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 ‘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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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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Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Jasper
Mutt
7 Years
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Jasper
Mutt
7 Years

How to train my dog not to kill small animals such as bunnys chipmunks and hamsters>

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
236 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lydia, If Jasper has never killed a small animal before, then try using the "Socialization" method from the "How to Train Your Dog Not to Kill Small Animals" article you commented on. If he has already killed a small animal, then you will need to teach him to avoid those animals by creating a strong distaste for chasing those animals using a Remote Training Collar. Remote Training Collars are wonderful, very effective, powerful tools, that can be grossly misused. Either hire a professional trainer with experience using E-collars and teaching avoidance or do your own homework and learn how to properly use and fit an Electric collar. Do not simply open the box and put it on your dog and use it! Bellow I have included a link to James Penrith from Take The Lead Dog Training's YouTube channel. He talks about how to use an Electric collar to stop sheep chasing behavior, but the same training can be applied to other animals that your dog chases. If your dog cannot chase and catch an animal, he should not be able to kill it. Take The Lead Dog Training also talks about how to properly condition a dog to an Electric collar and fit the collar. When you choose a collar avoid lesser quality, cheap ones. They can be dangerously inconsistent and high powered. Instead choose a quality hunting dog collar, such as E-Collar Technologies, Dogtra, SportDog, or Garmin. Only choose a model that has a dial up feature like a nob and not just a button that you have to push to increase the level. You will need a dial up feature to help the chasing feature. Here is the link to the YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpdvFaXnvyg Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
lulu
Black lab/German shepherd mix
3 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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lulu
Black lab/German shepherd mix
3 Months

My dog killed one of my chickens this morning so now she is locked up until further notice. Which of these methods do you recommend for her? Thanks!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
236 Dog owners recommended

Hello Gerard, I suggest working on the "Focus Training" method, to teach her to come to you and look to you when she is thinking about chasing the chickens. That will help her develop impulse control. If she will be on the farm, loose around the chickens without you present later in life, I also suggest teaching a strong avoidance of the chickens in general. One of the easiest ways to do that is to keep the chickens in a coop and in a fenced-chicken-wire area, where she can see and approach them but not harm them, and they are relatively contained. There is a device called a pet barrier device that emits a signal from wherever it is location (near the chickens in your case) and the signal is picked up by a collar that the dog wears. Whenever the dog gets too close to the barrier, the collar is stimulated like an electric fence collar would be, teaching the dog to avoid a certain area even when no one is present. You want her to associate any corrections with the actual chickens and being near them and not just you, so that she will avoid them even when you are not looking. Set up the chickens in the fence and coop with the barrier device for a while until she avoids that area, then move the chicken fence with the chickens to a new location and set up the device there. Continue to move the chickens and the barrier device around - so that she learns to associate the corrections with the actual chickens and not just that area of the yard. Have the range on the device set low enough to where she would have to approach the chickens fairly close before she is corrected, and wouldn't be correctly for accidentally just wandering past the coop. If she is sensitive, you can start with just the training from the article with Come and focusing on you, and always keep her with you while you are still training her in general (which is good to do at this age anyway), and use the barrier device later when she is older and ready for more freedom on the property without you always right beside her. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Calvin
Doberman Pinscher
8 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Calvin
Doberman Pinscher
8 Months

So just today my dog killed my neighbour's rabbit. It fell from their roof to our front yard and my dog attacked it. Calvin didn't hurt the rabbit nor sunk his teeth but the rabbit died. He has killed a small lizard as well. I'm worried this will continue and become his habit.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
236 Dog owners recommended

Hello Aastha, I suggest teaching a high level "Leave It" command and once he knows the command practice it with living and moving things with safety measures like a gate, leash or muzzle in place to keep the small animals from being harmed. Check out the article that I have linked below and follow the "Leave It" command to teach him what the command initially means, then you can continue the training around moving things and eventually living things - being extremely careful to keep the live animals safe around him. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Prey drive is an instinct and instincts cannot be changed. Left to to his own decisions a dog will follow instincts. A solid Leave It command allows you to stop the dog when something like the rabbit appearing in your yard happens while you are present. You can also teach a dog to like or avoid specific animals, but that training is done with a specific animal in your home or group of animals outside - like avoiding all sheep in a field nearby, and the training will not stop a general prey drive around all small animals. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
ivy
Akita Shepherd
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
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ivy
Akita Shepherd
1 Year

Ivy is a service dog in training and she learns very quickly and is very well behaved in public. The only problem is that she wants to kill small animals (small dogs, squirrels, cats). She has killed a guinea pig and attacked my chihuahua. When we are on the streets she will gently pull towards dogs or cats. However, sometimes she will lunge at them or even bark. She rarely lunges and barks but it causes big problems for me as a handler. I have two rats and I have to leash her to my bed so she does not hurt or kill them. Now due to some circumstances, my mother is moving in with her cat and I am so scared that she will hurt her. I am also scared that she might act out if she ever encounters a rouge dog while we are training. I really want her to learn to ignore my animals and other animals so that we can live peacefully.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
236 Dog owners recommended

