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Videos of dogs engaging in gentle interactions and having loving relationships with all sorts of animals, from cats to birds to small animals like rabbits charm and fascinate us. But can your dog really learn to like a rabbit?
Dogs are capable of forming deep bonds with all sorts of animals. Livestock guarding dogs like Great Pyrenees and Anatolian shepherds are bred to guard helpless livestock and will have a better chance of learning to like a rabbit than a hunting breed like a hound or terrier. That said, all breeds can and have learned to like small prey animals. Dogs have a better chance of success if they start young and if they are mellow by nature. Not all dogs can learn to like a rabbit, so be realistic as you plan your training goals.
For the best chances of success, think about your dog's breed, age, and personality when planning training. It is important to consider the training of the rabbit or rabbits involved as well. It will be difficult for your dog to learn to like a rabbit if the rabbit clearly doesn't like the dog. Depending on the size of your dog or puppy compared to the rabbit, the rabbit may even frighten your dog. Consider your dog's history with small animals, as well as how easily you can distract her or break her focus. If you are thinking about introducing a puppy to a rabbit, consider your puppy's personality and play style. Is she cautious and thoughtful about her interactions or does she charge into situations enthusiastically? Use this information to help you choose training techniques that will work for her.
Get to know what motivates your dog and what can break her focus. The dangers involved in introducing a dog to a rabbit lay in your dog viewing the rabbit either as a prey item or as a dangerous animal to defend herself against. Both of these states of mind can be prevented using proper planning and motivation. Know your rabbit as well. In general, buck rabbits are more likely to not react with fear, but they are more likely to react with aggression. Young rabbits are more trusting and willing to learn, but they are also much smaller. Have a plan and maintain control every step of the way in order to have a positive experience training your dog to like a rabbit.
The From the Beginning Method
If you have a young puppy or a naturally sweet natured dog who has low prey drive, you can let your dog and rabbit get to know each other continuously from the beginning.
Maintain separation for safety
No matter how comfortable your dog and rabbit seem together, keep them separated unless you are observing them.
Comfortable side by side
To build comfort between dog and rabbit while they sleep, put the wall of your dog's crate and your rabbit's hutch near but not touching.
As you introduce your rabbit and dog to the space they will occupy next to each other, give both of them plenty of yummy treats and encouragement.
Watch for anxiety and pull back
If your dog or rabbit shows any sign of anxiety, fear, or prey drive, take the dog or rabbit out of the crate or hutch for some time before reintroducing.
Out of crate and hutch
Once your dog and rabbit are comfortable in spaces near each other, try introducing them in a neutral area. Keep your dog on a leash and the rabbit in a contained area, ideally somewhere she can get above your dog and hide as desired.
The Gradual Introduction Method
Create a space
Create a space for your rabbit in which she can come forward to look at your dog from eye level or else go back into a hiding place. Allow your puppy to approach on a leash.
Reward your dog and rabbit both from the area where they can choose to interact. If either shows fear or aggression, pull back for a little while before returning and giving more treats.
Keep training sessions very brief so anxiety or prey drive does not build up, and so the value of the treats does not become reduced.
Share a space
As you, your puppy, and your rabbit build confidence, stop focusing so much on treats and just share the neutral space. Reward the dog and rabbit with pets and praise.
Work towards level ground introduction
When your dog and rabbit are natural around each other, try introducing them in the situations in which you expect them to interact. Keep your dog on a leash and your rabbit in an enclosed area, and go back to the neutral space if you have any problems.
The Share a Fence Method
Secure border fence
Make sure the pens for your dog and rabbit are secure, and only allow enough room in the wire mesh between them for sniffing.
As your dog and rabbits enjoy pens near each other, keep a careful eye on them to make sure there are no problems. If your dog chases up and down the fence, redirect her and reward her for calm behavior.
As you watch, pay attention to times when your puppy and rabbit sniff each other through the fence or show positive interactions. Reward both animals for such interactions.
Look for affection
Look for signs of affection displayed between your dog and rabbit, such as lying near each other or simply sharing a space without keeping an eye on each other.
Attempt sharing a space
Put your dog on a leash and try having her and your rabbit share a neutral fenced space. Do not use either of their existing pens, as they have territories there. If you see anxiety or prey drive go back to the pens for some time before trying again.
By Coral Drake
Published: 03/01/2018, edited: 01/08/2021