Rabbits are very clever and actually enjoy learning new things.
Learning through play is the best way to teach your bunny, and if you add some of their favourite treats as a reward, it makes the whole process much easier and rabbits will look forward to 'rabbit training time'!
As more people are realizing that rabbits are social creatures and love the company of their owners, lucky bunnies everywhere are being brought inside the family home, to live, sleep, play and socialize. In turn, they are learning new habits, routines and games.
Rabbits are enjoying the freedoms other pets, like cats and dogs, have long since been a part of, rather than suffering the confinement of an outside, dingy, damp, lonely hutch at the bottom of the garden. And about time too!
But can bunnies be trained? Can they learn? Can they be taught?
Yes, yes and yes!... They can. In fact they are quite clever little things and are quick to learn. They enjoy the interaction and stimulation too.
With these new freedoms, come new responsibilities. A house bunny can no longer poop and pee all around their territorial space, it's just not acceptable. So owners are training their buns to act accordingly. After all, dogs and cats had to learn right?
"My Rabbit Just Won't Be Litter Box Trained!"
If your rabbits are pooping and peeing everywhere it's not a failure to be litter-trained on your rabbit's part, but more of an indication of a little more training needed on your part ;-)
Not Naughty, But Nature
There are three main 'natural' reasons why a bunny might defecate or urinate around their living areas, or near their litter box, rather than in it.
If any of the main disturbances (mentioned above) occur while they are actually in their litter-box, they will associate the feeling of insecurity with their litter box and will set about reassuring themselves by instilling a sense of 'self'. (Yes, rabbits are self-aware). They do this by underlining their own 'signature', by leaving droppings and urinating all around it. They make the space around them their own again.
Bad Rabbit Habit
If the ongoing stress (similar to any of the situations above), is removed, the problem of poop outside the litter-box will still remain. The important factor here is, not what happened the first time, but any habit that is allowed to develop from the initial reaction. Your rabbit will continue to pee and poop outside the litter box because they did it before.
It's important to catch these bad habits as soon as they happen. If you don't take action, even with a rabbit that may have had good habits in the past, it will give this new bad habit time to take hold. Usually by the third day or so this habit is fairly entrenched and correction of the original cause will not solve the problem.
Solution to Polution
Confinement, praise, rewards, vigilant observation and supervision during free-run time are all steps to correcting free-range pooping. But there’s a catch in doing this too. It generally requires a change in routine, which is a common cause for the behaviour in the first place.
However, sometimes just by adding a new and different box to your rabbit's area can break the cycle. It’s often easier to get rabbits to go in a new box than to go in the old one they have been eliminating next to. The novelty of the new box will make it attractive to your bunnies, especially with treats placed inside it. When your rabbit hops in to investigate and eat the treats, they may poop while they are in there and hey-presto, you've got a 'good' habit on your hands which needs lots of rewarding.
Take Time to Train
It’s important to understand that rabbit training of any kind can take a lot of time and litter-box training is no different. A rabbit who’s been perfectly litter box-trained for years and has peed next to their litter box for several days in a row may need weeks of intensive rabbit training to correct this 'bad' behaviour.
A Rabbits House is Their Castle
It is very important for your rabbit to identify their own house, shed or cage etc as their personal property, so that when they leave this area and go into other rooms and places around your house, they will distinguish your family’s areas from their own and will avoid marking it with rabbit deposits.
The trick to getting a rabbit to keep their poop in their litter box is to give him ownership of his house. Respect the house as theirs and they will respect you and your areas.
To encourage this sense of security remember the following:
Litter box training brings up all sorts of issues as far as rabbits are concerned and while you are in the training process the steps above will really help.
Roomed or Roaming
The same techniques can be used if your rabbits live in their own room in the house or they live outside in a house and run.
Just make sure their territory is marked out. A fence or barrier will do the trick outdoors and indoors you can mark their territory with a rug or tape on the floor.
So, when litter box training, just make sure whatever you use, you don't trespass over that area when your buns are in residence and you should find the whole process much easier.
OK, so now you know the basic reasons why a bunny may pee and poop in certain areas at certain times, and you also understand the importance of respect when it comes to territory. So how do you start litter box rabbit training? Follow these simple steps to success:
How much space should I give my rabbits when litter box training?
How many litter boxes will I need?
This is dependent on your rabbit, and on how many rooms you intend to let your rabbit use. You'll need one in their cage, one to two in their run or exercise space and one in each room, at least until they are fully litter-box trained. When their toilet habits are perfected you can decrease the number of litter-boxes you have around. You'll know which ones to remove - the ones that have hardly been used.
How can I stop litter kicking?
Kicking litter out of the litter box is quite common but easily solved with a covered litter-box (one with a hood) or you can try experimenting with different litters.
