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.
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 OK 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 focussing 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.
You need minimum equipment, mainly ultra-tasty treats and a leash. It is, however, hugely helpful to have 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.
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?
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
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