Basic education

How to Discipline Your Rabbit With Positive Reinforcement

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. May 8, 2022
How to Discipline Your Rabbit With Positive Reinforcement

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Rabbits are easily frightened animals and can quickly lose their trust in us if we discipline them inappropriately. On the other hand, rabbits, like all pets, need to be taught how to behave. Punishing your rabbit will only make things worse in the long run. If your rabbit has been misbehaving or if you just adopted a young rabbit, know that there are many ways to improve their behavior without breaking their trust.

In this AnimalWised article, we will show you how to properly train and discipline your rabbit without jeopardizing their trust.

You may also be interested in: Positive Reinforcement in Cats
  1. Is it bad to punish a rabbit?
  2. How to discipline a rabbit with positive reinforcement
  3. How to potty train a rabbit
  4. How to teach your rabbit not to bite?

Is it bad to punish a rabbit?

Unfortunately, punishing rabbits with objects such as newspapers or other items is not an uncommon practice among rabbit keepers. If you use such methods, there is a risk that you will hurt your rabbit or that the rabbit will be afraid of you from now on. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to form a close bond with your rabbit in the future.

Remember that rabbits are by nature very fragile and fearful animals. Therefore, the use of violence or yelling when training a rabbit will only make them fear you and will not teach them anything. On the contrary, it will only make your rabbit more confused and their behavior will probably only get worse.

To properly train your rabbit, it is best to rely on positive reinforcement, which we also discuss in this other article on potty training rabbits.

How to discipline a rabbit with positive reinforcement

Rabbits are intelligent and social animals and can learn many things if we are patient enough to teach them. How much and how fast a rabbit can learn depends on each individual, since some rabbits like mental exercise and others not so much. If we want to train our rabbit, it is advisable to start as early as possible, because older rabbits are usually more reluctant to learn new things.

Most rabbits can not resist the temptation to eat fruits and vegetables, so positive reinforcement is an easy way to train them. If you use incentives correctly, most rabbits will respond accordingly. To train your rabbit with positive reinforcement, simply follow these basic rules:

  • Rewards should always be given immediately after the rabbit does something right. Be careful because if the rabbit does something else before you give them the treat, you will be reinforcing the wrong behavior.

  • Food is generally used as a motivator, but toys or even petting can also be a reward for your rabbit.

  • Carefully plan what you want your rabbit to do and break the task into small steps. Reward the rabbit as it completes each new step.

  • Rabbits usually flee or try to hide when they are scared. If your rabbit exhibits this behavior, find a way to make them feel more comfortable before continuing with the training.

  • When training a rabbit, it is better to take 5 to 10 minutes a day rather than longer training sessions on a less regular basis. This way you will keep the rabbit interested in learning, and they will not get bored.

  • You should never punish a rabbit for undesirable behavior. Instead, you can try other teaching methods, such as clicker training for rabbits, which reinforces association and improves learning. Try clicking exactly when the desired behavior occurs, so your rabbit knows what they did to get the reward.

  • Remember that rabbits respond primarily to tone of voice and facial expressions, not to specific words.

  • Avoid loud commands and yelling as rabbits are easily startled.

If you want to learn more about how the rabbit's mind works, do not miss our article, does your rabbit have memory?

    How to Discipline Your Rabbit With Positive Reinforcement - How to discipline a rabbit with positive reinforcement

    How to potty train a rabbit

    Rabbits should not be punished for relieving themselves outside the designated area. As mentioned earlier, harsh punishments such as spanking or yelling at rabbits will not make them more cooperative. Remember that litter training takes time, so you need to be both patient and persistent. Here are some tips that can make this process easier:

    • If your rabbit poops outside the designated area, tell them "no" in a firm voice and with eye contact, but without yelling.

    • Wipe up the urine with a paper towel, pick up the poop and put both in the litter box. In this way, you are communicating to your rabbit that the litter box is the place where they should do their business.

    • Do not forget to reward your rabbit with tasty food right after they use the litter box correctly.

    • If your rabbit insists on going to a corner of the room, sometimes it's easier to give in to their stubbornness and put a litter box in that corner.
    • If your rabbit poops/pees everywhere, it's probably because your rabbit is marking their territory. It is a good idea to have your rabbit neutered to help with territorial behavior.

    How to teach your rabbit not to bite?

    Rabbits are very sensitive, they tend to run away and hide, and if they get scared they can bite us. The first thing we need to do is to find out the real reason why our rabbit is biting us. It is very unlikely that they bite because they are aggressive. If we want to teach our rabbit not to bite, we need to pay attention to the circumstances in which this happens, which is usually one of the following:

    • Your rabbit bites if you pick him or her up from the floor: This means that your rabbit does not like to be picked up because they are afraid and feel unsafe. They may just not be used to being held yet. Your rabbit needs to learn to trust you. Be patient and lift them carefully, without squeezing them too much, but securely so they do not fall out of your arms. Then, after a few minutes, let them fall back to the floor. If at any point they bite you, do not yell at them or punish them. On the contrary, try to stay calm and tell them "no" in a firm tone.

    • The rabbit bites when you reach into the cage: The rabbit is probably scared or feels chased and threatened when you reach into the cage. When rabbits can not run away, they resort to their last resort to defend themselves and bite. Remember that your rabbit needs to feel safe. First, show them that you are not a threat and offer them food from your hand in the cage. This way the rabbit learns that a hand in the enclosure is a good thing and that there is no reason to be afraid.

    • The rabbit bites when you feed him or her: sometimes rabbits will bite the hand they are being fed with, but usually this is unintentional. Rabbits can not see very well up close, and if your hand smells like fresh food, they may bite you unintentionally. Do not be angry with them.

    If you live with a rabbit or are thinking of adopting one, do not miss our complete guide to rabbit raising tips.

    How to Discipline Your Rabbit With Positive Reinforcement - How to teach your rabbit not to bite?

    If you want to read similar articles to How to Discipline Your Rabbit With Positive Reinforcement, we recommend you visit our Basic education category.

    • Olivero, R. (1998). Rabbit Behavior . INIA Disclosure Sheet.
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