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I’ve got a two-year-old Lurcher who enjoys chasing squirrels in the woods. They’ve always got up the trees in plenty of time, but the other day we encountered a squirrel right in the middle of a field and it didn’t stand a chance! Since then, I’ve been really worried about what would happen if we met a small dog, like a Chihuahua, out in the woods? My dog has always been completely fine with all dogs, large and small, but will this squirrel kill have changed her? Would she be able to tell the difference between a small dog and a small furry?

Kristen Dillon advises…

Yes, she will be able to identify a small dog from a squirrel, as dogs are excellent at recognising their own species. However, you are right to be cautious in the wake of her first kill. It has nothing to do with blood – she won’t suddenly crave it or anything like that – but what may happen is the inherent instinct within her to chase may have been reinforced tremendously.

Sighthounds have a built-in desire to chase; some call this prey-drive, but it is more accurately described as instinct. Before now she has enjoyed the chase and has identified squirrels as providing this particular thrill. Since catching one, we have no way of knowing how rewarding it was for her, and whether that has changed her attitude to seeking out the thrill of actually catching her prey and how much this instinct takes over. Sometimes it can be strong enough to override everything else.

Work hard on her recall command, provide lots of chase games yourself on walks, using rope toys, flirt poles or similar, and try to avoid areas she associates with chasing for a little while. This will hopefully go towards breaking her chasing squirrels habit as the memory of her ‘catch’ fades and you become more rewarding yourself.

If you are in doubt, a lightweight long line attached to a well-fitting harness is always preferable until you do a little work with her and regain your confidence. Lastly, she may not have been affected at all and carry on exactly as before, but I would always err on the side of caution and safety for all concerned.

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