Teach your dog to sit for a ball throw instead of jumping and walk toward a squirrel instead of pulling your arm off.
Again, stand and wait for the moment when he does anything other than strain forward, and in that moment take a step toward the squirrel. The lesson for your dog is that he can get closer to the squirrel as long as he keeps the leash loose, but if he lunges, all forward motion stops. Approaching the squirrel--a likely behavior--rewards and strengthens the less likely behavior of keeping the leash loose.
Reward with a Last-Second Rush
Urban and suburban squirrels, in my experience, are pretty dog savvy; they know just how far up a tree they need to climb in order to stay out of reach. For this reason, I feel comfortable rewarding my dog for a slow, measured approach by letting him charge the tree once he’s within leash range so I don’t get yanked. He gets the exciting rush, I get to keep my arm intact, and the squirrel usually seems unimpressed.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Expect to practice a good long time before you get a dog who reliably walks toward squirrels instead of taking off like a rocket after them. Feral dogs are generally scavengers, not skilled predators, but prey chasing has deep roots in dogs’ evolutionary past. In my opinion, we do better to accommodate the behavior in a realistic, safe way than to try to eliminate it altogether. It’s usually easy to teach dogs a nonpredatory response to animal housemates, who are familiar individuals; fast-moving furries in the great outdoors are another matter. In a future podcast I’ll discuss how to teach your dog to come when called, even when that means giving up the chase. For now, just remember that the things your dog is just dying to do are often your best leverage for getting what you want, too.
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