Rabbit Training

Understanding Rabbits ~ History ~ Habitat ~ Anatomy ~ Behaviour ~ Rabbit Training

rabbit training

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'!

For a more detailed look at all aspects of bunny health, diet, environment, companionship & longevity check out the revolutionary iRabbit READY System by Kerry Greener of Just Rabbits Limited

People Pleasers
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.

  • Litter Box Training - Learn the basic steps to successful rabbit toilet training, important for indoor rabbits but also can benefit outdoor bunnies too.
  • Clicker Training - Rabbits are very reward-based when it comes to doing as they are told. Sound association is an excellent way to get them to remember! 
  • Harness Training - There's lots of reasons why harness rabbit training is a good idea and your bunnies will take to it, or they won't, but there are ways to help them get used to .
  • Show Rabbit Training - If you are breeding beautiful, pictures of perfection or even rare rabbits, you'll want to show them off, but the correct behaviour on the show table is important to their success and adds to the overall winning formula.
  • Agility Training - Agility courses for rabbits are becoming more popular worldwide. Rabbits and owners enjoy the exercise but there are a few things to follow before you get your rabbits running through tunnels!
  • Show Jumping Rabbit Training - Much like agility training but more competitive, especially in Scandinavia where it all started. But seeing a rabbit jump over hurdles like a little horse is amazing & rabbits love it too!

Rabbit Litter Box Training

litter box training

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 ;-)

As litter box training is quite detailed, here's a breakdown of your rabbit training procedures:

  • Understanding Nature - In order to properly litter-box train your rabbits, you first need to understand their nature and how illness, territory and behaviour can effect progress.
  • Litter Box Training Overview - Learn about your rabbit's reactions to stress, breaking bad habits and the importance of the time involvement.
  • Litter Box Training Dos & Don'ts - Quick tips on how to get your rabbits to believe they are secure, safe and comfortable - the correct state to be in for litter box training.
  • Litter Box Training Steps - Follow these simple steps to successful litter box training.
  • Common Questions - There's always some common questions that pop up when rabbit owners litter train their rabbits, hopefully most of them are answered here.

Understanding Nature

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.

  1. Illness & Disease - Urinary tract infections will always effect your rabbit's ability to control bladder movements.

    Sludge in the bladder, bladder stones and kidney disease
    should all be treated by a qualified vet, but usually the correct use of the litter-box returns once any infection has been successfully treated.

  2. Territorial - A rabbit is a very territorial creature and just like dogs and cats, the need to mark their own areas with their smell, is pretty over-whelming. It's natural, especially if a new bunny is introduced, even a new item of furniture etc, placed near them can trigger a territorial deposit.

    The social hierarchy system within a rabbit herd is quite complex. A dominant rabbit can display some remarkable behaviour when it comes to showing leadership, but territory marking is usually the first action of any confrontation.

  3. Behavioural - Rabbits are very easily stressed, it comes from them being a prey species, even a change in routine can upset them. The level of distress is almost autistic in nature. Some things that rabbit owners have observed in rabbit training that effect their progress in litter-box training are:

         * Being fed later or earlier
         * Reduction in exercise duration
         * A change of food stuffs
         * Visitors in the house or strangers in the garden
         * Emotional happening in the household
         * Sudden unusual noise e.g. fireworks or car backfiring

    (It was completely unintentional to spell out BRAVES like that :-)

    So, rabbit training of any kind is best performed when your rabbit is enjoying 'normal' behaviour and they feel secure, comfortable and happy.

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Litter Box Rabbit Training Overview

Signature Reaction
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.

