Saturday, September 20, 2008

Question from the Audience: Holding and Aggression

Our first question comes from a woman who recently contacted me via Craigslist to ask about her bunny's unpleasant behavior:

Q: I was wondering if you could help me. I have a beautiful black mini lop born in February. She was wonderful with my daughter but now she will only let me hold her and she still gives me a tough time sometimes. We love her but I am feeling bad for her because my daughter (age 5) wants to play with her but she charges at her every time she puts her hand in the cage. My daughter is very hands on with her pets and the bunny was handled constantly as a baby leading me to believe that she would always be fine when my daughter held her.
We take excellent care of her... providing a clean cage, food, water, hay, trimmed nails, etc. but I feel she is not getting the attention she deserves. I hesitate to look for someone to take her because I am afraid she will not get the care she has here. Even though she is not being held on a regular basis she is at least getting the proper care.

It's great to
hear that you are taking such excellent care of your rabbit and that you want to improve you and your daughter's relationship with your pet instead of surrendering her. Believe it or not, there are two very simple solutions to your rabbit's behavioral problems.

It is a common misconception that rabbits like to be held. In fact, they do not. Rabbits were intended to live on and under the ground, where they can feel important danger-signaling vibrations and where they have the ability to flee when threatened. When you pick up your bunny, you are depriving her of this need to be in contact with the ground and are actually acting as a predator who is restraining her. Therefore your rabbit has learned to view you not as a friend but as a threat. The best way to enjoy a bunny is by letting them out of their cage to hop around. If you calmly sit on the floor, the rabbit will usually come up to you, and if you pet them on their heads, will often lay down next to you. It might take a lot of patience for this to happen with your pet, since you will need to regain her trust after all the picking up and holding.

The second issue can be solved easily as well. You mentioned that your daughter gets charged "every time she puts her hand in the cage." No one should ever put their hand in the rabbit's cage (except when cleaning or feeding), especially if he/she acts territorial. When your daughter puts her hand in the cage, your rabbit feels its home is being invaded and she feels the need to protect it. This goes hand in hand with being picked up-- you should never hold a rabbit unnecessarily, and you should never forcibly remove it from its cage. You should open the cage door and let her roam around a rabbit-proofed (wires hidden, poisonous plants moved) large room. If your daughter sits and waits, your rabbit will likely come up to her in a friendly and non-threatening way. The rabbit's cage is its home and if you keep invading that personal space, your rabbit will develop defensive behaviors. Instead, let your bunny out of her cage daily where she will get rid of pent up energy, be intellectually stimulated and given a chance to approach you for interaction.

1 comment:

Hot Curry said...

What great advice! I was one of the many uninformed rabbit lovers that assumed rabbits liked to be held. I've already started using some of your suggestions at home with our rabbit Toby, and we've already seen some improvements in the way the kids get along with him. Thank you!!