name just a few.

There is also a risk of your dog catching an illness from eating squirrel droppings. The feces can carry Salmonella and Leptospirosis.

Can dogs get rabies from squirrels?

Don’t be concerned about rabies though. There has never been a documented incident where a squirrel passed rabies to a dog.

How can I stop my dog from chasing after squirrels?

Your dog hates squirrels, but you’re planning to take him for an off-the-leash walk. It’s enough to induce panic and anxiety in the most confident of pet owners.

To stop your dog chasing squirrels you can try some of the following tips.

1. Tire them a little with play before the walk

If your dog is visibly full of beans, try playing with them at home before venturing outside. This can often be enough to calm down less-energetic breeds and stop them from sprinting off to chase a squirrel, kill a bird, or pursue other small animal.

Additionally, the same is doubly true for puppies and young dogs, those of which are bundles of energy most hours of the day, let alone when they are visiting places they have never been to before.

2. Keep an erratic squirrel hater on the leash

New sights and sounds are often overwhelming for young canines and seeing scurrying animals such as squirrels for the first time will drive them crazy with excitement.

Because of this, you should be careful to keep your puppy on the leash and only let them off when it is safe to do so. Likewise, you should be mindful to keep an eye on them, so they do not run off too far when chasing squirrels.

3. Don’t expect too much success

It is a perfectly natural behavior for dogs to chase squirrels and other small prey. Dogs hate squirrels and want to chase them.

Trying to stop this instinctive behavior could be nigh on impossible.

Therefore, allowing your dog to chase a squirrel up a tree and do other normal “naughty” doggy behaviors from time to time is not a bad thing.

However, this should only be allowed in safe environments, and where your dog is no real risk to the squirrel’s health. Similarly, you should only let your dog off the leash if it is unlikely to get lost or bother other dog owners and walkers.

Likewise, this should not become an everyday occurrence, and your dog should be encouraged to pay attention to your commands when you want them to stop chasing squirrels.

4. Use vocal commands

Although it is doable, teaching your dog to stop chasing squirrels (and other animals) often takes time and lots of patience.

However, one of the most effective methods is teaching your dog the command of “leave it”. Not only is this command useful for stopping your dog from sprinting off but it can also prevent them from eating dangerous things.

To begin practicing this you should first start using this command with a toy. First, leash your pooch, then pick up the toy and throw it a few feet in front of them.

As you do this, tell them “to leave it” and only reward them with a treat when they stay still. After some practice (and lots of patience), they should be able to do this off the leash, and with toys that are thrown at further distances.

Begin alternating between allowing your dog to chase the toy and commanding them to “leave it”, swapping different toys to throw.

Eventually, you can try this in the park or forest by allowing your dog off the leash near squirrels, continuing to use the command.

However, you should only attempt this when it is safe to do so. Hopefully, with time, your dog will ignore squirrels and stop taking you on wild goose chases.

Conclusion

Have you ever been out enjoying a leisurely walk with your dog in the forest when suddenly all hell breaks loose because your dog has stumbled across a squirrel?

Suddenly, your dog is in pursuit of the small furry rodent and you are desperately calling them to come back, but they are oblivious to you and have become deaf to your repeated shouts and frantic gestures.

Now, this relaxing stroll through the forest has turned into a game of cat and mouse between you and your pooch, much to your irritation and dismay. Darting through the trees, you almost grab hold of your dog for a split second, before they spot another squirrel and rush on further into the trees.

When you finally manage to get them on the leash, you’re out of breath, tired, slightly lost, and just wanting to go home.

Sound familiar?

If so, you have my full sympathy. My dogs hates squirrels too, and I am almost resigned to the fact I can’t completely stop the chasing.

But at least after reading this, you will be better equipped the next time you stumble across a squirrel whilst out walking your dog.

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Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/surprised-sweet-animal-squirrel-3786845/

Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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