How to Cope With Guilt When Your Dog Kills Squirrels

Even if you don’t own a hunting dog or a terrier with “ratter” lineage, you may see your dog kill a squirrel. The chances increase if you live in an area with squirrels and other rodents. How do you cope with the guilt of seeing a squirrel die? Even dogs not bred for hunting – even dogs you’d never dream could or would kill squirrels – have the potential to surprise you.

I never thought my dog would kill a squirrel. Below is a picture of both my dogs; Georgie (the black and white terrier, on the right) has ended the lives of three squirrels. Little white Tiffy (the tiny Bichon Frise on the left) was there to assist, but isn’t big or fast enough to do the dirty work. Now that these dogs have killed squirrels, they are constantly “on the hunt” when we’re outside.

A man was walking his dog in the park the second time Georgie killed a squirrel. “If I didn’t see that with my own eyes, I never would’ve believed it,” he said. “I can’t believe a dog could run fast enough to catch and kill a squirrel.” Exactly. Until I saw it with my own eyes, I never imagined I’d say “My dog killed a squirrel” – nor did I realize how guilty and sad I’d feel. How am I coping with guilt and grief? Not easily…but I have come to accept that dogs are dogs. The reality is that dogs kill squirrels.

Even though Georgie wears dog and rabies tags on her collar around her neck – and even though they make a loud jingle when she walks, runs and sometimes even stretches – she has managed to sneak up on three squirrels. They didn’t even see her coming. My shouts weren’t enough to make the squirrels run away or to stop Georgie from doing what some dogs are bred to do: kill squirrels. The guilt I feel is overwhelming, which is why I wrote this article…

How to Cope With Guilt When Your Dog Kills Squirrels
Tiffy and Georgie. Squirrel killers.

Georgie is a terrier mix breed with ratter in her blood and gurgling noises in her stomach (she has some sort of irritable bowel disease or ulcerative colitis). There is nothing this dog loves more than to hunt squirrels. I adopted Georgie from the SPCA in Vancouver eight years ago, and I unknowingly trained her to kill squirrels. Well, I didn’t train my dog to kill squirrels…I just didn’t realize that letting her off leash in a forest with squirrels would end in three deaths.

How My Dog Learned to Kill Squirrels

At first “squirrel hunting” was fun – we’d romp around the forests in North Vancouver, sometimes chasing squirrels, mostly just roaming the trails. I live in beautiful Deep Cove on the north shore of Vancouver, BC (here’s a rabbit trail for you: What Is the Best Thing to Do in Deep Cove? Ask a Local). My dogs and I spend hours wandering the paths through the rain forest, listening to the owls hoot, examining scat and wondering where the deer are. At first when I spotted a squirrel, I’d point it out to Georgie. She’d run after it, the squirrel would scamper up a tree, and I’d praise Georgie for “treeing” the squirrel. I had no idea my dog could go beyond treeing to killing squirrels.

One day we spotted a squirrel running through a clearing and my dog actually caught up to it. Georgie is a very fast dog! At the dog park, she leaves 99% of the dogs in dust when she runs. The first two times she caught squirrels, they squirmed away. Georgie didn’t know what to do, and certainly didn’t know to kill squirrels. I didn’t think to praise or scold my dog – but in hindsight, I now wish I would’ve praised her for letting the squirrels go. I had no idea she could actually catch a squirrel.

Since then, my dog has killed three squirrels and I feel terrible.

The third time Georgie caught a squirrel, she shook it like a rag doll and snapped its neck. It was horrible. The squirrel was chirping like crazy at first, and suddenly went silent. I had to walk away – further down the trail in the forest – because I didn’t know what to do. Georgie caught up to me very quickly. I thought she’d stay with the squirrel, but she left it almost immediately.

Maybe it was just my imagination (or my own guilt and grief) but after my dog killed her first squirrel, she seemed despondent. Walking home, I’m sure we were in shock. It was my dog’s first squirrel kill – and the first time I witnessed my beloved dog take an animal’s life. I still feel terribly guilty and sad.

