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 give you a
baleful stare and continue doing his business as if to say, “Yeah,
I hear you. But what
is in it for me?” This
irritates you until a minute later, when your adorably
manipulative bunny comes running for kisses and cuddles.
Are rabbits intelligent?
You had better believe it.
Do they like to obey? Hahahahahahahaha.
Why is a Rabbit Not Like a Dog?
Let’s compare a rabbit to a dog, that
quintessential model of (potential) obedience.
The ancestral dog was a cooperative pack animal.
He was utterly submissive to his “alpha” dog:
the chief of the pack.
Humans took that characteristic and bred domestic dogs to
have a very strong desire to please their new alpha, the Human
Master. Most dogs have
a puppy like desire to please their perceived alpha, and this is
what makes them so easy to train (at least in the hands of an
experienced dog trainer who understands the way a dog’s mind
Now consider the rabbit.
The wild rabbits from whom our domestic friends are
descended are indeed social creatures-but they are herbivores who
have not had the evolutionary pressure to be highly cooperative.
The family group lives in a series of excavated tunnels
(the warren) in the earth. There
is a social hierarchy, but is generally based on which rabbit is
the strongest and toughest. Rabbits
“cooperate” only in the sense their evolutionarily programmed
alarm systems benefit the entire warren.
Rabbits can certainly be extremely affectionate with one
another, but they also have distinct likes and dislikes of other
rabbits. It is often
impossible for a human to guess which rabbits will fall in love,
and which ones will hate each other from the start and never learn
to get along. Surprisingly,
it is often easier for a rabbit to get along with a human, cat,
dog, guinea pig or other animal than with an unfamiliar member of
his or her own species!
Unlike dogs, rabbits have no innate desire to please an “alpha”.
If the human caregiver becomes so frustrated with the
apparent disobedience of the rabbit that she or he becomes
physically abusive, the rabbit will begin to consider the human as
an enemy, and never forget the physical punishment.
Hitting a rabbit is not only dangerous to the animal (the
skeleton is extremely fragile), but unproductive.
The rabbit is subjected to physical punishment may become
extremely aggressive, hopelessly fearful or- believe it or not –
vindictive. 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
behaviors is with positive reinforcement and very gentle negative
reinforcement, such as a squirt with a water bottle and a firm “No!”
when the bunny is being “naughty.”
Naughty is as Naughty Does
…Which brings us to the question, “What
is “naughty” for a rabbit?”
The human caregiver must accept that certain behaviors we
might consider “naughty” (such as 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
behavior. If the bunny
is chewing furniture, you can dab some nail biting remedy on the
problem areas – but do not forget to provide the bunny with chew
toys (untreated toys, etc.) as a substitute. If the bunny is
digging the carpet, and you do not 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
litter box full of organic litter and shredded paper or a paper
grocery bag filled with fresh grass hay.
If the bunny is insistent about using a particular corner
for urination, even after repeated warnings and white vinegar
deodorizing, give in and put a coordinated litter box in that
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!
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