Do Labradors Chase Rabbits? Keeping Your Lab’s Instincts At Bay

rabbit in grass

If you live in a rural setting where many wildlife, such as rabbits, run free, you may wonder how your Lab will behave around them. Do Labradors chase rabbits? Will they attack them if they get to them? I’ve observed a number of interactions between rabbits and Labs, and I can share some insight from those experiences.

Labradors natural instincts will cause them to chase rabbits if they haven’t been socialized with them previously. Labs that have been socialized prior and undergone training to prevent them from chasing animals, are less likely to do so. When Labs do chase rabbits, it is typically just for play.

Whether you’re trying to keep your Lab from chasing rabbits on your property, or you want to make sure your pet rabbit and Lab will have a good relationship, I have some tips that are effective at keeping your Lab’s instincts at bay.

How to stop a Lab from chasing wild rabbits

Labs are powerful, intelligent, and driven dogs, so it can be very challenging to keep them from chasing rabbits when they are determined. Here are a few tips that you can try to prevent your Labrador from chasing rabbits:

girl with pet rabbit
  • Socialize them to rabbits from an early age. Labrador Retrievers that are socialized to rabbits and taught not to chase them as puppies will be less likely to look at rabbits as targets of chasing when they are adults.
  • Practice a good recall. Labs that are taught to come when they are called are more likely to come back instead of continuing to chase rabbits. Give your Lab tasty rewards for coming when called and always enforce every recall by going to get your dog if they don’t come back. 
  • Use a secure collar and leash. If your Lab has pulled the leash out of your hand or slipped out of the harness or collar, it may be time to upgrade your equipment to a martingale collar and a leash that can be attached to your waist.

Training your Lab to love your pet rabbit

If you have pet rabbits, especially if you want them to be able to free-range in your home, you may want to teach your Lab to have a very positive relationship with your rabbit. Here’s how:

  • Start at an early age. The younger your Lab is when you begin training them to accept your rabbit, the more likely it will be that they will have a positive relationship. That said, even older Labs can learn to get along well with rabbits, but training may be more challenging. 
  • Establish a barrier. To begin acclimating your dog and rabbit, but a barrier between them that they won’t be able to get past but which they can smell and see each other through.
  • Reward positive interactions. Whenever your rabbit and dog interact positively, whether they’re sniffing noses or just lying calmly near each other on either side of the barrier, give them both highly desirable trading rewards. 
  • Look for social relationships. Watch for signs that your rabbit and dog are communicating. If your dog play bows and backs away when the rabbit seems aggressive or uncomfortable, it’s a good sign that they’re developing the right kind of relationship.
  • Supervised interactions. Once you can see a positive relationship developing between rabbit and dog, you may feel confident enough to begin removing the barrier. Keep your dog on a leash and carefully supervise all interactions until they have developed a strong positive relationship. 

Consider an online training program

I highly recommend taking your Lab through a professional training program if you haven’t already done so. Developing the fundamental training techniques will prove to be useful throughout your Lab’s life.

I was hesitant to get professional training with my first dog, but that was mostly due to cost and convenience. This was back before online training programs were as accessible as they are now.

There is one program in particular, Brain Training For Dogs, by Adrienne Farricelli that I highly recommend. Adrienne is a certified trainer, and has a very easy to follow training program that you can access from anywhere. This makes training super convenient, and keeps you involved in the process. In fact, it is the only online training program that I recommend in my Recommended Products.

For more information on how she structures the program, click here.

My Lab just ran after a rabbit! Now what?

Your Labrador may find it very fun to run after a rabbit, but that action could be very dangerous. Your Labrador could be hit by a car, or be mistaken for a deer by hunters. If your Lab has just run away, here are a few steps that you can do to get them back:

labrador laying down watching rabbits
  1. Scream and run away. A percentage of Labradors may come back to you if they think you are in some kind of danger even if they won’t come back because you’re calling them. Running away from your dog is more likely to cause them to run after you.
  2. Post online and put up flyers. If your dog has run out of your sight somewhere you can’t easily follow, the next step will be to alert everyone in your area. Hang flyers and post on social media sites.
  3. Keep calling. Your Labrador will eventually give up the chase and start trying to find their way back, but many dogs become disoriented. Keep calling and whistling for your dog so that they’ll be able to hear your voice if they come within range.
  4. Put out things that smell like you. If nightfall comes and you still haven’t found your Labrador, put out lots of things that smell like you around the house and in the area near the house so that your dog will be able to follow the scent back to you if they wander back into the area.

What to do if your Lab brings you baby rabbits

Labs have a strong instinct to bring things to their owners. They also have a soft mouth, which is an instinct not to hurt things that they are carrying in their mouth.

It isn’t uncommon for Labradors to find baby animals and bring them back unharmed. Here’s what to do if this happens to you:

  • Look for the nest. Most rabbits have their young in a nest in tall grass. If you walk carefully around the area, you may be able to find the nest. Putting your Labrador on a leash and walking them may encourage them to bring you to the nest.
  • Cover the nest. You can protect the baby bunnies from your dog by putting a large storage container with a hole in it just big enough for the mother over the nest. Put something heavy on it so your dog won’t knock it over. 

Conclusion

It’s very natural for Labradors to chase rabbits if they haven’t been socialized or trained not to. However, Labradors are intelligent and highly trainable dogs that can learn how to ignore rabbits, or even to live with them as companions.