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…
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.
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.
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! :-)