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Are rabbits shy?

Are rabbits shy?

One of the most common misconceptions people have about rabbits is that they like to be held and cuddled. This is probably because they look like plush toys. Unfortunately, many people buy rabbits without realizing the true nature of rabbits, and that’s one of the main reason these lovely, intelligent creatures are “dumped” shortly after they reach sexual maturity and begin to assert their strong personalities.

My Bunny Doesn’t Like to Be Held. What Can I Do?

You are distressed that the bunny does not like to be held. Consider for a moment, however, the natural history of the rabbit. This is a ground-dwelling animal that is a prey item for many predators. It is completely against the nature of the rabbit to be held far above the ground where it cannot control its own motions and activities. When you *force* him/her to be held against her will, you reinforce her notion that you are a predator who is trying to restrain her. Holding her while she struggles and kicks is not only dangerous for you and the children (because their claws can become sharp if not trimmed regularly), but for the rabbit.

How Can I Better Understand My Bunny’s Shy Behavior?

To understand rabbit behavior, you have to begin to think more like a rabbit!

Remember: A rabbit, unlike a dog or cat, evolved as a *prey* species. Dogs and cats are predators. Also, dogs and cats have been bred for centuries to not be afraid of humans. Rabbits have been bred primarily for meat, fur and physical characteristics. That means that when you adopt a bunny, you adopt a lovely, domestic animal with the heart and spirit of a wild animal. It is much more challenging to win the trust of this sensitive, intelligent creature than it is to win the heart of a puppy or kitten, who has been bred to trust you from birth.

Most rabbits are naturally shy. It is up to you, the flexible human, to compromise and alter your behavior so that the bunny understands that you are a friend.

How Can I Win Back My Rabbit’s Trust?

Here’s the best way to win your rabbit’s trust:

• You and bunny should be together in a private, quiet room. No other pets. No distractions.

• Have a little treat, such as a carrot or a tiny piece of apple, banana or a little pinch of oats in your hand.

• Lie on your tummy on the floor and let the bunny out. Don’t expect him to approach you right away. Remain quiet and patient, even if it takes an hour or more. Rabbits are naturally curious, and eventually, he will come over to sniff you.

• Resist the temptation to reach out and pet the bunny. Instead, let him sniff you, hop on you and just get to know your smell. This will teach him that you are not a threat. Since your bunny already likes to be petted, this probably won’t be a problem!

• If the bunny finds the treat you have, hold it while he nibbles.

• Do this every day. Gradually, you can start to pet the bunny by giving him a gentle “scritch” on the forehead (bunnies love this!). Never force anything, and *never* chase the bunny. This will only undo all the patient sitting you have done to gain his trust.

• Once the bunny learns that you are a friend, he will bond very strongly to you. It’s important to have him neutered (or her spayed, if it’s a girl) once she/he reaches sexual maturity, because otherwise she/he’ll want to make love to everything. Spay/neuter will stop this behavior, and it will eliminate the very real risk of ovarian/uterine cancer in females. Spay/neuter will also make litterbox training easier and more reliable. Be sure you have a vet do this who is *very experienced* with rabbits!

• Imagine what the world looks like to this bunny. She’s surrounded by a new environment, and there’s a big, strange-smelling animal that’s always looming over her. She has no idea you’re trying to be friendly. Her “hard wiring” says: “AAAAAAAA. It’s going to EAT MEEEE. ” So it’s up to you, the new bunny parent, to provide her with quiet, safe space where he can learn to feel secure.

Also: when bringing your bunny out for a romp, instead of pulling her out of the cage, rig the cage so that you can open the door and she can come and go as she pleases. (If the cage has a ramp, be sure to cover the wire with a towel or mat so her foot doesn’t get caught!)

If you continually drag her out and put her into the cage, she will have a harder time learning to trust. Rabbits like to be the masters of their own mobility! They hate being carried around, even though they look like little stuffed toys. They have very strong personalities, and can be very aggressive when they feel threatened.

Be sure all electrical wires and phone cords are out of the bunny’s reach!

Try to see the world through your bunny’s eyes, and put yourself in her place. No one speaks her language, she has been taken from her family and the only home she has ever known, and she has no idea whether you plan to love her, cage her forever, or eat her! You need to gradually and patiently earn her trust. It can take days, weeks or months, and depends on the personality of the individual rabbit.

