It's difficult to discourage a dog from following their predatory instincts to chase after wildlife -- especially if you've got a hunting breed. However, there a few steps you can take to help keep this behavior to a minimum, and the reasons for wanting to discourage Rex from doing so are varied. Although he might be giving into his natural instincts, chasing these critters puts your dog in danger of getting hit by a car, getting bitten, and possibly contracting a disease. Rather than having to deal with these issues, learn how to nip your furry pal's chasing behavior in the bud.
Training your dog to be reliably recalled is crucial for his general safety. Ideally taught during puppyhood, recall simply means making your dog come to you whenever you want. Start teaching the recall indoors in an area with no distractions. Arm yourself with yummy treats, say "Rex, come" and briskly walk away. When he follows, praise him and hold a treat at your eye level when you give it to him. With consistency and gradual progression to areas with more distractions, he'll come to you in anticipation of the yummy treat instead of focusing on other distractions. If your dog isn't very food motivated, provide him with another reward he likes, such as praise. He'll eventually learn that what you've got for him is far better than what he's distracted by. Other basic commands worth teaching include "leave it," "sit" and "stay."
Stopping your furry pal from chasing a squirrel doesn't mean that you're making his prey instinct go away, it just means that you're distracting him away from that urge, creating positive associations with obedient behavior, as well as replacing that undesirable behavior with other energy-burning and mentally stimulating activities. To burn some of that energy, it's crucial that you develop a consistent exercise routine with your dog. Go for long walks in varied locations, practice obedience training, allow him to run and play games with him, such as fetch, tug-of-war, and problem-solving games. Providing your dog with mental and physical stimulation can tire him out and prevent any type of undesired behavior.
If something unpleasant happens each time your dog fixates on a squirrel, it might discourage him from chasing it. A loud noise, such as rattling coins in a can, can break his concentration. With consistency, he'll associate the appearance of the little critters with the unpleasant experience and might prefer to ignore them. To ensure these types of corrections remains safe and humane, work with an experienced, certified dog trainer.
Don't set your pup up for failure! Make sure you do your part by taking the following practical measures. When you're training or walking your pet companion outside, always use a leash so you can hold him back if he gives in to instinct and starts to chase, especially when his recall isn't reliable yet. Since squirrels are most active at dusk and dawn, walking your dog during daylight hours can prevent running into them. Keeping your dog confined to a fenced backyard or kennel instead of letting him roam unsupervised can also keep him from setting in for the chase.
By Kimberly Caines
About the Author
Kimberly Caines is a well traveled model, writer and licensed physical fitness trainer who was first published in 1997. Her work has appeared in the Dutch newspaper "De Overschiese Krant" and on various websites. Caines holds a degree in journalism from Mercurius College in Holland and is writing her first novel.