How do I stop my rabbit urinating over the edge of their litter-box?
Rabbits often back up so far in their litter box that the urine goes over the edge. Again, a covered litter box can solve this problem. Other methods would be to get a dish-pan or other type of tub with much higher sides or to get 'urine guard' to place around the back of the cage, to keep the litter from spraying outside.
What to do if your rabbit insists on using another spot? Compromise. If your rabbit continually urinates in a spot where there is no litter box, put their box where they will use it, even if it means rearranging their cage or moving an item of furniture. It is much easier to oblige than to try to work against a determined rabbit!
What are the most common rabbit training mistakes when litter box training?
Letting the rabbit out of the cage and not watching them with undivided attention; You can’t watch TV or read the paper or talk on the phone and expect to keep your mind on what your rabbit is doing. If they urinate without being seen and sent towards the litter box, they will be that much slower in their learning.
Can I litter box train my rabbits any quicker?
Rabbit training takes time. In my opinion, that's the beauty of owning rabbits. It gives us time to reflect on the now, the present moment and enjoy it. Rabbits require that we take time out to sit and watch and do nothing else. Besides getting a well-trained bunny for your efforts, you also get a short period of time each day to watch one of the most charming little creatures on earth explore, skip for joy generally entertain you. If you don't actually enjoy this interaction time, a bunny might not be right for you :-(
What should I do if my rabbit starts dribbling pee all over her cage instead
of using the litter box?
Dribbles usually indicate a bladder infection. Get your bunny to a rabbit-veterinarian where they will probably advise a course of antibiotics. If the dribbling stops, you know that that was the problem. (Watch out for antibiotics given by veterinarians not familiar with rabbits as companion animals) If the 'dribbles' are more than dribbles, or if the antibiotic doesn’t stop the problem, consider any factors that may be making your bunny feel insecure (new pet, house guests etc.), any of which can cause a bunny to mark their cage more often .
Rabbit clicker training is a great way of teaching your rabbit. It's a well proven method that has been used on dogs for years. Owners have found this type of rabbit training a great hands-free and initially voice-free way of communicating.
The clicker makes a short, distinctive 'click' noise when pressed and given at the right time it can give a signal to your rabbit. The clicker sound on its own is meaningless to your rabbit but it becomes significant as soon as it is paired with something your rabbit values, such as a pellet of food, or a small treat.
When you click the clicker your basically saying 'well done', good job' etc and your rabbit associates the click sound with a treat and will want to repeat whatever it was that got them the treat in the first place. Your rabbit will quickly learn behaviours and actions that you want them to do.
Rabbits are clever, like I said but it's sound they associate with rather than words. They come when they are called and can recognise their own name, they also know when it's 'dinner time', but it's probably more of a connection with tone rather than the understanding of actual words. This is why the clicker works so well, it's purely about sound association.
In clicker training your rabbit will decide what the rewards are. Rewards include food, petting, freedom, home, companions, or access to favorite spots. Experiment. Offer your bunny a plate with different foods on it and use the food they eat first. Sometimes your bunny will refuse a treat and look at you expectantly. They are actually asking for something different, and awaiting your reply. As long as you find something your rabbit loves, clicker training will be fairly easy.
The clicker can be anything from a store bought fancy brand or just a pen with a press down top. You could even used your tongue if you can make the sound easily enough.
Any member of the family can use a clicker, including children, as it's not voice dependent. Also the signal is neutral, it has no emotion attached to it, i.e. your feelings of frustration or excitement etc, are not exposed, so you are less likely to cause stress or anxiety during rabbit training.
Clicker training is a pleasant and fun way for your rabbit to learn and for you to teach. It is communication and problem solving and both you and your rabbit will be working together as a team.
Basic Clicker Training
It's best to start your first clicker training session before your rabbit's mealtime and have about 15 bite sized treats prepared.
Your rabbit will now have linked the clicking sound to the action of getting food. As you continue to train, your rabbit's response will be more defined. The click will immediately link to food coming.
Intermediate Clicker Training
Wait a while, and prepare 20 more treats. The smaller the treat, the faster the training. Fast training keeps both you and your bunny interested. Deliver the treat within 5 seconds of the click. This should be entertainment for the bunny, not work. Make sure it is fun, fast paced and very rewarding.
Do this several times a day, perhaps once in the early morning, when they are hungry, once again in early evening, after they have woken from daytime napping, and once late at night before they go to sleep.
Advanced Clicker Training
Gradually move your target further away. Your rabbit needs to now be touching the target and getting a reward 85% of the time. If they are not, you have moved the target too far and should shorten the distance. Pretty soon your rabbit will follow the target in an effort to touch it.
By learning through play, while practicing with fun, easy behaviours you and you rabbit will know what to expect when it comes to solving or preventing more serious behavioural problems.
