Last time, as you remember, sports fans, I tried to introduce some of you to the wonderful world of squirrel hunting with dogs.
If you don’t know, this is a fairly popular way of hunting squirrels in the southeastern United States. in other parts of the country maybe not so much. So I was just talking about what the new people in this sport might be going through out there and was wondering how we can help them train and develop this new addition to the family – a squirrel dog.
OK, you’ve got this fidgety little puppy, now what? Ronnie Snedegar is a squirrel dog addict from Greenbrier County, West Virginia and spends a lot of time with his dogs. His dog Annie is a West Siberian Laika and a Super Grand Squirrel Champion in the world of squirrel dog competitions (events are held across the country). He also owns Rowdy and Hammer, a father-son team from Treeing Tennessee Brindle, and both have also earned squirrel championships. Snedegar also enjoys chasing his hounds and this past February he traveled to Alabama and led the Realtree team to winning the Squirrel Master Classic with his hounds.
“I’ve raised all three of my dogs from 8-week-old puppies, and the journey begins the day you pick up your pup,” Snedegar said. “In my opinion, bonding (which is a big part of my training) starts the first minute you claim the pup as your own. There are many different ideas for choosing a puppy. As for me, I look for the loner and most adventurous that is often the same pup with both traits.”
“Once I gain the pup’s trust (usually just a day or two) I take him anywhere I can,” he said. “In the woods, on the farm, at the feed store, at outdoor family gatherings and so on. I spend quite a bit of time praising the puppy for doing things I like, coming when I call, taking care of business when I take him outside, etc.
He went on to say that outdoor time with a pup is spent around streams, fences, steep banks and any obstacles they encounter while hunting. To introduce the pup to squirrels, keep an eye out for fresh prey or keep a supply of tails and skins in the freezer and let the pup smell and grab them if they wish. Remember that all dogs are different. Some puppies show great interest in a fur or a dead squirrel and some don’t. What you don’t want to do is push a young dog too hard at first. They are all different and develop differently; let them learn at their own pace.
Successful trainers will tell you that to make a squirrel dog you need to wear some boots. There are no tricks or gimmicks that will replace dog ownership in the woods. Start with a well-behaved pup who seems to have a strong hunting drive and natural tree instinct and take him to the woods. It may be important to get the young dog into an area with squirrels first. Too many trips into the woods without encountering wildlife will discourage you and your dog. Every time you go into the forest you might see a little difference and improvement. It won’t happen overnight; Patience and perseverance are rewarded here.
If your state allows it, hunting squirrels with a dog may be the best way to introduce any new hunter, young or old, to the sport. Squirrel Doggin’ is low-stress hunt that can be done almost anywhere. Children and adults can spend a carefree day in the forest. Watch the antics of the dogs and you may have plenty of shooting opportunities. Children don’t have to be quiet, sit still or have other tedious aspects of deer or turkey hunting. First of all, hunting with a dog can be just plain old fun. You remember when hunting was fun, right?
Larry Case is a retired captain with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources and a lifelong naturalist. Larry writes for several newspapers and magazines. His website is www.gunsandcornbread.com and you can reach him at [email protected]