We adopted a second dog, Tiffy, about a year ago. This little Bichon Frise was there when Georgie killed her second two squirrels, and that tiny white dog loves it. Georgie snaps the squirrel’s neck and drops it; Tiffy picks the squirrel up by the scruff of its neck and drags it over to me. Tiffy is a 7 pound Bichon Frise, and the squirrels she’s brought to me are half her size.

Coping with guilty feelings – not to mention the pain of seeing an animal die – is not easy.

5 Ways to Cope With Guilty Feelings When Your Dog Kills Squirrels

“Even the tiniest Poodle or Chihuahua is still a wolf at heart.” – Dorothy Hinshaw. How do you cope with guilt when you see your dog kill a squirrel? Remind yourself that even the most domesticated, loving, loyal dogs are animals. Owners can dress their dogs in cute sweaters and even put little dog boots on their paws, but dogs are still wolves at heart.

1. Accept dogs for who and what they are

Some terriers were bred as “ratters” – they hunt and kill rats to stop diseases like the plague from spreading. My dog Georgie definitely has ratter in her blood. She’s doing what she was bred to do. I made the mistake of encouraging my dog to hunt and kill squirrels by pointing them out to her when we saw them in the forest. I had no idea my dog could actually catch a squirrel. I’m not surprised that dogs kill squirrels, but I’m shocked that my dog actually caught five squirrels in total. Those squirrels are so fast…but even squirrels can be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How to Cope With Guilt When Your Dog Kills Squirrels
How to Cope With Guilt When Your Dog Kills Squirrels

2. “Pay it forward” by doing something good for animals

Every month, I give 10% of my earnings to a non-profit organization or charity. This month, I’ll donate to the SPCA or a dog shelter in Vancouver. I know this doesn’t mean anything to the squirrels my dog killed, but at least other animals might be helped or saved. If you have any suggestions for dog shelters in Vancouver I can donate to, please share below.

3. Align with Mother Nature

It is not your fault that your dog killed a squirrel. Animals hunt and kill. This is reality. The Creator made everything right and perfect just the way it is – including the squirrels and the dogs who kill them! When I went on safari in Africa (I lived in Kenya for three years), I saw the remains of a kill. Lions kill antelope, crocodiles kill zebra, eagles kill fish. Here in Vancouver, coyotes kill cats, owls kill small dogs, cougars kill pets. It really is a jungle out there. Dogs are part of the jungle mentality – which includes Mother Nature. Accept reality, Angel.

4. Warn squirrels when your dog is hunting

If you want to make sure your dog never kills another squirrel, get a Dog Collar Bell and Pet Tracker for Trail Walks. You want to give squirrels as much warning as possible, so they have time to flee.

How to Cope With Guilt When Your Dog Kills Squirrels
Bells for Dogs Who Hunt

Does your “squirrel killer” not want to wear a dog bell? Too bad. It may be the best way to stop your dog from killing squirrels. At least you’ll less guilty for your dog’s bad habit.

5. Decide what is best for you and your dog (on leash walks? off leash romps?)

I won’t take away my dogs’ “off leash” privileges in the forest, even though I pray during every walk that we won’t run into squirrels, skunks, raccoons, bears, deers, coyotes or owls. My dogs need to be free to be dogs, even though they have taken the lives of squirrels. I need my dogs to be free, even though I feel guilty and sad about what they have done. But I have to let them go, both literally and figuratively. My most fervent prayer is that the squirrels my dogs killed were “recycled by nature. That is, I pray that an owl, coyote, skunk, or even small insects were able to feast on the remains of my dogs’ killer instincts.

How are you? Feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. It is so painful when you see your dog kill a squirrel. You may feel even more guilty and sad when you talk about it, but expressing your thoughts and feelings is a healthy way to cope with the guilt.

If you’re wondering if you should give up or rehome your dog because of the squirrel killing, read 5 Ways to Deal With Guilt and Grief After Rehoming Your Dog.