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Litter Box Rabbit Training Dos & Don'ts

rabbit castle

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:

  • Do not force your rabbits in or out of it of their house.
    Do coax them out with rewards.
  • Do not do things to their house that they don't like, such as put things on top of it, disturb the bedding etc.
    Do keep their house the way they know it.
  • Do not do things to your rabbit that they don't like such as grooming them while they are in their house.
    Do anything like this away from their house in a neutral area.
  • Do not reach into their house to take them out.
    Do open the door and let them come out if and when they want to.
  • Do not catch your rabbits and put them back in their house straight away as they will regard it as a prison and not their home.
    Do let them go in on their own at bed time etc.
  • Do not reach into their house to get food dishes etc
    Do leave them near the door so they can be filled with the minimum amount of encroachment on their space, or wait until your rabbits are completely out of the way.
  • Do not clean their house while they are still in it.
    Do wait until they are out. They may come over to check up on what you are doing, and probably have a good go at moving things around that you've placed outside, but as long as they are not in their house, they won't see your cleaning as an invasion of territory.

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.

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Litter Box Training Steps

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:

  1. Start with a litter box in the cage and one or more boxes in the rabbit’s running space. If they urinate in a corner of the cage and not in the box, move the box to that corner until they get it right.

    (Note - if you're bunny goes to sleep or starts using the box as a bed, don’t be concerned, this is normal).
  2. After they first use the litter box, praise them and give them their favourite treats. Once they uses the box in their room a couple of times, you’re well on your way, as a habit will be forming already.
  3. Once they start using the litter box in their cage, open the door and allow them into their running space. Watch them go in and out on their own. If they head to a corner where there is no litter box, or they do the familiar 'tail-lift' in readiness to pee or poop, just shout 'NO' in a single, sharp burst of sound. This will shock them in to stopping and if you do it enough, i.e. each time they begin to go to the toilet, they will associate the sound with a shock and learn to do something different.
  4. Gently persuade them back into their cage and towards the litter-box they normally use. Be careful you don’t react like this step is a punishment, so a handful of hay or a treat in the litter box will make it a more inviting place.
  5. As they get better trained in their first room, you can increase their space, but don't rush this process. And if you are introducing them to more rooms make sure there is a litter box in each. As they become more confident they will need fewer boxes, so you can start to remove some of the earlier placed 'training' boxes.

    (Note - Get your rabbits into a daily routine with everything, including mealtimes, exercise time and playtime, and try not to vary it. Rabbits are very habitual and once a routine is established, they usually prefer to stick with it.)

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Common Litter Box Training Questions

How much space should I give my rabbits when litter box training?

  • Indoor Bunnies - With indoor rabbits, even if your goal is to let your rabbit have full run of the house, you must start small. Start with a cage and a small running space, and when your rabbit is sufficiently well trained in that space, gradually give them more room. Just do it gradually or they will be overwhelmed with too much freedom before they're ready, and will forget where their box is and will in turn, lose their good habits.
  • Outdoor Bunnies - With outdoor rabbits, even if it is your intention for them to have full run of the garden, the principal is the same. Start them in a small area first and they will find a space, away from their sleeping area, that they will designate for peeing and pooping. All rabbits will poop around their territory to mark it as their own, but very few rabbits, given enough space, will defecate and urinate in their sleeping areas. Then just give them slightly more space gradually and keep and eye on their toilet habits until you have them going in the same place all the time.

    If your rabbits are still pooping everywhere you may wish to look at their space allocations. Here's some good guidelines to follow... (including exercise and run space).

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 .

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Rabbit Clicker Training

rabbit clicker training

Proven Method
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.

Signal Association
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.

Treat Training
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.

Clicker Training Steps

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.

  1. To start, fee your rabbit one treat and as they are chewing it, clicker the clicker once.
  2. When they stop chewing, feed them another treat and click once again.
  3. Just repeat this until all the treats are gone.
  4. Then stop.

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. 

  1. Start by teaching your rabbit to touch a target like a jingle bell on a stick.
  2. With your treats close by, hold your target within one inch of your rabbit's nose.
  3. The second they start to turn their head to look at it, click and treat.
  4. Keep the target very close to their head and repeat this sequence 10 times.
  5. Then move the target to the left, to the right, above and below their head. Each time they turn to look, click and treat.
  6. Your goal is to get your rabbit to touch the target. The first time the target is touched, click and give them 6 treats very fast.
  7. Stop, before they get bored. 

