How to Train Your Dog to Not Kill Rabbits

Hard
1-6 Months
General

Introduction

Do you live in dread of the dog hurting the family's pet rabbit? With some dogs, this is a very real possibility, because of their natural hunting instinct. This is especially true in terriers, since they were originally bred to hunt down and kill vermin.

Training can overcome the hunting instinct, but the wise pet parent is cautious never to put temptation in the dog's path and to supervise them around small animals at all times. Indeed, successful training is the result, not of suppressing that hunting instinct (which will always be present), but of making the owner more interesting than the rabbit so the dog doesn't give chase.

Defining Tasks

It is never a good tactic to tell a dog they can't do something. This alone results in faulty learning, where the dog is inhibited in your presence but thinks it's okay to kill rabbits when you're not around.

Instead, it's best to teach the dog an appropriate way to behave around small furries, such as to sit patiently and wait for you. In addition, this technique relies on making the pet parent more interesting than the rabbit, by training a 'look' command, and rewarding the dog for focusing their attention on the owner.

In time, you can also teach the dog to be calm around rabbits, so the urge to chase is lessened. However, be aware that in terriers this prey drive is so strong that the dog may never be trustworthy enough to be left alone with potential prey species.

Getting Started

You need minimum equipment, mainly ultra-tasty treats and a leash. It is, however, hugely helpful to have a realistic toy rabbit, and perhaps a friend to slowly move the rabbit with a piece of string. Once the dog's training is sufficiently progressed, you can also introduce the dog to rabbits that are safely caged.

Start by teaching basic commands in a quiet environment. As the dog masters 'sit' and 'look', take the training outdoors. Ultimately, you'll introduce a stooge toy rabbit, to attract the dog's attention as you teach them self-control.

The Desensitize Method

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Desensitize method for Not Kill Rabbits
Step
1
Understand the idea
'Sit' and 'look' enable you to control an incendiary situation, but it would be even better if the dog ignored the rabbit in the first instance. To do this, use a stooge toy rabbit on a piece of string.
Step
2
Rabbit at a distance
Have the dog on a leash and a toy rabbit in the same room. Have the dog at a sufficient distance that he ignores the rabbit. Reward him for paying it no heed.
Step
3
Move a little closer
Now take a step closer, reward him for taking no notice. Watch the dog's body language closely and be alert for subtle clues that tell you the dog has taken an interest and is about to pounce on the rabbit. Distract him with the 'look' command, then reward him.
Step
4
All eyes on you
Keeping the same distance from the rabbit, step to a new spot, and again get the dog's attention. Reward him and then step away from the rabbit and give the dog lots of praise. The aim is to break the link between rabbits and chasing, and instead focus on you.
Step
5
Build tolerance
Eventually, the dog will tolerate being ever closer to the rabbit without reacting to it. Remember, however, it is never a good idea to leave dogs and rabbits unsupervised together.
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The Rock Solid 'Sit' Method

Effective
1 Vote
Rock Solid 'Sit' method for Not Kill Rabbits
Step
1
Understand the idea
Giving chase is utterly thrilling for a dog, indeed chasing is its own reward. In the short term, deny the dog this satisfaction by keeping them on a leash around rabbits, and in the long term teach a rock solid 'sit'. This enables you to stop the dog in his tracks at any time, should he spot a rabbit.
Step
2
Use a treat to get his attention
Start in quiet place with few distractions. Hold a treat in your hand and lower your hand to the level of the dog's nose so they pick up the scent.
Step
3
Lure the dog to sit
With the dog now sniffing your hand, raise it in a low arc up and over his head. As the dog's nose follows the treat, his butt will automatically drop to the floor. As soon as his rear hits the ground, say "sit", and let him have the treat.
Step
4
Practice
Practice repeatedly until the dog anticipates the word "sit" and drops his butt when you say it. Now practice giving the sit command when the dog is not immediately in front of you. Slowly increase the amount of time he has to wait in a sitting position until he gets a reward.
Step
5
Phase out the treat
Gradually increase the distance between you and the dog, while still expecting him to sit on command. Also, stop giving a treat every single time he sits, so that the dog works on 'earning' the treat rather than expecting it as a given.
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The Teach 'Look' Method

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Teach 'Look' method for Not Kill Rabbits
Step
1
Understand the idea
When the dog looks at you, his attention is removed from the rabbits. This makes it a useful command to use once the dog is sitting. Teaching the 'look' command is simple.
Step
2
Get the dog's attention
Show the dog a treat by holding it near his nose. Now stand up straight and travel the treat from the dog's nose up to the space between your eyes. Move the treat slowly so the dog follows it intently.
Step
3
Hold the dog's attention
Hold the treat with a finger and thumb, at the bridge of your nose, while saying "look". The dog should now be staring up at your face. If he glances or looks away, repeat "look" to get his attention back on the treat and your face.
Step
4
Reward the dog for 'look'
Once the dog is staring up at your face, say "Good" and reward the dog with the treat. Use a combination of a hand signal (your finger and thumb resting on the bridge of your nose) along with a spoken command.
Step
5
Expect more
Once the dog has learned to follow and look, make them wait longer each time before rewarding with the treat. Eventually, the dog should be capable of sitting staring at you for several minutes, before getting a reward.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Lexi
Labrador Retriever
7 Years
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Question
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Lexi
Labrador Retriever
7 Years