To learn more about dogs and your own personality, read What Your Favorite Dog Breed Says About You. It’s a more light-hearted approach to dog ownership. Definitely not scientifically based or research proven! :-)

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30 thoughts on “How to Cope With Guilt When Your Dog Kills Squirrels”

  1. My little rescue dog (Jack Russell-Chi mix) is super sweet! She’s afraid of cats, never barks, and is fairly meek with strangers. But let a squirrel cross her path, and it’s The Most Exciting Thing Ever! I’ve let her ‘chase’ them a few times, but since she’s always on-leash she’s limited by how fast I’ll run (not very!). I’ve seen her get about 3′ up a tree during a chase, which is pretty spectacular looking, lol.

    I’ve never been afraid of her actually catching a squirrel, until a recent CNN show about terriers in New York City who go out at night with their owners to catch rats! Rats are an epidemic there, and the dogs will race after them, grab them, shake hard to break their necks, and drop the dead rats. It’s considered a community service. But watching those dogs, and the focused looks on their faces, well it was a lot like watching my little pup when she’s looking at a squirrel!

    I know, squirrels are so cute and cuddly looking! But realistically, they’re no different from rats, just fluffier. The grey and black ones here in Vancouver are imports who have devastated our local squirrel population; not only do they kill the smaller red squirrels, but they kill newborn birds (and eat eggs) too.

    Since seeing that CNN show, I’m definitely more careful with my dog. In our backyard she’s almost caught squirrels a few times, and I had to hold her leash tight yesterday when a lazy, huge squirrel (who had been digging up my peas) didn’t my dog as much of a threat. But if she actually caught a squirrel and killed it, I wouldn’t feel guilty. Squirrels are everywhere here, and even when I’ve tried to avoid them they’ll run right in front of us, so unless a dog is kept inside (impossible), squirrel encounters are hard to avoid.

    For the other poster, there really was no reason to shame the man in the park. The dog followed its instinct and killed a garbage-eating rodent. It didn’t attack a pet, and it doesn’t sound like it tortured the squirrel the way a cat would. In all likelihood, the man didn’t think his dog would ever actually catch a squirrel. I wonder who was more surprised, him, or his dog! ;)

  2. Mine got her first one today. I know after having here for 3 years she would chase and get one if she could. Luckily they have always gotten away before. Today, one that looked like it was kind of guimpy on the ground. I told her to get it and she promptly chased it for about 100 yards into the bushes. When she didn’t come out and went into the bushes to see that she had it in her mouth. it was still struggling to get away but could barely move. i could clearly see that it would not survive if we left it so I got a large branch and hit it several times until it was still. It was a terrible experience. I dug a small hole with the stick, and covered it. I will never tell my dog to chase anything again. I cant get the final moments out of my mind. I hope our creator has taken it and given it new life

  3. My dog killed a squirrel yesterday and I can’t it out of my head.I feel so sad. I tried to stop the slaughter but it was too late. I point out squirrels for her to chase but this time she caught it. My dog is a German Pointer and I have never seen a dog run so fast. I didn’t tell my dog she was a good girl. I told her she was a bad girl and I feel guilty about that too. That poor squirrel! I hope there is a squirrel heaven.

  4. My dog just killed a squirrel. Shes caught them before but this is the 1st one she killed. She only weighs 12lbs and I dont think she usually can lift them enough to kill them. I do feel guilty. But I’m more concerned that there was something wrong with the squirrel cause ive never seen one out at 3am and she chased it in a tree and then the thing ran back out of the tree and thats when ahe got it. I’m calling my vet in the morning to see if I should bring her in. I’m a little paranoid that it was diseased or something. But its nice to know I’m not the only one who feels guilty for my killers normal behavior.

  5. Thank you for sharing your experiences with me! I’m sorry your dog killed a squirrel, but I’m glad I’m not alone in my guilt and pain.

    Killing is part of a dog’s natural tendency; in fact, if we lived in places overrun with rats or mice we’d be so grateful our dogs are quick and instinctive. But I know how hard it is when squirrels die for no reason…and I’m sorry you had to see your dog do this.

    xo
    Laurie

  6. I feel exactly the same….

    I live in the U.K and have a Jack Russell Terrier… we live near woods so whilst walking Marley I always use to say “squirrels” and he’d chase them and do his bark…. but 6 months ago, he caught one… and killed it the same method your dogs did… I was heartbroken.. I still feel sad about it now. I carried the squirrel home.. it’s horrible.

