A question from Nancy F. in Boston, MA:
Q: I have two male Newfoundland Dwarf rabbits I adopted at the end of this past summer (Douglas and Andrew are their names). Currently they stay in their 'pen' in the basement.
Here is my issue: when I get home from work I like to bring them upstairs in their carrier and I have a heck of a time getting them to go into said carrier to bring them to the upper floor where they basically have the run of the place (they are litter box trained). Andrew generally seems to be more amenable to going upstairs, but Douglas will squeak and hide and run away when I try to get him to go in so I don't force him (I don't want to upset him). This usually means Andrew gets playtime upstairs and Douglas doesn't. On the occasions when I can actually get them up to the first floor they run and jump and hide and generally have a wonderful time.
I don't try to pick them up b/c they clearly don't like it but I talk to them and pet them whenever I can. How can I 'corral' (if you will) my rabbits in to the carrier more easily? Sometimes it can take up to an hour to return them to the basement and if it's been a long day I can't always afford to invest that much chasing time.
A: I have a suggestion regarding your situation, and I think this one minor change will actually make a huge difference. You say you keep the rabbit cage in the basement; if you kept the rabbit's cage in your living room, the situation would improve drastically. This way Douglas and Andrew would be able to come out of their cage easily and comfortably whenever you opened the cage door. This would save you a ton of time and stress too-- instead of corralling them into carriers (I can only imagine how long that would take!), all you'd have to do is open the cage door and let them out. Since this is easier on you, I'm sure the bunnies would get more time out of their cages as well.
You're right that most rabbits don't like to be picked up, but they also don't like to be confined in carriers and carried about for similar reasons--it is scary! They experience a full range of stress every time they have to go in and out of their carriers, and this stress would be easy to cut out by keeping their cage upstairs. Furthermore, since they are currently unable to see/access their cage (an area of safety) from the living room, they could be experiencing stress from this as well.
If their cage is upstairs in your living room, then you'll no longer have to corral them back into carriers when you want to get them back in their cages; it's much easier to coax a rabbit into a cage than a carrier. Try calling Douglas and Andrew's names and offering them a treat once they've gone inside.
You'll be surprised how much you enjoy having them up there and interacting with you more; they'll become more socialized and you'll also have an easier go of allowing them their out-of-cage run around time.
***UPDATE from Nancy 2/18/2010***
I wanted to give you an update and thank you for your very sound advice. Douglas and Andrew moved into our back hall in a large dog crate last week. They have supervised reign of our kitchen when we’re home and they seem so very happy with the new set up. I can’t tell you how much fun it is for me to sit on the floor and have my coffee with them in the morning. So, thanks very much for your suggestion of moving them upstairs, we’re all a lot happier (Douglas hardly squeaks at me anymore – just a tiny bit if he doesn’t want his cheeks rubbed or he’s scared). Now on to training them to go into their cage upon command!