Can Pet Rabbits Be Potty Trained?
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Nowadays, there are many families that decide to adopt a rabbit as a pet. It's not surprising as these sweet and intelligent animals make the perfect housemates. However, to achieve a peaceful and harmonious coexistence, it's best to train and educate your rabbit using positive reinforcement.
In this AnimalWised article, we are going to help you potty train your rabbit, teach them how to do tricks and more.
Characteristics of rabbits
In order to educate your furry friend, you must first understand what attributes characterize them.
- They are lagomorphs: rabbits are small quadruped mammals, meaning that they rest on four legs. They belong to the order of lagomorphs, which are distinguished from rodents because of the fact that they have two pairs of upper incisor teeth. Rodents only have one pair. In addition, they are from the same family as hares, the Leporidae family.
- Physical appearance: their physical appearance is characterized by having bodies covered with abundant hair. The color of their hair can vary (white, brown, golden, etc.) and is presented either homogeneously, diffused or with spots. These animals can weigh between 2 - 17 lbs depending on their rabbit breed. They also have an oval head, round eyes and long ears between 2 - 3 inches, in addition to a small tail.
- They are herbivores: rabbits are herbivorous animals, therefore, they can only feed on vegetables. They have a denture that allows them to gnaw hard foods that are part of their diet, such as seeds. If you want to learn more about how to care for your pet rabbit, read our article on Rabbit Care.
- They are very sociable: rabbits are known to thrive in a community. Bunnies need a lot of companionship, if not they are prone to depression and health problems. Many veterinarians recommend adopting two so they can keep each other's company. However, it's also important to spray or neuter them immediately to avoid future health issues and mating.
- They are prey: in wildlife, rabbits are prey animals. This means that they are very agile, they get easily frightened by sudden movements and they have acute hearing. This helps them hear the slightest sound and flee if they suspect that a predator is stalking them.
- High reproductive capacity: due to their prey status, they have a high reproductive capacity. A female rabbit is able to birth approximately 30 rabbits per year. Learn more in our article about a rabbit's pregnancy.
How to gain your rabbit's trust
As we have previously mentioned, rabbits tend to be rather fearful. This means that they can have a more elusive or reserved behavior if we do not know how to properly connect with them. This may also depend on their breed. For example, Lop rabbits tend to be calmer than Dwarf rabbits. Nevertheless, each rabbit is unique and has their own personality.
1. Be patient
To be able to train our rabbit, it's important to establish a good relationship from an early age. To do so, it's crucial for us to be patient with our rabbit. Both, teaching and learning, is a time-consuming process. Both parties should be enjoying this activity. To build a real connection with your rabbit, you need them to trust you. This is why you should never use punishment to train them. Positive reinforcement is the only way for them to be happy and healthy, while also learning tricks with you. We should never make them feel scared. They are hypersensitive, so be careful not to yell or scare them with sudden movements.
Keep in mind that a rabbit may take a few months to adapt to a new home and new people. Give them space and time.
2. Let them approach you
When interacting with our bunny we must try to bend down to their level. We are very tall in comparison to rabbits, this can be very intimidating for them. For this reason, when you want to interact with them, try sitting near your bunny and allow them to come to you. They are very curious animals by nature so if you are patient, they will come to inspect you.
3. Avoid sudden movements
When they approach you, resist the urge to immediately pet them. First, let them explore you so they can understand that you are not a threat. Then, gradually, begin interacting with them. However, you want to avoid sudden movements as that may scare them away. You can start by petting their body, avoid the head for now. Always use a soft tone of voice because of their sensitive ears. You can also offer a piece of carrot or apple as positive reinforcement.
4. Take them into your arms (carefully)
Once you have established a bond of trust and observe that they are not scared when they are around you. You can sit next to them and allow them to inspect you once again. After that, you can try to take them into your arms. Do this slowly and carefully. Begin for a short time and near the ground. Always reward them with little gifts or by caressing them if they like that. Remember that rabbits do not generally enjoy being held and being in “the air”. This can generate a lot of fear since it is usually predators that lift them up.
How to potty train a rabbit
Firstly, we must keep in mind that rabbits are clean animals that like to have a specific space to do their necessities. When they are small, they do not have control over their bowel movements so they will defecate and urinate anywhere. If the rabbit you have adopted is already an adult, it's recommended to take them to their veterinarian to neuter them. This way, you can avoid your rabbit trying to mark their territory around your home.
