How to Train Your Dog to Hunt Rabbits

Medium
6-8 Weeks
Work

Introduction

Did you know that people have been hunting small game with dogs for thousands of years? This is not a new partnership, but one that may be at the very heart of how and why dogs became domesticated in the first place. Ancient art depicts the dog-human hunting relationship, and small game like rabbits were among the first and most common quarry that developed this partnership. Over the generations, dogs have been specifically bred to hunt game like rabbits.  

Retrievers and hounds that have highly developed scenting and hunting instincts are commonly used. For rabbit hunting, beagles are generally recognized as the all-stars of the sport. Their agility, speed, focus, teamwork, and scenting ability serve them well while hunting these extremely fast and agile animals, however, many hunting breeds are motivated and adept at hunting rabbits. If you teach your dog to hunt rabbits this will provide great exercise for your dog, and providing your dog a job that he has been developed for is good for your dog's emotional and mental development.

Defining Tasks

Rabbits are extremely challenging game, as they are small, fast, and able to escape through small openings and hide in dense foliage, all factors that make them extremely difficult to hunt for your dog. Most dogs, especially hunting breeds, are extremely motivated to chase rabbits. Focusing this natural inclination and teaching your dog to chase rabbits and return quarry to you after they have been shot, hopefully unmangled, can be the challenging part for handlers and hunters. 

You will need your dog to be not only focused on the hunt, but responsive to off-leash commands, even while focused on quarry.  A dog that does not respond to commands may get in the way of a shot, or, put himself in a dangerous situation, such as when other wildlife, a roadway, or a hazardous obstacle are present. Dogs can be injured from the stress of the speed and fast turns involved in chasing a rabbit, and you will need to supervise your dog closely to ensure that he does not sustain injury, and address muscle and joint injuries if they occur. Young dogs are often introduced to rabbit hunting, however, due to the continuing development of joints in young dogs, extra care should be taken to ensure that injuries are prevented and addressed.

Getting Started

When hunting rabbits with your dog and using a shotgun, there is a risk to the dog from the shotgun. Special care is critical to ensure your dog is not in the line of fire, that you have the correct type of gun, and knowledge of its use for the job at hand. You should get your dog used to the sights and sounds of the gun prior to hunting rabbits so he is not frightened or startled. You can use rabbit skins to motivate and teach your dog to scent and chase rabbits. Some hunters use live rabbits in an enclosed pen to introduce young dogs to chasing rabbits. In these cases, care is taken to protect the rabbit by supervising and taking other precautions. Having a dog that has a strong grasp of obedience and off-leash commands, especially off-leash recall, is important to prevent accidents or losing your dog on the hunt.

The Reinforce Interest Method

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Step
1
Introduce rabbit scent
Provide your dog with a rabbit skin, or rabbit feet to play with to get them used to the scent of the rabbit.
Step
2
Create scent trail
Tie your dog up and drag the skin away, creating a scent trail. Hide the rabbit skin.
Step
3
Encourage tracking
Release your dog and encourage him to follow the scent trail. When the dog picks up the scent trail and uses it as a tool to help him find the hidden rabbit skin, reward your dog by playing with him and the rabbit skin. You may have to encourage and help your dog locate the scent and skin at first.
Step
4
Look for rabbits
Take the dog to an area where your know a rabbit is present. It is better if the dog does not see the rabbit, so they discover the scent first. Allow your dog to follow the scent and locate the rabbit.
Step
5
Encourage rabbit flushing
Encourage your dog, when the rabbit presents, to flush and chase the rabbit. Reward the dog for locating and flushing the rabbit.
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The Hunt with a Pack Method

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Step
1
Teach obedience
Establish off-leash and obedience commands, ensure your dog is well socialized.
Step
2
Introduce pack
Introduce your dog to a small pack of 3 or 4 other experienced hunting dogs in a safe, calm environment. Allow the dogs to become familiar with each other.
Step
3
Run with pack
Allow your dog to run with the pack, to locate the rabbit scent as part of the group and participate in flushing the rabbit.
Step
4
Practice
This will have to be done multiple times over a period of weeks, so your dog learns from the other pack members. Gradually introduce your dog to hunting with larger packs if desired.
Step
5
Introduce solo hunting
Intersperse pack hunting, with solo hunting, to build your dog’s confidence. Keep it fun, reward your dog for locating rabbits and obeying commands. After several months your dog should be excited, and motivated to hunt, locate scent, and flush rabbits, while still listening to your commands.
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The Use a Tame Rabbit Method

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Step
1
Introduce rabbit
Introduce your young dog to a tame rabbit in a rabbit pen. Hold the dog, and the rabbit, do not allow the dog to harm the rabbit. Your puppy should get excited about the rabbit and pull on the leash trying to approach the rabbit.
Step
2
Leash dog
Allow the rabbit loose, with the dog on leash. Allow the dog to locate the rabbit. If the rabbit hides, allow the dog to locate it with scent.
Step
3
Loose dog
Gradually move to a larger area, letting the rabbit loose, and the dog loose, to chase the tame rabbit. Do not allow the dog to harm the rabbit, strict supervision will be required. Usually, a young dog cannot catch the rabbit, and if they do, they are unsure what to do with the rabbit. The goal is just to get your dog used to chasing.
Step
4
Look for wild rabbits
Once the dog is interested in pursuing the rabbit and learns to find the rabbit using scent, take your dog to an open area where you know there are wild rabbits and allow your dog loose to scent, track, and chase wild rabbits.
Step
5
Reinforce chasing wild rabbits
Reward your dog for tracking, and locating wild rabbits.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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