Can killing a rabbit trigger a behavior change in my dog?
Dog is an English springer spaniel, male, 7 years old.
I walk him in an overgrown park (dogs are allowed there), he is off the leash during our walks. Occasionally we see a wild rabbit or squirrel. He has chased rabbits numerous times, and I did not mind that. Dog seemed way too slow and rabbits ran into bushes making it impossible for my dog to follow them. My dog is not trained to hunt or chase. I guess it's his breed and nature.
Today he managed to chase down a rabbit and kill it. He bit it, broke rabbit's bones in the process I assume, and left it on the ground. Lost all interest in the rabbit afterwards.
What I wonder about is - can I expect my dog to become more vicious with other dogs now? Small dogs? Or be more interested in hunting?
I know that nothing evil or extraordinary happened. It's the way of the nature. Survival of the fittest. Rabbit we encountered today was not as smart as the ones before. It would have been better if I stopped my dog, but I honestly did not think there is a chance he can get the rabbit. He has chased them for 7 years, never getting close.
I know he tasted blood for first time today, so I will be even more careful with him from now on.
My my dog just got caught with dead duck in his mouth. Hes 11 yrs old first occurance. We know he hangs out with pit bull next door who does kill small animals. Will this rub off on my dog?
This really depends on the individual nature of your dog.
Some dogs find hunting highly reinforcing, and the more of it they do, the more they want to do it. Practicing a behaviour makes it more likely that the dog will choose it over alternatives, particularly if there is an exciting pay-off like catching the rabbit. See David Ryan's book, '"Stop!" How to control predatory chasing in dogs' for a good explanation of this.
That said, not all dogs DO find catching exciting. I had an ex-racing greyhound at one point, who once caught a squirrel. The squirrel bit her on the nose, and she didn't know what to do with it. It ran away. After that, she was careful not to catch more squirrels, although she still enjoyed chasing them, you could see her deliberately slow down before she got too close.
The predatory sequence in dogs is not equally reinforcing to all dogs, and breed can make a difference. For example, border collies are selected for their strong Eye, Orient, Eye-stalk and Chase, but not for grab-bite or kill-bite. Labradors have strong Grab instincts, but are selected to be soft-mouthed, so rarely make a kill. Many terriers are bred to kill rats, so have a much stronger kill instinct than other breeds.
As I understand it, Springer Spaniels are designed to drive prey out of cover so it can be shot, so you'd expect your dog to find that part of things very rewarding: it's what he's designed for. But it may well be that he didn't find killing a rabbit to be much fun, and will choose not to do it again.
I think it's unlikely that he will suddenly become a risk to other dogs. Rabbits do not smell or behave like dogs at all, and as your dog has a very highly developed sense of smell, it's unlikely he will get them mixed up.
The previous para does assume that your dog has met many other dogs, is familiar with them, and know that dogs come in lots of shapes and sizes.
The one situation where there is likely to be confusion between small dogs and other prey is with greyhounds straight from the track: as these unfortunate dogs are often kept isolated with no contact with dogs of different shapes, they can get very confused and need time and management to learn that a chihuahua or a dachshund is also a dog. This should be much less of an issue with a well socialised Springer who has been brought up with lots of social contact though.