Step One: Choosing the Right Dog

My husband and I have had dogs as a part of our family for most of our married life. Our last dog, Nan, died in 2001. It was a difficult loss to recover from, and we were left with a house and hearts that were strangely empty.

That fall we visited our local Humane Society to get our animal groove on, and spent the evening talking with two volunteers from the Minnesota House Rabbit Society. They shared tons of information with us about living with a house rabbit and the joys of bunny companionship. The next day I went back to the Humane Society and adopted my first house rabbit, a fuzzy grey lop-eared bunny named Mouse. Shortly thereafter we became members of the Minnesota House Rabbit Society (since morphed into The Minnesota Companion Rabbit Society, a fabulous organization ) and adopted our second rabbit, a mini-rex named Duchess.

Fast forward to Spring 2006. We’ve moved to Santa Monica, California, bought an 800 square foot condo (of which the bunnies have free roam – a whole 800 square feet?! Where do they find the time? LOL), and have a major Jones on for doggie companionship. We love our bunnies tremendously, and their safety is first and foremost, so what are we going to do?

I’ve heard it’s possible to have a multi-species household that includes bunnies and dogs living in peaceful harmony. My husband and I are experienced with both dogs and bunnies. With advice from the MCRS educators I’ve completed a very successful bunny bonding. My best friend in Los Angeles is a certified dog trainer and has promised her assistance. I guess we’re going to move forward and pursue the dream!

To prepare I read everything I could find about bunny and dog households. has a brief but informative article on this subject. There is also some good advice given in The House Rabbit Handbook. I also re-read all the advice I had been given by our very own MNRabbits chat group.

We had been advised to choose a dog from amongst the working breeds and to avoid the hunting breeds. There is definitely a lot that I don’t buy into about specific dog breed attributes, because I really believe that each individual is different, and a lot depends on nurture as well. However, we did decide, for the safety of our bunnies, to heed the advice to steer clear of hunting dogs.

We were open to adopting a mixed breed dog with working breed parentage, but we first happened upon a great organization that rescues German Shepherd dogs, so that is how we ended up adopting a “pure bred” German Shepherd.

We decided to adopt through a rescue organization instead of the city run shelter because we found that many rescue organizations have many of the dogs in foster homes and can provide extensive behavior profiles on the dogs. We looked at pictures and personality profiles on their website, filled out the adoption application online, and then scheduled to meet the dog that we were interested in.

Before we met the dog we kept three things in the forefront of our minds. 1. That the bunnies cannot become a source of frustration for the dog. Positive reinforcement must be used at all times. All interactions must be a pleasant experience for both parties. As George Costanza on Seinfeld said, “Always end on a high note”! 2. That the dog would need to be extremely well trained in the “down-stay” and “sit-stay” commands. 3. That I wanted the concept of “Gentle” to be introduced and reinforced right from the start.

In preparing to meet the dog, I brought along a few items from our bunny house to see how she would react to them. I brought a handful of bunny fur, a small litter pan with fresh pee and poop in it, and a towel that had been in my bunnies house for a week: it had fur, hay, a few poops and a pee spot on it. I also came prepared with a dog comb to bring a few tufts of dog fur home with me to see how the bunnies would react to that. These ideas may sound familiar to anyone who has done a bunny bonding – I was basically borrowing these bonding concepts from what I learned when I bonded Mouse & Duchess so successfully four years ago.

I also brought along small training treats, thinking that I could reinforce positive reactions with food. However, dogs in a high stress situation with strangers may not eat, and this was the case here. But it can’t hurt to bring along small food rewards in case the dog will respond to them.

We met Rose, a 6+-year-old female German Shepherd. She was described as being very mellow, good on the leash, good with other dogs and cats, and a good car traveler. We found her to live up to her description. She was very interested in all the bunny smells we brought with to show her. I didn’t really know how to gauge her reaction, but as she smelled each item I calmly pet her and repeated, “What a good, gentle girl! Be gentle.” I just knew that we would end up adopting her and I wanted to start introducing the concept of “Gentle” right away, and to reinforce her non-aggressive reaction to the bunny smell.

Based upon her mellow and obedient nature we decided to adopt Rose. We filled out the paperwork, paid our adoption fee, and then took one day to prepare for the new arrival.

Things in the forefront of my mind at this point:

This bonding will require a significant investment of my time. I must be committed to this process 100%.

Shortcutting the process could mean injury or death for our bunnies. I must be prepared to move forward very slowly.

Safety must be our #1 concern.

We will be working with a professional dog trainer who uses a positive, non-painful training approach.

This dog’s background is a mystery, so we must be prepared to deal with the unexpected.

It’s great to be giving a home to a senior dog! We are so excited to get to know the newest member of our household!

Next Installment: We Bring Rose Home – the First Week


  1. Hi Amy! There's a "Rocky" with the same "last name" as Rose on the shepherd rescue organization's front page. Any relation to her?

  2. Hi Michelle! Von Brentwood is one of the rescue organizations commonly used "surnames". Many of the dogs are given Los Angeles place names such as Brentwood, Mar Vista, von Irvine, etc. Brentwood is an upscale city on the Westside of Los Angeles. My dog obviously came from old money. ; )

  3. Hi Rammer,

    You are such a great writer and I am so thrilled you and Ed have a dog in your life again. I am glad I can keep up with your life even though it is hard to talk!

    much love

  4. Hi Amy. I'm writing just to caution you. We live in Santa Monica and years ago had both a bunny and a dog. My dog, King (who passed away this past summer at 17 years old) was a rescued Akita. I had him for 15 years, several of which he spent with Nibbles. King protected Nibbles from predators when they were in the yard. In fact, Nibbles would curl up and sleep with him. Sometimes, I think Nibbles thought he was a dog.
    One night, our dog was given dry food rather than wet which he boycotted. The Next morning I woke to King whining over Nibbles who was laying with his neck snapped right next to the still full bowl of dried dog food. I don't think King meant to kill Nibbles, but bunnies are so much more delicate than dogs that a slight mistake could be the end of it. I wish you the best of luck, but be careful.
    -Maya, Santa Monica