Happy New Year! Now that 2020 is a thing of the past, what will you be chasing this year? Trucks? People? Balloons? Geese?
Oh, not you, I meant your dog. Does your dog like to chase things? There’s lots to distract our dogs on a walk, so what is their distraction of choice? I hear squirrels are a popular option. As a matter of fact, Squirrel Appreciation Day is later this month. Dogs will appreciate that, not so much the squirrels…poor little guys. Well this begs the question, why do dogs chase anything, and why squirrels in particular? Yuna The Lab helps us answer this question.
I feel like the most obvious reason is that dogs are natural hunters and have a “prey drive” in them. I’m sure we have all witnessed a dog spot a squirrel, pounce, search, stalk, chase and maybe even get close enough to grab, bite or kill that cute little curly-tailed creature. Some dogs will just let the squirrel go, but don’t be surprised if you have a true hunter on your hands. If you have a beagle or a Labrador, you may have seen their “beagling” for bunnies or retrieving skills in action, respectively.
And of course dogs have strong sense of smell. Because of that, it makes perfect sense for dogs to chase squirrels because squirrels interact with foods, insects and other things that leave a scent on their paws. It may not be the squirrel they are chasing, but rather the smells they have attached to them.
Further, when we talk about training our dogs, the subject of positive associations and rewards comes up to promote good behavior. Chasing the squirrel fulfills a dog’s curiosity and releases serotonin, just like when they play fetch with you or have a nice roll in the mud; ok maybe not that! It makes them feel good and it is a positive association for them and is like providing a reward to themselves – now that’s pretty deep!
There’s nothing wrong with a good, light-hearted chase, but when it starts to interfere with the dog’s well-being, it may be time to kick the squirrel chasing to the curb. If you find that your dog is getting hurt or running into traffic to get at that squirrel, becoming aggressive, bringing home dead animals or deterring from your regular training efforts, then you may want to try “leave-it” training, increased exercise, walks, hikes, jogs or the good-old serotonin generator…fetch! A dog has to get his exercise in somehow, as long as the thrill of the chase is a happy one!
And if your dog is busy chasing squirrels in the snow, salt and slush this year, make sure to keep their paws safe while having fun. The chase would prove to be not so thrilling if their paws get damaged by the harmful salt and freezing temperatures. Be sure to protect their runners with Saltsox to keep them going through the New Year!
So no matter what you end up chasing in 2021, make it a great one! From everyone here at Saltsox, Happy New Year!