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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Squirrel Chasing. Part I - Management

Puddin, Matt-Matt, and I were hanging out in a shaded area of our yard today.  A squirrel came down from one of the trees in my neighbor's yard and just stared at us.  That squirrel could have gone anywhere else (there were plenty of other trees), but chose to hang out where the dogs were.

It got me to thinking about how hard it can be to modify squirrel chasing behavior.  Dogs are natural hunters; they like to chase moving things.  But unlike rabbits, deer, cats, etc.. squirrels seem to invite the chase.  Anthropomorphically speaking, they seem to enjoy getting dogs all worked up.  For one example, see the video below or click here

Modifying squirrel chasing behavior can be harder but it's not impossible. Suppression (shocking, choking, spritzing, yelling, etc..) is not the way to handle the behavior. The proper way can take months of work.  But the extra time spent will be well worth the wait. Using suppression methods can create other behavioral problems; and suppression often doesn't work.

1. Some pet parents might consider hiring a highly skilled professional to help modify squirrel chasing behavior. Especially if any of the following apply:
A. The dog is stronger than the pet parent and the pet parent has trouble holding on to the leash when a squirrel is present
B. The dog might kill or eat a squirrel once caught or the dog has killed/eaten live squirrels in the past.
Make sure the trainer is skilled enough to know how to use positive reinforcement - instead of suppression/punishment
2. No matter how well-trained, dogs should be on leash in unsecured areas. 
3. When taking your dog out on leash, make sure the walking equipment is safe and secure. I prefer an H-style harness with  a martingale backup. I also like to attach the leash to my belt loop - in addition to holding it with my hands. Periodically, check your leash for tears.

Management is the first tenet of most (if not all) behavior modification programs.  The more your dog chases squirrels, the harder it will be to teach an alternate behavior.  So before we start teaching the dog not to chase squirrels, we must prevent squirrel chasing. How do we do that?  Well, it depends on each individual dog and their human's situation. Here are some ideas:

1. Walk dogs at times when you will least likely run into squirrels - i.e. when it's dark

2. Walk dogs in areas where you will least likely see squirrels - i.e. treeless areas

3. If you have a large yard, block off sections where squirrels would mostly likely be

4. If you have a yard, take the dog out on leash. Watch for squirrels. Try to spot them before your dog does.  Go back in the house if you see any (but try not to drag your dog away - it can create more negative associations)

5. If you have a yard, discourage squirrel visitors (humanely and safely)
I had a squirrel that liked to run across the fence and get my neighbor's dog all worked up.  The neighbor dog was jumping on the fence and breaking it and the neighbor would do nothing about it.  So I placed double sided tape on the fence to discourage the squirrel and to keep the dog from breaking down the fence.
Note: I watched to make sure the squirrel didn't get stuck on the tape.  He/she actually didn't touch the tape at all - just stopped walking across the fence.

6. Don't leave dogs outside unattended

7. If squirrels can be seen beyond the fence, construct redundant fencing and set up visual barriers.

8. If squirrels can be seen from inside the residence, cover the windows or keep pets way from windows to the outside (by making certain rooms off limits or using furniture strategically or use other barriers)

9. If you live with multiple dogs who get more excited when they are together, you might have to walk them separately -- maybe even let them out in the yard separately (if you have a yard)

These are just a few ideas. You might be able to think of more. A good trainer can also analyze the home situation and come up with ideas.

Coming up: Part II - Foundation

Look for future squirrel chasing posts here.

Do you have any questions on management?  Write them in the comments section below.

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1 comment:

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