June 27, 2019
By Justin Goethe
When it comes to training squirrel dogs, James Parnell has forgotten more than most folks hope to learn in a lifetime. Parnell, a lifelong breeder and trainer of Mountain Feists and Stephens Stock Mountain Curs, set out to develop a dog that showcased the best of both breeds.
He wanted a small-framed, hard-hunting tree dog that was easy to maintain.
In 1998, the first litter of Parnell’s Carolina Curs was born. To ensure your next squirrel dog helps fill your ears with the sweet sounds of a canine cantata and your hunting vest with bushy-tails, Parnell has a few training tips for you.
TIP 1 – START WITH A GOOD DOG
While hunt tests, field trials and detailed pedigrees aren’t as common for squirrel dogs as they are for the pointing and flushing breeds, you still need to find a puppy with good bloodlines. When searching for a pup, look for a breeder with a proven track record of producing quality squirrel dogs. Find a breeder willing to guarantee their product.
According to Parnell, “Besides myself, I only recommend people buy my dogs [Parnell’s Carolina Curs] from a few breeders that I know stand behind them. If you’re unsatisfied with the pup, they will take him back – no questions asked.”
TIP 2 – EXPOSURE! EXPOSURE! EXPOSURE!
You need squirrels to make a squirrel dog. Parnell likes to place a trapped squirrel in his yard for the puppy to find. According to Parnell, once the puppy discovers the squirrel, the puppy will have to work to build up enough courage to try to get the squirrel out of the trap, but “eventually they’ll bust loose and go to barking and trying to tear the trap up to get to that squirrel.”
A word of caution: Use this technique sparingly. According to Parnell, if you repeat this exercise too much, the dog will associate the trap with prey and bark at it and not the squirrel.
The best exercise for training a squirrel dog involves a slight twist on the trapped squirrel routine. Parnell suggests that, again, you start with a trapped squirrel but this time in an area where there are a few (not too many) trees. Set the trapped squirrel down, and let the pup find it.
Once the pup starts to bark and work himself up, let the squirrel out of the trap. The squirrel will run to the nearest tree. The dog should chase and, once the squirrel trees, the dog should start to “bark the tree.”
Once the dog trees, praise him. Let him know that this is what you want. If possible, shoot the squirrel in front of him. Performing this exercise will cement in the dog’s mind that finding squirrels and putting them in trees is the name of the game.
According to Parnell, this exercise can be repeated as often as you like.
TIP 3 – TAKE HIM HUNTING!
Just like Tip 2, you can’t make a squirrel dog at the house. You need to take him to the woods. According to Parnell, a puppy must be “hunted” at least once a week from the time you bring him home until he begins to understand what’s expected of him.
It’s also important that you take the dog to woods with a large population of squirrels. According to Parnell, “Taking the dog to woods that doesn’t have squirrels is hurting him more than helping.”
Finally, be patient. For the first couple months, your hunting trips will be more about building the pup’s confidence. It will take him a while before he puts it all together.
Don’t be discouraged. Stick with it. If given enough time and opportunities, a well-bred squirrel dog will soon learn what it is you are after.
According to Parnell, once a dog understands the game, he won’t forget it. It may take him a few trips at the beginning of each season to get “tuned up,” but he will always understand his purpose in life — to provide squirrel gravy for you and the family for years to come.