Is this squirrel annoying the dog on purpose?
October 17, 2005 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Do squirrels deliberately tease, bait, and/or annoy dogs?

My landlady has an adorable Jack Russell Terrier named Ralph. On Saturday I had let Ralph outside and five minutes later he began to emit the unholy high-pitched yelping racket that signals that he has found some prey, and will now chase it out of the yard. This carried on for some time, and curious, I went outside.

The yard is a long, fenced back yard with a power-line running across it and into the neighbor's yard. In the neighbor's yard, perched upon the power-line, holding stock still, was a fat squirrel. The squirrel was looking at the dog and flicking his tail. He was not going anywhere (such as the nearby tree), he was standing there as Ralph jumped and yelped harmlessly below. I strode up bellowing and the squirrel jumped into the nearby tree, which silenced Ralph.

Two hours later when I let him out the same thing happened again. Squirrel, same position, same behavior. This time I threw a clod of grass at the vermin. Other house-mates have confirmed sightings as well.

Is this normal squirrel behavior? Why is the squirrel doing this? I can't see any evolutionary advantage to baiting Ralph, or any advantage at all, except for entertainment value.
posted by By The Grace of God to Pets & Animals (19 answers total)
Yes, they do taunt other animals and they do it just for fun. At various times when I was growing up we had pet squirrels around the place and they would think up endless ways to tease, taunt, and torment the cats and dogs.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:14 AM on October 17, 2005

My poor old Cocker Spaniel was teased mercilessly by squirrels. There would be two or three of them perched just out of reach in the tree branches, chittering away. The dog barked and howled for hours. It was really a problem in the summer since we couldn't leave him inside all day and he was so noisy outside the neighbors complained. I really hate squirrels now.
posted by dual_action at 9:18 AM on October 17, 2005

I've watched one torment a cat -it would go up one tree, sneak down, run like a fiend to the next with the cat right behind, go up the next, do it again, lather, rinse, repeat.
posted by konolia at 9:45 AM on October 17, 2005

My sympathies are with the squirrels here. Perhaps you've forgotten: our pretty pampered pets want to chomp those squirrels between their jaws. They're barking to hassle and scare the squirrels. The dog is the creature that's being loud, noisy, and very, very annoying, not the squirrel. If the squirrels can retaliate through taunting--and enjoy themselves to boot--good for them!
posted by equipoise at 10:09 AM on October 17, 2005 [2 favorites]

Completely normal. My neighbors have "adopted" two or three squirrels by regularly setting out peanuts for them. They are almost completely tame around people, but they will mercilessly taunt any creature that treats them as prey -- such as my pit-lab mix. One of my cats is actually quite friendly with the squirrels and I've often seen them both in my yard -- the cat sunning herself and the squirrel burying peanuts in my garden.
posted by pmbuko at 10:13 AM on October 17, 2005

Most definitely. The braver squirrels will even try to tease people. I got the pleasure of watching one tease my ex-wife. When she didn't really respond it jumped on her head and would not let go of her hair. Even though we were married at the time I still got quite a laugh out of it all.
posted by horseblind at 10:14 AM on October 17, 2005

Response by poster: Oh, I admire this little fucker, unfortunately the neighbors hate Ralph's racket. It carries for blocks.
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:16 AM on October 17, 2005

This sounds like a job for a pellet gun.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:21 AM on October 17, 2005

Best answer: Most mammals are playful. And, remember, traits don't need an evolutionary advantage to be passed on -- they can persist just fine so long as they don't confer an evolutionary disadvantage, i.e. making one more likely not to mate either through dying before getting the chance, or not finding partners (it gets a little more complicated than that, but that's the heart of it.) That said, current thinking is that playfulness does confer an advantage.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:39 AM on October 17, 2005

Yeah, they're little bastards. When we're at my cabin, they drive my Labrador nuts. Running up and down trees, chirping just to get the dog's attention. Once the dog tires of them and moves away from the tree, they scamper down the truck and start the sequence again. I can't understand why they've developed this behaviour, but they definitely do it.

