How to Train Your Small Dog to Like a Rabbit

Hard
4-6 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

Traditionally dogs are predators, rabbits are prey, and specifically, rabbits are prey for dogs. They are a natural food source for canines and their wild cousins. What if you have a pet rabbit and a pet dog?  Is there any hope of your dog becoming “friends” with your rabbit? Will you be able to socialize them and let them loose together? 

Many dogs and rabbits share homes together quite amicably. But whether your dog and rabbit will be able to be loose together and enjoy companionship depends on your dog and, to some degree, your rabbit. Dogs that are extremely prey motivated, or from breeds recently crossed with wild canine cousins, such as coyotes or wolves, are not good candidates as bunny buddies! 

However, most dogs can be taught to respect their rabbit housemates. Even a Labrador cross farm dog, Bella, who would happily chase and kill a jackrabbit in her field, has been trained so that she carefully steps over her mistress’s pet bunny, sitting on the living room floor, and quietly goes to her bed in the corner, leaving the family bunny unmolested. Bella may be an exceptional case, as she will chase wild rabbits, but not her family's tame one. Most dogs cohabitating with rabbits are trained not to chase rabbits at all, and this is usually how best success occurs in establishing rabbit and dog roommates!

Defining Tasks

Before training your pet dog to get along with your pet rabbit, who is naturally a prey animal to your dog, it is important that your dog is obedient, that he listens well to your commands and responds to you, and that your dog recognizes you as the pack leader. Dogs perceive the world through their rigid social structure, which is hierarchical and includes a pack leader and pack members of varying ranks. You will want to establish that you're the pack leader and that your rabbit is a member of the pack, along with your dog, in order to be able to let your dog and rabbit safely in contact with each other.  

You can start training your young dog to get along with your rabbit, but a puppy may have limited self-control. Although he may not be intentionally aggressive towards your rabbit, roughhousing and chewing can be difficult to control for a puppy and can injure your rabbit, so use caution with young dogs. An older dog may have more control over behavior. Also, using a confident bunny helps; a rabbit that always shows fear or runs away will not be useful at teaching your dog not to chase or view the rabbit as a prey object.

Getting Started

Be sure to supervise closely at all times when introducing a rabbit and dog together, to protect the rabbit's safety. Using a leash and a cage or barrier is usually necessary to control the situation until success socializing your two pets occurs.  Treats can be used to reward calm non-aggressive behavior in your dog around the bunny. Be sure you have a strong relationship with your dog, that he sees you as his leader, and responds to your commands and direction before attempting to teach your dog to socialize with an animal that he would otherwise see as prey. This strong relationship is necessary to help him establish an alternate way of relating to the rabbit and turn your bunny into a buddy, not an appetizer!

The Introduce Slowly Method

Most Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Introduce in cage
Put your rabbit in his cage in the middle of the floor and keep your dog on a leash so you have control of your dog. Slowly approach the cage and allow your dog to investigate. A bunny will usually feel safer in his cage, and if the rabbit is well socialized will probably not show fear of your dog. If he does, finding a bunny to borrow that is less fearful may be useful for training.
Step
2
Reward calm
If your dog stays calm while investigating, talk calmly and praise him, give him treats.
Step
3
Correct aggression
If your dog barks, paws at the cage or reacts aggressively, correct him by tapping him on the side and distracting him. Move your dog further away until he is calm and then approach the cage again. Say “gentle” when your dog is quiet and calm with the rabbit.
Step
4
Hold rabbit
When your dog is quiet around the rabbit in the cage, take the rabbit out of the cage and hold him while your dog investigates. Have an assistant hold the rabbit so you can control your dog on-leash. Reward gentle behavior, correct aggressive behavior. Create space when needed.
Step
5
Let loose supervised
Gradually move to playing with the bunny on the ground, and if your dog reacts calmly, remove leash and allow the rabbit and dog to move around together, supervise closely.
Recommend training method?