Hi, we have recently purchased 2 Mini lop eared bunnies and are currently keeping lexi away from the bunnies as she has a strong hunter instinct. How are we best placed to help her overcome this as Lexi is also getting stressed ( panting and whining ) when we are in a different room with the bunnies out but she can see them. Concerned if we show her them without the door being shut her hunter instinct could take over. Please help?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sharon, I do suggest hiring a professional trainer who has worked with behavior issues like prey drive and cat or rabbit chasing, to help with this as well. Check out the videos linked below - the severity of the prey drive and guidance of a trainer who can evaluate and help manage pup's reaction in person will determine how to proceed most likely. These videos are about cats, but the prey drive and arousal in the dog is often the same with a cat and bunny. Mild cat issue example - teaching impulse control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWF2Ohik8iM Moderate cat issue example - teaching impulse control using corrections and rewards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dPIC3Jtn0E Severe cat issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MLJV5PBh7Y More e-collar work with cats with the same dog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8lkbX0dhT0 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 a bunny in the same room. I highly recommend back-tying pup while they are on Place - connecting a long leash attached to pup to something very secure near the Place just in case pup were to try to get off Place before you could intervene. Make sure all connection points like the leash, collar/harness, and what it's tethered to are all secure and strong. This keeps bunnies 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. 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. Crate manners: https://thegooddog.net/training-videos/free-how-to-training-videos/learn-to-train-the-good-dog-way-the-crate/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo 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/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Elliot
German Shorthaired Pointer
3 Months
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Question
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Elliot
German Shorthaired Pointer
3 Months

I haven’t actually got my puppy yet although I am looking into getting one my only worry is that he is a pointer and they are hunting dogs and I have rabbits and I’m wondering if a puppy will be too disobedient and playful and harm my rabbits? I am planning on taking him to obidence classes and also doggy day care to illuminate any possible long periods of time of him being alone at home looking for ‘fun’. But basically I’m wondering if the tutorial I’ve read on training them not too will work for younger dogs and be as effective for their whole life span?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello India, Puppies actually have the best chance of learning to get along with small animals, adult dogs are much harder to introduce later. When raised with them and taught not to pester the animals, puppies are more likely to view other animals as part of the family. Because puppies are rough and mouthy there does need to be constant supervision between them though and training to teach them to leave other animals alone. Unfortunately, even when raised with them there are some dogs who have too strong of a prey drive and don't adapt because prey drive is an instinct and not something you can change - only something you manage through training and supervision. Depending on what you are getting your dog for (hunting or companion), if not needing a hunting dog I would look for a breeder who does temperament evaluations for the puppies before sending them home and tests things like prey drive or birdiness, and picks a pup for you that seems to be less driven in that area. It's not a fool proof test, some pups could be late bloomers, but it does decrease the chance of getting a really driven puppy. Look for one that is pretty laid back and complacent in that area. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

I had a litter of puppies because I rescued the mom when she was pregnant the puppies was about 2 months old when I got my bunny I was scared to but to my surprise my puppies loved the bunny they all slept together and played you do have to watch and correct the puppies as sometimes they can get a little to rough but I never left them alone I use to walk to bunny and the puppies at the same time I think my bunny thought he was a dog but just keep an eye on them and keep him or her on a leash until you feel comfortable with letting your puppy off it around the rabbit good luck

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Question
Cooper
Beagle
14 Months
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Question
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Cooper
Beagle
14 Months

Cooper is catching and killing rabbits in our yard when we’re not outside. How do we get him to learn to leave them alone?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Beth, You will need to teach an e-collar avoidance of rabbits that is not just associated with your presence. Check out James Penrith from TaketheLeadDogTraining. He has a Youtube channel. He works with dogs that chase and sometimes will kill livestock. To stop the killing you would need to pursue training like that, creating a strong avoidance of all rabbits. I suggest hiring a trainer who is very experienced with both fair corrections using the e-collar and positive reinforcement to help you implement the training. If you are will to spend a lot of time learning about the correct fitting, working level, and e-collar usage you may be able to do the training yourself also. Follow trainers like James Penrith from TaketheLead DogTraining, Jeff Gellman from Solidk9training, and Sean O'Shea from the Good Dog to on their Youtube channels to learn more about e-collar training. You will also need a caged rabbit for the training. Day 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgNbWCK9lFc Day 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpf5Bn-MNko&t=14s Day 3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj3nMvvHhwQ Day 4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxrGQ-AZylY Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Pam
Greyhound
5 Years
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Question
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Pam
Greyhound
5 Years

We want to get a rabbit but don’t know how to train Pam not to eat it

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

Hi! Your best bet is to teach Pam the command "leave it" and apply that to the rabbit when you bring it home. 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
Sushi
German Shepherd
15 Weeks
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Question
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Sushi
German Shepherd
15 Weeks

I have two rabbits at home. we first introduced them in on the day the dog came and she was quiet with them. For now, she knows to sit and watch the rabbits however she sometimes jumps on hutch. Is recommended to treat her when she's calm and how are we suppose to let her ignore them

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
706 Dog owners recommended

Hello Shriya, I recommend treating her when she ignores them - like walks away or goes and lies down quietly. I wouldn't reward pup anymore for staring at the rabbits - since you don't want to reward something that may be related to prey drive at this point in the training. When she stares at them or jumps on the cage especially, I would direct her away from them by practicing Leave It and Out, and rewarding her after she disengages with them or leaves the area, so that she learns to simply leave bunnies alone in the future. Use the section from the Out article on How to Use Out to Deal with Pushy Behavior if she jumps on the hutch. That method will essentially tell her with your body language that the bunnies belong to you and she should respect that space from her respect for you. All this should be done calmly, with a business-like firm attitude. No need for yelling or excitement. Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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