Calling all ethologists...
posted by thejimp at 11:00 AM on October 17, 2005

Squirrels play games. I have watched two squirrels play in a small pine tree for an hour straight - up and around and bite each other and around and down and up and around and out and in and around... Cyclists have lots of stories about squirrels that pace them, follow them, and try to run under their tires.

Reminds me of the squirrel vs. motorcyclist story.
posted by jellicle at 11:03 AM on October 17, 2005

As the Norse Spirit Ratatosk shows us, squirrels have a long history of insulting people and running away.
posted by arruns at 11:43 AM on October 17, 2005

Squirrels and cats. A weird relationship. One time I was standing in the driveway and a neighbor's large red longhair cat came over to visit. A squirrel I had seen around and fed occasionally saw us and thought this might be a food distribution opportunity. He came over completely fearless of the cat who seemed a bit confused by this. The squirrel sat down right next to the cat who gave a confused look suggesting that his victim/prey expectations had been overturned. The confused kitty seemed to feel that this called for at least some gesture of dominance which turned out to be a paw placed squarely in the middle of the squirrels back, sort of pushing him flat onto the concrete. However the squirrel didn't seem in the least bit fazed by this, in fact he seemed more intent on looking to see if I had any food. This further confused the cat who decided that simply ignoring the squirrel was probably the best policy.

I just remember cracking up at how brazen the squirrel was and how the cat just sort of tolerated him because he wasn't afraid and wasn't causing any trouble (other than being a slight source of embarassment.)
posted by gallois at 12:02 PM on October 17, 2005

Why do people think a squirrel taunting a predator is just play? By distracting it, it allows the other squirrels to know exactly where the predator is, so they can run around in other adjacent areas. I have no way of knowing whether that's the actual case, but it's not outside the realm of possibility.
posted by inthe80s at 1:15 PM on October 17, 2005

In Vancouver the squirrels around my area don't seem smart enough for that.
On several different occasions my dog (german shepard) has managed to scare them out of trees or off wires.
One time the i was walking her on leash and the the squirrel was on the tree trunk, above my head height, my dog ran the tree barking, and the squirrel fell off, right next to the dog.
If my dog wasn't on the leash I don't know what would have happened.
This has happened about 3 or 4 times on different blocks, so im pretty sure its not the same squirrel.

Another time the squirrel was on the power line the goes down the lane, the dog ran at the fence barking, and the squirrel fell off the wire, bounced off the top of the fence and into the lane.

I don't see how that kind of stupid behavior helps the squirrels reproduce, but it showed how the barking could help dogs get food, if that stupid squirrel behavior is common.
posted by Iax at 3:39 PM on October 17, 2005

Are these the smaller gray squirrels or the larger red ones? (If not another kind.)

When I was growing up the gray squirrels had yet to displace the red ones. Anyway, when we got cats woe be it to any squirrel that got into our yard to tease or whatever. We routinely got squirrel tails and sometimes more left for us on our porches by our female cat.

(And birds, mice, lizards, cicadas, rabbits, etc.)
posted by sevenless at 4:12 PM on October 17, 2005

Red squirrels [Sciurus niger] seem to be the predominate species in NEO, although there is a subpopulation in a park in Lakewood that is chocolate colored.
posted by sciurus at 5:06 PM on October 17, 2005

I've seen lots of squirrels taunting dogs, cats and birds. I feed my local squirrels peanuts. I tend to scatter the peanuts close to my open front door. The squirrels will come up to the screen door to grab peanuts. My cats are no more than two inches away on the other side of the door. The squirrels will sit there and leisurely eat the peanut and chitter occasionally. That drives my cats nuts. One of the cats will lunge and hit the screen door and the squirrel just looks at the cat with a hint of pity in it's eye.

jellicle - thanks for the link. My husband and cats think I've gone around the bend.
posted by deborah at 6:37 PM on October 17, 2005

Oh, and we have more black squirrels than grey. I've never seen a red squirrel except in pictures.
posted by deborah at 6:38 PM on October 17, 2005

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