1. Add a litter box
To train your rabbit to do their necessities in an adequate area, you can begin by adding a litter box to their cage with a specific substrate for rabbits. Make sure it is large enough for the amount of rabbits you have. By using the correct substrate, you are already encouraging the rabbit to defecate in the correct area. However if you see that they are doing their necessities at the border of their litter box, then you can pick them up and place them inside the litter box. This only applies to rabbits that already feel safe being lifted up by their companions. If this is not the case for your rabbit, avoid picking them up as it will cause a lot of stress in them.
2. Correct them (positively)
When your rabbit does their necessities outside of their litter box, it is up to you to pick them up with a cloth or toilet paper and place them in their litter box. You must thoroughly clean where they have gone so they do not associate that area with leaving their urine or feces. You can buy special cleaning products in your local pet store. When it comes to cleaning their litter box, you must wash it and fill it with clean substrate. You can leave a little bit of the old substrate to preserve the smell and remind them where they must go for those needs.
3. Positive reinforcement
Finally, positive reinforcement can definitely help train your rabbit. Each time you see your rabbit doing their necessities in their litter box, you can reward them with a small prize, such as their favorite food or by petting them. This way, they will associate the behavior with the reward and repeat it more frequently.
How to teach a rabbit not to bite
Although it is popularly believed that rabbits are peaceful animals, they can surprise you by manifesting aggressive behavior such as biting. If you've seen this type of behavior in your rabbit you might be interested in knowing how to stop it. Before getting to the training, it's important to know what caused your rabbit to become aggressive. Here are the most common reasons:
As we've mentioned before, rabbits can generally feel threatened because of their prey nature. For this reason, if they have not gotten used to us yet, they will flee. However, if they feel cornered and do not have the possibility to flee, they will defend themselves by biting.
Perhaps you have tried to train your rabbit with aggressive strategies. If this is the case, they will be very frightened and will try to defend themselves with fleeing or biting. It will take some time to make them feel comfortable with you again. The only way to correct this behavior will be to be patient, use positive reinforcement and help them understand that you are not a threat anymore. Once they learn to trust you and are no longer afraid of you, they will stop defending themselves by biting.
If your bunny wasn't scared when you approached them but had a sudden change in character when you touched them in a specific area, they may be experiencing pain. If your furry had no problems when you related to him, but has made a sudden change in behavior by becoming aggressive when you touch him, it is very likely that he has experienced or experienced pain. For more information, check out our article on how to identify pain in rabbits.
You may have accidentally hurt him and this has caused them to associate you as a threat. In this case we must simply devote time so that they understand that we will not hurt them again.
Another possibility is that they have been injured. In this case, it's important to bring them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
It is possible that your rabbit has a rebellious attitude because their needs are not being met. For example:
- They are not comfortable in their accommodation
- They are locked in their cage for a long time
- They need more time to play
- They are feeling lonely
- They are feeling stressed
If any of these situations occur, the rabbit will feel frustrated and may react aggressively. In addition, rabbits that cannot exercise properly can develop physical pathologies that generate pain.
Keep in mind that rabbits need company to feel safe. For this reason, if a rabbit is feeling lonely, they will feel more nervous and may react aggressively. If you cannot spend more time with your rabbit, you can consider adopting another rabbit so they can keep each other's company when you are away.
4. Protecting something valuable
Some rabbits can bite when we approach something that is valuable to them, such as:
- Their territory (generally, their cage)
- Their bowl of food
- Another rabbit that is their friend
The rabbit may find it a priority to protect something and may observe us as a threat. Consequently, they will bite us trying to defend whatever they are protecting.
Once again, we must generate a bond of trust from the beginning to avoid this situation. In these cases, to rectify this behavior, we must gradually approach the protected element and reward the rabbit if they allow us to approach without biting us. We must be very patient, since depending on the rabbit, learning may take a few days. . In case that they hurt us again, we must avoid at all costs punishing them because we will only achieve the opposite of what we want, since we will become an even greater threat.
Rabbits can show aggressive behavior towards us or other rabbits usually in the spring, which is the natural breeding season for rabbits. This aggression is hormonal and indicates a normal desire to defend their territory and drive any rivals away.
If we have ruled out the most common cases mentioned above, we should take them to the veterinarian. For more information, you can read our article on aggression in rabbits.
How to teach a rabbit to come when called
Rabbits are both social and intelligent animals with great hearing skills. They will enjoy spending time with you and even more when their intellectual skills are challenged with positive reinforcement. A great trick to teach them is to come when you call their name. Here we will explain how to train your rabbit to come by hearing their name.
