My Pet World: Could my dog hurt or kill a wild rabbit if he catches one?
I have a four-year-old beagle, Buddy, that I adopted two years ago from South Carolina. I believe he was a hunting dog. We have a fenced-in yard and a doggy door, so when we are home, we let Buddy go in and out as he wishes.
Recently, some rabbits started venturing into our yard. If Buddy gets their scent, he yelps and goes crazy trying to find them. Since our fence is chain link, I guess the bunnies somehow get through or under it. Buddy has never caught one, but I am worried that if he did, would he hurt them?
I am afraid to let him out in the yard if I'm not out there to keep a careful watch, but I can't be out there as much as Buddy likes to be outside. Can you tell me if he would hurt a bunny if he caught one?
— Carol, Wading River, New York
Sadly, even domesticated pets, both dogs and cats, have a strong instinctive desire to chase, bite and kill prey animals. He might injure a rabbit while trying to catch it by inflicting a single puncture wound, or he might get the animal in his mouth and instinctively shake it, which dogs do to kill their prey. (We often see an example of this when a dog plays with a stuffed animal.)
This doesn't make your dog a vicious killer, but if this instinct is strong in your dog, you need to be more vigilant when Buddy is around small animals.
Here are four things you can do to keep small animals safer in your yard:
First, during certain times of the year (mainly spring and summer), you may be unable to give Buddy free rein of the yard. Step outside first, clap your hands, stomp your feet, shake a can of coins, or ring a bell to let any creatures in your yard know they need to skedaddle. Then let your dog out. I know this requires more effort, but it's worth it to not be worrying about whether your dog will harm a small creature.