13 Dog Breeds Known to Chase or Kill Rabbits

“Dog breeds that kill rabbits” isn’t just a catchy phrase; it’s a reality for some pet owners. While Fido might be your cuddly companion, certain breeds have a strong instinct to chase our fluffy bunny friends. But which ones, and why?

Dogs such as Greyhounds, Beagles, Jack Russell Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Bull Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Pit Bulls, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers have strong prey drives. They may chase, harm, or even kill rabbits.

Stick around as we dive into the canine world, spotlighting those breeds and offering insights for harmonious pet living. Ready to become a pet harmony expert? Let’s go!

Key Takeaways

  • Dogs have natural hunting instincts that vary across breeds.
  • Historically, certain dog breeds, including rabbits, were developed specifically for hunting small game.
  • The term ‘prey drive’ describes a dog’s inherent urge to chase and potentially capture prey.
  • A dog’s hunting instincts can be influenced by its size, training, upbringing, and environment.
  • Breeds like Greyhounds, Beagles, and Terriers have particularly high prey drives.
  • Being prey animals, Rabbits can experience significant stress when chased, impacting their health.
  • Early socialization and specific training techniques can help manage a dog’s prey drive.
  • Rabbit owners should prioritize secure housing and be vigilant during outdoor playtimes.
  • Other small pets, such as guinea pigs and birds, can also be at risk around high prey drive dogs.
  • Responsible pet ownership requires a deep understanding of animal instincts and proactive measures to ensure safety.

Dog Breeds with a High Prey Drive

The world of canine breeds is vast, and while many dogs are content lounging on the couch, others have an innate drive to chase. Let’s delve into some breeds known for their pronounced prey drive:

1. Chihuahuas

Often surprising to many, these tiny dogs pack a punch of energy and can be quite feisty. Their prey drive often manifests in chasing smaller moving objects, perhaps a throwback to their ancestors who might have hunted smaller prey.

2. Dachshunds

Originally bred for hunting badgers, their elongated bodies and sharp sense of smell make them natural hunters. Their prey drive remains strong, often leading them to chase small animals.

3. Jack Russell Terriers

Known for their boundless energy and tenacity, these terriers were bred for fox hunting. Their strong drive to dig and chase is a testament to their hunting lineage.

4. Australian Cattle Dogs

As herding dogs, they have a natural instinct to chase and direct. While they’re more about movement than hunting, their drive can sometimes be directed towards smaller animals.

5. Beagles

With their exceptional sense of smell, Beagles were historically used for rabbit hunting. Even today, a rabbit’s scent can quickly awaken their hunting instincts.

6. Boston Terriers

While they’re more known for their friendly disposition, they still possess a moderate prey drive, often evident during play.

7. Boxers

Originally bred for hunting large game, their strong build and energy can sometimes lead them to chase, especially if not adequately exercised.

8. Bull Terriers

With a lineage tied to bull-baiting and later ratting, their prey drive is deeply ingrained, making them keen chasers.

9. Cocker Spaniels

Historically used as bird dogs, their soft mouths and keen noses make them adept hunters, often inclined to chase birds or small game.

10. Labrador Retrievers

While known for their gentle nature, Labs were originally fishing dogs. Their drive is more about retrieval, but it can manifest in chasing if they spot something interesting.

11. Pit Bulls

Often misunderstood, these dogs have a strong prey drive, stemming from their history in bull-baiting and later as farm dogs.

12. Rhodesian Ridgebacks

Originally lion hunters, their strong build and fearless nature make them natural chasers, though they’re more likely to stalk than to harm.

13. Staffordshire Bull Terriers

Closely related to Pit Bulls, their history in bull-baiting has given them a pronounced prey drive, which can be directed with proper training.

Understanding the history and nature of these breeds can help owners anticipate behaviors, ensuring a safe and harmonious environment for all pets involved.

