How to Train Your Dog to Not Kill Small Animals

Medium
1-6 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

You’re out on a walk enjoying the pleasant weather and unusually quiet surroundings, when all of a sudden your dog nearly pulls your arm out of its socket as he leaps towards a small rodent. You could forgive him if it was just the once or twice, but he has developed a habit of chasing anything small, furry and breathing. That includes your daughter's pet hamster, rabbits, and even other dogs. 

While it all seemed like harmless fun to start with, he has sunk their teeth into a variety of small animals, including the odd pet, and has now developed a taste for the kill. This behavior is serious, if he attacks and kills other small pets, he runs the risk of being put down or making you liable for hefty vet bills.

Defining Tasks

Thankfully, getting a handle on this killing behavior is achievable in just a few weeks with rigorous obedience training and by taking a number of steps to limit his attacking ability. If your dog is a puppy he will likely respond to the training swiftly, if your dog is older he may be more stuck in his ways and require an additional couple of weeks to finally kick the habit.

While getting this training right is essential if you want to prevent unnecessary death and avoid significant vet bills, there is also another serious reason to put an end to your dog's killing streak. Dogs that start off killing animals can find the experience so stimulating that they start attacking humans as well. If he does attack a human or other pet, he runs the risk of a court ordering his destruction. 

Getting Started

Before your training campaign kicks off you will need to get a number of things together. Treats or your dog's favorite food will be needed to incentivize and reward him. You will also need a quiet outside space, free from the distraction of small animals.

A long leash and a muzzle may also need to be used until you have got the aggressive behavior under wraps. If he is big and strong, a body harness may help you keep control and reduce strain on his neck.

Once you’ve got all of the above, you will just need 15 minutes a day for training, a proactive attitude and then you’re ready to get to work!

The Socialization Method

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Step
1
Setting up
Secure a small animal such as a rat, chicken, or pet in a cage. Once the animal is secure, take your dog outside on a leash and bring a pocket full of treats. You are going to slowly familiarize him with small animals and drill positive behavior into him.
Step
2
Head towards the animal
Slowly walk towards the small caged animal, holding onto the leash firmly. With every step you take that he doesn’t lunge for the animal, praise him and give him a treat. You are showing and reinforcing to him how to correctly behave around small animals.
Step
3
React promptly
As soon as he shows signs of aggression, pull him firmly in the other direction and walk away. By pulling him away you are showing him that if he displays signs of aggression he won’t be able to go in the direction he wants. Once he has calmed down you can head back towards the animal, repeating the positive reinforcement.
Step
4
Practice
Practice this routine every day for 15 minutes and slowly edge closer to the animal. After several days of the above routine he will be able to get closer to the animal before displaying signs of aggression. Continue with this routine every day until you can walk him within a few feet of the caged animal without him trying to attack them.
Step
5
Lose the rewards
As he becomes totally calm even when he is close to the animal (which may take several weeks), slowly reduce the frequency of treats. Continue with this until no longer needs the promise of food to behave around small animals. Do not let him off the leash or out of his muzzle until you are fully confident he won't lunge towards any animals. It may take many weeks but this rigorous training will slowly break his bad habit, so be patient!
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The ‘Down’ Method

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Step
1
Preparation
Take a bag full of treats and take him into a quiet room, free from distractions. You are going to teach him to fall to the ground as soon as he displays signs of aggression. This will also cement your position as the pack leader and increase the control you have over him in other aspects of his life.
Step
2
'Down'
Hold a treat in front of his nose and firmly say "down". Don’t shout at him, as you don’t want to scare him, but ensure he knows you mean business from the tone of your voice.
Step
3
Guide him
Lead him to the ground and reward him with the treat as soon as he lies down. You may need to encourage him the first few times by gently pulling his legs down, but he will soon catch on. It is important he gets the reward as soon as he lies down, so he associates the food with the behavior. Practice this training every day for 10-15 minutes until he becomes a ‘down’ pro.
Step
4
Introduce distractions
You now need to practice the training even when there are distractions around. You can use a small cuddly animal toy, another dog on a leash or even a family member. Just have him walk 10 yards away from you and have your dog lie down as soon as he shows signs he want to run over to them. Keep practicing this and rewarding him until other dogs and people can walk closely by and he’ll still drop to the ground.
Step
5
Cement control
Slowly reduce the frequency of treats when you are confident you have cemented your control with ‘down’. When he still responds to you even with distractions around, you can cut down on treats until he drops without the promise of food. Keep him on a muzzle for the first few walks, but when you feel confident that the 'down' control always works, you can lose the muzzle and leash too.
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The Focus Training Method

