First Steps

My husband and I have a new dog, Topi, who is a German shepherd/hound cross that we brought home from a rescue group about 2 months ago. We also have 2 houserabbits that we've had for around 6 years -- Crow and Magpie.

Since we've had the dog, the poor buns have basically been on lockdown as we have been really working with Topi to get basic obedience commands down pat. She is a really sweet girl, but has a lot of puppy in her and definitely wants to act excitedly around the rabbits. There is no sign of aggression on her part, but she just really wants to play with the rabbits, and they are terrified of her. Crow, our male rabbit just wants to run away. Magpie, our female, stands her ground and lunges at Topi when she gets too close. We have been trying to have the dog on leash on a down stay when the rabbits are in the house, and that has been pretty frustrating for everyone.

So yesterday we hired a trainer to come to the house, and she suggested a few things which we are going to start working on. They seem like good ideas, so I thought I'd tell you about them in case you want to let other people know. The first thing we did was to have my husband hold Topi while I sat on the floor with Magpie, the calmer of the two rabbits, on my lap. We then had Topi come up to us and lie down. I then spent about 5 minutes petting the rabbit and the dog and making a big fuss over what a good dog Topi is, giving her treats, etc. She also was allowed to gently sniff Magpie, but my husband had a firm grip on her collar so that she was forced to stay down and not get too pushy. After about 5 minutes of that, we released the rabbit and praised the dog for not getting up to chase her (she couldn't have even if she'd wanted to because she was being restrained still) and then the rabbit was allowed to hang out in a safe space and take a break for a few minutes (this was under our kitchen table). We then walked the dog over on her leash and had her lie down near the rabbit, next to the table. As soon as the dog tried to wiggle under the table to smell the rabbit, we walked her away and then had her lie down again next to the table.

The rabbit was happy to ignore her and focused on washing off all the gross dog cooties. Our trainer explained this exercise as giving the dog a chance to investigate the rabbit's territory in a controlled way, showing the rabbit that the dog would be respectful in the rabbit's space and showing the dog how to act respectfully in the rabbit's space while being allowed to satisfy her curiosity about the rabbit's smell. We were told to repeat these exercises several times with each of the rabbits. Since Crow is more skittish and nervous about the dog, we only had him go through the sitting on the lap exercise one time, but we'll work with him to build on that so he can understand that we won't let the dog hurt him.

The second kind of activity that the trainer suggested we try involves using a baby gate or other see-through barrier to separate the dog and the rabbits, but to let them each move freely in their space. So this morning we blocked the buns in our kitchen and the dog spent most of the morning watching the buns through the baby gate. Crow spent most of the morning moving around as little as possible, but Magpie hopped up to the baby gate and touched noses with the dog several times, which was great. Again, the trainer stressed the importance of effusive praise and rewards for the dog.

Let the dog know that being nice to the bunnies means you'll love her even more, rather than having the buns just be a source of disappointment and frustration for the dog. We plan to also try blocking the dog in our foyer and letting the buns run around the living room and the opposite arrangement in the kitchen where the dog is blocked in and the rabbits are blocked out.

- posted for Alex by Michelle N.

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