Funny stories about squirrels are always popping up in the news and one of the more recent ones that caught my attention was about a man in Alabama that police claimed had trained a squirrel to attack people. The man in question denied that the squirrel was trained to attack but was simply his pet that sometimes got aggressive around strangers. That story got me wondering about an important question, “Can squirrels be trained?”
The answer is, “Yes, squirrels can be taught to do all sorts of tricks!” Squirrels are crazy smart rodents that are tenacious in their pursuit of tasty treats. This combination makes squirrels great animals to teach how to do tricks. Of course, how long it takes to train them depends upon the individual animal and the complexity of what you want them to do.
Let’s look at some of the more famous examples of trained squirrels so you can get an idea of what it takes to teach them things as well as what they are capable of learning.
Willy Wonka’s 40 Trained Squirrels
In the 2005 movie version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory there is a famous scene where squirrels are shelling nuts and placing them on a conveyor belt while also checking the nuts for quality and throwing the bad nuts down a waste chute. There are approximately 200 squirrels in the scene and while most were puppets or animatronics, 40 of them were real trained squirrels.
Here is a fascinating video that shows you exactly what it took to train the squirrels to sit on little benches and become expert nut workers.
Some interesting learnings from the video are:
Not every squirrel can be trained to do complex tasks. Some squirrels were too aggressive or wild to learn to be a nut sorter. The squirrels that couldn’t be trained to do complex actions were instead trained to do simple tasks such as running across the floor in a specific direction.
For squirrels that were able to learn complex tasks it took about 2000 repetitions for them to master the action. If you want to train a squirrel to do something complicated then you are going to need a lot of time a patience.
Training a Squirrel to Waterski
One of the most famous trained squirrels is named Twiggy. Twiggy was trained to waterski and has performed thousands of shows across the nation!
The Twiggy act has been performed off and on for about 40 years (here is the link to the full history). The original Twiggy passed away many years ago but new Twiggy’s have taken his place. In fact the show now features the eighth squirrel that they have trained to ski.
Teaching a Squirrel To Eat From Your Hand
If you are not interested in teaching your squirrels to do complex tasks such as being movie stars or professional water skiers then you can teach them something simple like eating from your hand pretty quick!
If you are working with wild squirrels in your backyard then it will take you about a week to teach them to grab a treat out of your hand. The trick is patience and consistency. Here is a video that shows how one guy taught the squirrels to eat from his hand and hang out on a picnic table.
If you are working with squirrels at a park or on a campus where they are already used to humans then teaching them to eat from your hand will be much faster. In the video above the man was feeding walnuts but I prefer feeding unsalted peanuts. If you are interested in trying to use other foods then here is a fun article about different squirrel foods and what to feed squirrels.
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