Nothing warms the heart like seeing our pets get along, particularly with those of the floppy-eared, carrot-munching variety. We would like to think that love and domestication can conquer any natural instinct that might cause tension between different species.
Many dog owners are also rabbit lovers, owning bunnies that sometimes have as much free roam of the house as Fido. Are the fundamental differences between dogs and rabbits irreconcilable, or do the adorable videos of bunnies nuzzling dogs we see suggest otherwise? In this article, we explore whether dogs can live with rabbits.
Signs to Watch for When Introducing Dogs and Rabbits
When a dog is introduced to a new creature they may well have never even seen before, they can exhibit a wide range of different body language signs depending on the animal’s curiosity. The most common signs to look for when placing a dog and rabbit under the same roof are sniffing and a generic signs of curiosity or excitement.
If a dog is easily excited, they may nudge the rabbit with the nose or paw. It is an excellent sign if the dog is doing so in a very gentle manner, exhibiting awareness of the fragility of the rabbit. The dog may greet the rabbit with a friendly lick or just look on cautiously if the dog is on the skittish side. Some body language to be wary of like whining or growling can signal either aggression or affection; however, both may be a danger to the rabbit, depending on the dog’s size.
It is essential to assess a dog’s temperament in deciding whether a rabbit is right for your home, particularly in these first observed interactions. Usually, the initial body language of the dog are very telling of whether the arrangement with work. Analyzing the body language of the rabbit is also valuable, though a bit more difficult to interpret with certainty. If the rabbit is overcome with fear and remains that way, a more delicate method of introduction ought to be taken.
History of Rabbits & Dogs
Dogs and rabbits were domesticated long ago, and have cohabitated for decades on farms and in the home. The keeping of rabbits as close household pets is, in the grand scheme, a new development. Rabbits were brought into domestication as they slowly subsided as one of the primary food sources in man’s transition from hunter-gatherer societies.
People have only recently began keeping rabbits in their homes and treating them as household pets rather than livestock. Historically, dogs have been used in the hunting of rabbits, which can present a number of problems. Dogs with a reputation for their calm nature are highly recommended in households keeping non-dog pets.
New articles have covered stories of dynamic rabbit and dog duos, sharing food and having a cuddle. Even though these adorable relationships have been documented in the past, we still hear of stories about dogs attacking pet rabbits or being too rough with them, causing the rabbit to go into shock. The unpredictability that follows from two animals interacting is heightened in inter-species relations, but it should not discourage rabbit owners or dog owners from attempting to bridge the gap.
Science of Rabbits & Dogs
The science behind determining whether dogs can live with rabbits or not boils down to the science of scent and instinct. Dogs are instinctively pack animals and they identify familiar members of their pack through scent. Depending on when the rabbit and dog are introduced, scent and instinct can bond the two for life.
In contrast, the instinct for certain breeds to hunt small animals like rabbits cannot be ignored. Some would argue that there is a biological incompatibility for hunting breeds like Beagles to live with rodents. While a consideration of science is important in answering whether dogs can live with rabbits, the most valuable component is that of good training.
Training Your Dog to Live with a Rabbit
To train a dog to live with a rabbit, several behaviors need to be deeply ingrained. As with any wanted behavior, the dog must be notified through positive reinforcement or treats as to what is correct.
There are certain training prerequisites to have established before bringing a rabbit into the home such as the basic commands - sit, stay, and come. Having these commands under control makes it much easier for handlers to maintain a secure environment for both animals, particularly because most rabbits are unable to respond to commands.
Behaviors like growling or insistent, aggressive pawing need to be reprimanded, as they pose a risk to small animals. These behaviors can be corrected with a stern scold and physical correction of the paw. On the other hand, behaviors like gentle sniffing and laying down are to be praised as the optimal reaction to rabbits.
One tricky thing to be mindful of is a dog’s overzealousness. A sense of curiosity and eagerness to socialize should not be punished. This sort of energy, while not aggressive, can still result in negative behaviors like leash pulling and jumping up. Making this distinction is quite difficult and, even with proper leash handling and basic commands locked in, a dog’s hyperactivity in their young age might make it impossible to share a household with rabbit.
Some safety tips to be mindful of when assessing whether a dog can live with a rabbit or not are as follows. Be mindful of territorial spaces, such as where a dog sleeps and eats. These spaces can be a no-go for rabbits, which these small creatures are not usually attune to.
While on the topic of space, it is also incredibly important to monitor personal space when introducing the two animals. It is best that dogs are able to investigate them from a distance before getting up close and personal. The dogs can be restrained or the bunnies properly contained. Lastly, be sure to never leave the two alone, regardless of how long they have been socialized.
By a Dachshund lover Lillie Hinkle
Published: 03/01/2018, edited: 04/06/2020