Ongoing Rewards & Training
Once your bunny and you are clicker-wise, use the click to capture a behaviour in the future. If your rabbit is running around your feet like a whirling dervish, reward them for staying in a safe place. Click and reward whenever they come close to a spot you've selected. Gradually reduce the area where rewards are earned and don't forget to add that verbal cue.
You can train your rabbits to be convenient for transportation purposes. For example: Link the word "wait" to a special blanket by clicking your rabbits each time they wander on to it and adding the verbal cue. Then after training, each time your rabbit's hear the word "wait", they will immediately go to their blanket as they know this is a safe and rewarding place to be.
With rabbits feeling vulnerable when we force our human behaviours on them, such as lifting and holding, clicker training can help bunnies feel less stressed during routine handling such as vet exams or nail trims etc.
The set up for this is the same as any rabbit training session; before mealtime and with treats prepared.
This is a video is a great short, simple and perfect example of how clicker training can be fun and rewarding for your rabbits.
It's not easy, harness training. This kind of rabbit training is not met with the enthusiasm of rabbit show jumping, for example. This is because being strapped up is not a 'natural' thing to do whereas jumping up in the air, is.
So this is where your clicker training skills and reward based training come in to their own, with the power of association.
The first steps are the most time consuming - getting your rabbit to wear the harness in the first place, without getting distressed or upset about the whole idea of it.
This quick video is a little example of what I mean about getting your rabbit used to the 'idea' of the harness first, by associating treats with just simply wearing it.
Benefits of Harness Training
If you live in a flat or a house without a garden, it is still vitally important for your rabbits to get outside, to areas where they can safely run about, exercise and forage.
Note - The best form of exercise for a rabbit will always be to run free in as big an enclosure as possible. This allows them to exercise at their own pace, pausing when they want to which is important as rabbits tire easily.
Harness training is a great way of giving your rabbit their well needed exercise if they don't have access to a large run or garden.Walkies!
However, don't expect your rabbit to stay beside you like a dog would. A rabbit's natural gait is to hop a few steps, then look around for danger. This makes it a very time consuming process to walk them! However, a confident rabbit who has absolute trust in you will most likely happily amble along with you at its own pace and enjoy the outing.
Type of Harness
There are two main types of harness available - those which are like a jacket with Velcro fastenings (as seen in the video above) and those which are straps with buckles.
The important thing is that the harness goes around the rabbit's body as well as around the neck - never use just a collar and lead on a rabbit as this may snap their neck.
Most harnesses are adjustable and are available in different sizes. You should be able to fit two fingers in between the harness and the rabbit's body at all points but it must not be too loose or the rabbit will just wriggle out of it.
For more than 150 years, people have been exhibiting rabbits at shows. The showing of different breeds and varieties of rabbits at exhibitions and competitions has been around since the late 1800s and more people enjoy the fellowship of these events every day.
Associations & Councils
The BRC (British Rabbit Council) in the UK and the ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association) are two of the largest and most influential of the organizations. They have quite a strict standard of entry and list of regulations, but with the right rabbit training techniques and know-how, you too could have a prize-wining rabbit on your hands.
All recognized breeds and varieties of rabbits can be shown and shows range from small club shows and county fairs to huge state and national events. This variety provides a wide range of competition for rabbit raisers, breeders and owners.
Each show will have slightly different rules but the basics principals of showing rabbits are more or less the same worldwide.
Lets take a look at a few things you and your rabbit will need to learn:
Posing the rabbit on the table for the showmanship contest can be done in several ways (for example, sideways, facing the contestant, or facing the judge). However, the usual posing position is to have the rabbit face the judge.
Posing the rabbit is done in such a way that the animal is neither stretched out too much nor tucked in too much depending on breed description. By properly posing your animal, you can give a good impression of the "type" of the breed.
When practicing posing your rabbit, make sure you have a table and a rug or a piece of carpet upon which to set the animal.
Never try to set up the animal on a smooth surface since it may slip and will not get a good grip, and this action would affect the pose negatively.
Steps to Good Posing
Follow these rabbit training steps if you want to pose your rabbit effectively and correctly
In the showmanship part of the rabbit contest, the judge attempts to determine each participant's practical knowledge by checking the rabbit for defects and disqualifications.
You will need to demonstrate your practical skill at examination, and the judge will evaluate you on how smoothly, systematically, and confidently you perform each of the examination sections.
The examination can be broken down into the following steps:
You must be sure of the sex of any rabbits you are going to show, because sex is one of the things that determines the class in which you will enter your rabbits.
The other factors that determine class are the age, weight, variety, and breed of your rabbits. You can check the necessary standards for your breed here...
You will also need to begin grooming your rabbits that you have selected for show at least 6 weeks before the show date.
