TRAINING YOUR BUNNY
We have to be honest with you. Rabbits cannot generally be obedience trained the way dogs can. This does NOT mean rabbits are stupid! On the contrary, a rabbit may understand very clearly that you are trying to get him to do something, but will simply stare at you and continue doing his business as if to say, “Yeah, I hear you. But what’s in it for me?” This frustrates you until a minute later, when your adorably manipulative bunny comes running for kisses and cuddles. Are rabbits intelligent? You’d better believe it. Do they like to obey? Hahahahahaha.
Unlike dogs, rabbits have no innate desire to please an alpha. If the human caregiver becomes so annoyed with the apparent disobedience of the rabbit that s/he becomes angry, the rabbit will begin to consider the human as an enemy. With love and patience, the human caregiver can teach the bunny what is acceptable and what is not. The only effective way to train a rabbit away from undesirable behaviours is with positive reinforcement and very gentle negative reinforcement, such as a “No!” when the bunny is being naughty.
…Which brings us to the question, “What is “naughty” for a rabbit?” The human caregiver must accept that certain behaviours we might consider objectionable (e.g. chewing furniture, digging carpet, marking with urine in a corner) are not naughty to the bunny, and are, in fact, extensions of the rabbit’s natural behaviour. If the bunny is chewing furniture, you can protect the problem areas, but don’t forget to provide the bunny with chew toys (untreated wicker baskets, organic apple/pear/willow twigs, clean, tape and staple-free cardboard boxes, untreated pine blocks, safe chew toys, etc.) as a substitute.
If the bunny is digging carpet, and you don’t have access to a safe, fenced area where the bunny can have some supervised digging time, cover the problem areas with 100% cotton bath mats and provide a large litterbox full of organic litter and shredded paper or a paper bag filled with fresh grass hay. If the bunny is insistent about using a particular corner for urination, even after repeated “No’s” and white vinegar deodorising, give in and put a colour-coordinated litterbox in that corner.
Living with a rabbit can mean learning to compromise, but it tends to make us better, more tolerant people in the long run. We highly recommend it!
Dana Krempels, Ph.D.