best dogs for squirrel hunting

Best Dogs for Squirrel Hunting Adventures

best dogs for squirrel hunting

Squirrel hunting, or “treeing” as it’s often called, is an age-old pastime that’s equal parts exciting and challenging. The tradition of hunting with dogs dates back centuries, and as time has gone on, certain breeds have carved out particular niches within the hunting world. When it comes to tracking down those fast, agile rodents, the right canine companion can make all the difference. The best dogs for Squirrel Hunting are as follows:

  • Airedale Terrier
  • American Blue Gascon Hound
  • Black and Tan Coonhound
  • Finnish Spitz
  • Mountain Cur
  • Norwegian Elkhound
  • Rat Terrier
  • Treeing Cur
  • West Siberian Laika
  • Beagle

Understanding Squirrel Dogs

History and Evolution

The practice of hunting with dogs goes back to the domestication of canines. Over time, breeds have been honed for specific hunting tasks, with their skills refined through selective breeding. Squirrel hunting dogs, in particular, have a rich heritage; they are often smaller, agile breeds, designed for the challenging task of keeping up with the flitting target through dense woodlands. These breeds can also be your daily walking companions.

Traits of the Ideal Squirrel Dog

  • Agility: Capable of skillfully maneuvering through dense underbrush, adept at scaling trees with agile grace and precision.
  • Endurance:Must possess the stamina to keep going all day long, tackling tasks with unwavering energy and determination.
  • Intelligence: Knowing when to bark and where to look are crucial skills for dogs. Understanding the appropriate times to vocalize and the right directions to focus on can enhance a dog’s communication and alertness.
  • Trainability: Easily trainable for the complex task of hunting, these intelligent and agile animals exhibit exceptional skills in tracking prey and employing various hunting strategies with precision and efficiency.

Benefits of Using Squirrel Dogs

The primary benefit of having a dog as part of your squirrel hunting team is their remarkable scenting ability. With their keen sense of smell, dogs can pick up the scent of squirrels long before a human could even spot them, giving you an early alert that the chase is about to begin. This collaborative effort between you and your furry companion not only leads to more successful hunts but also fosters a stronger bond between you and your loyal four-legged friend.

Best Breeds for Squirrel Hunting

In the vast world of hunting dogs, several breeds have proven themselves as exceptional squirrel hunters. From the well-known Black and Tan Coonhound to lesser-known, feistier terriers, each breed brings its own strengths to the table.

Here’s a list of some of the best breeds for squirrel hunting:

Airedale Terrier

Airedale Terrier

The Airedale Terrier, often regarded as the “King of Terriers,” makes an excellent squirrel hunter due to its keen intelligence, unmatched agility, and profound sense of smell. Originally bred for catching otters and rats, this versatile breed has adapted its hunting prowess to include squirrels with remarkable adeptness. Standing taller than most terriers, the Airedale possesses the endurance and speed required to chase squirrels through rugged terrain. Their trainable nature, combined with a strong hunting instinct, allows them to excel in tracking and treeing squirrels, making them invaluable companions for the dedicated hunter.

American Blue Gascon Hound

American Blue Gascon Hound

The American Blue Gascon Hound stands as a testimony to the enduring legacy of large, scent-driven hounds in the world of squirrel hunting. Known for its striking blue coat and impressive size, this breed combines keen olfactory senses with a deep, melodious bark, making it exceptional at tracking squirrels over varied terrains. Originating from the French Gascony hounds, this American variant has been perfected over generations for its stamina and determination.

Its gentle temperament makes it a great companion outside the hunting grounds, yet when on the trail, its focus and tracking skills are unmatched. The American Blue Gascon Hound’s patient tracking method may differ from the faster terriers, but its persistence and ability to follow a scent trail through challenging conditions make it a valued partner in squirrel hunting.

