Breaking the Rabbit Habit

For the preservation of sanity during bird hunts.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

I can't recall how old I was when I bought my first bird dog, but I remember the price, plus the going rate for mowing lawns. It took 140 lawns, and that dog chased rabbits. Or he did until Dad came along. One authoritative yell and Red quit chasing and got down to business.

That was my first lesson about dogs: They know who is pack leader. Kids are great socializers but are considered equals who can be ignored. If a dog continually gets away with rabbit chasing and other disobedience, he may decide he's the pack leader. And then the cure becomes even more difficult.

You do the training. Start puppies on caged animals or birds to establish your game preference. Train obedience thoroughly, so words like come, sit, whoa, stay, heel and no unfailingly apply, even around the neighbor's cat. They'll also apply around rabbits. Hunt pups with rabbit-proofed dogs, but never more than once in three or four outings, because pups can learn other bad habits from elders.

For the existing bunny chaser, several cures have been tried with varying success. Intercepting the chase and punishing the dog may never succeed because the dog is caught inconsistently and with poor timing. Occasional punishment may even become acceptable to the dog. And rapport diminishes.

"Breaking scents" placed inside their houses and on collar pads are intended to sicken dogs with overpowering stench and make them avoid "trash" animals. It works on very few. The extreme is to place both dog and stink inside a barrel and roll it down a hill-which teaches most dogs to avoid you and barrels.

For a logical, humane (no danger of physical injury) and extremely effective cure, buy an E-collar. You can stretch your reach with perfect timing. Let your dog commit to a chase, then push the button. Most rabbit chases start nearby, so you don't need a full-mile range or features like variable intensity. You just need to sting him, so the simpler, cheaper models will do.

If you keep your mouth shut, an E-collar will also preserve your partnership. Don't yell when you sting him, and don't deliver a lecture if he comes running in for protection. At first, he may think the place stung him. After several chases in different locations, he'll get the message: Dangerous rabbits lurking about have the ability to bite long-distance. Your former rabbit chaser can now become your best hunting buddy.