  7. They don’t kill the unlucky, they kill the weak, it is nature, forgive yourself and your dogs.

    Your energy should be directed in a positive manner, ruminating over dead squirrels serves no purpose.

    Lighten Up

  8. My dog is 7 y o and he has killed 4-5 pigeons and attack few of rats so far. We’re living in the city not in farm so seeing family’s pet killing other animals is not that ordinary things to see.

    I felt terrible for the first pigeon and that was the first time I realized my dog is a dog. Not a baby in furry suit. I always have him on the leash when I walk him around neighborhood but I will let him off the leash sometimes plus my neighbors seem happy to see him catching rats and pigeons like this.

  9. My rescue APBT always chases the squirrels in my back yard. Well a couple of days ago he actually caught one. He thrashed it immediately and then ran to drop it at my feet. I was frozen, after 4 years he actually had caught one, I didn’t know it was possible! The poor thing was still alive but clearly dying, and I didn’t know what to do to end its misery. My hear hurt, and I had to walk away and have my fiance dispose of it later that evening since he works later hours than I do. I just don’t want it to happen again or especially become a habit. I am used to my cat bringing mice to the door step but this was somehow worse for me. My heart hurts seeing any creature suffer.

  10. Yes ☹️I Hve 2 a Schnoodle nd a Yorker mix !!’ Not sure who killed it !!! I cried?scolded them, so now I make a Big noise whn they come out so me squirrel can run 4 his life!!!?

  11. my catahula has a strong prey drive (guessing it’s part of what helped make them herders)… and it’s lethal on the back yard squirrel population (have a pecan tree). She used to just chase them, but when she finally caught one it surprised her with a defensive bite & ever since she goes for the kill. She’s dispatched 7 thus far.
    Can’t say I’m too sad by it; as they have done tremendous damage to my attic, and do their best to ensure I never get to enjoy any of my strawberries or sweet corn that I grow. They even wiped out my pumpkins before ripened fully.
    I would no more deprive my dog from “hunting” than I would discourage the mockingbirds from calling out at dawn.

  12. It’s awful to see our dogs kill squirrels, rats, or any living creature. It’s weird, to love dogs so much but then see them kill little animals! After I saw my dog kill a squirrel – and my other little wee toy poodle drag that poor squirrel to where I was standing – I thought I’d never be able to touch them again.

    But…it does fade. We have to accept our dogs for who they are. They’re animals, they don’t have the moral or cognitive capacity to stop and think about their actions. They just do what they’re created to.

    My advice is to just accept and forgive your dog. Give yourself time. You will grow to accept your dog for who she is, fully and completely…and you will have an even greater respect for the animal kingdom. It’s not ours to understand, just to accept.

    1. thanks Laurie. It was fine until tonight and the thought came back. Im sure it will fade. it was just how the little rat looked up at my dog like why are you doing this, and the rats little head turning back and forth . It was a horrible vision that I cant seem to shake. Thanks for your encouragement.

  13. 2 nights ago i was having problems sleeping. It was 4 am and sometimes when i have insomnia I go out and have a smoke and usually take Selina with me. She is a formosan, similar to a heavier bigger rat terrior. Our house has always had outdoor critters, rats, squirrels etc. So to see my dog Selina staring into a wall or a pot full of dirt i kind of just brush it off as her being silly. Well at 4 am my dog decided to go to upstairs patio. I didnt want to yell at her at 4am it would have woke my neighbours. She ignored me, within a minute i heard a hissing like a cat, screaching like I have never heard before. I proceeded to go up the stairs. BIGGEST mistake I have ever made. Here is my dog and a huge rat below her, the rats body wasnt moving buit only the head was. I was horrified. I tried to coax her saying lets go for a car ride, nope she wasnt having it. I even went out front and kinda clicked the door handle. I didnt see her come down. I went to the back yard and only saw her in the pathway. She came back in the house. It was at 7am I went back outside to see the remains of the poor little guy. I have not been the same since. Ive been sick, crying, its just an image that keeps playing in my head. I cant shake it out of me. Ill be fine for a few hours and then upsetting images keep coming back. Am i nuts or is this normal. I feel so bad for the little rat. I love animals of all kind and to see my fur kid killing makes me see her differently. I need advice please