Black and Tan Coonhound

Black and Tan Coonhound

The Black and Tan Coonhound, with its distinguished coat and noble demeanor, is a breed deeply rooted in American hunting tradition. Known for its striking black-and-tan coloration, this breed is as visually distinctive as it is talented in the hunt. Originating in the United States, the Black and Tan Coonhound’s remarkable scenting ability is coupled with a determination that serves it well in the pursuit of squirrels amongst dense forests and rugged landscapes. These dogs are celebrated not only for their powerful tracking abilities but also for their baying—a resonant bark that signals they’ve treed a squirrel. Their loyalty and tenacity make them superb hunting companions, while their calm and friendly disposition endears them to families, making an effective switch from a diligent hunter to a loving pet.

Finnish Spitz

Finnish Spitz

The Finnish Spitz, known in its homeland as the Suomenpystykorva, holds a special place in the heart of squirrel hunting aficionados. This breed, originating from Finland, possesses a striking fox-like appearance with a beautiful red-golden coat that not only makes it a visual delight but also an adept hunter in snowy terrains. Celebrated for its sharp bark and keen eyesight, the Finnish Spitz was originally bred for hunting small game, including squirrels.

Its method of hunting is unique; it silently stalks its quarry and then uses a high-pitched bark to attract the hunter’s attention once the game is treed. This breed’s loyalty, combined with its playful and lively nature, makes it an excellent companion both in the field and at home. While not as fast as some terrier breeds, its persistence and distinctive hunting technique have earned it a revered status among squirrel hunting enthusiasts.

Mountain Cur

Mountain Cur

The Mountain Cur stands out as a premier choice for those immersed in the tradition of squirrel hunting. This breed, deeply rooted in American history, was developed by early settlers in the rugged terrains of the Ohio Valley and Southern United States. Known for their toughness and versatility, Mountain Curs were indispensable to settlers for their ability to hunt and guard. These dogs exhibit remarkable agility and strength, allowing them to traverse difficult landscapes with ease. Renowned for their keen sense of smell and a natural inclination to tree squirrels, their hunting prowess is matched by their loyalty and protectiveness towards their family.

Beyond their hunting capabilities, Mountain Curs are also valued for their intelligence and trainability, responding well to commands and adapting quickly to hunting scenarios. With a strong work ethic and a steady temperament, the Mountain Cur makes not only an exceptional squirrel hunting companion but also a devoted family member.

Norwegian Elkhound

Norwegian Elkhound

The Norwegian Elkhound, a breed steeped in Viking history, is a formidable contender in the realm of squirrel hunting. Known for its fearless nature and insatiable thirst for adventure, this ancient breed brings a unique set of skills to the table. With a thick, gray coat that shields it from harsh climates, the Elkhound is well-suited for hunting in both dense forests and snowy landscapes. Its keen sense of smell, combined with an inherent drive to track and pursue game, makes it particularly effective in locating squirrels hidden within the canopy.

The Norwegian Elkhound hunts with vigor and determination, often using its melodious bark to communicate with its handler about the game’s location. Despite its prowess in the hunt, this breed is also known for its friendly and loyal disposition, making it a beloved companion both on and off the hunting trails. The blend of robust hunting abilities and a pleasant temperament cements the Norwegian Elkhound’s reputation as a versatile hunter and a loyal family pet.

Rat Terrier

Rat Terrier for squirrel hunting

The Rat Terrier emerges as a dynamic and versatile breed within the world of squirrel hunting. Known for its compact size, sharp intelligence, and quick reflexes, this breed excels in swiftly navigating through varied terrains to pursue its quarry. Originating from the United States, the Rat Terrier was primarily bred for farm work, including hunting vermin and small game such as squirrels. Its keen sense of smell and remarkable speed make it particularly adept at tracking down squirrels, often with an efficiency and zeal that is unmatched by larger breeds.

Unlike some of the larger hounds, the Rat Terrier engages in the hunt with an intense focus and energy, often displaying a fearless attitude towards its prey. Beyond the hunt, Rat Terriers are known for their affectionate nature and adaptability, making them excellent family pets who are as at home on the hunting trail as they are curled up on a couch. Their versatility, combined with a loyal and loving disposition, makes Rat Terriers a favored choice for both experienced hunters and families alike.

