Learning To Hunt - Chronicles of a Hunter  - Deer Hunting with Deckers Part 2
Announcing the DHTA - So You Wanna Hunt Part 2 - Treeing Rat Terrier Myth
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So You Wanna' Go Squirrel Huntn'?
Part II
By Keith Holt
Holt's Pocahontas.jpg
     I have, in my previous article briefly touched on a few tips and opinions regarding the training and procurement of a young pup, squirrel dog prospect. I will attempt to expound, slowly on the subject matter. After one has “bonded” or at least handled the pup in question with some confidence, it is exceedingly important to have a good handle on your dog. I know, puppies can be hardheaded and…yes, like children and men they do “suffer” from selective hearing but it is imperative to one’s ultimate success (both in terms of safety and goals) to have control of your canine. I am not going to “preach” about obedience but in all actuality, the dog and your own well being may be affected by his/her willingness to heed the human’s command.
     When squirrel training/hunting with terrier puppies, having a firm “handle” on the dog may not seem like such a big deal, since these terriers generally, will hunt so close and young dogs are notorious for staying on one’s heels during their first trips to the woods but it is often during those early experiences that good and bad habits alike are learned and or reinforced. There are all sorts of techniques or practices utilized when first taking a pup out for that first season of hunting; taking the pup out with an older, solid tree dog, hunting the pup alone, hunting with two pups, etc. I have done all these and from my experience, I have had the greatest success by taking a pup out alone. Maybe it is because there are fewer distractions, better one on one time I suppose, if it all possible I would strongly suggest taking a young dog (one that has seen less than two squirrel seasons) alone, as much as possible. 

     If you intend on making a good squirrel dog your pup has to know what they are looking for…period. It does not matter if you use hand signals, words, whistles or whatever, in order to maximize your success, the pup has to understand what they are in search of , instead of say just strolling through the woods and jumping up and running any other mammal that will run from them or quail, for that matter. For example; at an early age, approx. 12 weeks every time I introduce a squirrel tail, caged squirrel etc., I say the word squirrel and add encouragement, i.e.; get that squirrel, where’s the squirrel etc., so that when I say squirrel the pup automatically thinks back to the smell/image of a squirrel and/or starts scanning the woods or looking up trees, sniffing around and listening intensely, in search of the desired quarry. Remember lots of praise (and some treats are fine) to keep a youngster hot for squirrel. 

     Hopefully, by the time the pup’s first squirrel season has rolled around the pup has been exposed to gun fire, the woods, water and the quarry. Now it’s show time, right, sure. Remember your pup is young and just because he/she is from a line of grand whatever champions or is from a long line of versatile and consistent hunting dogs this does not mean that those adorable little tree rats are going to just scamper down and jump right in your frying pan. You and that pup are going to have some real work (and FUN) for at least two seasons anyway. Why two seasons? Because these terrier types will generally need at least two seasons of fair to heavy hunting to make a finished dog. Some will need more to make a finished dog, while others catch on quicker, there is no set time, just like physical and mental maturity in humans is varied and depends on a number of factors; genetics, environment and stimuli. I will leave you all with what I deem a helpful tip when training a young dog and that is to have squirrel feeders set out in several locations, within the area you plan on hunting. What these feeders do for you and the pup is they (the feeders) maximize your chances on running into a squirrel (that is if you replenish the food regularly), and at this point (a pup or young dog) needs all the exposure that they can get to the squirrel. I generally use corn as squirrel feed; I buy it 100 lb sacks and store it in the garage. Here is a helpful link to a do-it-yourself feeder. http://www.sqdog.com/Equipment/Feeder/Feeder.html

     The key tools in squirrel hunting success lie in breeding, working and consistency. Breeding, is never a given, even the best bloodlines throw off duds and even some lines of dogs not known for particular treeing prowess can throw off an occasional powerhouse. It is the consistent, tree producing lines or individuals of proven crosses that one has the best chance of acquiring a dog with the built in “software” needed to be a good squirrel dog. Working starts practically from day one; from early handling and interaction, exposure (people/noises/environment/animals, etc), training and hunting, the dog is much like a young child soaking up information from its’ environment. Consistency, most simply is that yes means yes and no means no. Know and enforce the rules/boundaries that you desire your canine to follow and respect; get down, come here, don’t chase the deer, chase the deer…whatever. Remember this, if you can take nothing else from this article; that squirrel hunting is not rocket science and relax, take it slow and enjoy nature with your pup. GOD bless.