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5 Tips To Train A Dog Not To Attack Rabbits (2023 How-To)

How To Train A Dog Not To Attack Rabbits

Although some say dogs will be dogs…

And that you should get used to Fido striking rabbits…

You know there’s something you could do.

You’re right. 

So, let me show you how to train your pooch not to attack bunnies.

Keep reading to learn:

  • 5 helpful tips for training your dog not to attack rabbits (#5 is a guarantee).
  • 5 canines with high prey drive (which makes them more compelled to chase a bunny).
  • 3 easy ways to tame your pup’s prey drive (which decreases rabbit-attacking behaviors). 
  • And that’s just the beginning…

Why do dogs attack rabbits?

Dogs attack rabbits due to their natural prey drive. It’s their predator’s urge to hunt, not just bunnies, but any small animals. However, the dog’s breed affects how powerful this impulse is. Generally, terrier and hound breed groups have a strong prey drive. Then, toy groups have the lowest urge.

How to train a dog not to attack rabbits? 5 tips

#1: Carefully introduce them to each other

Before we proceed with the training methods…

My advice is to test out the reactions between your dog and a bunny.

Doing this will let you know what exactly you need to work on. 

Now, you must get a real rabbit for this. 

And don’t worry. This test will happen in a controlled environment. 

But if you’re only working on this because Fido’s been chasing wild rabbits around…

Then, you can proceed to tip #5, where you’ll only need a toy bunny.

Regardless, I still highly suggest introducing your pooch to a rabbit. And here’s how to properly do so:

Step 1: Maintain control

Your dog must be on a leash through this whole interaction. This ensures you’re in control of them.

Otherwise, Fido might charge toward the rabbit and scare them.

Warning: PETA tells us that fear can kill a bunny. As prey animals, their nervousness can make their heart race. Which can give them a heart attack.

That said, put the rabbit inside a car carrier. 

Note: A cage would do as well. However, that’s open on all sides. Which won’t help a fearful bunny. Moreover, a dog can easily put their paws inside a cage.

So, opt for a car carrier, which is only open on 1 side.

Lastly, ensure that this interaction happens in a calm environment. 

As much as possible, limit the people around.

If you can do it by yourself, go for it. If not, call another person for help.

Step 2: Ensure your dog is behaving

Being on a leash isn’t enough.

Your pooch must be in a heel position as well. 

And while they’re at it, they must behave.

Why so?

Any sudden movements can scare the bunny away.

That said, here’s a video on how to teach your dog to heel:

Step 3: Let the bunny approach your dog

Open the carrier and wait for the bunny to get out. 

Note: Patience is the most important thing here. Especially since the rabbit’s not going to approach the pooch immediately. Which is a normal sign of fear around their predator.

Remember: Your bunny must have the upper hand in this interaction. That’s why Fido’s on a leash, and you must do your best to control your dog’s reactions.

“When is it time to cut the interaction?”

Your pooch could scare the bunny through their excitement. According to vets, dogs show those by:

  • Barking.
  • (Attempting to) jump.
  • Standing up (from heel position).

Not only that but also observe the bunny. 

Once they show these signs of stress, it’s time they say bye to Fido for a while:

  • Hiding.
  • Freezing.
  • Being jumpy.
  • Flattened ears.
  • Heavy breathing. 

With that, remove the dog from the area.

As for the bunny, let them take their time. 

Warning: Picking them up to put them back in the carrier won’t help. It can make them more scared. 

With that, wait for them to come inside on their own.

Read also: “My Dog Killed A Rabbit, What Should I Do?” 5 Vital Tips

#2: Tame your dog’s prey drive

Tame Your Dog's Prey Drive To Train Them Not To Kill Rabbits

Your pooch is a natural predator.

That’s why they have a prey drive. 

However, its strength depends on the canine’s breed. 

That said, here are 5 dogs with high prey drive:

  • Collies.
  • Lurchers.
  • Greyhounds.
  • Dachshunds.
  • Terriers (the whole breed group). 

Now, this urges puppers to chase cars and attack small animals like rabbits. 

And to prevent that, you must tame their prey drive. 

So here are some guaranteed methods to do so:

Note: As mentioned, this is a natural urge. So, there’s no way to totally remove it from your dog’s system. What you can do is lessen its influence on your canine’s behaviors.

Spaying and neutering

Your pup’s hormones affect their behavior.

For male dogs, a high testosterone level can make them more aggressive.

In female canines, staying intact means having a heat cycle. Which puts them through hormonal and behavioral changes.

A way to prevent those is to spay or neuter your doggo. And according to AVMA, here’s how the 2 differ:

SpayingThe uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries are removed from a female pooch.
NeuteringThe testes are taken out from a male canine.

When you put them through that, they’re less likely to attack a rabbit.

Fun fact: A study shows that neutered and spayed dogs live longer by 13.8% and 26.3%, respectively. 

Keep interactions positive

Stray away from aversive training methods. Those that inflict harm on your dog.

In training, punishment isn’t necessary. 

Not only does it hurt your pooch and destroy your bond

It’s also ineffective.

According to research, positive reinforcement is more efficient and effective in increasing obedience.

More importantly, it lessens aggression. As well as Fido’s drive to use that towards attacking rabbits.

Read also: 13 Reasons Why You Should NEVER Hit Your Dog (Check #7)

Consistent training

You’re against an instinct here. 

And as I mentioned, you can’t remove it. 

But with consistent and proper training, you can somehow bury that urge…

Until what’s left is your pupper’s eagerness to please you. 

Moreover, successfully catching an animal is satisfying for Fido.