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Shy Bunnies – How to Gain Their Trust

Some bunnies are trusting, confident, and immediately enjoy the attention of their new families (like Bunny), others are shy and skittish and require more time to feel secure (like Bailey). Rabbits have different needs based on their distinctive personalities, but all of them are worth loving. Our Bailey was extremely shy and skittish when we adopted her. Here’s what we did to earn her trust after our first failed bonding attempt, which convinced us to give her time alone in the new house before introducing her to Bunny again.

We placed her cage in the room that I spend most of my time in: the office. During the day, the cage door was always open and I worked away on my computer near her. Bailey didn’t come out for several whole days, but I didn’t force her. Instead, I talked to her, gave her food, and offered treats without petting her or picking her up. If you don’t work from home, you can read a book near your bunny or watch TV instead. The goal is to get the rabbit used to your presence, knowing you are not a threat.

Several days passed and finally Bailey hopped out of her cage and explored the house timidly without us interfering. We made sure that she had several safe spots that were clearly meant for her in the room and all the other rooms she had access to. This is important! If Bailey thought that the only thing that was hers was the cage, she might not have spent as much time outside of her cage as quickly as she did or she might have picked spots that weren’t ideal. It worked well for us. For example, there was space between the cage and the wall, which created a little tunnel. A towel with a pile of hay was also nearby and she had a cardboard box with two entrances. Interestingly, Bailey loved two things that created a little barrier between her and the rest of the room without locking her in. One was a cardboard box without a top and 3-4″ sides all around. The other was her wire cage top, which we placed on the floor with the top lid open, so she could look out. Even though it didn’t truly make her safe, she felt protected and even let us pet her head while sitting in the box or behind the cage top.

Rabbit Safe Spot

She also had access to the bedroom, so she was able to sleep under the bed, which is what she did now for 10+ hours every day. The rest of the time she’d spend in one of her other spots. 4-5 times a day one of us would place a treat near the bed or wherever else she slept at the time. After a while, she even let us hold the treat while she ate. We let this under-the-bed routine go on for several weeks and Bailey became more and more confident around the house and with us. Whenever she was in a cuddly mood (which didn’t happen often), she let me kiss her head, wrap my arms around her for a few seconds, and a couple of times she even groomed my hand. Still, she didn’t like being approached in the open, only when she was in one of her safe spots.

Timid Rabbit Getting a Treat

Bailey peeking out from under the bed to eat some fresh grass.

At this point it became clear that she wasn’t truly a part of the family, because she spent so much time under the bed. It was a great way to calm her down at first, but now she needed to be included in family activities, which usually take place in the living room. The bonding process (with Bunny) started all over again, but I will not focus on that for this article. Bailey now had a playpen in the living room next to Bunny and got to hop around while we ate dinner, watched TV, talked about our day, and so on. There were safe spots for her in the room, but nothing to completely hide under for hours at a time. Again, we let her explore without forcing any cuddles. Sometimes she’d come to one of us sitting on the floor, nudged us, and accepted some head rubs.

As she became more confident around the house, the bonding also progressed nicely. Once Bailey and Bunny were bonded, both of the playpens were removed, but we left a corner of it standing for a few weeks, because it made Bailey feel safe. We didn’t know if it would stay there always or if it wouldn’t be necessary in the future. Luckily, we got to get rid of it eventually. It’s been many months and Bailey is still shy, but her bossy personality is coming out slowly. She often pushes our hand away if she doesn’t want to be cuddled (or if we’re doing it wrong) instead of racing away. She doesn’t demand headrubs like Bunny does, but she accepts them when she feels like it. She comes running over whenever she thinks one of us has a treat and she’s a part of the family. With a little more patience, she will be just as confident and trusting as Bunny, no doubt about it.

Here are the main points in a nutshell:

  1. Be patient. Really patient. You might need MONTHS of patience.
  2. Don’t force anything. Only pick the rabbit up if absolutely necessary for its health.
  3. Spend time near the rabbit, but do your own thing.
  4. Feed treats for positive association. Hand-feed if possible. Calmly talk to your bun every now and then.
  5. Leave the playpen/cage open. Create other safe bunny spots around the room/house.
  6. Let the rabbit come to you. Offer treats and light pets.
  7. Respect your rabbit. Every bun is different and while yours may never hop into your bed to snuggle, it has other qualities that make it lovable and a joy to be around.

The in-between stage with the baby gates still up to make Bailey feel safe.

Our current free-range set-up. The bunnies love it! They often cuddle under the ramp.

Proof that Bailey feels utterly at home. She won’t even budge an inch when we vacuum around her.

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