Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Importance of a Positive Meeting

Initial interactions are crucial in establishing a rapport with your house rabbit or a bunny you're meeting for the first time. Because many people instinctively approach a rabbit as they would a cat or a dog--by placing a hand right in front of their noses for them to sniff--they are getting started off on the wrong foot, er, paw. As polite of an animal introduction as this would seem, rabbits are actually offended by this gesture, mostly due to their limited vision in front of their faces. Such offensive gestures often elicit fearful or aggressive responses, which leads the human to dismiss the rabbit as unfriendly, jumpy, or a bad pet. Instead, try coming down from the top and petting her forehead or scratching behind the ears. Or, you can even do as the rabbits do, and get down on their level and touch noses. With only your head in their field of vision, you suddenly don't seem so large and intimidating.

The differences between interacting with dogs/cats and rabbits don't stop there. While most dogs and cats love belly rubs, the stomach area is an exceptionally sensitive area for rabbits and very much off-limits. This makes sense considering as prey animals they must fiercely protect such vulnerable areas, whereas predatory pets--like cats, dogs, or even ferrets --might not be so sensitive about vital areas. Rabbits also prefer not to be touched on their paws, chin, chest, sides, tail, and genital region. But this is not to say that rabbits don't love being pet; they very much do! Spots that are just about universally enjoyed by rabbits include the top of her head, cheeks, ears, neck, shoulders, and back, though of course every rabbit is different. Try a nice relaxing massage for your bunny: move your hand slowly, with the an open palm, from the nose, over the forehead, over the ears and neck, and all the way down to the lower back, applying the slightest bit of pressure. Continue down both sides of the spine gently, but without applying direct pressure on the backbone, and note which spots she seems to particularly enjoy and which seem to be less than pleasant (if she stiffens). Repeat over the areas she seems to like. Most rabbits will flatten down, close their eyes, and even grind their teeth in ecstasy.

Positive interactions can set the tone for how a rabbit views you--whether she learns to trust you or avoid you. Conversely, it can also affect how a person will view a rabbit, or even rabbits as a species. A miscommunication during introductions can lead a human to fear rabbits or view them as unpredictable or aggressive creatures. And we, as devoted rabbit owners, know just how inaccurate this assessment can be, as long as we learn to communicate with them on their own terms and in their own language.

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