Rabbits & Dogs: Advice from the House Rabbit Society

This article was written by the HRS Licensed Educator who inspired me to create this blog in the first place, Amy Ramnaraine. It first appeared on rabbit.org, and is reprinted here with her permission. Enjoy!

Can rabbits and dogs be friends? Yes, but everything hinges on the dog’s prey drive. For a successful interspecies household, a dog must have a low prey drive and must not be interested in chasing and killing wildlife. A low prey drive dog is gentle with other animal species, even in play. Introducing dogs and rabbits should be done with caution and preparation.

Look for these dog traits:

• Low prey drive is REQUIRED
• Dog follows basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘down’, ’stay’, and ‘leave it’
• Calm, submissive dog
• Adult dog (puppies are untrained and unable to control their exuberant behavior)
• Herding, non-sporting, and working dog breeds are a good place to start. Generally speaking, avoid sporting breeds as these dogs have been bred to hunt. Avoid toy breeds if the dog is high strung or anxious. Breed recommendations are generalities to use as a baseline. Individual personalities are most important to determine compatibility.
• A trained service dog or therapy dog

Rabbits who are good candidates for a canine friend:

• Outgoing, confident bunnies
• Relaxed, easy-going bunnies
• A shy, fearful rabbit is not a good choice.

Set Up For Success:

• Never allow a dog to meet a rabbit who’s confined inside a cage. Instead, allow the rabbit to freely explore the dog while the dog is lying down and on leash.
• Keep sessions short and gradually extend supervised introductions.
• Proceed slowly. Take your time and have patience.
• Safety of your rabbit is your top priority during this process.
• Use positive reinforcement and be consistent.
• Establish yourself and your rabbit at the top of the pack hierarchy.

Once They Are Friends:

• Always provide escape routes for both species (a place the rabbit can escape to if she feels threatened by the dog, a place the dog can go to escape a pestering rabbit).
• Always keep separate feeding areas.
• Never allow your dog to chase your rabbit, even in play.
• Supervision is required until 100% trust has been achieved.

Keeping a high prey drive dog or cat separated from a pet rabbit is critical but difficult and dangerous. A split-second accident can be fatal for the rabbit. If you think a dog or cat is not trustworthy with a small animal trust your gut. Trying to keep them forever separated in the same home is incredibly high risk, and this approach has failed many times.

by Amy Ramnaraine, House Rabbit Society Licensed Educator, MN

Supervised harmony

Hello again, we're back at you for an update on Buffy and LaFeet's slowly blossoming friendship!

Okay, maybe 'friendship' is an optimistic anthropomorphism, but at the very least, Buffy is now enjoying daily basement hang time with LaFeet and Athena free to roam (and full human supervision, of course). Buffy, as we know, is a chill gal, and LaFeet is much like your grandpa - he's gonna do what he wants because he's old and he's earned the right. As such, depending on the time of day (active or snooziful), as soon as the bunny pen is opened for him, LaFeet makes a beeline for his favorite activity station, the towel-filled carrier that doubles as a diggy box. Buffy is generally already cozy on the floor, sometimes with a nice bone and sometimes not, and each go about their very important business. Here are a couple of shots of Buff and LaFeet cheek to cheek (as in tushies):

Buffy sometimes takes the liberty of rolling over to sniff a bit at LaFeet's rear, a canine custom that LaFeet doesn't quite understand, but tolerates nonetheless. There have been a few more nose-to-nose greetings and Buffy does sometimes get up from her down-stay to do a lap or two before settling back down in an ever so slightly different spot than before. None of this bothers LaFeet in the least. The reason that no photos have been taken yet of Athena's overtures toward her potential poochy playmate is that they are all over with in the blink of an eye. She'll take one opportunity each session to run out from the pen to Buffy, sniff Buffy for a few seconds, and then hop back to the pen. She's calm and clearly undisturbed, but she's taking things at her own pace (which has kind of been the theme of this entire experience). Buffy has, in turn, tried wandering into the bunny pen a couple of times in order to partake of the delicious timothy hay that is stuffed conveniently into the buns' trough, but we've discouraged this behavior since we want to ensure that the bunnies' pen is always a haven only for them. Besides, there are plenty of hay threads that migrate outside of the pen's perimeter, and are available for snacking before I can sweep them up.
Meanwhile, Buff is enjoying as many nights on the town with the humans as possible, and has become a welcome sight for friendly neighbors, their dogs, and their children alike (Buffy loves kids and can't understand why some of the little ones recoil from her at first, despite polite behavior and calm tail wagging...I've tried to explain to her that her wolfish silhouette might remind the kids of big, bad wolves from fairy tales...that is, before they get to know that Buffy is really a kind-hearted princess!).

Buff and mama out at Cassatt's in Arlington
And finally, because I KNOW you're clamoring for them...LaFeet's feets:

Update! LaFeet steps forward...

Perhaps emboldened by composing yesterday's blog entry, husband and I seized an opportunity this evening. Buffy had spent a good hour+ with us downstairs chillin' with a bone while we enjoyed one of the more addictive Showtime series offerings via Netflix. Still in full relaxation mode, Buffy had her leash clipped to her collar, and then we opened the bunny pen door. Bunnies, as you may know, will not necessarily gallop out of their pen when initially summoned. So we waited for a while, petting Buffy as she lazed with her bone, and then LaFeet (by far the braver and more outgoing of the bun pair) made his move.

LaFeet hopped on out of the pen and came right over to touch noses with Buffy (who was in full side-recline). They sniffed for a few seconds, and then Buffy turned her head away, back to her bone. LaFeet went along his merry way, looping the room and then going back into his pen for some hay.

And thus went the first up-close-and-personal interaction between Buffy and bunny! Athena, by the way, elected to stay with the hay trough for the duration.

Happy Sunday,