The Make a Pack Method

Effective
1 Vote
Step
1
Put rabbit in rolling cage
Dogs like to travel in packs. Your dog forms a pack with you, other people, and other animals that walk alongside him. Put your rabbit in a small rolling cage, available at pet stores, or put a small cage with your rabbit in it on an open wagon, so your dog can see the rabbit.
Step
2
Walk with dog
Go out on a walk in a safe location. Be sure other large, aggressive dogs will not be present, that may get out of control and attack your rabbit in the cage. Control the situation. Walk your dog alongside your rabbit in the cage frequently.
Step
3
Carry rabbit
If possible, have a reliable child ride in the wagon holding the rabbit on a leash to increase exposure during walks or carry your rabbit while on a harness and leash. This will help your dog see your rabbit as a pack member part of his traveling group.
Step
4
Introduce after walk
Start introducing your dog to your rabbit after walks in a quiet location with your dog on leash and the rabbit held on a leash. Supervise closely. Tell your dog to lie down at first, until the rabbit becomes accustomed to your dog.
Step
5
Allow to socialize
Eventually let your dog and rabbit move around together, if they are comfortable together you can let them off leash, in an enclosed safe area while supervised, to socialize together.
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The Create Submission Method

Least Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Tire and expose
Exercise your dog so that he is tired and ready for quiet time. Expose your dog to your rabbit while your rabbit is in the cage on the floor. Praise calm behavior, correct aggressive or excited behavior.
Step
2
Have dog lie down
Once your dog is calm around your rabbit in the cage, have your dog lie down next to the cage door on his side. This is a submissive position. You are teaching your dog that he is not dominant over the rabbit.
Step
3
Allow rabbit access
Open the cage door and allow the rabbit to come out and investigate your dog at his own pace. Do not force the bunny out.
Step
4
Allow investigation
If your dog is remaining calm, allow your dog to lift his head and sniff or investigate the bunny, but insist he remains lying down, and allow the bunny to move around freely. Give your dog lots of praise and attention for being still and calm. Repeat frequently for several days. This stage will take significant time for your rabbit to become comfortable approaching the dog, and your dog to learn not to react to the rabbit.
Step
5
Increase exposure
Eventually allow your rabbit and dog to move around together. Always supervise and insist your dog lie down if he shows signs of wanting to play aggressively. Reward your dog when lying down in the presence of the rabbit, so your dog recognizes this as a pleasant experience and does not feel frustrated and reprimanded constantly.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Nano
Mutt
4 Years
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Question
0 found helpful
Nano
Mutt
4 Years

Hello, Nano is a terrier cross, but has a low prey drive. He is not a squirrel chaser, but will chase crows and ravens. Would this be dangerous for the rabbit?

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
128 Dog owners recommended

Hello there. Thank you for writing in. Nano could be chasing the birds because they are flying... also depending on what type of terrier he is mixed with, you should be just fine. Because terriers are such popular breeds for pets because of their size, they have been bred so much that a lot of that instinct has disappeared over the years. You can start off introducing him to the rabbit while he is on leash, and then go from there. Feel free to send in another question if you run into any issues introducing them.

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Question
Bandit
Pitbull and black lab mix
9 Months
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Question
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Bandit
Pitbull and black lab mix
9 Months

I have a puppy who likes to play bite and be rough. We also have a baby mini lop. When around the bunny he clearly wants to play but still tries to nip at her ear. Only twice. We've slowly been introducing but unsure if were doing it correctly. He doesnt listen to commands when focused very much on the bunny.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
128 Dog owners recommended