    1. It happened today. My dog was on a leash and I stopped to talk to someone. He is an extremely gentle dog and has seldom paid much attention to squirrels. But today I had him on a retractable leash… in an instant he grabbed a squirrel shook it and before I could yell at him the damage was done. The squirrel wasn’t quite dead which made it much worse. He seemed to walk home in shame I think he knew how mad I was at him!
      I’m not loving this dog right now which seems horrible to me… but I’m so upset that he was capable or even wanted to do this. Should I be worried about cats now? I never was before.

  14. I don’t know why everyone on here is so indifferent to their dog killing other animals. I’m seeing comments such as “I feel awful, but won’t do anything about it,” or “its the circle of life.” I have a huge dog, and the circle of life dictates that my dog should kill your dogs, but obviously this would cause a problem? So why is it ok for your dogs to kill other animals? They are not pets, but that doesn’t decrease the value of their lives…

    Also, you should be aware that these animals, especially small mammals, carry diseases that your dog could get. I once had a dog come in through the pound with a nasty eye infection that he got after a squirrel scratched him. It was so bad, he had to get that eye removed (not a cheap treatment).

    Next time your dog tries to chase a squirrel, stop him/her. Train your dog better.

    Remember, in the wild, the predator doesn’t always win.

  15. we also adopted our dog, except Stallone was our oldest son’s dog. I kept him here when he moved out because we all thought it better. Although he has come such a long way which is another story for another time, lol , He loves to chase things off our property. We live on five acres in the woods we have lots of creatures and I’ve had him here about three years, So far Ive gotten an opossum, a mouse or two, a skunk and now a baby squirrel. He is so proud of himself when he does these thing too. But boy do I feel guilty, I love almost every living animal on this planet even if I dont want them anywhere near me I have a respect for them. and my husband says, thats how the circle of life goes and laughs uuugh. help

  16. Just the other day, I caught my dog stalking a squirrel. I was hoping the squirrel would not come down but unfortunately, it must have been injured and fell. My dog was on it in a flash! It was horrible. She’s such a sweet dog otherwise and now I keep at her and thinking “squirrel killer”!

  17. Robin squirrels are generally hidden and asleep at night, so I suspect your dog found it dead – perhaps a cat had killed it and played with it, and left it’s body – your dog probably thought she found a toy. ;)

  18. Well. It just happened to me at 1:40 am CST…am almost asleep next to snoring husband…23 lb rescue, age 4, cocker/golden lab mix (and wow her canines are big!)…left the bed to go out doggy door to backyard…we have a big pond…but usually only possums are out at night, not squirrels…well, she jumps back on bed about 5 minutes later and is literally head butting my leg to wake me up…so I turn iPad on, and scream, as she has brought dead squirrel in our bed! I turn on light, wake up husband, get a rag to wrap squirrel in…once we probed to be sure it was dead!! Brushed Dog’s teeth, threw away dead critter and now I have the major grossed out feeling that my sweet, very fast pup is a squirrel killer…so have barricaded myself in guest room, shut door and left pup with husband while I try and figure out how to keep this from happening again!!! Yuck on the animal food chain! I certainly know she wasn’t hungry…these lil rats with tails are just ‘sport” for her…

  19. Thank you, Laura, for sharing your experience! What a terrible thing, to see your dog kill a squirrel when she was on leash. This is such a good lesson for all of us….dogs have a natural instinct that is predatory, and they react quickly and impulsively when prey is in the vicinity.

    No dog owner likes it when their dogs kill squirrels…but we have to accept that our dogs are animals. They are strong, powerful, and responsive. Just like any animal, they do what they’re made to do.

    Keeping our dogs on leash may decrease the chance they’ll kill a squirrel (or other small animal), but it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a freak accident – which is what happened to Laura. A one in a million chance…but it happened.

