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

ribbon-method-2
Most Recommended
2 Votes
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.
Recommend training method?

The Rock Solid 'Sit' Method

ribbon-method-3
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.
Recommend training method?

The Teach 'Look' Method

ribbon-method-1
Least Recommended
1 Vote
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?
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Written by Pippa Elliott

Published: 11/03/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Harley
Jack Russel
8 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Harley
Jack Russel
8 Months

I just got two bunnies and she wants kill them and eat them, the bunnies are in a cage and she runs around the cage whining and scratching at the cage to get in how do I teach her that they are pet rabbits and she cant eat them..

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lilly, First, when you aren't directly supervising the animals together - even while caged, there needs to be a door in addition to the cage between the animals. Many small animals have died due to a dog figuring out how to break into the cage when unattended. Start teaching pup Place and Quiet and Leave it. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Leave It: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Once pup is doing well, introduce the bunny from across the room with another person managing the bunny, while pup is back tied to something secure while on Place. Practice Place with the leash loose enough that pup won't feel it tug unless they try to leave Place, and commands like Watch Me, Down, Sit, ect... Reward pup for calm responses, ignoring the bunny, and/or obeying you. Once pup can calmly co-exist in the same room with the bunny while on Place, practice pup heeling around the room with you and rewarding pup for staying calm, focusing on you, and obeying. Eventually you can let the animals sniff for no longer than 3 second intervals, rewarding good responses, interrupting any fixating on the bunny or tensing up around the bunny. If pup is still highly aroused, I would desensitize to a basket muzzle and have pup do initial greetings with the muzzle on and leashed. Muzzle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw You want to encourage manners, calmness, low arousal, and focus on you around the bunny from the get go. With good boundaries in place and a calm mindset, you can gradually relax things when you are certain both animals are completely comfortable and safe around each other. When you aren't actively training and supervising, keep them separate right now for safety reasons - make sure there is not just a hutch but also a closed door between them (many dogs have broken into hutches), but do slowly increase how often and how long you practice things like Place with the animals around each other. Check out the videos linked below for examples of obedience practice and desensitization around a cat - which is a similar process to the bunny. Mild cat issue - teaching impulse control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWF2Ohik8iM Moderate cat issue - teaching impulse control using corrections and rewards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dPIC3Jtn0E If pup appears to be prey driven around the bunny, reach out immediately for help because you will likely need additional safety measures and training methods for that level, more like the second two videos above, which I would work with a trained professional to do. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
summit
Border Collie
2 Years
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Question
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summit
Border Collie
2 Years

he heards i need help

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Wyatt, If Summit herding your rabbits specifically? I would start by teaching some commands, especially Out and Leave It. 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 Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Come - Reel in method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Once pup knows at least Out and Leave It, I would use a long training leash to practice enforcing those commands around the rabbits. Also, check out these articles and the use of Place commands to teach pup to ignore the bunnies. Make sure the bunnies stay a safe distance out of pup's reach during interactions and practice right now though too, and you can utilize a back tie leash to tether pup to something secure nearby, so that if pup gets off place before you can intervene pup can't get close to the rabbits still. Give enough slack in the tether that pup will only feel it if he gets off place though, so he can practice staying on Place out of obedience and not just because he is held back. Mild cat issue - teaching impulse control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWF2Ohik8iM Moderate cat issue - teaching impulse control using corrections and rewards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dPIC3Jtn0E If pup is trying to harm or kill the rabbits and the isn't responding well enough to the above training, here are some additional resources. I would hire a professional trainer to help you with this type of training in person though. Look for someone who specifically has experience with these tools and prey based aggression, and comes well recommended by their previous clients for similar behavior issues. 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 Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Dutchess
Mutt
9 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Dutchess
Mutt
9 Years

