Pictures & Fun
Basics of rabbit behavior
Age and behavior
Chewing and digging
Communicating without words
Behavior motivated by social structure
Basics of rabbit behaviorIt is easier to train rabbits if you understand that their behavior is usually motivated by one of three things:
Age and behaviorYoung rabbits have more energy, more need to explore, and (hopefully) less training than older rabbits have. Like puppies, bunnies love to chew. Like older dogs, rabbits may still enjoy chewing, but not to the extent they did when young. Rabbits chew to wear down their teeth, which grow continuously, but they chew non-food items because they need to explore the world through taste and texture, they need to build strong jaw muscles, and just because it's fun. Perhaps older rabbits chew less because they know the taste and texture of the world and need only food to keep their teeth worn-down and their jaws strong. In any case, time is on your side when it comes to a rabbit's inclination to chew your great-aunt's antique buffet. On the other hand, training does not happen by itself or simply with time.
For the companions in a family to live in harmony, a companion (human) must be committed to giving time and effort to the companion (animals) of the family. If you aren't able or willing to commit to a minimum of 30 minutes a day of concentrated training, until the desired results have been achieved, you shouldn't bring companion (animal)s into your home.
Finally, NEVER, EVER attempt to use training alone to keep a rabbit from something that can cause harm or death. Toxic house plants and electrical wires should be impossible for a rabbit to reach (see article on rabbit-proofing). Counting on training or "the way she's always behaved" with respect to such things is asking for an accident that could leave you deeply grief- stricken and your rabbit in terrible pain or even dead.
If possible, provide something with a similar (or better) taste and texture to what is being chewed. For example, a piece of untreated, unfinished baseboard (screwed into something so it doesn't move) instead of the real baseboard; or a piece of scrap carpet instead of the real carpet (as long as the rabbit isn't ingesting the pieces he pulls out); or a piece of apple branch instead of chair legs.
The same thing applies to digging. If the rabbit loves to dig in the carpet, build a small "corner" or "tunnel" with carpeting on the bottom (frequently replaced) and give this to him to distract him. Or make a digging box by blocking the end-opening of a covered litter box and cutting a hole in the side. The rabbit will go in, turn so her body runs the length of the box (providing she is large enough that her body doesn't fit cross- wise). The digging material will be flung against the sealed end of the litter box and remain contained. Use something totally dust-free and safe in the digging box (see the litter faq). Rabbits, being the incredibly intelligent little creatures that they are, quickly learn.
If you want a rabbit who enjoys jumping on your lap and being stroked, teach him to trust you, by never grabbing or holding him against his will when he comes to you. Use treats, nose-to-nose-touching, chin-rubbing (your chin on the rabbit's face), rubbing around the ears, etc.--whatever he enjoys--to encourage his pleasure in being with you. And if he happens not to enjoy such activities, so be it. Respect and enjoy him for who he is. After all, you want the same for yourself.
A rabbit who enjoys sitting on your lap and being stroked may nip you sharply if you get distracted enough to stop stroking her. She isn't trying to hurt you, just to remind you that she expects you to get back to the job at hand. When a rabbit nips in an effort to communicate appropriately such as in this case (inappropriate nipping will be discussed later), he probably doesn't realize how painful it is nor how severe the resulting bruise may be. SCREECH one high, loud, sudden, and short screech to let the rabbit know that he really hurt you. The squeal should be loud, sudden, and high enough to startle the rabbit slightly. The next time he nips (appropriately--i.e., for the purpose of communicating), you will be surprised at how much gentler it will be. Continue to squeal when nipped, however, until the nip is gentle enough to cause no pain or bruising. (Note: use ice on the bruise quickly.)
If a rabbit jumps onto the couch where you are sitting and nips you deliberately, she is probably trying to take the couch for her own. (This is "inappropriate nipping.") Not only should you screech, but you should firmly (though gently), return her to the floor with a sharp "No!" If she jumps back up and doesn't nip you, she's learned that she can share the couch, but not drive you off. If she jumps back up and nips again, you repeat the screech, the "No!" and the return to the floor. If she comes back a third time with a nip, it is time for her to "go to her room" (i.e., she needs to be herded back to her "cage" for a two-minute time-out). If she throws a temper tantrum in the cage, shaking the "bars" and flinging herself around, ignore her. After she's quiet again, she can come out. If she continues to try to force you from your seat, however, she may need to stay in her room (cage) until the next time she would normally be allowed out. This same general method applies whenever a rabbit attempts to dominate you. He will be much happier when he learns that his companion (human)s are top-rabbits and he isn't.
Another behavior related to this attempt to dominate companion (human)s is the most unwelcome one of urinating on the piece of furniture where you often sit, or on your bed. This is the equivalent of one rabbit urinating in another rabbit's cage. The victim may accept the insult, agreeing to the dominance of the aggressor, or he may decide to fight it out. Neither of these is appropriate for a human. You can close the door to your bedroom, controlling his access to the bed (you're dominant). But it may not be so simple to close off a chair or couch in the family room you share with your companions. The most effective means I have found to declare the dominance of the companion (human) over the companion (rabbit) in this situation is to set "Snappy Trainers" (safe, mouse-trap like contraptions that can be found in "pet stores," each with a plastic fan blade that causes it to fly into the air when bumped) along the edge of the seat. The rabbit jumps onto the seat, the Snappy Trainers fly into the air, and a startled rabbit never tries to go on that piece of furniture again. The companion (human) has control of her chair.
Enjoy your companion (rabbit)s to the fullest! Train them well and carefully, love them with all your heart, appreciate them for who and what they are, and both of you will experience the great pleasure of sharing your lives with each other in harmony.
Primary Author(s): Nancy LaRoche
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