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.

  1. Gradually raise the standard for earning a click and treat 
        - Delay the click one extra second for a longer 'performance'.
        - Ask for two behaviours before you click and treat.
  2. As your rabbit's skill increases they will enjoy having the challenge increased. If they don't, return to the level where they last enjoyed this game. 
  3. Add verbal cues such as "sit", "up" or "down" and using the target have your rabbit sit up then click and treat.
  4. Use a word only for the appropriate action. Choose words that won't be duplicated for other behaviors.
  5. Be ready to click even if the bunny stretches upwards or does something closely resembling the action you want them to do.
  6. Gradually delay offering the target after the verbal cue, eventually your rabbit will sit up at the word "sit" for example, and you can use the target less. 

Why Tricks?
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.

Great Examples
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.

Getting Your Rabbit To Come When Called

The set up for this is the same as any rabbit training session; before mealtime and with treats prepared.

  1. Sit and call your rabbit. If your rabbit comes to you, click and give them a reward immediately. Much like the training above, be consistent and make sure that your rabbit knows why they are getting a treat.
  2. This time though, use the same commands, but add the name of your rabbit after the command, i.e. “Sit, (Your Rabbit's Name),” or “Up, (Your Rabbit's Name),” every time, so your rabbit will learn to recognize your requests and associate those exact words with getting a treat.
  3. Keep clicking and providing the treats until your rabbit responds correctly nearly every time. When you’re trying to teach a new skill, don’t skimp on the rewards.
  4. Gradually, stop using the clicker but just say the commands and keep rewarding. You need to make sure your rabbit gets the connection still.
  5. Then gradually wean your rabbit off the treats. Give them a reward once and then don’t the next time, or give them a treat only every few times.
  6. Eventually you will not need treats at all. In time, reward your rabbit with petting and toys, and only use food occasionally to keep the behaviour strong.
  7. Reinforce the training as necessary. From time to time your rabbit may need to relearn a skill. That is, you may need to bring the incentives/rewards back.

Clicker Training Video

This is a video is a great short, simple and perfect example of how clicker training can be fun and rewarding for your rabbits.

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Harness Training

rabbit training

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.

Harness Training First Step Video

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.

Harness Training Basics

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.

Your rabbits will learn to love 'harness time', especially if there is no other form of exercise open to them. It's their only opportunity to get out and be 'rabbits'. They enjoy their outdoor time just as much as dogs do. Look how excited a dog gets when you pick up their lead! Take your bunny

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.

Harness Training Steps

  1. Detach the lead, put the harness on the floor and let the rabbit approach it and sniff it. 
  2. Get your rabbit used to wearing the harness with clicker or reward based training first, as shown in the video.
  3. The Velcro harnesses are good because you tend not have to pick your rabbit up to attach it. If your rabbit is used to being handled, then pick them up, hold them securely on your lap or table etc and attach the harness. It might be helpful to have some help for the first time you try this. Ensure the harness fits correctly and that your rabbit is not too distressed by it. 
  4. Just leave the harness on your rabbit for a while, 20 minutes or so, then remove it. 
  5. Repeat the process for a few days until you are confident that your rabbit has accepted the harness and "forgotten" about it. 
  6. Do not attempt to attach the lead until this process is complete.
  7. Once you are happy your rabbit has accepted the harness, you can attach the lead to it. 
  8. Keep your rabbit in its own environment i.e. don't take it outside immediately. Let your rabbit hop around without restriction; follow them so that the lead is never taut. 
  9. Watch for signs of stress in your rabbit - fast breathing, bulging eyes and thumping of the back feet; if at any point you feel your rabbit is stressed release them from the harness.
  10. Once your rabbit is accustomed to both harness and lead, you can take them outside for the first time.  Your own garden is ideal for this but if you don't have a garden try and choose a quiet park with no dogs. 
  11. Rabbits don't like open spaces and prefer to be under cover so don't be surprised if your rabbit heads straight for the nearest tree or bush.
  12. Don't attempt to stop your rabbit by pulling on the lead; just follow and crouch down and stroke your rabbit frequently to reassure them. 
  13. In time your rabbit's curious nature will get the better of it and it will start to look around and investigate their surroundings.
  14. Don't forget the big rewards at the end of your first few harness training sessions.

