How To Train A Whippet To Hunt Rabbits

Whippets were first introduced here in the UK in the 1600s to hunt small vermin such as rabbits and rats.

But getting your whippet to actually hunt these animals can be a little tricky.

Your whippet needs to go through a certain level of training to firstly identify the scent his prey, and then have the physical ability to back it up and actually make the catch.

In this post we are going to show you how to train a whippet to hunt rabbits, to ensure that you’ve got the best working whippet in your city that can bag rabbits for fun!

I’ve trained many whippets over the years to be excellent working dogs so have some neat tips and tricks to help you do the same.

Let’s get to it…

Give Your Whippet Basic Training First

First, you need to give your whippet a level of basic training.

This includes recall training, to ensure that if and when he does catch a bunny, he isn’t in a crazed state and won’t listen to a word you say, this often ends up in a ravaged rabbit that is no good for the pot.

Recall training is probably the most important part of training your whippet to hunt rabbits, without this a working dog isn’t half as effective as it could be.

You need to build a bond with your whippet whilst he is still a puppy; this includes training him to follow simple commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘leave’.

how to train a whippet to hunt rabbits
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These simple commands should be started when your whippet is very young, around 4 to 8 weeks old.

However, this basic training should only be given to a working whippet in short bursts, preferably 2 or 3 times a day for around 10 – 15 minutes per session.

This is because puppies have very short attention spans, and you’ll want to keep him entertained and engaged through training so that he’s more effective when out in the field.

Get Your Whippet Used To A Rabbits Scent

After your whippet has gone through basic training and has a strong recall as well as an understanding of basic commands, you can start introducing him to the scent of rabbits.

One way I personally like to do this is do get the skin of a rabbit and wrap it around a tennis ball, this will get him used to having the fur in his mouth and introduce him to chasing a ball that looks like a rabbit.

Not only this, but the fur also will have the rabbit scent all over it, which gets your whippet used to the smell so when he’s out in the field he can sniff out bunnies.

At this stage, some people recommend introducing dogs to domesticated rabbits so that they can get used to the rabbit scent.

I do not recommend this as I’ve heard some disastrous stories of rabbits getting injured in this process.

A whippets hunting instinct is very strong, just like most working dogs.

In my opinion, it’s much better and safer to use a rabbit skin around a tennis ball to get your whippet used to the rabbit scent.

Play fetch with your whippet until he’s excellent at bringing the rabbit skin ball back to your hands on the first call, once he’s able to do this then he’s ready for the next stage of training.

Try Lure Training

Now that your whippet is bringing a rabbit skin tennis ball back to your hands in the first call, it’s time to introduce lure training to your whippet.

By this point, your whippet should have the training he needs to bring back the rabbit to your hands once he’s made the catch, and he’s also comfortable with the rabbit scent and what a rabbit looks like in the field (because of the skin).

This is where I personally like to use lure training to get my whippets in tip-top shape ready for the field.

A drag lure machine is essentially a machine that is powered by a battery that has a line with a lure attached to it.

Typically it’s made from fishing wire, and you would attach a toy rabbit to the end of the lure.

These machines allow you to go out in the field with your whippet and train your whippet for the scenario of chasing down a rabbit.

This allows your whippet to really get to grips of what it’s going to be like chasing rabbits, they also help to get your whippet in excellent shape ready for the real thing.

There are videos and tutorials on how to make and set up drag lure machines, they aren’t that hard to make yourself if you’re prepared to give it a go, but you can also buy these from individuals who make and sell them for this purpose too.

I bought my drag lure over 15 years ago now and it still works like a charm, they are great tools to get your whippet used to chasing moving objects and help keep your whippet in great shape.

You’ll want to train your whippet with the drag lure until you’re confident that he has the speed and experience to hunt a real rabbit, once you’re whippet is in excellent physical condition then he’s ready for the real thing.

Learn Your Whippet To Track

Whippets are part of the sighthound family, which means they hunt primarily with sight and speed.

That being said, it’s also useful for your whippet to learn how to use his nose to sniff out rabbits if he’s ever in a scenario where he’s lost sight of a rabbit.

One great way to do this is to take your whippet out with another experienced dog so that he will shadow and learn exactly how to track rabbits if they run into brambles or are out of sight.

This is a skill that your whippet will generally learn over time, dogs have over 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, which make them extremely strong.

Dog noses are far stronger than ours as humans, so they’ll be able to pick up the scent of a rabbit very quickly and have the nose needed to track it and chase the rabbit down.