Understanding the Prey Drive

At its core, the ‘prey drive’ is an evolutionary trait, deeply embedded in the DNA of canines.

Stemming from their wild ancestors, this drive ensured survival by enabling dogs to hunt effectively for food.

In today’s domesticated dogs, this drive manifests in various ways, from chasing moving objects to being intrigued by smaller animals.

While every dog, from the tiniest Chihuahua to the majestic Great Dane, possesses this instinct, its intensity varies.

Factors such as genetics, breeding history, and individual temperament play a role in determining the strength of this drive.

For instance, breeds developed  for hunting or herding often exhibit a more pronounced prey drive, as their ancestors relied heavily on this instinct for their roles.

However, it’s essential to understand that not all chasing is driven by aggression or the intent to harm.

Dogs often chase out of curiosity, playfulness, or simply because it’s a moving object!

Yet, in some breeds, this playful chase can quickly escalate to a more predatory mode, especially if the ‘prey’ reacts.

Recognizing the difference between a dog’s playful chase and a genuine predatory drive is vital.

It helps ensure other animals’ safety and provides insights into managing and training dogs effectively, channeling their instincts in positive ways.

Factors That Influence Hunting Instincts

The hunting instincts in dogs can be influenced by a myriad of factors. Understanding these can help pet owners channel these instincts appropriately and ensure harmonious interactions with other animals.

1. Size and Physical Capabilities

A dog’s physical build plays a pivotal role in its hunting behavior. Larger breeds with strong muscles might be more adept at chasing and capturing bigger prey. Smaller, agile breeds could be more skilled at pursuing swift, elusive targets like rabbits or squirrels.

For instance, the long legs and lean build of a Greyhound make it a formidable chaser, capable of reaching impressive speeds in short bursts.

2. Training and Upbringing:

The environment in which a puppy is raised and the training it receives can significantly shape its adult behavior.

A dog exposed to positive reinforcement training methods and socialized with various animals from a young age might be less likely to exhibit aggressive hunting behaviors.

Conversely, a dog trained for hunting or not exposed to smaller animals might have a heightened prey drive. The first few months of a dog’s life are crucial, as they set the foundation for future behaviors.

3. Environmental Factors:

The surroundings in which a dog lives can either stimulate or suppress its hunting instincts.

A dog living in a rural setting with frequent encounters with wildlife might have a more active prey drive than one in an urban environment.

However, seeing a squirrel darting across a park or a bird fluttering nearby can awaken these instincts even in city settings.

Additionally, dogs that have successfully chased or caught prey might be more inclined to repeat the behavior, reinforcing the hunting cycle.

While genetics lay the groundwork for a dog’s hunting instincts, external factors play a significant role in shaping and directing these behaviors.

Recognizing and understanding these can help dog owners proactively anticipate and address potential challenges.

Historical Context

From the dawn of human civilization, dogs have stood by our side, not just as companions but as essential partners in survival.

Their keen senses, agility, and loyalty made them invaluable assets in hunting endeavors. As societies evolved and hunting techniques refined, so did the roles of these canine companions.

In various cultures, the need to hunt more minor game, particularly in terrains where the larger game was scarce, became evident.

This led to the selective breeding of dogs, tailoring their skills to track, chase, and capture swift and elusive prey like rabbits.

Regions with dense forests or vast meadows, where rabbits thrived, saw breeds rise with heightened agility, speed, and a keen sense of smell.

Over time, this selective breeding gave birth to specific breeds known for their prowess in hunting small game.

From the sharp-nosed Beagles to the swift-footed Greyhounds, these breeds were not just about the chase but the strategic partnership between man and dog, working in tandem to ensure a successful hunt.

The legacy of this partnership is still evident today, as these breeds often showcase their innate skills, even in domestic settings.

The Rabbit’s Perspective

Rabbits, with their soft fur and gentle demeanor, are often seen as the epitome of vulnerability in the animal kingdom.