Hello! My name is Alyssa and this is my dog dutchess. I am 12 years old and she is 9. I may be getting 2 bunnies soon that i would like to free roam in my bedroom but Dutchess would bark at the door and try to get in. I know this because 4ish months ago my sister who’s in college got a cat, during the summer my sister came home and so did the cat. Dutchess hated the cat and we even hired a trainer that came to our house to try to train dutchess but nothing worked. Dutchess would scratch, bark, and sniff at the door almost all day long. Lately she’s been more aggressive so we took her to the vet and she has a yeast and bacteria infection inside both of here ears. She is on antibiotics now but still is acting aggressive towards other animals. She seems very stressed and has been panting and whining a lot recently. i just want her to feel better :/

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Alyssa, For a high prey drive often low level remote collar training is needed in addition to working on commands like Leave It, Out, and Quiet. If you do get the bunnies and pup is overly interested in them, I recommend hiring a trainer who specifically has experience with teaming avoidance using low level remote collar training, in addition to teaching commands like Leave It, Out, and Quiet to increase pup's self-control and help you communicate with them what to do, AND use rewards to reward pup for disengaging from the door, ignoring the bunnies, being calm and being tolerant of their presence in the home. I would keep them separate when pup is not leashed or there is not a barrier between them unless pup shows drastic improvement and you are supervising at all times. Right now it sounds like pup is having a lot of health issues. With pup's age I would have an honest conversation with your vet about how the stress of new animals in the house will effect pup, to help you make your decision about the bunnies. 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 Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Check out James Penrith from taketheleaddogtraining. He is the type of trainer you would need for this behavior. He specializes in livestock chasing and killing dog behavior, is very experienced with remote collar training, and also uses positive reinforcement and a lot of obedience practice to help pup succeed with the training and learn good habits instead. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=james+penrith+come+take+the+leaddog+training Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Max
Yorkie
10 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Max
Yorkie
10 Years

I've had Max since he was 10 weeks old. He is the first pet I've ever had (I'm in my 40s) and needless to say, he has never been properly trained and can often have bad manners (barking at people, but never biting, jumping on people, begging, etc.). Max hasn't even been neutered. I just adopted an 8wk old bunny, who is very small. I think Max is confusing her with his small white stuffed animal, so he was nipping at the bunny when I first introduced them. I don't know if he's just being territorial (because he is very protective of me) or if he is really trying to hurt the bunny. How should I handle this?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1123 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tiffany, Bunnies are prey animals and dog predatory, so nipping can be common. I recommend starting by teaching pup Place and Quiet. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Once pup is doing well, introduce the bunny from across the room with another person managing the bunny, while pup is back tied to something secure while on Place. Practice Place with the leash loose enough that pup won't feel it tug unless they try to leave Place, and commands like Watch Me, Down, Sit, ect... Reward pup for calm responses, ignoring the bunny, and/or obeying you. Once pup can calmly co-exist in the same room with the bunny while on Place, practice pup heeling around the room with you and rewarding pup for staying calm, focusing on you, and obeying. Eventually you can let the animals sniff for no longer than 3 second intervals, rewarding good responses, interrupting any fixating on the bunny or tensing up around the bunny. You want to encourage manners, calmness, low arousal, and focus on you around the bunny from the get go. With good boundaries in place and a calm mindset, you can gradually relax things when you are certain both animals are completely comfortable and safe around each other. When you aren't actively training and supervising, keep them separate right now for safety reasons - make sure there is not just a hutch but also a closed door between them (many dogs have broken into hutches), but do slowly increase how often and how long you practice things like Place with the animals around each other. Check out the videos linked below for examples of obedience practice and desensitization around a cat - which is a similar process to the bunny. Mild cat issue - teaching impulse control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWF2Ohik8iM Moderate cat issue - teaching impulse control using corrections and rewards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dPIC3Jtn0E If pup appears to be prey driven around the bunny - which it doesn't sound like is super high from your description but I am not there in person to observe, reach out immediately for help because you will likely need additional safety measures and training methods for that level. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Riley
Bullmastiff x Akita
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Riley
Bullmastiff x Akita
3 Years

My dog has now killed 3 rabbbits. All 3 rabbits weren’t in a secure caged area so I can’t help but to think it’s not his fault and is his natural hunt instincts taking over. Now that it has happened to all 3 rabbits do you think it’s too late to train him?

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. Riley 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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