Why Do Dogs Chase Squirrels?

Dog walks are one of the great joys of having a four-legged friend, with the twice-daily routine a great way to exercise and bond with your pet.

However, what can start as a quiet stroll through the local park can suddenly transform into a loud and frenzied hunt at the merest hint of a nearby squirrel.

Dogs that hunt squirrels can be a real worry for both owners, other animals and people nearby trying to enjoy the great outdoors.

It is therefore little wonder that these small animals are one of the trickiest training distractions.

Why do dogs chase squirrels and is there anything you can do about it? Here's what the an expert had to say.

Why Do Dogs Chase Squirrels?

Dr. Mary Burch, a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and American Kennel Club (AKC) Family Dog Director, suggests "several reasons" dogs are so captivated by squirrels.

The most likely reason is your pet's innate prey drive. Certain dog breeds are wired with this predatory instinct, hailing back from when they were involved in hunting.

She told Newsweek: "Historically, sighthounds, such as Afghans, Greyhounds, and Whippets would chase rabbits and other game, and they were selectively bred for the ability to chase.

"A modern-day simulation of dogs chasing small game is the sport of Lure Coursing where a small cloth, the lure, is moved by a pulley.

Dogs Chasing Squirrels
Chasing squirrels is particularly common for dog breeds with instinctive desires to hunt godrick/Getty Images

"The operator can control the speed at which the lure is moved, and it stays just far enough ahead of the dog that once the lure starts moving, the chase is on.

Another reason a dog might wish to dash after a squirrel is that they are curious or like to play, and chasing is fun.

Dr. Burch said: "Dogs will also chase if they have been trained to chase or reinforced for chasing such as a rolling ball, or chasing a lure as described above."

"Dogs who are territorial might chase to get a critter out of their yard. When it comes to squirrels, the most likely reason is prey drive."

Why Do Dogs Chase Squirrels
Fascination with the movement of critters such as squirrels is part of dogs' predatory heritage. alexei_tm/Getty Images

How to Stop Dogs Chasing Squirrels

Fortunately, there are tried and tested techniques on hand to help handle your dog's squirrel obsession.

The AKC states: "The desire to chase is inherent to many dogs and is a highly self-rewarding behavior, but because some dogs enjoy it so much, it can be extra challenging to train them not to do it."

However, this does not mean all hope is lost and owners can expect to successfully train a dog not to chase.

And while the task is easiest when the pet is a puppy, training is also possible later in life with a bit more hard work.

Why Do Dogs Chase Squirrels
Hunting is a natural behavior for animals like dogs, which are descendants of wolves. Aleksey Zhilin/Getty Images

Provide Training

Dr. Burch said: "Teach your dog to reliably come when called." This can involve showing your dog that rewards such as tasty treats come from you rather than just the environment.

The second part of teaching a dog self-control is to make very clear to the dog how to earn those rewards, which is done through constructive play.

Use a Leash

Dr. Burch said: "At parks and in the community, use a leash."

If your dog is particularly independent-minded, keep a short leash to avoid them being able to gain a running start and potentially harming themselves or pulling the owner over.

Provide Supervision

Dr. Burch said: "Don't let your dog go into your fenced yard or loose in a park if there are squirrels around."

Although the majority of small critters are not known for fighting back, squirrels can react aggressively should they feel threatened.

As a result, pay close attention to the dog's behavior after letting them out, especially when off-leash.

And it is important to quickly spot any sign of behavioral changes that could indicate that they were attacked.

Why Do Dogs Chase Squirrels
According to the AKC, sighthounds of all sizes, such as Afghan hounds and Whippets, were bred to chase animals like squirrels. Stuart Chirtel/Getty Images