Rabbits and Dogs

Prey-driven and scent-driven dogs are difficult or impossible to train to be service dogs. Dogs that are human-oriented and task-driven make the best service dogs!

I remember a friend of mine in Atlanta, Clyde, had a Lab that loved to chase squirrels and any other small animal in their backyard. Hunting was his dog’s priority in life above all else.

Unfortunately, his next-door neighbor had a purebred lop-eared rabbit that they prized for his exceptional breeding. Clyde was always terrified that his Lab would dig out of the yard and get the neighbor’s beloved rabbit.

One afternoon, Clyde’s Lab comes barreling in the back door with the dead lop-eared rabbit in his mouth. It was Clyde’s nightmare realized. He carefully pried the rabbit from the Lab’s mouth.

Clyde didn’t know what to do. He went to the neighbor’s house, knocked on the door. No answer. He walked around the house. There were no cars in the driveway. He could see the rabbit’s back porch cage where the door had been left open.

In a panic, Clyde ran home, bathed the rabbit, blew him dry, and put the rabbit back in his cage on the neighbor’s porch and closed his door.

The next day, he saw the neighbor’s burying their rabbit in the backyard. Clyde casually walked to the fence to pay his respects. “What happened?” asked Clyde innocently.

The neighbor explained, “our rabbit died last week and we buried him. Then we went out of town for a few days and when we got home, he was back in his cage.”

Clyde told me this story 30 years ago. I do not know if it is true or not, but it always makes me laugh.

85% of the dogs we train to be service dogs are Labrador Retrievers. Fortunately for us, many lines of Labs are bred for conformation and temperament rather than for their hunting ability.

Training service dogs can be tricky. We want dogs with an acute sense of smell, but yet not hyper-focused on scent which eliminates many hound breeds. It is difficult to train service dogs when their genetic characteristics must be overcome in order to end up with a reliable service dog.

Clyde’s Lab was prey and scent-driven as was demonstrated by his ability to find the buried rabbit and dig him up… maybe.