But beneath this delicate exterior lies a complex set of behaviors and instincts honed over millennia.

Prey Animals at Heart

Rabbits have always been at the lower end of the food chain, making them natural targets for various predators. This constant threat has shaped their behaviors, making them perpetually alert and cautious.

Freeze or Flee

When confronted with potential danger, a rabbit’s first instinct is often to freeze. This behavior allows them to blend into their surroundings, making them less noticeable to predators.

If the threat continues approaching, their next line of defense is to flee. With powerful hind legs, rabbits can make quick, zigzagging dashes to evade capture.

Stress and Its Implications

While the act of chasing might seem harmless or playful from a dog’s perspective, it’s a life-or-death situation for a rabbit.

The adrenaline rush, rapid heartbeat, and sheer panic can be immensely stressful. Chronic exposure to such stress can weaken their immune system, making them more susceptible to diseases.

Furthermore, the sudden exertion from trying to escape can lead to injuries or even fatal conditions like shock.

Long-term Psychological Effects

Repeated exposure to chase or threats can lead to long-term psychological trauma in rabbits. They might become more skittish, less active, or even aggressive.

Behavioral changes can also manifest in over-grooming, reduced appetite, or altered sleeping patterns.

Understanding the world from a rabbit’s perspective underscores the importance of ensuring their safety and well-being.

Recognizing the profound effects of stress and trauma on these gentle creatures can guide pet owners in creating a harmonious environment for all their animals.

Tips for Dog Owners

Owning a dog with a strong prey drive doesn’t mean resigning to a life of constant vigilance.

With the right strategies, dog owners can ensure a safe and harmonious environment for all pets. Here are some actionable tips:

 Training and Socialization

  • Start Early: The earlier a puppy is introduced to various animals, the more accepting and less reactive it’s likely to be as it grows.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Rewarding dogs for calm behavior around smaller animals can help temper their prey drive. Treats, praises, or favorite toys can be used as rewards.
  • Consistent Commands: Teaching commands like “leave it” or “stay” can be invaluable in controlling a dog’s impulse to chase.
  • Professional Help: If a dog’s prey drive seems particularly strong, consider seeking the help of a professional dog trainer who can offer specialized training techniques.

Safe Play Areas

  • Fencing: Ensure that your yard has a sturdy fence, tall enough that your dog can’t jump over and deep enough that it can’t dig under.
  • Supervised Play: Always watch your dog when playing outside, especially if smaller animals are nearby.
  • Leash Training: When outside the secured area, always keep your dog on a leash, ensuring they can’t suddenly dash after a perceived prey.

Toys and Distractions

  • Interactive Toys: Automated ball launchers or tug toys can engage a dog’s chasing instincts without involving live animals.
  • Toys that Mimic Prey: There are toys available that mimic the movement or sound of small animals, like squeaky toys or battery-operated toys that move erratically. These can serve as a safe outlet for a dog’s prey drive.
  • Regular Playtime: Engaging your dog in regular play sessions can help burn off excess energy, reducing the impulse to chase.

Owners can foster a setting where their canines and other pets coexist peacefully by understanding and addressing a dog’s instincts.

Considerations and Tips for Rabbit Owners

With their gentle nature, rabbits require a safe environment, especially when other pets with strong prey drives are around.

Here are some essential considerations and tips for rabbit owners to ensure their furry friend’s safety and well-being:

1. Secure Housing:

  • Sturdy Construction: Invest in a hutch or run made of robust materials that can withstand potential nudges or pushes from curious dogs.
  • Elevated Position: An elevated hutch can provide an added layer of security, making it harder for dogs to reach or scare the rabbit.
  • Lock Mechanisms: Ensure that the hutch has secure locks to prevent any accidental openings.
  • Sheltered Areas: Within the hutch or run, provide areas where rabbits can hide, offering them safety and security.