  20. Tiny, I really hope you are a vegan taking that stance. Or that you never watch Discovery Channel.

    My dog killed a squirrel today. It was aweful and I feel awful. She was on a 6′ leash, which I always keep firmly on my wrist because she’s a strong dog. The squirrel must have been ill and not in its right mind because it was 5′ from us by the time I saw it and it ran toward my dog. It was too late. I never even left the sidewalk.

    Will I be extra vigilant about this in the future? Of course. I never want to see that again. At the same time, I accept that my dog acted on instinct and was not a reflection on her temperament or me as a dog owner.

  21. Lynd your logic disgusts me, so what if an animal is not a pet, how does that give it less of a right to life?! Yes there are plenty of squirrels and rats in the world but I care for every living creature I don’t just pick and choose! I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if a dog ripped your throat out and you felt fear like the poor innocent creatures! As for the man in the park he did nothing to prevent his dog, he stood behind a tree and watched, there were small children present who were distressed by what happened! His dog was behaving in a predatory manner and paid no attention to him what so ever, allowing that dog off the lead in that setting was irresponsible end of!

  22. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thank you Lynd, I really appreciate your thoughts on dogs and squirrels!

    One of my favourite quotes: “Even the smallest chihuahua or toy poodle is a wolf at heart.” Our beloved dogs are animals, and they react on instinct and decades of evolution. They are instinctive creatures, like we are. I couldn’t keep my dogs on leash all the time, even though it is awful to see them kill squirrels.

  23. I saw a dog kill a squirrel in a public park today and i find it irresponsible that people allow their pets to do this! If my dog chased squirrels then I would see it as my responsibility to keep it on a lead in areas that are populated by squirrels. I do not agree with the fact that people try to justify this by saying that animals kill, that’s what they do, all the animals you have described kill in order to survive your dog is just killing for fun and I personally think anyone that let’s it continue after the first time is an irresponsible dog owner. I made sure that everyone in the park heard how disgusted I was with this man’s behaviour today and a great number of people agreed with me, the man left promptly with his dog on a lead and his head bowed and I hope he is deeply ashamed!

  24. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Dear Dianne,

    Thank you for being here – and I’m so sorry for what you had to do! It’s terrible to see our beloved dogs be so cruel. Killing squirrels seems so malicious, and the guilt is awful.

    My dog Georgie is the squirrel killer, and my little white dog Tiffy grabs those squirrels by the scruff of their neck and drags them to me. Both my dogs make me sick when this happens!

    But…recently somebody told me that she saw a squirrel run up a tree, grab a baby bird out of its nest, stuff the bird in its mouth, and run down the tree. Those squirrels are killers, too. All animals kill — it’s their nature, it’s their instinct, it’s who they are.

    And, all animals die. It’s terrible when they suffer and die needlessly (as opposed to dying to feed another animal)…but I always hope that the shock of being injured prevents them from feeling pain.

    All that to say – I’m really sorry you had to not only see your dog kill a squirrel, but you had to put the squirrel out of its suffering. That’s very difficult, and it’ll take time to process the grief. But you will heal, and you’ll fall back in love with your dog again.

    In sympathy,
    Laurie

  25. My dog just killed a squirrel. I feel horrible. She brout it to me like a prize wagging her tail. The squirrel was still alive and I wanted her to drop it as maybe it could scurry away. I turned the hose on her and she dropped but it was dying and still alive. I didnt to see it in pain, I just couldnr stand it. I for a shovel and killed it to put its out of its misery im sure. Im sick for killing it but I didnt want it to suffer. I just feel awful.

  26. Hi Courtney,

    Thanks for your comments – I didn’t know dogs could kill opossums and birds! I imaging possums are slower than squirrels, thus easier to kill…but birds? Even my Georgie couldn’t catch a bird. Amazing – I’m curious what kind of dogs you have?

    I live in a Gospel centered home, too – I saw your blog :-)

    In peace and passion,
    Laurie

  27. Oh no! I can totally relate though. My dogs are bird and opossum killers. Luckily they haven’t gotten squirrels yet, but I am sure it is only a matter of time before they do.