Treeing Cur

Treeing Cur best dog for squirrel hunting

The Treeing Cur stands as a testament to the American heritage of coon and squirrel hunting. A robust and agile breed, Treeing Curs are celebrated for their exceptional ability to chase and tree squirrels across various terrains, from dense woodlands to rocky hillsides. Their medium build and muscular physique enable them to move swiftly and with purpose, demonstrating a remarkable balance of strength and speed. Noted for their fearless nature and tireless energy, these dogs possess a keen intelligence that makes them highly trainable for both hunting and companionship.

The Treeing Cur’s distinct bark serves as an effective signal to hunters when they have successfully treed a squirrel, highlighting their communicative prowess in the field. Beyond their hunting aptitude, Treeing Curs exhibit a loyal and protective demeanor towards their owners, making them versatile companions that adapt well to family life. The combination of their work ethic in the hunting domain and their affable disposition at home solidifies the Treeing Cur’s position as a valued member of both the hunting and family communities.

West Siberian Laika

West Siberian Laika for hunting

The West Siberian Laika brings a storied heritage to the tableau of squirrel hunting dogs, rooted deeply in the forests of Russia where they were originally bred by indigenous people for hunting. This breed is characterized by its exceptional agility, keen senses, and a robust build that allows it to operate effectively in both forested areas and snowy landscapes. West Siberian Laikas are particularly noted for their versatility in hunting, capable of tracking and treeing squirrels with remarkable efficiency and determination. Their thick, weather-resistant coat provides protection against harsh conditions, allowing them to hunt in various climates without falter.

West Siberian Laikas possess a natural hunting instinct, complemented by an intense loyalty and affection towards their handlers, making them not just effective hunters but also committed companions. The breed’s intelligence and eagerness to please facilitate training, though their strong will requires a consistent and understanding approach. With a heart as vast as their homeland’s forests, the West Siberian Laika stands as a proud symbol of the hunting dog’s ethos, embodying resilience, prowess, and an unbreakable bond with those they serve.


Beagle for squirrel hunting

The Beagle, a breed synonymous with sharp intellect and an outstanding sense of smell, carves its own niche within the community of squirrel hunting dogs. Originating from England, this small to medium-sized hound impresses with its stamina and persistence, traits that have historically made it an excellent hunter of small game, including rabbits and squirrels. Beagles possess a unique blend of curiosity and determination, which drives them to track scents for miles without tire, making them particularly effective in woodland hunts.

Their melodious howl not only signals the chase but also helps maintain communication with their hunters during the pursuit of a squirrel. Despite their prowess in the field, Beagles are equally known for their friendly and companionable nature, thriving in the company of both humans and other dogs. This balance of hunting ability and sociability makes the Beagle a preferred choice for families seeking a pet that can transition seamlessly from an active day in the outdoors to a peaceful evening at home.

It’s important to note that every dog is an individual, and success in hunting largely depends on the specific dog’s personality and training.

Training and Preparation

When to Start Training a Squirrel Dog

Training for squirrel hunting can commence at a relatively young age, usually starting around 6 to 8 weeks old. Introducing young dogs to the outdoor environment, familiarizing them with the woods, and instilling basic obedience commands all work together to establish a solid groundwork for their squirrel hunting training journey.

Techniques for Squirrel Hunting

There are several different methods when it comes to training a squirrel dog, all aimed at enhancing the dog’s innate instincts. These approaches may include introducing specific scents for tracking, giving the dog firsthand experience with live squirrels to sharpen their hunting skills, and encouraging behaviors that align with successful hunting practices. By nurturing these natural abilities, squirrel dogs can become efficient and reliable companions in the pursuit of game.

Essential Tools for Squirrel Hunters

From durable collars and sturdy leads to high-tech GPS trackers and reflective vests, having the right equipment is crucial for ensuring a successful and safe hunting expedition. Proper gear not only enhances the hunting experience but also promotes safety in the great outdoors.

Selecting the Right Puppy for Training

When selecting a puppy for squirrel hunting, it’s crucial to choose bloodlines with a proven track record of success in this field. Take the time to investigate the health clearances of the puppy’s parents and ensure they possess the desired hunting traits that are essential for effective squirrel hunting. This thorough evaluation will help you find a puppy that is not only healthy but also equipped with the necessary skills and instincts for successful hunting expeditions.