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Rabbit Show Training

show rabbit

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 Your Rabbit

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

  1. Cover the rabbit's eyes with the palm of your hand so that it will sit calmly rather than struggle.
  2. With your other hand, set the forelegs in alignment with the eyes and the hind legs in alignment with the hips.
  3. Gently stroke the rabbit on the back when the positioning is finished so that the animal will sit calmly in the posing position.
  4. Keep your movements to a minimum; the less you have to do to secure the proper response from your animal, the better your performance will be judged.
  5. It is important to pose the rabbit to the front facing the judge, because several people will be working side-by-side behind the table and the rabbits will be positioned close together.
  6. If they are posed sideways, a rabbit (especially a buck) may be tempted to mount a adjacent rabbit. Posing straight ahead should diminish this problem and that the rabbits are posed at least two feet apart.
  7. When the judge gives the command "pose," you will have two to three minutes to place the animal in the proper pose.
  8. You should then take a step back and stand at attention.

Examining Your Rabbit

rabbit show handling

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:

  1. Start with the head area. Squeeze the base of each ear to determine whether the animal has any ear mites. If the animal struggles, you can suspect it has ear mites.
  2. Open and examine each ear to ascertain that the rabbit does not have ear mites.
  3. Check the rabbit's eyes by pointing your index finger at each eye to make sure the animal is not blind. Also check each eye to make sure that the rabbit does not have weepy-eye, a disease problem.
  4. Turn your rabbit smoothly on its back. This is a very important step. Judges will be closely observing whether the rabbit is under your control.

    Make sure you provide enough support on the table for the rabbit when you turn it around. Don't allow the animal to struggle or kick you in the face. Try to accomplish the turn in your initial attempt. The turning should be done in a very smooth way.

    Practice turning the rabbit on its back by getting a firm hold of the shoulder skin over the ears (as you do when beginning to handle your animal).

    Keep the hindquarters resting on the table and use your right hand to make a swing to the right so that the animal is completely on it back.

    Keep a firm grip with your right hand while supporting the weight of the animal on the table.
  5. Point your left index finger to the rabbit's nose area and look for any white discharge (a sign of a cold).
  6. With your left thumb and index finger, pull back the animal's lips (first the upper and the lower) to check the condition of the teeth.

    Carefully check for any problems with buck teeth, a hereditary condition which is a disqualification.
  7. Pull each front leg toward you to see if the legs are straight, crooked, or bowed.
  8. Press the palm of each foreleg to examine the colour of the toenails and to look for missing toenails.
  9. Run your left hand over the chest and abdomen areas to check for any abscesses, tumors, or other abnormalities.
  10. As you come to the end of the abdomen area, grasp the thigh area of the hind legs and push it straight downward with the palm of your left hand to determine the straightness of the hind legs. Note whether or not they are parallel.
  11. Release your hand from the high area and check the hock areas to any sign of sore hock. If a scab is visible, press it to see whether it is an old scab or if it is fresh. If it is fresh, it will bleed and the animal may struggle. This would then mean an elimination.
  12. Examine the colour of the toenails on the hind legs; also check for missing nails.
  13. Check the sex area of the animal to determine the sex and locate any obvious disease problem.

