The Dogcharmer: Hunting wabbit

An air horn may work better than being vewy qwiet.

Jule - Perro de Catalan or Gos d‘Atura Catala – Courtesy Ute Kuerscher

Hi Tom,

I definitely need help on how to stop my dog from hunting squirrels or bunnies.

When she was very young — now she is 2½  years old — she noticed a bunny on her way from our car to the entrance of our home. She caught it, so she was successful, kept it between her paws, and let it go again after I told her to stop. So that little bunny was not hurt or injured, it just ran away.

Now, she gets excited if she comes to typical places where bunnies might be on our property. She is calm and well-behaved if she notices them from inside the house, but outside she loves to chase them. If I tell her to sit, she does, but as soon as she thinks I’m not paying attention, she wants to chase them.

Do you have an idea how to train her to stop chasing after bunnies and squirrels?



Owner of a rabbit chaser


Dear Rabbit Chaser (RC) Owner,

The rabbit that RC caught is one lucky rabbit, probably because RC was a puppy. I had a pharaoh hound, and as a puppy she caught a squirrel, and also let it go. However, as an adult, she caught a squirrel, and that was one dead squirrel.

There are several types of aggression, and what I’m talking about is predatory aggression and bite restriction. Dogs are predatory, as opposed to such animals as horses and rabbits, which are prey animals. Movement elicits predatory instinct, or the prey drive in dogs. That’s why a 10-week-old puppy chases a blowing leaf, and why one should never run from an aggressive dog. Dogs learn to restrict the strength of their bite in the litter when they play-fight. If a littermate bites her brother too hard and he cries or gets angry, it’s a lesson to the biter, “not so hard.” That’s why the mouthing puppy doesn’t draw blood when playing with its two-legged companion, and that’s probably why the lucky rabbit lived. RC’s puppy predation instinct wasn’t fully developed, resulting in the inhibited bite.

RC, and I believe all dogs, need to learn the “leave it” command. Whatever you’re looking at or focused on, leave it alone. That applies to your snack left on the coffee table, the dropped pizza slice on the sidewalk, another dog, squirrel, rabbit, or car (many dogs are car chasers). Virtually every lesson I do includes a “leave it” command. The owner places a piece of meat on a plate in the middle of the room while the dog and I are in another room. The dog is on a leash when we enter the room, and the moment the dog zeroes in on the meat, he hears “leave it,” and gets a leash correction (a slight jerk or popping of the leash to the side) as he goes for the meat. Usually, if timed well, with two or three passes the dog is earning a lot of praise and treats as he ignores the plate with meat. The actual correction I use varies from dog to dog depending on the age, size, and bullheadedness or sensitivity of the dog. With correct timing, 98 percent of the time the bad guy here is the nasty meat on the floor, not me. The dog on a leash in the house is going to be a lot more cooperative than when he’s off-leash outside seeing the rabbit, but he does know what “leave it” means. Time to introduce the “Dog God.” The meat is in a perforated plastic container left on the coffee table and you’re in another room, but there’s a mirror set up so you can see the table with meat, but RC can’t see you. Looking in the mirror, the moment he sniffs the container he hears “leave it!” and something very loud startles him. It can be an air horn, two pots banging together, whatever. This is the type of correction that has a much better chance of stopping him dead in his tracks when he’s off-leash outside and hears “Leave it!” However, if his prey drive is really intense, you’ll need the help of a pro.


Good luck,

The Dogcharmer


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