STEP 1: As soon as we get a puppy, usually around 8 weeks old, we begin training them to hunt rabbits. We begin by allowing the puppy to play with a rabbit skin or a foot of a wild rabbit we killed previously. During this playtime, the puppy learns the smell of rabbit and wants to chase the fur. After a week or two of playing with the skin, we play hide and seek with it. We do this by teasing the puppy with the fur as he/she is tied up, then dragging the fur along the ground to an out of sight position. The puppy will hopefully put their nose to the ground and begin to track the scent trail. The first few times we try this they generally don’t stay on the line of scent, but hopefully put in a good search for the fur. We help the puppy search if they have trouble, which is usually the case early on. As this process continues, we drag the fur/foot further out of reach.
STEP 2: When our puppy takes an interest in rabbit scent, we find wild rabbits around our yard or neighborhood to smell and chase. During these early stages we always make sure see the rabbit first before letting the puppy search on their own. This prevents them from learning to run any unwanted game. After seeing the rabbit take off, we place our puppy on the track and allow the dog to track the rabbit. Again this process will take several attempts before the puppy is able to track the rabbit properly. So keep trying. In this phase it is better to not allow your puppy to see the rabbit so that he/she learns to rely on their nose alone.
STEP 3: After several weeks of placing your dog on fresh rabbit scent, your puppy is ready to search for a rabbit on their own. The safest way to do this is to only hunt a small area where you know rabbits are abundant and other animals are not. We usually ensure a good search area by seeing a rabbit dive into the brush and releasing our puppy nearby. At this point the puppy should be able to run a rabbit for several minutes at a time.
STEP 4: When your puppy is able to run a rabbit for a moderate duration(about 10-20 minutes), we begin to run the puppy with a good rabbit hunting dog or group of dogs. At first your puppy may not run with the other dogs or respond to the barks of the other dogs. This too will come with time. It may take up to a month or two, before your puppy fully responds to other dogs and is willing to run with other dogs. Although it is important for dogs to “pack up,” it is also important for your puppy to receive a descent amount of solo time out in the field. This allows the puppy to grow in their confidence and learn not to only rely on the skills of other dogs.
Note: Even after “starting” your puppy at a very young age, it usually takes up to a year to completely train a dog for rabbits. Even after this point, puppies to continue to hone their skills and become more true to the scent line and become faster.
Links for Training Puppies