How to Socialize a Bunny & a Dog

Bunnies are sensitive, so keep Sparky from startling Bunbun.

Bunnies are sensitive, so keep Sparky from startling Bunbun.

While dogs usually think of bunnies as prey rather than as buddies, the two species can live together peacefully. With some doggie obedience training for Sparky and careful socialization with Bunbun, you'll coax the two animals into getting along, perhaps even coming to enjoy each other's company over time.

Basic Obedience

Before you introduce Sparky to your bunny, he needs some basic obedience training to keep him well-mannered around his hopping housemate. Train your pup the "Sit," "Come," "Stay" and "Quiet" commands, and especially the "Leave It." Use positive training methods to motivate your pooch rather than negative ones, which can encourage aggression. Positive methods rely on praise and rewards to encourage the behavior you want from your pup, rather than punishing the behavior you don't. Once your pup responds to your commands consistently, you'll be able to keep him controlled around your bunny in case he tries to lunge or bark at her. Even if he just gets excited to meet a furry friend, he'll scare the rabbit -- and good training will keep him in line.

Introducing Pup and Bunny

Prior to your initial introduction, take Sparky out for a rousing walk and game of fetch to tire him out. An excited pooch can easily scare a bunny, sending her into shock, so you want your pup as calm around her as possible. After Sparky's worn out from play, confine your bunny to her cage -- which she considers her safe space -- and bring Sparky in on a leash. Command him to Sit and Stay near the cage, rewarding him for calm, nonaggressive behavior with ample treats. Allow him to smell the bunny; reward him again when he does. If at any time he tries to snap at the bunny or barks repeatedly, simply command him to Leave It or to be Quiet. Walk him away and end the meeting.

Pup and Bunny Meetings

After their initial introduction, continue to have the pets meet for several minutes at a time, lengthening each successive meeting. Always keep your pooch on a leash and the bunny confined until your pup doesn't show any signs of aggression around Bunbun. Once this happens, allow your bunny out of her enclosure to hop around freely. Eventually -- once Sparky shows no signs of aggression or the desire to chase Bunbun and she doesn't show any signs of fear around him -- remove his leash. Give Sparky lots of treats and praise around Bunbun, and vice-versa. Each animal needs to associate the other with good things. For this reason, never punish either pet for scared or aggressive behavior; the pet will likely associate the punishment with the presence of the other pet, leading to negative reinforcement and possible tensions.

Considerations

Not all dogs will get along with bunnies, even with careful introductions made over several weeks. If your pup has a high prey drive, you may never be able to let him near Bunbun while the rabbit's loose or you may need the help of a certified animal behaviorist when working with him. You should never leave your pup alone with your bunny while she's not safely confined, the House Rabbit Society website recommends. Even a pup who shows no signs of aggression or prey drive around your bunny for an extended period of time could harm her, even by accident, when no one is around to supervise.

 

About the Author

Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.

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