Mac is your typical Labrador Retriever mix. Laid back, gentle, and a lover of comfort. He has claimed a spot on Mom’s bed, and nothing is going to convince him to move. His tail wags and his tongue lolls out, but even though he watches his mom try to get him up, he just isn’t going to comply.
Not even for a treat. If you say “treat” in my house, my own Mac comes flying, even if you whisper it. But not this Mac. He’s comfortable, and he’s staying. Mom offers him a treat twice, but he just rolls his eyes and stays right there.
Then she says the magic word. “Squirrel!” she says, and just like that, Mac bounces out of bed and is on the hunt. That’s because he associates the word with something he really likes to do: chase squirrels.
Dogs have a natural prey drive, which shows up when they see a cat, a rabbit, or a squirrel. In the wild, dogs needed to have a finely tuned prey drive to be sure that they ate each day.
Domestic dogs have no need to hunt for food, but the drive is hardwired into their brains. However, lots of dogs wouldn’t know what to do if they actually caught a squirrel, and all they want to do is really play. They simply immensely enjoy the chase.
The danger lies when a dog off-leash chases a squirrel (or cat or rabbit) into the street, where he could easily be hit by a car. The drive to chase is intensely powerful to a dog, and once he’s on the move with his mind focused on his prey, he just doesn’t hear your commands.
Be sure to keep your dog restrained when you’re near roads. It just may save his life.