People have been hunting with dogs for centuries, and that tradition continues today. Just what kind of a dog is best for rabbit, squirrel, bird, bear or coon hunting is somewhat difficult to determine.
It was in the mid 1970s and most of the 1980's when I did a good bit of squirrel hunting with a dog. Shep was what I would consider a good squirrel dog. He was a mixture of Norwegian elkhound, beagle and a few other breeds. I got him when he was just a puppy. He just wandered into my parent's home when they were living at Cross Lanes in Kanawha County. I brought him to Randolph County in 1975 when I started living in a farm house on Stalnaker Run Road.
The first time I took him hunting was in the fall of that year. It was in the late afternoon of the first week when I got a squirrel with my .22 rifle. When I let him smell the squirrel, he quickly grabbed it and took off. As far as the dog was concerned, that was his. I had a hard time getting the squirrel out of his mouth. That first year he seemed to realize what the gun was for. Anytime I took it out of the house he was ready to go hunting.
As Shep got older, he seemed to be able to recognize a squirrel's scent, and he would seriously go after it. When he was learning how to squirrel hunt, it was really funny when Shep would actually try to climb the tree like the squirrel did. He could not figure out why that squirrel could go up that tree and he couldn't.
When Shep was in his prime, he would get a squirrel up a tree and his bark was loud and rapid. Sometimes the squirrel would go jumping through the smaller limbs to get away. Shep would stay directly underneath the squirrel usually on his hind legs with his rapid bark. The way he would dance on his hind legs was quite comical.
Some people would often ask, just how did you train that dog? Well, the answer is very simple - I just took him hunting.
I had another dog I would often take hunting before I came to Elkins. This was a female that was half Samoyed and half Collie. She always enjoyed going hunting, but her nose was not nearly as sensitive as Shep's, and she was just too fast to be a good rabbit dog. I still enjoyed taking her out in the country just to watch her run. I remember one time when I was squirrel hunting in Roane County, she was doing a lot of smelling around an old tree stump. All of a sudden she turned completely around with her ears straight up. In a split second, she took off after a big fox squirrel that was on the ground. Bessie did not smell that squirrel. She simply heard it stirring around in the woods.
From my own experience, training a squirrel dog may be time consuming, but it is not a difficult task. However, the owner must have some patience. Before squirrel season opens, take the dog on short walks in a wooded area where there are some squirrels. This will get the dog used to being in the woods and decrease the likelihood of the dog running off when he gets excited. I did this several times with Shep when he was a puppy. When I would go squirrel hunting by myself, I would always let him smell the squirrels that I would bring home. This also was part of his training. Then when I would dress the squirrels out, I would save the liver and heart. A few days later I would cook these two organs and mix them with some dry dog food and warm water. This would be the dog's reward for helping me get a few squirrels.