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

ribbon-method-1
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

ribbon-method-3
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.
Recommend training method?

The Create Submission Method

ribbon-method-2
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?
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Written by Laurie Haggart

Published: 01/11/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Henry
Spoodle
9 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Henry
Spoodle
9 Weeks

Hello- I've got a puppy who's 9 weeks old and a rabbit about 2 and a half years old. The puppy is calm at times when we hold him next to the rabbit but on occasions he does tend to try and nip at her and chase her when he can. As we are in an apartment what can we do to try and speed up the process into them getting used to each other so we don't have to cage off half of the apartment to protect the rabbit.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Amanda, Check out the videos linked below for teaching calmness around cats. You would teach calmness around the bunny in the same way. Mild issue - teaching impulse control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWF2Ohik8iM Moderate issue - teaching impulse control using corrections and rewards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dPIC3Jtn0E Work on impulse control in general with pup, by teaching things that increase impulse control and calmness - such as a long Place command around lots of distractions. Practicing the command until you get to the point where pup will stay on Place while you are working with the bunny in the same room. I recommend also back tying pup while they are on place - safely connecting a long leash attached to pup to something near the Place just in case pup were to try to get off Place before you could intervene. Make sure what the leash is secured to, the leash itself, and pup's collar or harness are secure and not likely to break or slip off. This keeps kitty safe while practicing and reinforces to pup that they can't get off the Place. The leash should be long enough that pup doesn't feel the leash while they are obediently staying on the Place because it has some slack in the leash. You want pup to learn to stay due to obedience and self-control, and the leash just be back up for safety. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Below are some other commands in general you can practice to help pup develop better impulse skill/self-control - impulse control takes practice for a dog to gain the ability to control herself. Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Leave It: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Out - which means leave the room: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Know that unfortunately, this type of training does take time though. Even with an older dog pup is mouthing, it takes a puppy a lot of practice, but the above training should get you headed in the right direction so pup learns how to be gentle as soon as possible, just remember to also be patient with your expectations of pup. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Lucy
Chihuahua
10 Years
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Question
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Lucy
Chihuahua
10 Years

Hello- I am considering trying to get one or two Holland Lops sometime soon but I wanted to know if it could be possible with Lucy. She is a relatively calm dog, although she has a lot of additude and will sometimes try to chase the wild rabbits in our yard... however the rabbits she chases are all bigger than her and she is usually fine with animals smaller than her, and since she's around 8 pounds i would guess this breed would be smaller (at 4lbs)

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Laylah, Without evaluating pup and her prey drive unfortunately I can't tell you for sure how she would do. I would see if you know of anyone who has a rabbit that you could expose her to on leash, possibly with safety measures like a basket muzzle. It's likely that she could be fine whenever the rabbit isn't moving. I would be especially aware of her bothering the rabbit when it moved quickly. Many dogs are fine until a prey animal runs away. Either way, I would start working on a solid Leave It, Place, and Come command, and be sure she can do them even when she spots a while rabbit running. This will be most easily done by practicing around other safe wild animals (squirrels, birds, chipmunks, rabbits, ect..) or friend's animals outside on a long training leash, so you can enforce the commands if pup doesn't obey, once pup is at the point where they know the commands well indoors. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Loki
Sheltie
17 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Loki
Sheltie
17 Weeks

My dog is doing ok at training its just my rabbit has terrified. Rabbit starts thumping and running away at the sight if the dog. But I've given the front of the garden for the dog to go outside to pee but my rabbit loves the space and is always unhappy because the dog has that space. Is there anyway to teach my rabbit not to be afraid of my dog?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Gloria, I recommend focusing on teaching the puppy to give your rabbit space and be calm around the rabbit. Most puppies are too rambunctious and unpredictable to be trusted with a rabbit alone, and your rabbit likely knows that - since rabbits are by nature prey animals and dogs are predators. I would give it time, give both animals their own separate space, encourage manners and leaving the rabbit alone with your puppy, and discourage any territorial or charging behavior from your rabbit. You can try rewarding your rabbit with favorite bunny treats whenever the puppy is around, but the biggest thing I would do is make sure the puppy is giving them plenty of space so they don't feel threatened and can get used to the dog being around without feeling as threatened by them. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Loki
Japanese Spitz
4 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Loki
Japanese Spitz
4 Months

