In This Issue

A Hog Hunter - Chronicles of a Hunter  - Decker Hunting Terrier Temperament
Deer Hunting with Deckers- Hunting with Henry - So You Wanna
Back Issue

  So You Wanna’ Go Squirrel Huntn’?
             Keith Holt
This is the first, in as of yet, undetermined number of articles concerning training your dog on squirrel. Certainly, there are a multitude of both men and women who have more experience or are more knowledgeable than myself on the subject matter. I am not at present, a competition squirrel hunter, neither have I spent half a century in the woods. I have however, been involved in “pleasure” squirrel hunting for nearly 25 of my 29 years of existence.

I grew up in the Tennessee Valley (that’s a nice name for the chert ridges and swampy bottomland that I call home) near the Tennessee-Alabama state line. Here, squirrel hunting is more than just getting meat for your gravy, it is a cultural birthright. My first memory (at age 4) of squirrel hunting is when my older brother took me with him and our Beagle x Fiest, Starbuck. Looking back, it is hard to remember any formal training that we gave our dogs, other than taking them hunting as pups and shooting squirrels out on them, they seemed to pick up the general idea in a season or two.
I am going to conduct this article and the subsequent articles very basically. These articles are geared toward those who are unfamiliar with or have little knowledge of the subject matter, as veterans of squirrel hunting may have little to gain from these writings. In this article I will cover selecting a dog and early introduction to squirrel dog training.
If one is searching for a pup, it is fairly obvious that one should seek out a breeder who has pups out of treeing parents. “Proven” dogs are always a plus. A so called proven dog will often have a title or at least has been hunted in competition hunts;
 basically where this comes in handy is that it is a fairly safe bet that this dog in question can at least tree a squirrel. Another important trait that I look for is range ( how far a dog will hunt out), the Decker Hunting Terrier as well as the Rat Terrier and Fiest generally hunt close and are ideal for hunting in small acreage, also I prefer a close hunting dog as I live in steep country and do not enjoy walking for 15 minutes just to get to some “slobber mouthed” treeing machine who does not even bother to timber ( follow a squirrel if/when it moves from its original tree to another one). 
Once a pup is selected there are a few important points that must be addressed before squirrel training may begin. A pup needs to be handled often by the owner(s), proper socialization between dog and hunter will serve to establish a bond between the pup and the human. A dog that lives to please is much easier to handle at home and in the woods. The pup should be introduced, if he/she has not already been to loud noises. I like to start off, if I get an older puppy,  by banging metal food bowls together at feeding time and clapping my hands. After a few days of this, I will fire a round or two from a .22 rifle, and each additional day move a little closer, eventually I will shoot over and while standing beside the pup. I think that gun shyness can usually be prevented. George Palmer wrote a very useful article on that subject matter. http://imageevent.com/buckhorn/suggestedreading/huntingtheratterrier?p=0&n=1&m=-1&c=5&l=0&w=4&s=0&z=2
When to introduce your pup to its prey? That is the million dollar question, right? I don’t have a concrete, right answer for you but I start the introduction of the squirrel scent to the pup around 12 weeks of age. Why 12 weeks? That is really the earliest success that I have had, any younger 
and it is like trying to teach a two year old all the rules football. Start slow. Generally, I will introduce a squirrel tail (how you acquire this is up to you-fresh road kill works) around 12 weeks of age letting the pups smell it and bite at it, all the while keeping control of it. Here is a little tip that I do and have had success in getting pups to look up and bark up; get an fishing rod and tie the squirrel tail to the end of the line, toss the tail over a low branch, let out the line so the squirrel tail is several feet from the tree, (if at all possible have someone helping you, maybe keeping the pup out of site or at least restrained) when you are ready, release the pup and reel. This usually gets a pup looking up and at the very least whining if not full on barking. Tease the pup by flicking the tail up and down, all the while encouraging your pup. I will end this article with one more training tip, trapped squirrel; do not over expose your pup to this tool, maybe do it twice. If you trap a squirrel try attaching a rope or the equivalent to the cage tossing the rope over a branch and hauling the squirrel up the tree, this can often produce quite a few barks from the pup and reinforce that “barking treed” trait. I will offer a few more tips and introduce some squirrel hunting terminology in the next article, thanks and GOD bless…Keith Holt