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 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.

Getting Started

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.

The Rock Solid 'Sit' Method

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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.
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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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Success Stories and Training Questions

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