Rabbits and cats may end up being the best of friends, and many people have a happy household, with their rabbit sharing a rug with a dog. However, it’s not always possible, and it’s not always smooth sailing.
The likelihood of a successful canine/rabbit combination is largely determined by the personality of the dog and his degree of socialization and training. Some breeds, with a highly developed chase instinct (such as terriers and sighthounds), may not be able to restrain themselves if the rabbit makes a sudden move.
However, animal behaviorists now recognize that breed is less important than socialization, and whether or not the dog has met rabbits or cats during the critical socialization period between three and twelve weeks of age.
Setting Up For Success
Before contemplating mixing a rabbit with a dog, you need to consider practical matters, as well as preparing a contingency plan in case the introductions don’t work out. For example, in a wide-open home, you would find it difficult to separate your animals when you are unable to supervise them. Even if one of the pets were caged, the other could easily tease or terrify the caged party.
For the majority of people, introducing a rabbit and dog will take considerable effort and time. How you go about introducing rabbit to the dog will depend on whether it’s the dog or the rabbit that is already in residence.
If your starting point is a resident dog, prepare for the arrival of the rabbit well in advance. If the dog is young or not yet trained, wait until he is more mature. Teach your dog commands “No,” “Leave,” and “Gentle” and reward him for calmly passing cats on walks, and don’t encourage him to chase wild rabbits.
Clicker-training your dog will make it easier for you to teach him acceptable behavior around your rabbit. It is also a good idea to train your dog to wear a muzzle. If you put it on at completely random times, such as when you are watching television, they will learn to accept it in the same way that he accepts his collar.
It is important to get your dog used to the muzzle before you introduce the rabbit, otherwise, he will associate the muzzle with exciting, small furry creatures. The initial introduction can then be made with the dog muzzled, which enhances safety and helps you to be relaxed, which, in turn, keeps the dog calm.
Choosing the right dog
If you already have a house rabbit, it’s worth taking care to choose the right dog. If you can find an adult dog that is already used to living alongside rabbits and cats, you will be halfway there. If you want a puppy, you will be able to ensure that he meets rabbits within the socialization period, but it might be months until he is calm and restrained enough to be able to run around with the rabbit.
When the day comes to introduce the animals, put the dog on a leash and the rabbit in his cage. Your dog is likely to be fascinated by this strange new creature; he may pull on the lead, sniff hard, wag his tail, or get into the “play bow” position.. Be ready to use the “Off” or “Leave” command, and reward the dog for calm, relaxed behavior. Hopefully, the dog will gradually lose interest in the caged bunny.
Start again, with the dog on the leash (preferably muzzled), and this time allow the rabbit to come out of the cage. If, however, the dog continues to lunge at the caged rabbit, then you will have to decide whether to persevere. The dog must relax in the presence of the rabbit, and, if this cannot be achieved, you will never be able to have both animals loose in the same room. The safest advice is to never leave your dog and rabbit together unsupervised, and certainly not for prolonged periods of time.