Fluffy my rabbit who is 5 years old is very scared of the dog. He is unsocialised and he currently dislikes me too due to the fact that I smell like dog. That's why I want to seperate my dog and my rabbit. I have tried free roaming him but he dislikes the carpet and hates being picked up. I left the front part of the garden to my dog due to the fact that he's trained to release outside and I left the back to my rabbit. But my rabbit is used to having all the space and isn't happy. My dog is interested in the rabbit and rushes towards the cage whenever the rabbits in it and scaring him. Due to the face that our gate is see through my rabbit hides behind the shed half the time because he sees the dog. I'm really hoping that you can give advice how to get them along?

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

Hi there. This is something that with some time and patience, can be turned around. Your dog needs to learn that the rabbits are just a normal part of the household. So we need to teach him to become less excited by the rabbits. If you are up for this, it is going to take about a month of consistent practice before you see results. You will want to start out by teaching him "leave it". Leave is great for anything you want your dog to leave alone. Instructions on leave it will be at the end of this response. After about a week or so of working on the command, you can start taking him out on leash. Any time the even looks at a rabbit you give the command leave it. Once he breaks his attention away from the rabbit, you reward him with a treat. Ideally, you want to him to be sitting and looking at you. But in the beginning stages, as long as he isn't focused on the rabbit, you can reward him. You will literally practice this over and over, while moving closer to the rabbits until he is no longer interested in the rabbits. While this method takes a while, it is the best in relaying the messages across to your dogs. The rabbits need to be left alone! Here are the steps for "leave it" Teaching a dog 'leave it' Teaching “leave it” is not difficult. Begin the lessons inside your home or in an area with very few distractions. Here are the steps for teaching “leave it”: Make sure you have two different types of treats. One type can be fairly boring to the dog, but the other type should be a high-value treat that he finds pretty delicious. You will also want to make sure that the treats are broken up into pea-sized pieces so it won’t take him too long to eat them. Put one type of treat in each hand. If you like to train with a clicker as your marker, you can also hold a clicker in the same hand that holds the high-value treat. Then, place both of your hands behind your back. Make a fist with the hand that is holding the treat of lower value and present your fist to your dog, letting him sniff. Say “leave it” and wait until he finishes sniffing your fist. As soon as your dog is done sniffing, you can either click with the clicker or say “yes.” Then offer him the higher-value treat in your other hand. Repeat until your dog immediately stops sniffing your hand when you say “leave it.” When you say “leave it” and he stops sniffing right away, leash your dog and then toss a low-value treat outside of his reach. Wait until he stops sniffing and pulling toward the treat. As soon as he does, either say “yes” or click and then give him a high-value treat from your hand. Practice this exercise a number of times. Over time, by practicing “leave it,” your dog should stop pulling as soon as you give the cue. When rewarding him with a treat, make sure that it is something good, not plain old kibble. By doing so, you are teaching him that asking him to leave some food doesn’t mean he won’t get anything, but that in fact he might get something even more delicious. When your dog is reliably responding to the cue, you can teach him that “leave it” can apply to other things as well, not just food on the floor. Repeat the exercise with five different items that are fairly boring to your dog. After using five different “boring” items, start using slightly more exciting items. You know your dog, so you alone know what items he would consider more interesting, but don’t jump to high-value items right away. To increase his chances of success at learning the cue, you want to work up to high-value items gradually. If Kleenex or a piece of plastic, for instance, would attract your dog on a walk, don’t start with those. Choose the items based on your ultimate goal: Anytime you say “leave it,” you want to be confident that your dog will indeed leave whatever you are asking him to leave. . The reward he receives when he leaves an item can change as well. If your dog has a favorite toy, squeak it and play for a moment when he comes running to you after leaving the other item of interest. Most dogs love interacting with us, so a moment of praise or play with a toy can be just as effective as a treat. Keep it fun Even though you’re practicing “leave it” as a way to keep your dog safe, you want him to see it as a fun game you play. When your dog is proficient at the game in your home, start practicing in a variety of locations with more distractions.