2. Awareness and Vigilance:

  • Outdoor Play: If your rabbit enjoys outdoor playtime, ensure it’s in a secure area, free from potential threats. Using a playpen can be beneficial.
  • Monitor Surroundings: Be aware of any dogs or other potential threats in the vicinity. Even a dog on the other side of a fence can cause stress to a rabbit.
  • Quick Access: Ensure you can quickly access and retrieve your rabbit if the need arises. Having a familiar treat or sound can help in getting their attention.

3. Safe Introductions:

  • Gradual Process: If you introduce your dog to your rabbit, start slowly. Initial interactions should be brief and increase in duration over time.
  • Neutral Territory: The first meeting should be on neutral ground, where neither animal feels territorial.
  • Controlled Environment: Use barriers like baby gates to ensure the dog can’t suddenly approach the rabbit.
  • Supervision: Never leave the dog and rabbit alone together. Always be present to monitor their interactions and intervene if necessary.
  • Read Body Language: Pay attention to signs of stress or aggression in both animals. If either seems uncomfortable, it’s essential to separate them immediately.

By taking these precautions, rabbit owners can ensure a safe environment for their pets, minimizing potential risks and fostering positive interactions.

Broader Implications

The intricate dance of predator and prey is not limited to just dogs and rabbits. The vast spectrum of household pets brings myriad interactions, some of which can have unintended consequences. Here’s a deeper dive into the broader implications:

Spectrum of Small Pets

  • Guinea Pigs: Much like rabbits, these gentle rodents can easily become the target of a dog’s chase, given their quick movements and small size.
  • Hamsters: Their nocturnal nature might reduce the risk during the day, but their activity during the night can attract curious dogs.
  • Birds: Whether they’re in a cage or free-flying indoors, the fluttering of wings can be an irresistible lure for dogs with a high prey drive.

Cats and the Equation

While cats are predators themselves, their size and behavior can sometimes make them targets, especially for larger dog breeds with strong hunting instincts.

Reptiles and Amphibians

Animals like turtles, lizards, or frogs might not invoke the chase, but their unique appearance and movements can pique a dog’s curiosity, leading to potential harm.

The Importance of Awareness

Understanding that a dog’s prey drive isn’t limited to one type of animal is crucial. Their instincts are shaped by movement, size, and behavior, making a variety of household pets potential targets.

Mutual Respect

Every animal has inherent instincts and behaviors regardless of its position in the food chain. Recognizing and respecting these is the first step towards ensuring safety. It’s not about suppressing these instincts but channeling them appropriately.

Education and Research

Before introducing a new pet into a household, especially with a high prey drive dog, thorough research and understanding of both animals’ behaviors are essential.

This knowledge can prevent potential conflicts and ensure a harmonious living environment.

The coexistence of various pets under one roof requires a delicate balance of understanding, respect, and vigilance.

By acknowledging the broader implications, pet owners can create a safe haven for all their animal companions.


In the vast tapestry of the animal kingdom, dogs, with their myriad breeds and instincts, hold a special place.

As guardians of these loyal companions, understanding their deep-rooted behaviors is paramount.

This knowledge not only safeguards the well-being of other beloved pets, like rabbits, but also fosters a harmonious environment for all.

Truly responsible pet ownership intertwines love with awareness, ensuring every interaction is guided by respect, understanding, and proactive care.

It’s about cherishing our bond with our pets, ensuring their world is as enriched and secure as they make ours.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it common for dogs to kill rabbits?

While not all dogs will harm rabbits, those with a high prey drive might chase or even harm them due to their natural hunting instincts.

What dog has no prey drive?

While no dog breed is entirely devoid of prey drive, breeds like the Bichon Frise, Shih Tzu, and Maltese are generally known for having lower prey drives compared to hunting breeds.

What dogs chase hares?

Breeds like Greyhounds, Salukis, and Whippets, known as sighthounds, have historically been used for chasing and hunting hares due to their keen eyesight and speed.


Hunting dog. (2023, July 1). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunting_dog