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Step
1
Head out
Take a hand full of treats and head out to a quiet field. You are going to train him to frequently be looking to you and to quickly come running to you when called. If you have total control over him you can stop him dead in his tracks as soon as he even looks at a small animal.
Step
2
Cue
Make a sound, such as a whistle or a clicking sound. This sound will be the cue for him to look at you and return to you, so pick something you can use with ease whatever the situation.
Step
3
Reward
As soon as he looks at you and comes over to you, give him a treat and shower him with praise. It is important he receives the treat as soon as he looks at you so he associates the reward with the behavior. You may need to be patient the first few times, so don’t worry if it takes 30 seconds before he focuses his attention on you, he will quickly pick it up.
Step
4
Practice daily
Practice this training everyday for 10-15 minutes. It is important you religiously practice this training until he quickly responds to your sound. As you become confident he is getting the hang of training, introduce distractions such as other people and then a pet he is already familiar with. You may want to keep him on a long leash to start with, or a muzzle.
Step
5
Cut down on treats
Once he responds to your sound every time, even with serious distractions around, slowly reduce the frequency of treats. Continue reducing treats and rewards until he comes to you without the promise of food. When you are fully confident he will respond, you can lose the leash and muzzle when you are out on walks.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers and Success Stories

Question
Frida
AnimalBreed object
1 Year
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Question
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Frida
AnimalBreed object
1 Year

I have a border collie/cattle mix. My husband and I have reptiles, and want to get a bunny (because I’ve always wanted one). But my dog goes completely INSANE when she sees small animals. Weve tried introducing to her a chick but basically just wanted to kill it. She does fine with our reptiles but not with furry small animals. I want to know if there’s a way I can break this bad habit?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
674 Dog owners recommended

Hello Claudia, You can teach high level obedience using e-collar training to teach pup to avoid the bunny - you cannot get rid of an inherited high level prey drive though - only manage it. You might be able to manage the situation well enough if the bunny is kept away from the dog most of the time, but I would not recommend getting one since it will require constant supervision, enforcement of training, and an initial off-leash level of training for a dog with a strong prey drive. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Coco
AnimalBreed object
21 Months
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Question
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Coco
AnimalBreed object
21 Months

Killed two chickens and female turkey

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

Hi there. This is something that with some time and patience, can be turned around. Coco needs to learn that the chickens (or turkeys) are just a normal part of the household. So we need to teach your dog to become less excited by the chickens. 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 chicken, you give the command leave it. Once he breaks his attention away from the chicken, 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 chicken, you can reward him. You will literally practice this over and over, while moving closer to the chickens until he is no longer interested in the chickens. While this method takes a while, it is the best in relaying the messages across to your dogs. The chickens 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
Cosette
AnimalBreed object
6 Years
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Question
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Cosette
AnimalBreed object
6 Years

Cosette has become very aggressive, she usually will only chase small animals like chipmunks birds and rabbits, however lately she’s taken to killing (and sometimes eating them). I’m concerned that we aren’t reinforcing her behavior in the right way, because she has taken to biting both me, my dad, and our other dog. The aggression is unprovoked, and concerning for her future interactions with other dogs. What do you recommend to do?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
85 Dog owners recommended

Hello, my apologies for the delay in reply. I think the best thing to do is to call in a trainer to come to the home to work with Cosette. It is often hard to change the prey drive of a dog, but because the behavior is recent, there is a good chance things may be trainable. But because the aggression is now moving to people as well, I really think that an in-home trainer as soon as possible is the safest solution for everyone. Search online for a trainer in your area. There are great tips here: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-rottweiler-puppy-to-not-be-aggressive, but I do think one on one with an experienced trainer is needed. As well, I always recommend a vet visit in case there is a health reason for the new aggressive personality. Just to rule out a medical issue that may be causing pain. All the best to you and Cosette!

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Question
Uley
AnimalBreed object
12 Months
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Question
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Uley
AnimalBreed object
12 Months

My dog recently killed a small kitten that accidentaly climbed in his cage. Now my family dont care for him and even want to get rid of him. I feel for the baby cat but I also feel for uley because when a human kills another human the other human is automatically responsible but what about when an animal kills another small animal who do we hold responsible the trainer or the animal itself.

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
85 Dog owners recommended

Hello, this is an unfortunate situation. I do not think the blame should be laid on anyone but it is essential that Uley is kept away from small animals. If you have other kittens, keep them where they cannot approach Uley. If you do not have any more small animals, kittens, or otherwise, I would not have any while Uley is part of the family. Remember that it is essential that you take Uley to obedience classes with other dogs so that he is well socialized with dogs and people. It's the best thing for dogs and gives them the knowledge and the confidence to behave well in all situations. Don't allow Uley to be pushy, teach him that he needs to be calm and act appropriately at all times. You can start some obedience at home before classes start. https://wagwalking.com/training/obedience-train-a-great-dane All the best!

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Dexter
AnimalBreed object
4 Years
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Question
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Dexter
AnimalBreed object
4 Years

My dog wants & has attacked 3 small dogs killing one....I don't know if I should put him down or if I can get him trained....I love him but I can't let him kill small animals... please help

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
674 Dog owners recommended

Hello Danielle, I suggest hiring a professional trainer to help you with the following. Look for someone who has experience in this area and can teach an avoidance of cats. 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 cats. 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 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 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 the kitten in the same room. You can also back tie pup while they are on place - 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. 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. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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