Hello! I am going to send you some information on nipping and how to curb that behavior. Nipping: Puppies may nip for a number of reasons. Nipping can be a means of energy release, getting attention, interacting and exploring their environment or it could be a habit that helps with teething. Whatever the cause, nipping can still be painful for the receiver, and it’s an action that pet parents want to curb. Some ways to stop biting before it becomes a real problem include: Using teething toys. Distracting with and redirecting your dog’s biting to safe and durable chew toys is one way to keep them from focusing their mouthy energies to an approved location and teach them what biting habits are acceptable. Making sure your dog is getting the proper amount of exercise. Exercise is huge. Different dogs have different exercise needs based on their breed and size, so check with your veterinarian to make sure that yours is getting the exercise they need. Dogs—and especially puppies—use their playtime to get out extra energy. With too much pent-up energy, your pup may resort to play biting. Having them expel their energy in positive ways - including both physical and mental exercise - will help mitigate extra nips. Being consistent. Training your dog takes patience, practice and consistency. With the right training techniques and commitment, your dog will learn what is preferred behavior. While sometimes it may be easier to let a little nipping activity go, be sure to remain consistent in your cues and redirection. That way, boundaries are clear to your dog. Using positive reinforcement. To establish preferred behaviors, use positive reinforcement when your dog exhibits the correct behavior. For instance, praise and treat your puppy when they listen to your cue to stop unwanted biting as well as when they choose an appropriate teething toy on their own. Saying “Ouch!” The next time your puppy becomes too exuberant and nips you, say “OUCH!” in a very shocked tone and immediately stop playing with them. Your puppy should learn - just as they did with their littermates - that their form of play has become unwanted. When they stop, ensure that you follow up with positive reinforcement by offering praise, treat and/or resuming play. Letting every interaction with your puppy be a learning opportunity. While there are moments of dedicated training time, every interaction with your dog can be used as a potential teaching moment.

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Question
Pippa
Golden Retriever
11 Weeks
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Question
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Pippa
Golden Retriever
11 Weeks

We have had our free roam bunny (lychee) for seven years, and are getting a puppy soon.. we are not sure how to go about their first meeting and what to do

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
92 Dog owners recommended

Hello, you will have to be very careful and make the introduction a slow one. The guide where you proposed the question has excellent tips - any one of the 3 methods is worth trying: https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-rabbit. It is key that your rabbit be kept safe. I would use the Introduce Slowly Method first. Remember that the rabbit needs to be treated the same as always, as if they are number one and with the same attention as before, to be more willing to accept the dog moving in. Pippa will no doubt be energetic, so be sure to exercise her well every day and start the obedience lessons as soon as she gets home. She'll then be more likely to listen when you want her to stay put and not chase the bunny. Take a look here for tips that can work as easily with a rabbit as a cat: https://wagwalking.com/training/not-chase-cats. Obedience commands: https://wagwalking.com/training/obedience-train-a-whippet. Good luck!

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Question
Diego
Chihuahua
9 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Diego
Chihuahua
9 Years

Just got a young black and white bunny. Would love for Diego and bunny to be friends.

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
92 Dog owners recommended

Hello, as explained here, the introduction has to be slow and controlled. Make sure that Diego is well exercised and tired out first - a long walk is ideal. Watch for signs of aggression and do not let them last long if they occur. Remember, rabbits can be very nervous and have powerful back feet, allowing them to get out of your hold if they want to. Take a look here: https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-rabbit. All of the methods are good for trying out a friendship. As well, I would suggest looking for a rabbit owner's forum on the internet and posing the question there. Although all dogs are different, a rabbit owner may have good tips. All the best!

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Question
Donk
Jack Russell Terrier
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Donk
Jack Russell Terrier
1 Year

My dog is too giddy and hyperactive, and wont stop licking peoples faces.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kyle, I suggest working on teaching pup some directional commands. Once pup knows those commands, practice those commands around willing friends you recruit while pup is on a drag leash. Use the drag leash to calmly enforce pup to leave people alone, go to place, or obey whichever directional command they have calmly been told to. Practice this often around a lot of people. Also, check out the article linked below to build pup's respect for you calmly as well - the consistency and working methods: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Directional commands to work on with pup: Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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