    To check the sex, hold the tail between your left index and middle fingers and press down on the sex area with your thumb. Apply a slight pressure.
  14. Feel the tail to see whether it is broken.
  15. Turn the rabbit back to the original position (its head facing your left).
  16. Check the balance of the tail to see whether the rabbit has a wry tail or any other tail deformity.
  17. Set the ears of the rabbit properly. Check to see if they are carried in a position which is normal for its breed.
  18. Check the meat quality of the animal by feeling the meat on the shoulders, ribs, loins, rump, etc.
  19. Examine the fur quality by running your hand from the tail to the head and back. Look at the guard hairs. You may also blow on the fur to examine the density of the fur.

Selecting and Grooming Rabbit Training

Class Determination
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...

rabbit grooming

You will also need to begin grooming your rabbits that you have selected for show at least 6 weeks before the show date.

More on grooming here...

Daily grooming not only improves the appearance of your rabbits, it also tames them and makes them easier to handle at the show.

Good Tip
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.

Find out about rabbit shows coming up near you...

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!

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Agility Rabbit Training

rabbit agility training

Popular Pastime
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.

How High?
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.

How Long?
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.

As mentioned before, rabbits love to be active and they adore being around people. Interacting with a pet rabbit is stimulating both for owners and their pets.

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.

Rabbit Training for Agility Video

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!

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Rabbit Show Jumping Training

rabbit show jumping

Jumper Lovers
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.

Jumper Breeds
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

  • Before you start rabbit training for show jumping, it is a good idea to harness train your bunny first so they get used to walking outside with a harness on.
  • It's a good idea to start rabbit training from 3 months old, or older. Rabbits can learn at any age above 3 months. (See you can Teach an Old Rabbit, New Tricks!)
  • The first rabbit training sessions for show jumping are best done indoors or in an outdoor enclosure, without a harness. But remember if you jump with them indoors, do it on a carpet so your rabbit doesn't slip.
  • Make sure that you do any rabbit training in a calm environment and your rabbit is not unwell or distressed in any way before you start.

Rabbit Training Steps to Show Jumping

  1. Always take it slow when you teach a bunny how to jump. Let your rabbits run freely around the room/enclosure before you start. this will allow them to inspect and sniff the jump that is in their enclosure first. letting them become familiar with the idea of it.
  2. Start with a low jump of about 5 cms only
  3. Sometimes a rabbit will know what to do instantly and jump over themselves, and sometimes not.
  4. If they do jump over, reward them and give some vocal reassurance of a job 'well done'.
  5. If your rabbit does not jump over it straight away, put them in front of the jump and then lift the rabbit over it yourself.
  6. Then reward and praise in the same way you would if the rabbit did it on it's own. Your rabbit will associate being on the other side of the jump with being rewarded, and so will be encouraged to jump next time.
  7. Then repeat it. Place the rabbit in front of the jump, wait to see if it jumps by itself. You can use vocal commands and train associations too.
  8. If your rabbit runs to the side of the jump or in the opposite direction from the jump, simply place the bunny in front of the jump again.
  9. If they haven't jumped over the jump after a few minutes or shown any interest in it at all, try lifting them over the jump again and giving a reward.
  10. Your rabbit will soon associate the jumping with a treat and as they become more adept and consistent, you can begin to reduce the amount of rewards.
  11. But keep up the vocal commands and remember to reward on a larger scale at the end of any rabbit training session.

Have Faith
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!

Ongoing Show Jumping Rabbit Training

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.

  1. Keep in mind not to pull hard on the harness, and make sure you hold the lead loose enough by the jumps so the bunny can manage the jump without getting pulled backwards.

    Note - Never use your foot or a stick to control or steer your bunny, always use your hands.
  2. When your rabbit is used to the harness and jumping with a harness on, you can make the jump a bit higher (maybe up to 10 cms) and then see if your rabbit still understands that they should jump over it.
  3. Then you can start introducing more jumps, experimenting with heights etc.


  • Believe in your bunny
  • Take it slow and easy
  • Reward much with words, cuddles, kisses (treats initially)
  • Have fun!

Rabbit Show Jumping Video

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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