Living with two golden retrievers and a big orange cat is a recipe for lots of dust bunnies living in every nook and cranny of our house, so making the decision to bring a real live bunny into it seemed only natural. Last week we brought home Bob the bunny and now our lives are enriched with lots of cuteness, bunny poops, laughs and constant entertainment.
I'm not going to lie, I was pretty nervous at first about introducing Bob to my dog Daisy. Daisy has a high prey drive and has been known to chase a squirrel or two. However, with clicker training, the proper setup and a few positive training sessions, it's more than possible to have a peaceful, multi-species household. The first step to introducing new animals into a household is to "manage" the situation safely. Your bunny (or cat), should always have they're very own space that your dog cannot get into that is dog-proof. Bunnies can stress out very easily so it's important to have a place for them where it's quiet and free of other animals. Next, make sure that you have an exercise pen so that you can have an area where you can sit with your bunny with your dog on the other side. You must also have a clicker and a pouch full of carrot shavings. Luckily, my dog Daisy loves carrots as much as Bob the bunny does.
The first part of the training process is to teach your bunny what the clicker means. My goal is to teach Bob how to come when called, put two feet on my leg when I'm sitting, jump up into my lap, stand on his back legs, and go to a book and sit on it. These tricks are easy for bunnies to learn if you're using a clicker. I first taught him how to follow my finger, by clicking every time he hopped towards my finger to investigate it. Then I would take a piece of carrot out from behind my back and offer him a nibble. After one nibble, I'd put it back behind my back and then repeat the process. As soon as he started to reliably follow my finger and recognize that the click means he gets a nibble of carrot, I was able to attach the cue, "Come Bob!". In the meantime, as I was clicking and treating Bob, I had Daisy in a down/stay by my side on the other side of the cage. Every time that Daisy seemed disinterested in Bob, I would drop a piece of carrot between her two front paws. This was not as easy to do as it sounds, because Daisy was so obsessed with Bob that she would whine non-stop. It took a good fifteen to twenty minutes of down stays before she stopped whining and intensely staring at little Bob. For three days, the three of us sat on the floor a couple of times a day getting to know each other very well. Bob LOVES carrots and will do anything for clicks and nibbles. Daisy has learned to LOVE Bob because Bob means carrot time. It's a case of classical conditioning at it's best.
Once your dog has learned to "lose interest" in the bunny and once your bunny seems more comfortable with your dog, you can hold your bunny in front of your dog's nose and let your dog smell the front and back of him. Make sure that you tell your dog to sit and stay before you do this. You must always be in control of the situation byconstantly telling your dog what to do. If not, your dog will do what he naturally wants to do, which might be to eat the bunny. Tell your dog, "gentle" and if your dog gets too aroused simply take the bunny away and go back to working with your dog and bunny with the safety of the exercise pen. If your dog stays calm, let him investigate the bunny more. It's important to not let your bunny down at this point, because if your bunny runs away, your dog's natural instinct will be to run after him. Also, make sure that you do not restrain your dog by the collar and/or with a leash. Restraining your dog will only create more frustration toward the bunny. Keep your training sessions calm, happy and stress free.
After a couple days of desensitizing Daisy and teaching Bob what the clicker means, I was able to put Bob on the floor in a small room with Daisy and I. You can use your bathroom or a blocked off kitchen. Have lots of carrots and/or high value dog treats on hand for this big moment. Ask your dog to sit and stay and treat your dog profusely for staying put and for not intensely staring at the bunny. If your dog can't take his eyes off of him, you're definitely not ready for this step yet. You should be able to get your dog's attention easily and he should be happily staring at you waiting for his treat. It's okay if your dog casually glances at the bunny, but no staring allowed. Also, if your dog is food aggressive at all, it's very important not to do these exercises with your dog and the bunny without a fence to keep the two of them safely apart. After a few 15 minute sessions each day for two days, Daisy was completely bored of Bob and now lets Bob run and poop all over the house. Once I figure out how to potty train a bunny, I'll get back to you on that!
Today, we were all cooking dinner in the kitchen and Daisy, Taj and Bob were all laying at my feet patiently waiting for their scraps of carrots and broccoli. I couldn't believe my eyes when Bob hopped up onto Daisy's back and just sat there. Daisy just looked at me with her head on the floor probably thinking, "Seriously? A bunny? On my back? I better be getting two carrots for this."