A lot is said about the relationship between cats and dogs, with them often portrayed as mutual enemies – but cats and dogs can indeed live happily and safely together depending on their individual personalities, how they are introduced, and how their lives together are managed. However, as house rabbits are becoming ever-more popular in the UK, many rabbit owners wonder if it is wise or possible to keep a dog with a rabbit safely too – and the short answer to this is “sometimes.”
Rabbits are of course very different from cats – whilst cats are both potential prey for some animals and predators to others, rabbits are by nature a prey animal – which means that keeping one with a dog safely is something that needs to be managed carefully. Most dogs will naturally view a rabbit as prey, and for breeds with a very strong prey drive like terriers, and sighthounds such as the greyhound, this is likely to be even more acute.
That said, if you get your dog as a puppy and carefully manage introductions, training and supervision with your rabbit properly, virtually any dog may be able to live side by side with a house rabbit safely, and they may even become good friends.
In this article we will look at how to train a puppy to live with a house rabbit, from the initial introductions through to day to day management. Read on to learn more.
The most obvious risk that most rabbit owners know well when it comes to dog and rabbit interactions is the potential for the dog to see the rabbit as prey. This is something that you should always keep in mind until your two pets are well established together and your dog’s reactions to the rabbit are reliable and non-threatening.
However, it is also wise to look ahead and consider the fact that when your dog is ok with your rabbit, they are still likely to be much larger than them, as well as more boisterous. Rabbits are often quite playful and mischievous, particularly if they get on with your dog and like to play with them. This means that when you train your puppy to respect your rabbit and not view them as a snack, you also need to teach them to be gentle and calm, and not swipe at the rabbit with their paw or accidentally squash them when playing!
When you first bring your puppy home, you should give them a couple of days to settle in and get comfortable before their first meeting with the rabbit. You should be establishing rules and managing your pup’s behaviour from the very start, teaching your pup their routine and instilling boundaries regarding where they are allowed to go and what behaviour is acceptable.
Getting your pup used to the smell of the rabbit at this stage is something you can incorporate into this, such as by letting your dog sleep with a blanket that the rabbit has used.
The initial introduction (and subsequent ones) between the pup and the rabbit need to be managed very carefully and with safety in mind. The pup should be on a lead (and potentially, behind a gate or barrier) and you should keep them close in case they lunge or get overly excited.
Begin by walking the pup past the rabbit’s bed or hutch and letting him sniff around, but move him back a step if he starts barking or getting overly excited. Correct your pup firmly but gently, and end the session if the pup gets het up or the rabbit gets scared.
When rabbit and pup meet in person, the dog should be held far enough away from the rabbit that they are not a threat to it – and if your rabbit is very bold or inquisitive and likely to approach the dog, consider using a muzzle on the dog too.
Keep your dog close and let the rabbit approach if they want to – and build up to having the dog with you on a lead in the same room with the rabbit while the rabbit moves around and they get used to each other.
Always correct barking or bad behaviour from your dog, and limit interactions if this happens to avoid scaring your rabbit.
If you spend plenty of time getting your pup used to the rabbit with the dog on a lead while the rabbit is around – perhaps watching TV in the evening or otherwise under supervision in close quarters – over time, your dog’s reactions to and interest in the rabbit should lessen.
Your dog may be alert and interested in the rabbit by this point, but they should not be growling, fixating on the rabbit, barking, or otherwise showing signs that they might attack the rabbit before you even think about letting them off the lead.
When the rabbit can approach your pup and sniff or touch them without the pup snapping, going crazy or overreacting, you can start thinking about letting the two interact more closely under supervision. Some pups may even show signs of fear at the rabbit as a relative unknown – and whilst this is in some ways better than aggression, a pup that is scared may lunge or snap defensively, so aim to get both rabbit and dog to a point that they are calm around each other.
Exactly when it is safe or wise to allow your rabbit and your pup to be let loose together and even left alone together is something that will be different in every situation. The younger and smaller your pup is when you start, the earlier this is likely to be – the younger the pup, the easier it is to train them and teach them from the get-go that the rabbit is not prey, but this can be much more challenging with older pups.
Don’t be afraid to move back a step if things aren’t going to plan, and never take any risks with your rabbit’s safety – even if your dog is asleep on the sofa while your rabbit is loose, don’t assume you can pop out of the room for a minute until you know that your dog isn’t going to react to the rabbit in your absence.
Some pups may never really be trustworthy with your rabbit, and this is something you should bear in mind – although with time, proper introductions and appropriate training, most pups can and will soon begin to view the rabbit as a friend, not potential prey.