Dog Breeds That Will Get Along With Your Rabbit
This issue comes up at the worst times, usually when a beloved pet rabbit has been injured beyond repair and the family tells me that their dog did it. Typically, the rabbit is a family pet and was being watched by one of the family's children. The rabbit moves quickly, and the untrained dog with high prey drive chases. In just a few seconds, the rabbit is mangled beyond repair.
Is there a way to prevent this? Can you stop a dog from chasing and killing your rabbit?
Dog Breeds Likely to Leave Your Rabbit Alone
The best way to prevent a dog from killing a rabbit is by selecting the right dog. Here are a few breeds, both small and large, that are unlikely to bother your rabbit:
- Japanese Chin
- Bichon Frisé
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Golden retriever
- Great Pyrenees
There are no guarantees, of course. Dogs on this list usually have low prey drive, but even dogs with low prey drive might chase a rabbit.
Even if you do get a dog breed that is more likely to leave your rabbit alone, it is up to you train the dog properly and supervise them until you are sure that they can be left in the same room without incident.
Dog Breeds That Will Probably Chase Your Rabbit
Some families lose their rabbit to their dog because of a bad choice made when choosing the dog. A Siberian Husky might be a sweet dog and great with kids, but that does not mean he is going to be good with rabbits. Here are some types of dogs that I would not recommend for a family that has or wants to own a rabbit:
- Sled dogs like the Siberian Husky
- Sighthounds like the Greyhound, Whippet, Russian Wolfhound, etc
- Scent hounds like the Beagle
- Terriers like the Airedale and hunters like the Dachshund
- Guard dogs with high prey drive like the German Shepherd and Belgian Malinois
In general, dogs that look upon small animals as prey are more likely to chase rabbits. This does not mean that any individual is going to be aggressive. (If you look at the Youtube videos of dogs from this list playing with rabbits, however, you will usually find that the rabbit and the dog are showing signs of stress.)
The best dog around my rabbits is a Pit Bull Terrier. She might want to get in there and attack a smaller animal, but she is trained and she does not do so. I cannot guarantee that any individual dog from a breed on this list is able to be trained and will leave a rabbit alone, however.
If you want a dog that is safer around your rabbit, choose from one of the breeds with a low prey drive.
Rabbit Breeds for the Dog-Owning Family
If you are looking for the best rabbit breed around dogs, you need to realize that rabbits are also individuals. Just because you find a rabbit from a breed that does well around dogs does not guarantee that your rabbit is going to be okay.
Generally, the large meat type rabbits are calmer:
- Flemish Giant
- California Giant
- Checkered Giant
The very small and wiry rabbits are sometimes more nervous:
- Dutch Lop
- Netherland Dwarf
- Mini Rex
There are always exceptions. If you have mixed breed rabbits, like I do, just look at the animal and determine its type. I have mostly Dutch and New Zealand crosses. They are usually calm animals, but occasionally a bunny will be born that will not allow the dogs to get close.
Training Your Dog Not to Chase Your Rabbit
Start with basic obedience training. Teach your dog all other methods of impulse control so that he is used to obeying you in all situations. “Leave it” should be obeyed immediately, 100% of the time. I emphasize impulse control every time I take my dogs out for a walk; if your dog learns that he is not able to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, he is much less likely to disobey and attack your rabbit.
- Take the rabbit to a room so you can watch how the dog and rabbit interact. The rabbit should be in a car carrier so that he can hide and feel secure; if you only have a cage with wire sides, then he should at least have something in the cage where he can run to and hide. (A box, a tube, etc.) Rabbits that have nowhere to hide can get stressed out easily and will die secondary to shock.
- Put your dog on a leash and bring him to the room where the rabbit is waiting in the carrier. (If you do not have 100% control of your dog on a leash, and he lunges just walking into the room with the rabbit, then neither of you are ready. You need to do some more obedience training.)
- Put your dog in heel position and walk over so that he can sniff the carrier.
- After he has investigated, put your dog in a down/stay position. Have your dog lie on his side. (I train my dogs to play dead, and when I ask them to lie on their side they enjoy it since it is followed by a lot of praise. I find this trick very helpful when introducing my dogs to new animals.)
- Open the door of the carrier and let your rabbit out to investigate. (I never grab the rabbit and force the meeting. Let your rabbit deal with the dog at his own pace.) This might take a while, so grab a chair or sit on the floor and wait.
- When the rabbit comes out, the dog should notice but should be looking at you. If he does not and gets up to investigate the rabbit without even asking for permission, call his name and put him in the down/stay position again. Give the rabbit time to investigate. If the dog gets up again without permission, take him out of the room.
- If your dog stays down, give him praise and allow the rabbit to come over and check him out.
- When your rabbit has sniffed the dog, and your dog has remained in the down position, it is okay to allow him to get up and sniff the rabbit. If he gets too excited this first session, take the dog out of the room. (Rabbits do not understand behavior like the play bow. Even if your dog is being friendly, your rabbit will only understand that a prey animal is being aggressive. If you allow this to get out of control and the dog chases him you may NEVER be able to train him.)
- If your dog sniffs the rabbit and stays calm, give him a treat, a lot of praise, and end the session.
- Try it again tomorrow, and repeat each step until you are sure that the dog is going to be calm when you open the rabbit carrier.
Once your rabbit and dog have met in the house, it is also a good idea to let them “bond” in another environment. In the early evening, when my rabbits are grazing in my front yard, I allow my senior pit bull to sit with me when I am outside reading. The first few times I did this I kept her on a leash, but since she showed no interest in the rabbits when loose I am now able to let her off leash at the same time.
If you do not have a yard for your rabbits to run loose in, it is a good idea to take the dog and rabbit for a walk together. You will need to carry the rabbit in a carrier the first few times until he becomes used to the experience, but eventually, you can hold him in your arms or even let him down to investigate the trail. (Please make sure that he is on a leash and rabbit harness. A rabbit can jump out of your arms quickly and will run off before you are even aware of what is happening.)
Dogs that go for a walk with their rabbit do exceptionally well together. You have to be sure that it is in a place where no other dogs walk, however.
The best time to introduce a dog and a rabbit is when:
Will Training Always Work?
Rabbit are prey animals. Dogs are predators. Many dogs can be trained to leave rabbits alone, and many rabbits can grow accustomed to a dog and will no longer run when a canine is around.
Always? No, some dogs will never be able to accept a rabbit despite all the training you do. If you are still choosing and pick the breeds I recommend, however, your chances of success are much greater.
If you do not yet have a dog, visit a shelter and look for one of the animals in the list above that are good with rabbits. Puppies can hurt your rabbit just trying to play, so a senior is the best choice since these dogs are quiet and not as likely to wrestle.