Squirrel dogs are bred to tree

When it comes to squirrel dogs, training is key, but it starts with proper breeding.

Squirrel hunting with dogs is all action. If you have good squirrel dogs, just head them in the direction you want to hunt and they will find the squirrels. And they will let you know it vociferously, bouncing and trying to find a way to get up the tree to the squirrel.

“You turn them loose and they will hunt like bird dogs,” said Haney Hancock, who breeds and trains squirrel dogs at his Tree Rat Kennels (treeratkennels@gmail.com) near Camden, S.C. “They will find the squirrel. When you hear them open (bark at the tree) go to them and start looking for the squirrel up in the tree.”

A good squirrel dog is a product of the breeding, Hancock said.

“If you breed two good squirrel dogs that have all the attributes you want, then take those puppies and expose them to the timber, they will tree. Some will be better than others. But it all starts with the breeding.”

The first thing a dog needs to show is that it will hunt, Hancock said.

“If they won’t hunt it doesn’t matter if they will tree or not. But if they hunt, you want them to tree and stay treed.”

He has a 6-acre training pen encompassing a wooded area inhabited by plenty of squirrels. Feeding stations  draw the squirrels in, helping young dogs figure out what they are supposed to tree.

“My first squirrel dog was a little feist named Bo. But I had to get rid of him because he was a chicken killer, too,” he said.

Training is key

Growing up in Fort Mill, he helped train bird dogs with professional trainer and handler John Ray Kimbrell. When his son was growing up he had rabbit dogs, but when his son went away to college he found somebody who wanted his beagle pack.

“I moved down to Camden and bought a squirrel dog from James Parnell of Hartsville, a Parnell’s Carolina Cur,” Hancock said. “Her name was Lady and she turned out to be a super squirrel dog. I hunted her until she was about 11-years-old. Then I got another dog out of that same cross. Her name was Trixie and I still have her. She is 14-years-old now.”

This young dog is doing some on-the-job training, learning how to tree a squirrel. (Photo by Pat Robertson)

Squirrel dog enthusiasts consider Parnell, who died about a year ago, legendary in the squirrel dog fraternity. The Carolina Cur, which he developed several decades ago, was the result of an accidental cross between a tiny feist named Pee Wee and a Stephens Stock Mountain Cur named Kate.

Mountain curs have been established for more than 200 years, with the original stock brought by European settlers to the Appalachian Mountains from Ohio down to Tennessee.

Hancock introduced Mountain Curs to his kennel when he trained a dog for Kirk Perteet, a breeder in Tiger, Georgia.

Let’s hunt!

“He brought me a dog named Ruger when he was about 5- or 6-months-old,” Hancock said. “Ruger treed so hard I had to take him out of the training pen. I’d take him out every day and let him tree a little bit.”

When it came time to send Ruger home, Hancock tried to buy the dog, but he was not for sale. Perteet said he’d give Hancock a puppy or two when he bred Ruger to his female named Freckles.

“Ruger will have to be really good to be bred to my Freckles,” he told Hancock. Hancock responded: “Freckles will have to be really good to be bred to Ruger.”

Hancock got two puppies out of that breeding, Bubbles and Yoshi. He gave Yoshi to a landowner who let him squirrel hunt on his land. A year or so later the Georgia breeder gave Hancock another dog out of the same cross named Brownie.

He told Hancock that Brownie, then about 5- or 6-months-old, would road hunt, walk hunt, tree and was easily handled. “Just show her which pen to go in and she will,” he said.

Brownie was such a good squirrel dog, Hancock asked Perteet if he ever got rid of Ruger and Freckles he wanted them to breed because the cross was so strong.

“I’ve got them bred right now,” Hancock said. “Those two dogs have produced more good squirrel dogs than any cross I know of other than Rockababy and Pepper from Parnell’s Carolina Curs.

Hancock and the group of squirrel dog enthusiasts he hunts with take about 600 squirrels a year. He also provides his dogs for youth hunts, introducing youngsters to hunting, especially hunting squirrels with dogs. They sell the tails to the Mepps Fishing Lure Company and donate the money to charity.

“Come and go with us sometime,” he said. “There’s squirrels out there that have never been killed before.”

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