Squirrel Hunting Techniques

A Strategy in the Woods

Squirrels are known to be most active in the early morning and late afternoon, typically between sunrise and 10 AM. They also tend to show activity around 4 PM until sunset. Having a good grasp of their behavior patterns and habits is crucial when strategizing your hunting plans.

Nature’s Patience

Hunting squirrels requires a great deal of patience — an abundance of it, in fact. As you venture into the woods, immersing yourself in the serene surroundings, it’s quite common to have just a few sightings. However, the exhilaration of the chase, the rustling of leaves underfoot, and the anticipation of each potential encounter with these elusive creatures make the experience truly rewarding and exciting.

The Right Equipment

A skilled squirrel hunter knows the importance of having the correct tools for the job. These tools include a reliable shotgun for precise shooting, squirrel calls to attract the elusive prey, and camouflage gear to blend seamlessly with the surroundings. While camo for the dog is not a necessity, it can enhance the overall hunting experience, making it more immersive and exciting for both the hunter and the canine companion.

Seek a Mentor’s Guidance

If you’re a novice in the world of squirrel hunting with dogs, connecting with an experienced mentor can significantly expedite your learning journey. Their guidance and expertise can pave the way for a smoother and more successful beginning to your hunting endeavors.

Responsible Shooting and Safety

Hunting is a sport that requires a significant level of responsibility and mindfulness. It is crucial to always be absolutely certain of your target and what lies beyond it to ensure the safety of yourself and others. Additionally, adhering to firearms safety protocols at all times is essential for a safe and enjoyable hunting experience.

Understanding Squirrel Behavior

To heighten the success rate of hunts, a deep understanding of squirrel behavior is invaluable. Squirrels, particularly the gray and fox varieties commonly pursued, exhibit a range of behaviors that, when understood, can significantly impact hunting strategies. They are creatures of habit, frequently following the same routes in their daily activities of foraging and nest building. This predictability provides keen hunters with the opportunity to anticipate their movements.

Additionally, squirrels communicate through a variety of vocalizations and tail movements, which can indicate their level of alarm or engagement with the environment. Recognizing these signs can alert hunters to a squirrel’s presence before it is visually detected. Effective hunters combine this behavioral knowledge with stealth and patience, further aligning their hunting techniques with the natural patterns of their prey.

Health and Safety Concerns

Preventing Tick-Borne Diseases

Hunting squirrels often requires traversing through thick underbrush and wooded areas, environments where ticks are prevalent. Hunters and their canine companions are at risk of tick bites, which can transmit Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. To mitigate this risk, it’s crucial to use tick prevention methods such as applying appropriate tick repellents on both humans and dogs, wearing protective clothing, and conducting thorough tick checks after each hunting trip.

Hearing Protection

The use of firearms in hunting poses a risk to one’s hearing. Repeated exposure to gunshots without adequate hearing protection can lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Hunters should invest in high-quality ear protection to shield against the damaging effects of loud noises. Options range from disposable earplugs to advanced electronic earmuffs that allow for normal conversation while blocking harmful sound levels.

Handling Firearms Safely

Firearm safety is paramount when hunting. This includes practicing the basic principles of gun safety, such as always treating the gun as if it’s loaded, keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, keeping the finger off the trigger until ready to shoot, and being aware of the target and what is beyond it. Proper maintenance and handling of firearms reduce the risk of accidental discharge and injuries.

First Aid Preparedness

Despite taking all necessary precautions, accidents can and do happen. It is essential for hunters to be prepared for emergencies by carrying a well-stocked first-aid kit and knowing how to use its contents. The kit should include items for treating cuts, sprains, insect bites, and other common injuries. Additionally, hunters should have basic knowledge of first aid procedures and the ability to address wounds until professional medical help can be reached.

