A little-known fun fact about rabbits is that they are very trainable pets. Because rabbits are naturally intelligent animals, they are easy to train using positive reinforcement. All tame bunnies can benefit from proper training.
Regardless if you want to train your rabbit to play fetch or just come when called, all rabbits need the mental stimulation of training. Some of the behavior issues seen in tame bunnies can be corrected or avoided by teaching your rabbit some basic tricks.
Through the use of a few inexpensive training tools and your rabbit’s favorite treats, you could have your rabbit literally have your rabbit jumping through hoops in no time at all. Teaching your rabbit to respond to command can make your life a lot easier. Imagine if your rabbit came when called, went into their cage on command, or stayed sitting for the vet during an exam.
You will need a few training tools to get started.
- Favorite Treats: You will want to get your rabbits favorite treat, the kind that makes them go just bonkers. Once you have settled on a treat, you will want to cut them down to small pieces. During training, your rabbit will receive several treats.
After you have decided what that treat will be, only give your rabbit that treat during training sessions, this keeps your rabbit all the more interested.
- Clicker: A clicker is a small handheld item that makes a clicking noise. The clicker is used to mark the desired behavior as well as communicating to the rabbit that a treat is on its way.
- Target Stick: You can either make your target stick or purchase one. A target stick is essentially a dowel with a small ball attached to the end.
If you want to make your own, you can attach a ping pong ball to the end of a dowel and voila you have a target stick. This tool encourages your rabbit to follow the ball at the end of the stick so you can lead them to where you want them to go.
- Patience and a Happy Voice: Training takes time and rabbits like people learn at different paces. If you find yourself getting frustrated end the session on a good note and try again later. Rabbits can be sensitive to your mood and will likely not respond as well if they sense your frustration.
Timing and Place are Everything:
Choose a time of day when your rabbit is hungry and alert. A hungry rabbit will be a lot more motivated to learn than one who just got done eating. Also, if you know your rabbit naps right after breakfast maybe set up training to be right after nap time.
Another factor to consider is distractions, you want to make sure that you will have your rabbit’s full attention so, you will want to choose a location that is quiet and calm.
Finally, keep your training sessions short, especially in the beginning. Training is fun and exciting when you see your rabbit picking up on the tricks, but be careful not to overdo it with them. Rabbits can burn out on training and you always want to finish training on a positive note while they are still engaged.
First, you will want your rabbit to start following the ball at the end of the target stick. If your rabbit likes bananas smear a small amount on the ball so that it attracts your rabbit. As soon as your rabbit starts to follow the target stick, click the clicker, and provide a treat quickly with happy praise.
You may have to wave it around gently to catch your rabbits’ attention or wave it slowly under your rabbit’s nose, but they will soon pick up on this game.
TIP: You can attach the clicker to the target stick to help free up your hands.
Continue to work on this until you are sure your rabbit is reliably following the stick.
Once your rabbit is happily following the target stick you can start on some obedience lessons.
Not all rabbits are good about going into their cage when it’s time for bed or time for you to leave the house, but it can be made simpler with the proper training.
Start your training session near the cage and NOT at a time when they have to stay in the cage.
- Start by using your target stick and luring the rabbit to the door of the cage. Once there, click and treat.
- Lure your rabbit away from the door and then back again in a large circle and click and treat.
- Once your rabbit is going to the cage door without being wary of it, start luring the rabbit to hop into the cage.
- As soon as the rabbit back feet are inside the cage, click, treat, and praise. Do NOT shut the door.
- After they have gone into the cage the first time, start putting a command to it, something like “Bedtime” or “Go In.” Do not make the command too complicated and be consistent. State your rabbit’s name before the command.
- Repeat this until your rabbit jumps into the cage effortlessly while following the target stick.
- Still using the treats, you can start using the verbal cue without the target stick, you may need to encourage them by showing them the treat.
- Once your rabbit is consistently going into the cage, you can start to wean them off the treats.
Tip: Do not force your rabbit into their cage, this is something they need to do on their own.
It is always nice when you can call your rabbit’s name, and they actually come hopping to you.
- Start down on the floor with your rabbit a few feet away
- Get your rabbit’s attention with the target stick and lure your rabbit into you.
