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Why Do Dogs Bark at Squirrels?

Dogs bark at squirrels for the simple fact that these animals frustrate dogs. There is just something about these critter's fluttery, unpredictable movements that makes dogs want to chase them, and when they can't get them, dogs just bark, bark, and bark. After all, who can blame these dogs? Let's face it: the odds of a dog catching a squirrel aren't very good!

An Ancient Instinct

Although dogs are domesticated beings who nowadays sleep on plush pillows and are fed kibble in shiny bowls, they still remain hunters at heart. 

You can see this by simply glancing at your dog's body which retains traits of a hunting machine. For starters, those canine teeth were meant to inflict stabbing wounds on prey. And what about the eyes? They are equipped with thousands of movement receptors to detect movement of prey. And then you have those potent noses, powerfully crafted to detect the smell of prey animals. Oh, and those ears! Ready to capture  the faintest sounds of animals scurrying through dried leaves. 

Anything that moves attracts dogs, drawing them like magnets. The urge to chase is very strong and often difficult to resist. Whether it's a ball, a bike, a butterfly or a squirrel, dogs are always in the mood for a good chase. 

Of course, not all dogs will be super eager to chase a squirrel. Elderly dogs or dogs with mellow, low-key personalities may rather sleep than chase, but we can state with confidence that there are countless dogs who seem to be born just for chasing. 

Puppies are attracted to movement from a young age

Puppies are attracted to movement from a young age

A Matter of Domestication 

Interestingly, barking is a behavior that has evolved with the dog as dogs became domesticated and provided companionship and worked along with humans through many millennia. 

At a closer insight, the use of barking is not a very efficient way to hunt. If we take a look at a dog's ancestors, the wolves, we will notice how barking is pretty rare considering that it comprises only 2.3 percent of all the vocalizations made by these animals.

 According to a study wolves bark only for warning, defense, and protest, while dogs instead tend to bark in a wide variety of social situations. Juvenile wolves are the most likely to bark, while adult wolves seldom do. 

The truth is, when animals are seriously hunting, they won't vocalize much because that would alert their prey. Stealthy hunting is a must if predatory animals wish to have a meal on their tables. However, fast forward ahead when humans domesticated dogs and used them as hunting partners. 

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At this point, barking was highly cherished because dogs would alert hunters of prey. So for example, hounds were selectively bred for baying, which means that they made loud vocalizations when they tracked down hare and  were on a "hot trail." Coonhounds as well are known for their barking upon noticing raccoons, opossums or bobcats taking cover and climbing up a tree.

Did you know? Many dog are inclined to bark, but some breeds may be prone to being more vocal than others. These include beagles, terriers and poodles which seem to be particularly eager to share the news about anything going on their lives.


A Matter of Frustration 

It's one of those doggy things: when dogs cannot have it their way, they will bark. Indeed, dog trainers know this too well. Indeed, to train a dog to bark, often all they need to do is show a dog a toy and then hide it behind their backs. Sooner than later, the dog will bark in protest as if saying: "Hey,I want that toy! Stop teasing me!"

With squirrels, if your dog is behind a window, a locked door or if he is on a walk withheld by a leash, he may bark from barrier frustration. In other words, the barrier prevents him from chasing the squirrels and this triggers his frustrated barking. 

Even when left off leash, dogs may bark at the squirrels, especially when the squirrels end up going up a tree. Dogs get frustrated about this, and this leads to.. you got it! Lots of barking.  

Did you know? The saying "barking up the wrong tree" dates back to rural America, when raccoons, squirrels, and opossums were hunted down by coonhounds who would chase these animals up a tree and start barking so to alert the hunter. The hunter would then approach the treed animal and could then easily proceed to shoot it.

Now That You Know...

Is your dog particularly passionate about barking at squirrels? If so, you may be wondering what you can do about it so to tone down this inclination a bit. Following are some ideas:

  • Block the windows. Is your dog barking his head off because he sees squirrels from the window? If so, prevent access to the windows. Draw those curtains, close those blinds or prevent your small dog from jumping up to couch to look outside by moving it away from the window area. Applying window film can also reduce barking. 
  • Keep your voice low. When you yell at your dog when he's barking, he likely thinks you are barking too. Your dog won't likely understand why you are so upset.
  • Redirect your dog with play. Dogs get frustrated and bark often because they don't have a chance to chase the squirrel. Provide your dog an outlet. Tell your dog to "leave it" and then wiggle a flirt pole (stick with a stuffed animal attached) and let him play with that. 

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