Canine Health and Safety

Protecting the health and safety of hunting dogs is equally important. Beyond tick prevention, ensuring dogs are vaccinated, hydrated, and not overexerted during hunting expeditions is crucial. Dogs should be trained to respond to commands reliably to prevent them from running into dangerous situations. It’s also important to check them for injuries or signs of distress after each outing.

These health and safety considerations are vital for ensuring that each hunting trip is not only enjoyable but also free from preventable harm to both the hunters and their loyal four-legged companions.

Considerations for Prospective Owners

Cost of Owning and Training a Squirrel Dog

Owning a hunting dog is an investment. The costs of training, equipment, and potential hunting leases all need to be considered.

Pros and Cons of Owning a Squirrel Hunting Breed

Owning a squirrel hunting breed comes with its own set of pros and cons that prospective owners should consider before bringing a dog into their lives.


  • Strong Bonding: Training and hunting with a squirrel dog fosters a deep bond between the dog and owner, developing a unique partnership based on trust and mutual respect.
  • Physical Activity: Owners of squirrel hunting dogs benefit from increased physical activity. Hunting expeditions often involve traversing through diverse terrains, which can improve the owner’s physical health.
  • Outdoor Experiences: Having a squirrel hunting dog encourages more time spent outdoors, offering owners the chance to connect with nature and escape the stress of daily life.
  • Hunting Success: A well-trained squirrel dog can significantly increase the chances of a successful hunt by using its keen sense of smell and agility to locate squirrels more efficiently than a solo human hunter.


  • Training and Time Commitment: These breeds require consistent training and socialization, especially in their formative years. This can be time-consuming and requires patience and dedication.
  • Energy Levels: Squirrel hunting dogs are typically high-energy breeds that need ample space to exercise and stimulate their minds. Without proper outlets for their energy, they may become destructive.
  • Noise: Some hunting breeds can be quite vocal, which might be a concern in urban or densely populated areas where neighbors are close by.
  • Specialized Care and Costs: Beyond the initial cost of acquiring a dog, hunting breeds may incur additional expenses, such as specialized training, equipment, and potential healthcare related to the rigors of hunting activities.

Weighing these pros and cons can help prospective owners decide whether a squirrel hunting dog is right for them, ensuring a fulfilling experience for both the dog and the owner.

Responsibilities of Squirrel Dog Ownership

Hunting dogs, known for their exceptional work ethic, need specialized care to thrive. In addition to regular exercise, these dogs benefit greatly from social interaction with other animals and mental challenges that keep their keen minds engaged. Ensuring a well-rounded routine that includes physical activity, socialization, and stimulating tasks is crucial for the overall well-being of these hardworking companions.


Squirrel hunting with dogs is more than a sport; it’s a tradition that fosters deep bonds between man and beast. This comprehensive guide should give you a solid foundation on the world of squirrel hunting with dogs. Remember, it’s not just about the kill; it’s about the experience, the bond, and the shared love of the great outdoors.

Whether you’re an experienced hunter looking to add a new member to your pack or a novice eager to begin your hunting adventures, the right squirrel dog can open up a world of excitement and challenge. Ready your gear, gather your wits, and hit the trails with a trusted companion at your side. The squirrels won’t know what hit them.

More Frequently Asked Questions

The duration varies depending on the dog’s innate abilities, breed, and the training techniques used. Typically, basic training can span several months, but proficiency in hunting may take a year or more of consistent, positive reinforcement and experience in the field.

While certain breeds have a natural predisposition for hunting and tracking, with patience and the right training approach, many dogs can learn the basics of squirrel hunting. However, success rates and hunting efficiency may vary significantly between breeds.

While squirrel seasons vary by region, generally, the fall and winter months are most productive. This period after the leaves drop allows for easier sighting of squirrels. However, early spring can also offer good opportunities as squirrels become more active.

Squirrel hunting, when done legally and within ethical hunting guidelines, is considered a sustainable way to manage squirrel populations and enjoy the outdoors. Hunters are encouraged to respect wildlife, follow local regulations, and practice humane hunting methods.

Many hunters find community through local hunting clubs, online forums, and social media groups dedicated to squirrel hunting. These platforms can offer valuable advice, mentorship, and opportunities to join group hunts.

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