If you want your family to include several different kinds of pet, it's important to make sure everyone will get along. In our last guide to introducing your dog to other pets, we looked at how they can make friends with cats. Today, we will focus on introducing them to rabbits.
Will your dog and rabbit get along?
It's important to understand that rabbits are prey animals, which means they are easily scared by lively or barking dogs - even ones that mean no harm. For them, fear and subsequent flight are survival techniques that have allowed them to thrive in the wild, despite the tremendously high number of rabbits that get picked off by predators.
These same instincts are present in domestic rabbits, and they impact not only how you should introduce your rabbit to your dog, but also how to handle the friendship once it's established.
If you have a dog and are considering bringing a rabbit into your home, think about your pooch's history and behaviour. Key questions include whether he has killed any animals before, if he is prone to chasing small animals (not necessarily rabbits) when on walks, and whether he can be hard for you to control when he becomes excited. These will all give you clues as to whether he is likely to attack or simply frighten your rabbit.
This is crucial, as rabbits can actually die of fright. Plus, some species of dog, such as retrievers and terriers, have been bred to hunt rabbits, in which case they are unlikely to be relied upon to treat them gently. Pairings with these kinds of dogs are best avoided.
If you are thinking of adding a puppy to your family, again you need give this particularly careful thought if you have rabbits, as young, untrained puppies are often simply too boisterous for them. Mature dogs, preferably who have a history of interacting with small animals successfully, are the best choice for introductions to rabbits.
How to introduce your rabbit and dog
As with introducing your dog to any other animal, 'gradual' is the word to keep in mind. Rushing the connection - or forcing one that simply cannot be established - will mean stress and potential injury or death for your rabbit.
When making the initial introduction, leave the rabbit in its cage where it feels safe. Bring the dog to the rabbit's hutch after he has eaten and has exercised, as this should be when he is at his calmest. Praise the dog and reward it with treats for remaining calm and not scaring the rabbit. If it barks, quiet him, and remove him if necessary.
Once you have repeated this process a number of times and your dog consistently remains calm in the rabbit's presence (and your rabbit does not continually hide from him), you can move onto the next stage.
Place your rabbit on your lap, making sure that is it at eye level with the dog, keeping the latter on his lead - being at eye level is important so that your bunny feels less intimidated by your pooch, and your dog is more likely to view your rabbit as its equal. Allow them to sniff and even lick each other, but if your dog begins to misbehave, pull him away immediately. It can be useful to have a family member or friend there to help.
Throughout this process, pet both animals continually and equally. Repeat this stage frequently until each pet seems comfortable and calm in the presence of the other; be patient, as this may take some time.
Once you are happy with your dog's behaviour and the comfort of your bunny, you can try letting the latter run free with your pooch present (but still on his lead). Praise and pet the dog for leaving the rabbit alone and not displaying threatening behaviour. Again, repeat this process frequently until you are confident both pets are happy and your dog is suitably calm.
You might not necessarily want to progress to this stage, for instance, if you own a particularly nervous rabbit or aren't 100 per cent comfortable with your dog's behaviour. However, if things are going well, you can repeat stage three, only this time releasing the dog from its lead - but be very vigilant and ready to step in. Also make sure your rabbit has plenty of hiding places to use if he feels nervous.
No matter how well this goes, it is best to be present whenever your two pets are together - just in case.
Notes on new bunnies
If your rabbit is brand new, be sure to give him some time to get used to his home before introducing your dog. It is recommended that you leave your bunny in its hutch or cage for a minimum of 24 hours - and preferably longer - to get used to the new smells and sounds of its surroundings before attempting to pick them up. Ensure they are not disturbed by your dog during this period.
Once your rabbit is settled into his new home, you can begin by introducing the scent of the dog - though your bunny is likely to have picked this up from you to some degree in any case, particularly if you have a house rabbit. Then, you can think about beginning stage one.
Written by: Hannah