Understanding the rabbit social system is very important when it comes to appreciating the connections they have with each other. By learning how rabbits interact with each other we can go some way to comprehending their behaviour and sometimes what we may think to be, peculiar ways.
With the rabbit being Britain's 3rd most popular pet, (the other two being dogs and cats respectively), it's only right that the rabbit should be studied with the same depth that dogs and cats have benefited from.
We can learn a lot by examining how animals communicate, behave and structure their communities by looking at the way they define their leaders and the various subordinates beneath them.
While similar in pet status, in our minds, the dog hierarchy is very different to the social structure of the cat. The rabbit hierarchy system is both completely different and extraordinary in comparison, to both the dog and the cat system.
Let's first take a look at our four-legged, and man's trusty best friend, the dog...
The picture below, (which I had great fun making) shows the canine hierarchy structure being very similar to a ladder system, with a single leader (of the pack) on the top and all the other subordinate dogs falling underneath by rank.
The domestic dog is a subspecies of the grey wolf, and shares many of its behavioural characteristics.
Although there are important and distinct differences between dogs and wolves, contemporary views of dog behaviour are heavily influenced by research on wild wolves.
From research on wolf packs it is traditionally been thought of as a tightly knit group composed of individuals that have earned a ranking in a linear hierarchy, and within which there is intense loyalty.
(There has been further research on
domestic dogs that indicate a much more intricate layering system
involved, however the principle remains the same.)
In order to demonstrate the basic differences in the three top domestic pets I will continue;
And so, I move on to our pampered purr-er, our spoiled posh puss, the elusive pet cat...
Because of the 'equal'
standing that the other cats take their hierarchy structure can be
likened to a wheel or circle type arrangement, with the Queen or King
cat as the leader of the group and the 'top cat', so to speak.
Despite being solitary hunters, cats are a social species.
Within the cat hierarchy there is a top cat who will become
the one 'in charge'. It is not always
the biggest and strongest cat who becomes leader, but usually the one
who has one or all of the following qualities: intelligence, the ability to
stay calm in stressful situations, a calm attitude and have a natural authority. (Just like a King or Queen!)
other cats in the group have a lesser standing and are all subordinate
to the leader, yet they are all equal to each other but with different
depending on the situation and environment. For example, among indoor
cats the leader will be the one who receives visitors in the hall and
checks if they are dangerous or not. They also take the responsibility
of caring for the other cats or humans, and
investigates anything new and interesting. Of course there is 'help'
with all these duties and the cat 'citizens' all have roles to play such
as baby sitting new kittens, pest control in catching rats and mice and
grooming duties to name a few.
OK - So what about our fluffy Flopsies, our third favourite pet, our gorgeous pet rabbits?...
The rabbit hierarchy system is very similar to an overlapping star shaped system where there are 'lead stars' in the centre of each star (warren) and wandering groupies around the outside of each, that are free to come and go as they please, (with the carefree spirit of a life-loving hippie :-)
A rabbit hierarchy is slightly more complicated. It contains overlapping, interacting groups with a leader in each.
There are also a number of unattached, un-bonded individuals who don't fit with one group or another, but choose to come and go between each.
The groups themselves are arranged hierarchically too, with some groups, and their leaders, dominating over the others.
In wild warrens the star of the group is usually a male but in domestic groups the dominant rabbit tends to be a female.
If you are fortunate enough to have a group of rabbits living with you, either in your home or in your garden then you would have observed the dominant female tends to be much more aggressive and territorial, as they have a significant job to do looking after the rest of the herd. Rabbit bonding with a dominant female is usually the most difficult.
Where Are You?
Hopefully, this rabbit hierarchy and social structure information will help you 'bond' with your rabbit.
But where do you fit in to your rabbit's social structure? Does the dominant rabbit in your household have control over you or do you have the dominant role?
A rabbit's personality can change quite dramatically depending on their role within the community.
For example, if you take a dominant bunny out of their leadership role and move them to another group, you can change the dynamics of both social structures.
Sometimes, an aggressive rabbit may become calmer when there is no reason to lookout for the others in their group any longer. If those duties are taken care of by an existing leader and the new rabbit doesn't want to challenge that position, then tempers are cooled and the new rabbit can go about simply being a carefree soul or a wandering groupie perhaps!
Is the rabbit hierarchy system in your 'warren' correctly balanced or do you think you should make some adjustments?
Share your views, points, tit-bits and tales! (Remember, you don't have to have a Facebook account to make a comment.)
All input is good, no matter how small ;-) Thank-you.