- Once your rabbit is directly in front of you, click, reward, and praise
- Add in the verbal cue say their name and the command, it will sound like “Fluffy, come!” Remember to use a happy fun voice
- Eventually, stop using the stick and just use the verbal command
- Finally, start to slowly reduce the number of treats you give them, but do continue to reward and praise them verbally and with pets.
Eventually, you will be able to increase the distance from your rabbit and soon you will be calling your rabbit from the next room.
Beyond obedience, there are many fun tricks you can teach your rabbit, and you use the same technique as you used for obedience training. Teaching your rabbit new tricks is more than being able to show off to friends and family how smart your rabbit is, coaching your rabbit to learn new commands also keeps your rabbit mentally and physically stimulated. It’s not healthy for rabbits to lie around and munch on hay all day.
Here is a list of some clever tricks you can teach your rabbit:
- Figure eight: Using your target stick lead your rabbit in a figure eight pattern between your feet.
- Sit up: Starting with your rabbit with all four feet on the floor, place your target stick above their head and slowly raise it until they are sitting up
- Jumping: You can teach your rabbit to do hurdle style jumps or hoops, be sure to start with the jumps low to the ground and as your rabbit becomes more confident following the target stick over or through you can raise the barrier.
Agility Course for Rabbits
Agility courses are another great way to exercise your rabbit and keep them mentally engaged. Start with only one piece of equipment at a time then build, don’t set up the whole course and expect your rabbit to learn all of the equipment at the same time.
Here is a list of equipment that works well for rabbits:
- Tunnels to go through
- Rabbit walk, a raised platform with ramps on both ends
- Weave Poles
- Jumps both bars and rings
- A Frame
You can buy inexpensive agility kits that can be set up in your home or yard. Training a rabbit to go through the agility course is the same as training tricks or obedience. Start with them following the target stick, reward, and give a command.
Once your rabbit has learned two different pieces of the course, you can put them side by side and ask your rabbit to do one immediately following the other, then treat and praise at the end.
Changing from Target Stick to Finger
Once your rabbit is used to training and following the target stick, you can eliminate the stick and, start using your finger to direct and cue where you want your rabbit to go. Don’t ditch the training stick too early; you need to make sure that your rabbit is looking to you for direction before you can start using your finger to lure your rabbit to do tricks.
General Tips for Training:
- Use both visual and verbal cues – As you rabbit ages, they may lose their hearing or sight, so if you have taught your rabbit both verbal and visual commands, they will always be able to stay connected with you.
- A rabbit’s age or breed does not matter when training rabbits. All rabbits can learn new tricks.
- Make this a game for your rabbit; this should be a fun exercise for the two of you
- Only use one or two syllable word commands.
- Never yell or physically force your rabbit to do something. If your rabbit becomes scared during training they will likely shut down.
- Use small treats that are easy and fast for your rabbit to eat; otherwise, they may forget what they are doing and why they’re being rewarded.
- Don’t Rush training. Training of any kind takes time and repetition to get your rabbit to perform tricks reliably.
- Training time should not last more than 10 minutes in the beginning
Remember, not all rabbits learn the same so you may need to make adjustments to the training to suit you and your rabbit’s needs. For example, if your rabbit does not like the clicker noise or if your rabbit doesn’t hear so well, then you do not need to use it. Alternatively, if your rabbit is not food motivated, you will need to find something that does interest them so you can provide a reward when your rabbit has performed the action you requested.
Some rabbits, though not many, are scared of the target stick. If you find that your rabbit is too intimidated by the target stick, you can hold a treat in your hand to lure your rabbit to do the training.
Rabbits are often eager to learn, and it is our responsibility to provide for our rabbits with proper mental stimulation. If you take the time to train your fluffy friend, you will end up with a happy and talented rabbit. An additional bonus to training your rabbit is that the training time also provides quality bonding time for the two of you.
Can your litterbox train your rabbit? Absolutely! The key to litter box training is not to give your rabbit too much freedom before they are reliably litter box trained.
Can you train your rabbit to walk on a leash? Yes, but most rabbits don’t love focused walks, they would rather be out and about exploring.
Can you teach an old rabbit to do tricks? Yes, rabbits of all ages can learn to do tricks. In many animal shelters, rabbits are being taught to do tricks to help them become more appealing to potential adopters.
Do rabbits compete in jumping contests? Yes, there are rabbit jumping competitions the jumps are set up similar to hurdles. Also, there are some agility competitions for rabbits too.