Build your bond
As an in-built survival mechanism, rabbits are instinctively frightened of anything new or unknown, so it’s vital to ensure you have your bunnies’ trust before engaging in training. ‘It’s important to really bond with your rabbits so they feel confident being around you, before you make any demands on them,’ explains Michelle Miskelly, an APBC-accredited companion animal behaviour counsellor who specialises in rabbits.
While bunnies are best kept in pairs, training is most effective on a one-to-one basis – so attempt these steps with one bunny at a time. Begin by quietly sitting near to your rabbits’ enclosure. If your bunny is new and unused to your presence, or is especially timid, it’ll be his natural instinct to hide from you. Leave him be and bide your time calmly. ‘You need to spend time just hanging out with your bunny, but you’ll need to be patient,’ Michelle says. ‘Throw him a small snack every time he pops his head out of his hiding spot, or even makes a single hop towards you. When he discovers that you won’t chase or try to grab him, your rabbit will feel comfortable enough to explore around you.’
Once your bunny trusts you enough to sit near you, gradually start to drop treats closer and closer so he’ll have to move towards you to get them. As you drop the treat and he begins to hop over, call his name. Do this at least twice a day for two to three weeks, but make sure to always keep your voice calm – rabbits have acute hearing and hate loud or sudden noises.
To reinforce your training sessions, also call out your rabbit’s name every time you fill up his food supply. As he grows used to this, he’ll soon start to appear as you call – even when there may not be a treat involved.
‘In this way, it’s easy to build up your bunny’s confidence and teach him to come when you call,’ says Michelle. ‘Rabbits are very intelligent animals and will learn quickly.’ However, to ensure your training sessions remain fun for your furry friend, keep them to only three or four minutes long. If your bunny shows any sign of stress, such as wanting to move away or freezing up, stop immediately and give him his own space.
Be treat wise
It’s best to avoid commercially sold rabbit treats, as some can lead to weight gain and might even cause damage to your bunny’s teeth.
‘Instead, get fantastic, healthy snacks straight from nature,’ Michelle advises. ‘Try tempting your bunny with dandelion leaves or, for a special treat, buy fresh herbs like parsley and basil. Rabbits love these – soon your bunny won’t just come on command, but will start to follow you around too!’