Daily grooming not only improves the appearance of your rabbits, it also tames them and makes them easier to handle at the show.
It is also a good idea to play a radio near your rabbit house to get them used to voices and the extra noise they will certainly encounter at shows.
Or, you can promote your own rabbit show here. If you have organized a local show or competition, just enter all the details and create a whole page on this website just for your show!
Rabbits love to hop around, there's no secret about that. However, enthusiastic rabbit owners in Europe take these talents for hopping and jumping very seriously. They harness these natural talents and teach their pet bunnies to show jump and it has become a favourite sport in many countries of the world – including the UK.
It all started back in the eighties, when in Sweden bunnies were seen to bounce their way around show jumping courses and the trend soon found its way to Europe. The courses were naturally quite small jumps but they did vary in height and length. Some rabbits became the 'superstars of the bunny world' winning all the competitions they were entered in.
Rabbits can jump pretty high – around two feet in fact which is 60 cms. The world record for a rabbit high jump is currently at 99.5 cms.
Rabbits also compete against each other in the long jump and the current world record for the longest rabbit jump is currently a whopping 3 metres!
Stimulating Activities Rabbits Love
Teaching your rabbit to do tricks is fun and they do enjoy it. Rabbits are intelligent creatures and they like to be kept busy.
You can teach you rabbit to go up and down ramps as well as through tunnels. Rabbit agility is a fun occupation for the bunny and their owners. People who take their rabbits to shows, take their pets around the set courses wearing a harness and a long lead/leash – this is more to stop any errant male bunnies from charging off after any females that might be at the show too.
Why Agility Rabbit Training is So Good
Training your rabbit to do agility is not only a great fun thing to do, but it keeps your bunny in good physical and mental health.
mentioned before, rabbits love to be active and they adore being around
people. Interacting with a pet rabbit is stimulating both for owners and
The best way to train your rabbit is to use positive reward-based methods as mentioned in the sections above, these sessions also help create a strong bond between you and your bunny.
Your rabbit will really enjoy the companionship and interaction
they have with you. The stimulation they get will do them a great deal of good emotionally, as well as keeping them fit and healthy.
This video is an excellent example of just how easy it is to get your rabbits to 'perform'. The owner uses clicks, commands and rewards. At the end she remarks that it only took her 5 minutes to teach a completely untrained rabbit to jump through hoops and over jumps!
Bunnies are natural jumpers and all bunny breeds can do it more or less and most bunnies likes it, and think its fun. It's also healthy for them and keeps them in shape.
All breeds are allowed to compete in show jumping shows, but there are some breeds that are probably not as suitable.
For example, the Flemish Giant and the French lop, can hurt their legs if they jump to high jumps and they are large rabbits with an awful lot of weight against them.
The English lop with its huge ears isn't the perfect bunny for jumping either as they can hurt their ears, and easily trip on them.
The Angora rabbit with its long fur isn't a recommended breed either, unless its clipped, because of the
difficulties their coats cause with agility and vision.
Dwarven lops or miniature lop crossbreeds are good jumpers. They have a perfect temperament, they are curious and they are brave. They also have the perfect size and weight and have much force in their paws. Most of the swedish 'elite' in the showjumping are dwarven lops or crossbred with dwarven lops.
Points to Remember Before You Start
One major important thing to remember is to have faith in your bunny. Trust that they will do it. Your rabbits are very sensitive and can pick up on your feelings. If you feel that your bunny can do it, the bunny will feel it too.
The Notion Of Emotion
Bunnies can easily pick up your emotions. If you're nervous, your rabbit will get nervous. If you're sad, your rabbit will be upset and sad.
If you instill a negative emotion in a thought or statement, such as "my bunny will never understand show jumping", your rabbit will sense the negativity and won't bother trying.
Take It Easy
Another important thing to remember is that you have to take it easy. Don't expect your bunny to understand the jumping instantly. And don't sit and struggle with your rabbit for hours trying to get them to go over the jumps.
15-30 minutes rabbit training per day is more than enough, otherwise your bunny will get bored, fed up and never jump again.
Dont overdo it in the beginning. It's supposed to be fun for both of you!
Keep the initial rabbit training going for a week or two, and when your rabbit's have understood what they are supposed to do, you can start practicing with a harness on.
This great video is proof that rabbit show jumping is a big deal in Sweden, as this competition was held in the UK, but it also shows you just how much the rabbits love it, and how high they can jump!
Setting the Scene at Home
You can use a log or plank of wood between empty cartons or boxes taped together, you can put broom handles or mops over tin cans- all sorts! Use your imagination!
Note - just remember though, no more than 5 cms in height to start with, or your bunny will be overwhelmed and no sharp edges or nails etc sticking out of any wood that your bunny may hurt themselves on while they are charging around - having the time of their life!
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