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Question
Narla
Australian Cattle Dog
8 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Narla
Australian Cattle Dog
8 Weeks

she was calm when First introducing her to the rabbit now that she knows that the rabbit (lola) is there she slowly walks and then pounces and tries to attack lola through the cage

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

Hi there. This is something that with some time and patience, can be turned around. Narla needs to learn that the rabbit is just a normal part of the household. So we need to teach her to become less excited by the rabbit. If you are up for this, it is going to take about a month of consistent practice before you see results. You will want to start out by teaching her "leave it". Leave is great for anything you want your dog to leave alone. Instructions on leave it will be at the end of this response. After about a week or so of working on the command, you can start taking her out on leash. Any time she even looks at a rabbit you give the command leave it. Once she breaks her attention away from the rabbit, you reward her with a treat. Ideally, you want to her to be sitting and looking at you. But in the beginning stages, as long as she isn't focused on the rabbit, you can reward her. You will literally practice this over and over, while moving closer to the rabbits until she is no longer interested in the rabbit. While this method takes a while, it is the best in relaying the messages across to your dogs. The rabbit need to be left alone! Here are the steps for "leave it" Teaching a dog 'leave it' Teaching “leave it” is not difficult. Begin the lessons inside your home or in an area with very few distractions. Here are the steps for teaching “leave it”: Make sure you have two different types of treats. One type can be fairly boring to the dog, but the other type should be a high-value treat that he finds pretty delicious. You will also want to make sure that the treats are broken up into pea-sized pieces so it won’t take him too long to eat them. Put one type of treat in each hand. If you like to train with a clicker as your marker, you can also hold a clicker in the same hand that holds the high-value treat. Then, place both of your hands behind your back. Make a fist with the hand that is holding the treat of lower value and present your fist to your dog, letting him sniff. Say “leave it” and wait until he finishes sniffing your fist. As soon as your dog is done sniffing, you can either click with the clicker or say “yes.” Then offer him the higher-value treat in your other hand. Repeat until your dog immediately stops sniffing your hand when you say “leave it.” When you say “leave it” and he stops sniffing right away, leash your dog and then toss a low-value treat outside of his reach. Wait until he stops sniffing and pulling toward the treat. As soon as he does, either say “yes” or click and then give him a high-value treat from your hand. Practice this exercise a number of times. Over time, by practicing “leave it,” your dog should stop pulling as soon as you give the cue. When rewarding him with a treat, make sure that it is something good, not plain old kibble. By doing so, you are teaching him that asking him to leave some food doesn’t mean he won’t get anything, but that in fact he might get something even more delicious. When your dog is reliably responding to the cue, you can teach him that “leave it” can apply to other things as well, not just food on the floor. Repeat the exercise with five different items that are fairly boring to your dog. After using five different “boring” items, start using slightly more exciting items. You know your dog, so you alone know what items he would consider more interesting, but don’t jump to high-value items right away. To increase his chances of success at learning the cue, you want to work up to high-value items gradually. If Kleenex or a piece of plastic, for instance, would attract your dog on a walk, don’t start with those. Choose the items based on your ultimate goal: Anytime you say “leave it,” you want to be confident that your dog will indeed leave whatever you are asking him to leave. . The reward he receives when he leaves an item can change as well. If your dog has a favorite toy, squeak it and play for a moment when he comes running to you after leaving the other item of interest. Most dogs love interacting with us, so a moment of praise or play with a toy can be just as effective as a treat. Keep it fun Even though you’re practicing “leave it” as a way to keep your dog safe, you want him to see it as a fun game you play. When your dog is proficient at the game in your home, start practicing in a variety of locations with more distractions.

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