Written by: Melissa Kauffmann
Let's just get one thing out of the way immediately – you need to introduce your dog to a rabbit properly. You might have the most lovable, likable pooch that ever walked this earth, the calmest and most empathic dog that treats everyone and everything it meets like its new best friend. This isn't enough to keep your rabbit safe and happy. Your dog might freak out, and it might not be happy with a new furry friend encroaching upon its territory. On the flip side, it might be too energetic and clingy, freaking out your rabbit and causing it too much undue stress. You need to be smart about how you introduce them.
This article is a quick guide on how to get your furry family members to be on the best of terms, with relative ease. The tips below give you advice on how to make this new transition fun for your pets as well as safe.
How is your pet doing?
Before you get a new pet, whether it's a dog or a rabbit, you need to check on the one that's already at home. Has your pet been suffering from stress? Is it annoyed, angry, perhaps a bit under the weather? Did it go through a relatively recent surgery, and it's still recovering? Did you recently move and your pet is still dealing with a change in scenery?
All of these questions need to be handled correctly. To put it simply, if your pet is in an uncharacteristically bad mood, you should wait until you get a new one. We are not saying they will fight immediately, or that something terrible will happen. Instead, the introduction process will become much more difficult.
You also need to be honest with yourself – does your pet handle other pets properly? Training your dog beforehand will make things much more comfortable, as will having a happy and acclimatized rabbit. Not all breeds of dogs bond well with other pets also. If you're confident that your pet is happy, relaxed, and easy-going, then it's time to introduce it to the new member of the family.
Introducing them through a cage
First things first – you want to have this introduction done through a cage. Keep the rabbit in the cage, and let your dog approach it, sniff it, and let its curiosity run its course. Curious and stress-free bunnies will most likely go nose to nose with the dog. This is an excellent sign.
Note that you should allow your dog to bark. No whining or anything dramatic shouldn't be allowed, so as not to stress out your bunny.
Be certain that the hutch is strong and stable, and that your dog doesn't paw at it at any point. Don't leave them unsupervised. Scold your dog for any inappropriate behavior, but reward both pets with treats for any displays of affection to each other.
Let them meet
Once you are satisfied with your dog's behavior, once you are 100% that it's calm and cool with the bunny, let the rabbit outside of the cage. Sit next to the cage, and train your dog to be in a submissive position, laying on the side. This is non-threatening behaviour, and it teaches your dog not to out-alpha the rabbit.
Do not force anything. Let the rabbit get out of the cage alone, and let the dog come to the rabbit of its own accord.
The previous stage was all about making sure your dog is cool with the rabbit. This is all about letting the rabbit relax outside its cage with the dog.
Don't let your dog "spaz out." While it will most likely want to jump from joy and hang out with its new friend, it will just scare the bunny. The rabbit will most likely approach the dog cautiously. Your dog must never forget that this is not a puppy.
The long haul
The pets have by now, most likely become accustomed to each other. However, you do not want to let your guard down. The bunny is the one that's going to relax now, that might jump around and want to play. Your dog still needs to resist the urge to play and roughhouse with the rabbit.
Your end goal is a relaxed rabbit and a dog that knows how and when to be gentle with his new friend. Continue to reward this appropriate behavior with encouragement and treats. Step in immediately if they are not behaving correctly. Keep an eye on your dog, in case it gets jealous, but you can also relax a bit more during this stage.
And there you have it, a quick guide on introducing your favorite furry friends. It might take some time, time that depends solely on the temperaments of your dog and your rabbit. Just be patient, thorough, and vigilant, and everything will go as planned.