Simply put, there is no rule about whether dogs and rabbits can live together. Some can, some can't.
Some dogs are very calm around rabbits, and show no prey drive whatsoever. The two animals can be friends, even curl up and nap together. But some dogs DO have an instinct to hunt and potentially hurt a rabbit. We have to look at a lot of factors.
- What breed is your dog? Some breeds have strong instincts to chase, such as a Greyhound. Some breeds are herders, and will have a strong desire to keep the rabbit in a certain area or nip at the rabbit's back legs in typical herding fashion. Some breeds have had their hunting instincts really brought out, especially for the hunting of small animals, (think Jack Russell terriers, perhaps). This is not to say these INDIVIDUAL dogs can't be good with your rabbit, but on the whole, their genetic makeup may make it more difficult. We've got to respect both animals involved here. Most people, for instance, have a strong instinct to protect their home. Asking a human to stand by and watch while a stranger enters their home would be asking an awful lot. We need to remember how hard it is to resist instinct, and not ask a dog to overcome their nature.
- What is the individual dog's personality? Some Golden Retrievers (a breed known for a friendly and gentle nature) will NOT do well around a rabbit, and can be quite dangerous. Some Pitties will be very kind and nurturing toward a rabbit, some may cause injury. Some Shelties will herd a rabbit to the point of exhaustion, some will play and cuddle nicely. There are exceptions to every rule. You cannot assume your dog will be OK with a rabbit based on breed alone, but need to take personality and history into account as well.
- Size doesn't matter. Big dogs can be gentle and sweet, little dogs can be dangerous. We have a 40 lb dog and a 120 lb dog in our house, and the big boy is gentle and kind with small animals, whereas the little dog cannot be permitted around them. Some big rabbits are calmer, some little ones have more confidence. You just can't go by the size of either animal.
- Some rabbits are simply more terrified of dogs. No matter how kind and gentle your dog is, your rabbit does not necessarily understand there is no threat. Perhaps your bun had a bad experience before they came to you. Perhaps your rabbit is a nervous type in general. Whatever the case, no rabbit should ever have to be terrified in their own home. This can lead to all kinds of behavioral and health problems.
If you are not really good at both dog and rabbit body language, read up. Get some help from your local rabbit rescue - see if they are willing to send someone over (for a donation, of course!) to help with the intros. Call your dog trainer, and ask for help during introductions. Prepare. Both the environment and your state of mind are crucial, so take the time, do the work, before you jump in.
There are few situations we don't recommend:
- If either animal is ill, keep them apart.
- If either animal is elderly and suffering from aches and pains, chances are tempers will flare and someone could get hurt.
- Puppies have sharp little teeth, and haven't learned bite inhibition. Keep them in the same room as the rabbit, perhaps, so that smells and presence becomes familiar, but we don't recommend allowing puppies and rabbits to play together.
- Leaving a rabbit and dog home alone together with full access to each other is not a good idea. If there is a storm, or a loud nose, or construction, if someone rings the doorbell...a million things can happen that can move your dog to an excited state. Not only can the escalated energy scare the rabbit, but it changes the whole dynamic between the two animals. Just like two dogs who live together can actually go after each other when overstimulated, your dog may turn on your rabbit.
Can rabbits and dogs live together? Sometimes, sure. A DOG WHO CANNOT BE GENTLE AROUND RABBITS IS NOT A BAD DOG...but do respect both of your animals, and take your cue from them. Don't force, don't ask too much, of either of them. Give them both the chance to be who they are, and to feel safe and calm. If that means they must live apart, that is not a character flaw for either the dog or the rabbit. If they CAN be gentle friends, then that is AWESOME!
Enjoy your multi-species family!