Hello Juliana, I suggest hiring a professional trainer to help you. You are likely going to need a high level of obedience to manage her prey drive. Unfortunately, prey drive is not something you can get rid of. It is inherited. What you can do is work on advanced obedience around lots of distractions, including small animals. I suggest keeping your mom's cat and Ivy in separate rooms with an additional baby gate at the door, unless you see a large change after going through professional training with her. As a Service Dog I am sure you are aware that that type of prey drive, especially toward other small dogs (who could be service dogs) disqualifies her from becoming a full Service Dog, so a professional could hopefully help I'm that area as well. Ask a lot of questions when you look for a trainer. Make sure they have comparable experience to what you are needing. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Sam
Ridgeback mix
6 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Sam
Ridgeback mix
6 Years

My dog killed a small deer this morning in the neighbours back yard. He has in the past killed a groundhog and racoon.I feel I have trained and trained, most recently with an electric collar that he now ignores.He comes unless there are Spring attractions that are more interesting. Yes, it is of course my fault.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
236 Dog owners recommended

Hello Phyllis, It sounds like your dog has a very strong predatory instinct. As a Ridgeback he has a lot of speed, strength and courage I am sure so is not deterred by game. Electric collar training is one of the only ways to stop livestock and game chasing of that degree. Without knowing exactly what you have done with that training I am unfortunately little help here. Check out the YouTube channel linked below. The trainer, James Penrith teaches dogs in the UK not to livestock chase using remote collar training. He teaches it two ways: https://youtu.be/CpdvFaXnvyg He uses lower level stimulation, long leashes, obedience commands, and repetition around the animals while the dog is on the long leash and e-collar to teach the dog not to chase when the owner is with him. He also uses higher collar corrections associated with only the livestock and not the person (this is done while the person is far away or out of sight), so that the dog associates the correction just with the animal. This is typically done after the first training with the owner present is done and the dogs access to the animals should be stopped during the training period unless it is during a session where things are controlled - so that the dog doesn't get away with animal chasing with a correction or being able to stop it with the long leash. Both types of e-collar training need to be done to help the dog develope the right skills. The collar also needs to have a large enough range of levels (at least 40) and a level that is the right level for your specific dog (called a working level and 'act of God's level) for the training to work property, since different dogs respond to different levels. Without the right foundation training many dogs will assume the correction is something they need to fight back against and it might make them even more aroused toward the animal instead of them responding to the training by stopping- because they have formed a habit of coming to the owner or leaving an area when they feel the collar pressure. That's where the training aspect comes into play to make the e-collar affective instead of confusing. It is very possible that you have done all of this though and your dog simply cannot be trusted around animals because of the high level of drive. I suggest watching James Penrith's livestock chasing videos and see if there is anything there you have not done and might be able to implement to help. https://youtu.be/CpdvFaXnvyg Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Karl
Rottweiler
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Karl
Rottweiler
5 Years

Karl was a pound rescue. Karl is fantastic. My spouse has two bunnies who live in our home. Karl is aggressive towards them. Karl readily accepted our other dog, but not the bunnies. How to have everyone co-exist in the home?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
236 Dog owners recommended

Hello Shane, The answer to your questions depends a lot on what type of aggression he has. If he is prey driven toward the bunnies, you may not be able to change his aggressive tendency toward them. Instead you would need to focus on keeping the animals separated when you cannot supervise, teaching Karl to avoid Bunnies, and working on high level obedience commands like Out (which means go away), Leave It, Come, and Place. While teaching him to avoid the bunnies, you could work on teaching him to run to a crate whenever he sees the bunnies, and condition him that he will be rewarded once in that crate. This will be a long-term careful management situation though with prey drive. You may want to separate the animals into two different ends of the home where they will not cross paths most of the time to increase safety. Take safety measures. If he is aggression toward them because he feels like they are intruders, he is suspicious of them, or scared of them, you can work on rewarding him whenever he is calm in their presence. Reward him (while on a leash or in a crate for safety) whenever the bunnies enter the room before he has a chance to react negatively - so that their presence is associated with something good. Also reward him whenever they do something he thinks is strange, before he reacts poorly - like when they hop, scratch themselves, or do anything else that seems to especially get his attention. Also, work on his obedience commands using a lot of positive reinforcement and play games with him while they are in the background so that he learns to ignore them, and their presence is also associated with something good. If his aggression is another form of aggression, such as being possessive of you around them, you will need to work on building his respect for you, teaching high level obedience commands, and using positive reinforcement to calmly reward his tolerance when he does well around them. I suggest hiring a trainer who is very experienced with aggression to evaluate him around the bunnies to get a better idea of what's going on with him around them and how to move forward. Look into references or reviews for the trainer you choose, and ask a lot of questions, making sure they are experienced with both aggression and prey drive (not all trainers work with or are experienced with aggression or similar things). Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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