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Recently, my daughter has been begging us to buy her a bunny. I was concerned that our Lab, Molly, would attack it. As a Lab owner, I know they are bred to hunt and retrieve small game for hunters.
Given the opportunity, a Labrador will chase down and kill a rabbit in the vicinity. This behavior is especially true of Labs that haven’t been socialized, adequately trained, or made to come in contact with rabbits.
While it is their nature to hunt and retrieve small game, you can train your Labrador not to chase and kill rabbits so your pets can coexist peacefully. So let’s get started.
Why Would a Labrador Kill a Rabbit?
Dogs were predators long before humans befriended them, and a few hundred years of domestication doesn’t automatically wipe out thousands of years of evolution.
A Labrador would kill a rabbit because hunting small prey is a characteristic hardwired into a dog’s biological makeup. Without this predatory instinct, dogs would’ve died out as a species.
In ancient times, dogs needed to hunt to eat, and evolution granted them this natural drive to ensure their survival.
Your dog’s predatory drive kicks in when it sees a rabbit crossing its path. Labradors are always so eager to play, so they’ll chase a rabbit just for the heck of it.
A Labrador’s propensity to harm a rabbit can be troublesome. Especially if you’re planning to bring home a pet rabbit or if you live in the countryside, with hares and rabbits scurrying around nearby.
If you’re wondering whether your Labrador is ‘evil’ for killing a rabbit, it’s not. Your dog is just doing what it was born to do, and there’s nothing unnatural about it. Killing rabbits doesn’t make your canine friend a ‘bad’ dog.
However, this doesn’t mean that rabbits and Labradors can’t live in the same home. If you want your Lab to behave and leave the rabbit to its business, you’ll have to train them.
How To Train Your Lab To Avoid Killing Rabbits
Labradors were bred to be hunting dogs that can be easily trained. They can be trained to attack on command to assist in hunting. However, you can use particular techniques to stop them from harming rabbits.
You may want to try the following steps:
Teach Them To ‘Stay’ or ‘Sit’
Chasing wild rabbits can be potentially dangerous to your dog. They’re likely to run onto a busy highway or injure themselves on uneven ground. Teaching them to hold their position or sit when you give the command is vital to keep the rabbits and your dog safe from harm.
By imprinting this command from an early age, your dog will get accustomed to it. Even the mention of the word ‘stay’ or ‘sit’ can be strong enough to overpower their natural, instinctual drives.
Using commands can be helpful to teach your dog to get used to a new pet rabbit in the vicinity. By holding the rabbit in your arms and allowing your dog to smell while restraining it with the command, your dog can get acclimatized to the rabbit’s presence.
To teach your dog to sit, take a treat and lift it above and slightly behind their head. Your Lab should follow the treat and will naturally adjust their body into a sitting position.
Check out this video from the AKC about teaching your dog to sit:
When you want to teach them to stay in place, hold your palm up and say ‘stay’ while slowly walking backward or around your dog. If your Lab holds its position, give them a treat. They’ll begin to associate your command with the action of holding position.
You’ll, of course, need to repeat these exercises daily.
Keep in mind that this is only the beginning of the training process. I recommend that all owners take their dogs through a formalized training process.
I highly recommend using an online training program to train your dog yourself, but with the guidance of a professional. This alternative to traditional training is both convenient as well as cost-effective.
Socialize Your Dog
The most effective way to prevent your Labrador from killing rabbits is to allow them to socialize. While it’s possible to train an older dog, it’s best to start the socialization process while your Lab is still a puppy.
Allow your pet rabbit and puppy to spend time in the same vicinity under your supervision. If you’re extra cautious, you can put your puppy on a leash to avoid spooking the bunny.
Alternatively, you can also hold your rabbit and bring it close to your puppy’s nose. This allows them to get familiar with the smell. As your Lab starts associating the rabbit’s presence with you, it’ll begin to acclimatize. In turn, they’ll be less likely to harm the rabbit.
Mix Your Scent With the Rabbit’s
The sense of smell is a dog’s most powerful tool. It is its way of interacting with and understanding the world around it. By allowing your scent to mingle with the rabbit’s, your dog will form more positive associations with your pet bunny.
Simply getting used to the rabbit’s smell will desensitize your Lab to reacting the way it naturally would when smelling prey in the wild. Having the rabbit’s smell on you will also make your Lab familiar with the scent. Doing so can reduce the natural predatory triggers they usually experience when they come across small prey.
Here are a few ways you can do this:
- Hold your rabbit for a while in your arms, so the rabbit’s smell is imprinted on your person.
- Leave clothes with the rabbit’s scent on them in some parts of the house, especially where your Lab spends most of its time.
- Regularly allow your dog to sniff the rabbit for a few minutes while you hold it in your arms.
- If your rabbit has a cage or crate it sleeps in, let your Lab inspect it from time to time while you hold the rabbit.
By acclimatizing to the rabbit’s smell, your Lab will start to recognize the rabbit as a part of the household.
Reward Your Labrador
When you begin to socialize your dog with the rabbit, remember to reward them for positive social behavior.
For example, if your Lab can stay calm and composed and obey commands while the rabbit is in the same room or on your lap, reward them with a treat. These rewards will reinforce the positive behavior and reduce the likelihood of your dog harming the rabbit.
You also want to pay attention to cues that indicate your dog is getting accustomed to the rabbit.
If your dog is backing off when the rabbit gets aggressive, or the rabbit stays calm while your dog attempts to play with it, these are signs of progress.
Start Them Young
If you want to work out a relationship between your rabbit and your Lab, it’s best to start socializing while they’re young. Your rabbit should be less than a year old, and your Labrador should be a puppy, preferably 3 or 4 months old.
Their predatory instincts still haven’t fully surfaced during this time, and they can be easily stopped from hurting the rabbit under your supervision.
When a puppy starts growing up, its immediate environment is crucial in predicting its future behavior. If your Lab grows up around rabbits and comes in constant contact with them in its puppyhood, it’s likely to develop a positive, even loving, relationship with them.
Labs are natural predators and have been bred for generations to infuse homes with their cheery temperament, friendliness, and willingness to obey. But these positive traits shouldn’t be taken as a sign of complete submission.
While their killer instincts have been curbed largely, their natural reaction to small prey is hunting and killing. It’s essential to bear this in mind when keeping a Labrador and a rabbit in the same home.
While it’s their nature to kill rabbits, Labs can be trained and nurtured differently to bring this natural predatory instinct under control.