That’s why you must counter that with the rewards from their training.

They’ll realize it’s more fulfilling to follow your commands. So they won’t go attacking animals like rabbits anymore.

#3: Train them to “Sit!” 

As I said, attacking small animals, like rabbits, is a thrill for dogs. 

Regardless, you can stop them by making Fido behave as soon as he sees a prey. 

To pull this off, your pup needs a rock solid “Sit!” training.

So, here’s a refresher for…

Training your dog how to sit

Note: It’ll be easier for you and Fido to do this in a place with few or no distractions.

Step 1: Get their attention

Ensure you brought a lot of treats for this…

Because that’s how you’ll convince Fido to sit.

Now, lower your hand that holds the treat. Just enough for your dog to tell you’re holding a snack. Also, ensure you’re standing close to them.

Step 2: Lure them into sitting

Your pooch will be sniffing or licking your hand with the treat…

But raise your hand over their head. 

That’ll make their nose follow the treat until they stick their butt on the floor. Now, they’re in a sitting position.

As soon as that happens, say the command “Sit!”

Note: Saying it and giving the reward should happen immediately. That means no later than a second or 2. Otherwise, your pooch will fail to associate them with the action.

Step 3: Repeat

Practice steps 1 and 2. Do it until Fido immediately sits down after you say the command.

And if you’re close to your pup during the first 2 steps…

This time, try doing it from a small distance. About 3 to 5 steps away from your dog would do.

Then, continue to practice until they sit after the command.

Step 4: Gradually lose the treat

Once your dog begins to do it whenever you tell them to sit…

It’s time to lose the treat during training. 

But do it gradually.

Alternate between rewarding them with a snack and just praising them with words.

With that, they’ll be more eager to earn the prize. Rather than expecting it every time.

How this can help

When your pooch sees a rabbit, the latter usually freeze out of fear.

The bunny will hesitate to move. 

And while that happens, Fido might be frozen up as well. 

It’s like they’re waiting for each other to break the gaze and get chasing.

But with the “Sit!” command…

There’ll be no attacks happening. Fido will stay put and let the rabbit go.

#4: Teach a distraction

Sometimes, the urge is so strong…

Fido might attempt to attack the rabbit and stand up.

I say attempt as they’re torn between pursuing the prey and remaining still.

That said, you must distract your dog before they even get their bum off the floor.

A great way to do so is through:

The “Look!” method

Step 1: Get their attention

Stand straight near your dog and hold a treat over their head. 

Once they’re looking at your hand, proceed to…

Step 2: Move the treat

Ensure that Fido is focused and they’re following the treat.

For this, it’s best to hold the treat with a finger and thumb. Doing so makes the snack more visible.

So, slowly move the treat from over your dog’s head to the space between your eyes.

Step 3: Say the command

Now that you’re holding the treat at the bridge of your nose…

Tell your dog, “Look!”

With that, Fido must be staring straight into your face.

And if they gaze away…

Repeat the command to get their attention back to the treat. 

Step 4: Reward them

Once your dog’s staring at you, hand them the treat. 

But it should go this way:

You reward them…

While you put your other hand in the previous position: over the bridge of your nose. 

That’s a hand signal. 

It ensures Fido doesn’t lose the connection between the reward and action. 

Pro tip: Throw in praises while you’re giving Fido the prize for the action. In this study, about 90% of the canines went to their owners after receiving compliments. 

That said, a “Good boy/girl” goes a long way. 

It’ll make training easier as it encourages your pooch to do good even more. 

#5: Desensitize your canine

Dog parents and trainers mostly desensitize puppers to reduce fearful reactions.

However, VCA Hospitals defines desensitization as:

A method of gradually exposing a dog to a stimulus. Which aims to correct the undesirable behavior that comes after it.

That said, it’s not just a helpful method for fearful puppers… 

You can also use desensitization to train your dog not to attack rabbits.

With it, little by little, they become less reactive toward the small animal…

Until they learn to ignore their prey. And instead, focus on you.

So, here’s…

How to desensitize your dog

Note: This works best with tips #3 and #4. Hence, the reason why I put this last.

Step 1: Prepare

You need a toy rabbit for this one. Or anything that looks similar to one. Just enough for your pooch to associate the toy with a real rabbit.

Once you have it, attach a string to it.

Moreover, you’ll need an accomplice. Someone who’ll pull the cord to make the toy move.

Step 2: Put the toy and the canine in the same room

With this, it’s best to only have you, the person helping you, and your pup in the room.

Plus, ensure that there are little to no distractions around.

Now, there must be sufficient distance between the toy and Fido. 

Putting them in different corners of the room can work.

Step 3: Settle your pooch

Apply tip #3 and ensure that your doggo’s sitting down.

As for you, keep your distance from Fido as well. 

Then, perform the steps under tip #4 to make your pup focus on you.

Keep that gaze with Fido and proceed to…

Step 4: Move the rabbit a bit closer

Now that your pupper’s settled and looking at you…

Have your partner pull the string closer to your pup. And while they do, you take a step somewhere as well.

Your canine must not look at the toy. Instead, their gaze shouldn’t break yours.

If they do, repeat tip #4: make Fido look at you.

Reward them once they’re no longer looking at the rabbit. 

You can get close to them and hand them a treat. Or stay where you are and commend them through praises.

After that, move the toy closer to your doggo again. Then, you take another step.

If they’re still looking at you and not the toy bunny…

Give them another reward.

Repeat this over and over…

Until your pup learns to ignore the rabbit and focus on you instead. 

With that, you desensitize your pooch to a bunny. So, they’re less likely to attack the fluffball.