Understanding Your Rabbits: Bonding & Dominant Behaviors

First Introductions

First Introductions

Today – while helping a client bond her two rabbits – I had a break through when discussing those pesky dominant behaviors we all see our rabbits engage in during the bonding process.  A lot of people have a hard time seeing their rabbits bicker and scuffle so when I’m dealing with clients and their rabbits I like to put each situation into perspective for them – to help them see the situation from their rabbits point of view.  As I was explaining MY perspective on the rabbit relationship to my client, it dawned on me that many people who contact me feel the same way.  Depressed, agitated, and a loss of hope due to dominant behavioral issues within the pair or group.

Why do my rabbits react so aggressively when they meet another rabbit?

Rabbits are not naturally aggressive.  They are herd animals and as such, love friends!  However, rabbits are also very complex little creatures and very sensitive to boot.  The bonds they establish with their partner and group mates are for LIFE.  Take a look at it from a different angle.

We as humans love friends as well.  When we are establishing and developing a budding relationship with a significant other are we satisfied and ready to move in after the third date?  Usually not.   It takes time to build and establish trust.  The foundation of a rabbit relationship is built on TRUST.  If the group cannot establish trust, they will not be able to trust the other rabbit(s) in a dangerous or life-threatening situation.  Rabbits live in groups to help defend and protect themselves against predators.  This makes trust a HUGE deal to them as they have to rely on others to ensure their own safety and the safety of their offspring.  If one rabbit within the group is not trusted, the entire warren is at risk.   They may be small little creatures but their complex relationships are an instinct built for survival.

Along with that comes the hierarchy.   The only way to have a safe and secure warren is to ensure that the right rabbit is at the top of the group.  A weak rabbit leading the group is dangerous for the entire warren. And this is what makes the bonding process so terrible for us humans.  Watching our rabbits butt their heads to figure out who will be the “top bun” of the bunch.  When bonding, this needs to be deemed as a normal step in the bonding process.  Shying away from their natural  behaviors makes it much more difficult for your rabbits to bond as these behaviors are how they instinctively create and organize their warrens.

With this being said, your main job as the Bonder is to to control these situations and disagreements so no one gets injured.   You can also use certain ideas and techniques to help guide them in the right direction.  My main go-to when dealing with particularly aggressive rabbits is stress bonding.  Stress bonding hones in on their natural instincts.  It puts both rabbits on alert and encourages them to rely on each other (THE NATURAL INSTINCT) to overcome any obstacle, fear, or danger they may be facing.  This in turn helps to create and build a mutual trust between the two bickering buns.

Some stress bonding ideas include:

  • The bath tub – this works well because the floor is slippery and makes it difficult for either rabbit to get a good grip on the floor.  The inability to stand upright with a solid grip will put *most* rabbits on alert.  An alert rabbit is less focused on the new rabbit and more focused on his safety.
  • A laundry basket on top of the dryer – the shaking of the dryer will help to put both rabbits on alert and will hone in on that instinct to come together.  The uncertainty of the situation will discourage fighting (as a scared rabbit is more likely to flee than fight) and encourage them to turn to the other rabbit next to them for comfort and security during the stressful situation.
  • Cardboard box & vacuum cleaner – this works well if your rabbit is scared of the vacuum.  Every time they scuffle, you can turn the vacuum on which will *typically* stop most rabbits in their tracks.  Again, putting them on alert.  If the vacuum ends up not working, you can quickly and gently begin shaking the box – mimicking the movement of a laundry basket on top of the dryer.
  • Car ride – a car ride is great as most rabbits are not relaxed while in a vehicle.  This also puts most rabbits on alert and encourages both rabbits to seek out comfort from one another.

Although these techniques are not guaranteed to work, I hope to teach others to understand their rabbits and their natural reactions to accepting one or multiple new rabbits into their group.   Understanding certain behaviors your rabbit presents is a key essential to having success bonding particularly difficult rabbits.  By understanding your rabbits and their reactions, you are better able to build a bonding strategy that will encourage positive interactions and the quick establishment of a well-defined hierarchy.

Rabbit Bonding Series Part 5: Bonding my Sextet

The introduction of Lacey, my sixth rabbit, was by far my easiest bond to date!  If you’re just getting started, definitely go back through the beginning of the bonding series.  (It’s essential to understanding just how I got to this point in bonding my warren of rabbits!)

