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How to Get My Dog to Stop Chasing Squirrels | Pupford

October 19th, 2023

Filed under Training

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One minute, your dog is minding their own business and feeling perfectly content and the next, they’re bolting across the yard like a rocket.

Or, they’re walking by your side on their leash, and the next, they’re pulling you with all their might in the opposite direction.

For tons of pup parents out there, this frustrating behavior has one cause: squirrels.

We get a lot of questions in our community about why so many dogs chase squirrels – and more importantly, how to get them to stop.

Some topics we’ll be covering:

  • Prey drive in dogs - what it is and how to manage it
  • How to stop a dog from chasing squirrels
  • Impulse control in dogs - additional tips and training

So let’s get started, before the next squirrel runs by!

🐶 Did you know we offer a 100% free online training course, 30 Day Perfect Pup? Get guided instructions & videos for better impulse control & behavior. Sign up here! 🐶


Prey drive is your dog’s natural instinct to search for, chase, and bite things – typically moving things. While this is a great motivator for chasing a tennis ball around the yard and getting exercise, it can also lead your dog to chase squirrels and other animals.

Just because your dog doesn’t have to hunt for their food anymore doesn’t mean that instinctual prey drive isn’t there. In fact, it can be quite strong in some breeds.


how to manage your dogs prey drive

So should you be concerned about your dog’s prey drive? Should you embrace it or try to reduce it?

The goal with your dog’s prey drive is to use it in a controlled, productive manner. One way to do this is to use it as a reward!

You can incorporate games of fetch, flirt poles, and other chase/hunt activities into training sessions.

For example, you can start a game of fetch with your dog and work on recall training to sharpen their focus on you even when they are distracted by the item they’re fetching.

Letting them chase the ball as a reward will not only use their prey drive productively, it will also help strengthen their ability to focus on you even with distractions. This is extremely important as unfortunately, prey drive can get dogs into dangerous situations when chasing cars or other animals.

Want to learn more about using prey drive productively in dogs? We have a podcast, video, and detailed article about prey drive here.


Before we move on, we want to call out a potentially life-saving word of caution.

This goes for all dogs in all situations, but for dogs with high prey drive it’s especially important to keep their ID tags, rabies shots, and other preventive vaccinations up to date. That way, if your dog chases prey out of sight they are easily identifiable, and in the unfortunate case that they encounter another animal, they can be protected against disease.

We also highly recommend controlling the environment as much as possible for dogs with active prey drives. Secure fences, long leads, and lots of distraction-free recall work will go a long way in keeping your dog safe.

Related Reading: Long Leash Dog Training

🐶 Did you know we offer a 100% free online training course, 30 Day Perfect Pup? Get guided instructions & videos for better impulse control & behavior. Sign up here! 🐶


get your dog to stop chasing squirrels

Now that we have some background on why your dog may be chasing squirrels, we can focus on addressing the behavior.

In addition to strategic play and environmental safety measures, there is training you can do specifically geared towards keeping your dog’s attention on you and ignoring prey. They focus on exposing your dog to a prey trigger in a controlled way and rewarding them for focusing on you. Here are some examples:


This game exposes your dog to prey triggers at low levels and teaches them to redirect their attention:

  • Have your dog on a lead in a distraction-free setting
  • Have a friend walk into your dog’s view and reward them for looking at your friend
  • Once the previous step is mastered, start letting your dog look at your friend (the “trigger”) and wait. Reward once your dog looks back to you.
  • Once that’s mastered, move on to more exciting triggers and more distracting environments, rewarding your dog when they look from the trigger to you.


Mastering recall even in the most distracting of environments will help your dog break their fixation on prey and listen to you – which is important for keeping them safe.

We could write a whole other guide on recall alone (in fact, we have), but we definitely recommend working on it until your dog has mastered it in all environments.

Check out the Recall Mastery course in the Pupford Academy for a step-by-step guide to mastering recall and games you can play to teach your dog in a fun way.


a squirrel running away from a dog | Pupford

It’s important to set your dog up for success and work in a controlled environment rather than launching right into the real thing by exposing your dog to squirrels at the park for example.

Here’s how you can set up practice scenarios that mimic your dog’s prey drive but without compromising attention or control:

  • Have a friend hold a stuffed animal approximately the size of a squirrel tied to a string
  • Have your friend pull the string gently to create subtle movements of the stuffed animal and reward your dog when they turn their attention away from the toy and to you
  • Once your dog gets the hang of this, have your friend make the movements more exaggerated, faster, and more realistic to how a squirrel moves (think: scampering up a tree, darting from spot to spot, etc.), again rewarding when attention is turned to you
  • For advanced dogs, put your dog in a stay or down-stay and have them hold it while the toy moves frantically around them
  • Only when this is mastered should you introduce real-life squirrels to the training, doing so in an environment that lets you be far away from them – and with your dog on a lead
🐶 Did you know we offer a 100% free online training course, 30 Day Perfect Pup? Get guided instructions & videos for better impulse control & behavior. Sign up here! 🐶


impulse control for dogs

Managing prey drive to keep your dog safe pairs well with impulse control, another way to help your dog focus on you instead of distractions in their environment.

While impulses are also natural instincts, they aren’t driven by the desire to chase and catch like prey drive is – rather, they’re just based on going after something that makes them happy or feels good to them. Common impulses include:

But it can also include chasing other animals and objects like you see with prey drive, so working on impulse control is always beneficial. We have a full guide to impulse control training & games here.

We also have a library of 21 Impulse Control Games to help teach your dog to be calm and focused in a variety of situations.


Getting your dog to stop chasing squirrels isn't easy, but can be done! Here's a recap of how to stop that squirrel chasing:

  • Play the "look at that" game
  • Focus on impulse control
  • Practice recall with distractions
  • Train around prey situations

Do you have any other ways to encourage your dog’s prey drive while keeping them safe? Any words of encouragement for dog parents who are struggling with an impulsive dog? Share them in the comments below!

🐶 Did you know we offer a 100% free online training course, 30 Day Perfect Pup? Get guided instructions & videos for better impulse control & behavior. Sign up here! 🐶


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