Another tip I like to use to learn my whippet to track is to lay some scattered dog treats down in the garden and let him use his nose to discover the treats.

This gets your whippet used to using his smell, instead of purely his sight, which is essential for a great working dog.

Learn Your Whippet To Jump

Believe it or not, but whippets are actually able to jump over extremely high fences and gates once trained correctly.

The key to learning a whippet to jump is building up his confidence.

Whippets already have the ability to jump very high thanks to their large leg muscles and lightweight frame, they can catapult themselves off the ground over large gates and fences once they are confident.

Training a whippet to jump can be done by using a toy, preferably something wrapped in a rabbit skin so he gets used to the idea.

Play with your whippet and dangle the toy in the air, gradually getting higher and higher.

how to train a whippet to hunt rabbits
Image: andy carter

This will start getting your whippet used to jumping and realising just how high he can jump; it’s all about confidence building.

I also like to take my whippets to a small fence or gate whilst they are still young to get them jumping at an early age, as they get older and their confidence builds they’ll be able to jump higher and higher.

This needs to be done regularly, whenever you’re out walking encourage him to jump small fences, never let him jump anything that’s too high or barbed, as this could end in your whippet being injured and immediately losing all confidence to jump.

This skill is vital to successful working whippets as they’ll need to be able to jump fences if a rabbit runs underneath.

All whippets have the capability to jump but it’s how you build up their self-confidence to do so, which is done with repetition and patience.

Trigger Words & Gestures

This is a technique that I’ve used for over twenty years and I’ve found works very well when out in the field.

Using a trigger word to get your whippet in ‘high-alert’ mode ready for chasing a rabbit.

I stumbled across this by accident when I was young and had my first whippet, every time I saw a rabbit I would say, “what’s that?!” in a quiet voice.

I would do it subconsciously to try and get my whippets attention to a rabbit, and over time, every time I would say the trigger word she would rush to me with her ears propped up in an alert mode ready to chase a rabbit.

This little technique worked so well that I’ve carried it on over the years to all of my whippets, and I now use trigger words to immediately grab my whippet’s attention and get them in an alert mode as they know a rabbit is close.

You can use a trigger word whilst training your whippet on the drag lure, which I found works exceptionally well.

Try to get a short snappy trigger word that you know can grab your whippets attention.

Use this over and over again whilst training your whippet on the drag lure so that when you are out in the field and you say the word, your whippet knows to be on alert as a rabbit is close.

I know this tip sounds a little strange, but trust me it works like a charm and has done me wonders over the last twenty years.

Once your whippet understands your trigger word, you can also introduce gestures to the training.

This is simply pointing in the direction that you want your whippet to go whilst saying the trigger word.

It allows your whippet to be super accurate whilst in the field, simply point in the direction of the rabbit and gently say the trigger word, once perfected your whippet should go bounding in that direction in an alert mode ready for the chase.

These two techniques do take a long time to perfect, but as time goes on you’ll find that your whippet gets used to both trigger words and gestures and becomes a much more effective working dog.

Practice Makes Perfect

Once you’ve perfected all of these training techniques and you’re dogs able to jump, understand trigger words and fit enough to chase a rabbit then you’re ready to get out in the field.

From here, it’s simply all about practice, practice, practice.

I generally like to take my younger whippets out with more experiences whippets, as they’ll shadow them and learn the ropes from the experienced dog.

how to train a whippet to hunt rabbits
Image: Darien and Neil

If you’ve got a friend or family member who has a working whippet then it’s a good idea to pair up and go for walks together to get your whippet in the working dog mindset.

If you have the means, try to get some permission from farmers or landowners around your local area so that you can take your whippet there to patrol for rabbits.

One way to do this is to write a well-constructed letter, advising that you may be able to help them with pest control on their land.

Many farm and landowners struggle with the rabbit populations on their property, as these pests eat their crops, which ultimately lessen the farmer’s revenue.

Trying to get some permission or a plot of land in which you can take your whippet to practice is always a great idea!

Final Thoughts

Learning how to train a whippet to hunt rabbits takes time, persistence and determination, but it’s all worth it in the end, to see your furry friend picking ƒup rabbits easily and effortlessly.

It’s a long process that involves you putting in a lot of hard work in the beginning, you’ll need to give your whippet a level of basic training, as well as teach him how to jump and pick up the scent of rabbits.

If you can, investing into a drag lure machine is always a great idea, as they’ll help you train your current whippet and future whippets how to hunt rabbits, as well as get them fighting fit for racing.

Hopefully, you now know how to train a whippet to hunt rabbits and have some clear action you can take to do so.

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