1. Bonding and trust
As we've previously mentioned, before training it is crucial that you bond with your rabbit and that they feel that they are safe with you and can trust you. Follow our tips above to establish a good relationship from an early age with your rabbit.
Although rabbits are best kept in pairs, training is more effective on a one-to-one basis. Try the following steps with each of your bunnies. Training first begins with creating a good relationship. This simply means hanging out with you bunnies and giving them small rewards when they get close to you and interact with you.
3. Trail of treats
This first step is creating a treat trail leading to you. Softly call out their name as they come and begin eating their treats. Once they've come to you, you can pet them as extra positive reinforcement. This first step will help them understand that you are trustworthy and their friend. You will give them treats when you call them, and they love that. So they will keep an eye out for when you call their name.
4. Call them for breakfast
The second step is to call out your rabbit's name when you fill up their food supply. As they grow up, they will get used to hearing you call their name and coming to you. They will continue to do this even when treats are not involved. They'll later come to you when you call, even if there is no food involved. It's also important to mention that it's best to avoid commercially sold rabbit treats, as they can lead to weight gain or even produce other health issues in the future. In fact, your rabbit will thank you for smaller and healthier treats. Some good examples are dandelion leaves, parsley, basil or even a piece of an apple.
The next step to training them to come when you call their name, is including training when you're playing with them. For example, the next play-time you can try stepping away from them a little bit and calling them by their name. Hold out a little treat as you call them. Once they come, you can reward them with the treat. Then you move a little farther away and call them again. They will see this as a game of hide-and-seek. Each time you call them, they will come and run to you. This is another way of training them positively. They will associate you and your calling to something positive. So they will trust you and come to you. Some companions even experience their rabbits following them around their home.
How to teach tricks to your rabbit
Once you've establish trust with your rabbit and began playing with them and even training them to come when you call the, now you're ready to teach them other tricks. There are many tricks you can teach your bunny: rolling over, walking in between your legs, jumping over your leg, laying down and even skateboarding. This may surprise you as many people don't know how intelligent rabbits are and how to train them positively.
By using positive reinforcement and the clicker method, many rabbit trainers have been able to teach their furry friends to do many tricks. In fact, there are many bunny jumping competitions and obstacle courses. However, we are going to start with the basics.
How to teach your rabbit to give you a high five
- Place yourself in front of your rabbit. Hold your hand flat out with your palm facing up. Hold a treat with your other hand to lure your rabbit forward towards the hand you're holding out.
- When your rabbit walks forward and places their paw on your hand, you can reward them with a click and treat.
- Once your rabbit has gotten used to this trick you can challenge them a little more. Now you will do the same thing but hold your hand out slightly higher.
- After practicing it a little high for a few days, your rabbit is now ready for a more difficult version. This time you will flip your hand around so your palm is facing your rabbit. This is very difficult for them so remember to be patient and lure them in with a healthy treat.
- Your rabbit will need to stand up to give you a high five. Once they are able to do so, reward them with a clock and reward!
How to teach your rabbit to jump an obstacle
- First, you will need an obstacle to jump. You can create one with a 1L juice box from home or any other small object, depending on the size of your rabbit. You can also purchase them at a local pet store.
- Next, you will need a treat. You can also use a clicker or a target stick. The target stick is the most used with rabbit trainers as it will facilitate the training of other obstacle courses too. The treat will be placed inside the tip of the target stick so that it is clear for the rabbit what they must do in order to get the treat.
- Now you must simply place the obstacle in front of them and lure them to jump and follow the treat.
- Next, you can remove the treat from the stick. Your rabbit will continue to pursue the stick simply because training with positive reinforcement is fun for your rabbit.
- Finally, you can move the stick a couple of inches away from your rabbit and allow them to follow it as they challenge their agility skills through an obstacle.
Once your rabbit has mastered these tricks, you can continue to spend time with them learning new tricks. It's important to offer this entertainment to your rabbit as it will help their mental and physical health. This will also help evolve your relationship with them. Learn more about how to keep them entertained with our article on the best toys for rabbits.
If you want to read similar articles to Can Pet Rabbits Be Potty Trained?, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.
- The Rabbit Welfare Association & Fund. (2019). Aggression in rabbits. https://rabbitwelfare.co.uk/rabbit-care-advice/aggression-rabbits/
- Ramnaraine, A. (2017). Bonding with your rabbit. https://rabbit.org/bonding-with-your-rabbit/
- McClure, D. (2020). Description and Physical Characteristics of Rabbits. Animal Resource Center Veterinary Services. https://www.msdvetmanual.com/all-other-pets/rabbits/description-and-physical-characteristics-of-rabbits