Most hunting dogs love to work, and knowing how to train a squirrel dog properly benefits both the dog and the owner. With the right dog and the right training, you can have a wonderful family pet that also doubles as a prime hunting companion. Training a squirrel dog will take both time and patience, but the rewards are worth it.
To train a squirrel dog, you will need:
- Squirrel pelts, tails, or dead squirrels
- Live squirrel
- Tin can
- Small stones
- Gun and blanks
- Long piece of string
- Treats and rewards
- The first thing to consider is the breed of the dog, curs and feist dogs are the most common. They will have a natural instinct to sniff out their prey and run it up trees, which makes the training go much faster. Starting with a puppy is also preferred.
- When the dog is a puppy, you must first train him to basic commands, including sit, fetch, stay, and come, using mostly positive reinforcement, such as treats. Creating a bond between you and your dog is very important. It is also a good idea to take a young pup out with you on trips to the woods, so that it will become used to the environment and excited about going there.
- Teaching a dog how to tree is the base of squirrel dog training. Some dogs from a line of squirrel dogs will naturally tree squirrels, but many also require a little extra training. The best thing to do is tie a string around a squirrel pelt, tail, or dead squirrel and drag it through the woods. The dog should follow after it and when he does, make sure to give him praise. After that, trap a live squirrel a put it into a cage. Make sure the dog gets excited about this, and then do the same thing, move the cage across the ground and let the dog chase it.
- Put the caged squirrel up in a tree. The dog should come to the tree and become excited, but do not do anything unless the dog barks! Making the dog bark when he trees is one of the most difficult parts of training, so just ignore him if he’s not barking, and when he does bark praise excessively. Once the dog can do this, get someone to hold him while you hide the squirrel cage beyond his sight, so he must use nose to find the squirrel.
- One of the biggest problems people encounter when they want to train squirrel dogs, or other kinds of hunting dogs, is gun-shyness, or fear of gunshot. Some dogs are very sensitive to noise and will bolt when they hear something as loud as a gun firing. It’s very important to be gradual when trying to overcome gun-shyness with your dog. It is better to first let him play with a tin can full of little rocks, to get used to loud sounds, and let him go with you on hunts.
- The live hunt. If all the other training went well, this shouldn’t be too difficult. During the season, take your dog with you on hunts, not necessarily having him hunt with you, just to get used to the idea. When he seems very eager to hunt some squirrels, let him try, and remember to only shoot the squirrel if he barks! If he does well, make sure to give him lots of praise.
Tips: For extreme gun-shyness, you can put out some scraps of tasty meat for a dog, and fire a blank when he’s about to take it. Although he will startle at first, after a while most dogs will learn to ignore the sound and eat the meat. It is better not to push young dogs too fast in their training, as they can become bored and inattentive if forced beyond their limit. Training sessions should build in length as they get older.
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