Meet Lacey: 

lacey

This time around, I began introductions with an x-pen in the kitchen on the slippery tiled floor.  I put Lacey wwt1in the pen first and then added everyone else one by one.  In the beginning they just walked around looking at their new surroundings but after a few minutes Lacey began mounting everyone.   Tip number one:  KEEP THE MOUNTING UNDER CONTROL!  One of the ways I was able to control the situation with beginning introductions of a large group was by maintaining control of the situation.  By stopping reactions before they can lead to something bigger, you’re helping the group begin on a positive foot.  I let Lacey mount for no longer than 5 seconds, even less if someone was showing signs of agitation.   About a half hour into the session, they began light nipping but no chasing or fighting.  Which was really impressive.  After about a half hour, four out of five bunnies had groomed Lacey!  One right after the other they followed suit in coming up to groom her.

A half hour later, I decided to go for it and added in their dish of pellets for dinner.  Tip number two:  KNOWING WHEN TO MOVE FORWARD IS ESSENTIAL TO PROGRESS.  I ultimately decided to try the food dish for a few reasons.  The first reason being none of my rabbits are food aggressive.  wwt2This makes introducing food much easier as no one is territorial about it and it gives them something to focus on besides each other.   If your rabbits are fighting – then they’re not ready to move to this stage.   The second reason – I was having such positive interactions between everyone.  The more rabbits I have added, the more in tune I have become with my group and their reactions to other bunnies.  As there was little attention (or care) being paid to the new bunny and most interactions WERE positive, I felt we could move forward.  If you end up trying to move forward and encounter issues, take a step back with your rabbits and focus on the previous area you were using that had positive results.

Nora particularly seemed the most interested in Lacey.  Whether this was negative or positive was near impossible to tell.  (I’m not even sure she knew!)  Her and Lacey had quite a few demanding head grooms along with lunging at each other but with no nipping or chasing!  Typically nips in my groups have led to chasing so I felt like we had progressed a bit beyond their usual beginning steps in bonding.   I did find it interesting that whenever Nora would try and lunge at Lacey, the Tans interfered.  They would put their bodies between the two so Nora couldn’t bother Lacey any longer.   I think my Tans were keeping better control of the group than I was!  (Curious as to whether this becomes a normal reaction with established hierarchy in larger groups!)

The second date…. They had seemed to be indifferent to Lacey being inside the area with them but it was obvious no one had established a pecking order yet.  This time, I quickly added in a water dish and some wwt4toys.   No one was having any issues so an hour in, I added litter boxes into the mix.   With the addition of the litter boxes, I got mixed results.  Sometimes they would let Lacey come into the litter box and other times they would lunge to get her away from it.   There was really no consistency to who was letting her in and who was chasing her out so I wasn’t too worried about not progressing.  I found her multiple times “hanging” with a new bun inside different boxes which was extremely encouraging.   Another hour went by before it was dinner time.  Everyone ate nicely with absolutely no problems!  Tip number three:  KNOWING WHEN TO TAKE A STEP BACK!!   With the addition of many different objects, my group did fairly well (this time around – they have definitely taken many steps back in the past).  However, if you notice increased aggression with little to no positive behavior, you will need to take a step back and re-evaluate the situation between your rabbits.  This could mean something as simple as they’re just not ready for this step (waiting an extra day or two in an area with positive behaviors can do wonders for establishing a stable foundation to build off from) OR the situation doesn’t quite fit their “style” (changing things around in the area or changing to a whole new area can help throw the rabbits off enough to help keep the peace as you switch to a new step in the bonding process).

wwt3

Due to the increased progress I established in this bonding session, I decided to go for it and went straight to an all-nighter.   I decided quite early on in the night that I had no intentions of separating until bonded from this point forward.  Which leads to – Tip number four:  KNOWING WHEN MARATHON-BONDING IS A GOOD IDEA!  The main purpose of marathon bonding is to officially cement the growing bond between your rabbits.  Knowing when your rabbits are ready to make this jump can definitely be tricky.   My personal rule of thumb is what happens after a two to four hour session?  Do you notice increased aggression or does everyone begin to settle down after awhile?   A lot of times I’ve noticed that rabbits will  have more increased aggression in the beginning of a session than towards the end – which is how I came up with the marathon bonding.  Every time I began a long session with my rabbits (not overnight), they would have the same battle day after day when first put together.  They always seemed to calm down but the next day, they’d have the same issue, no matter how many of these daily sessions we did.  Quite frankly, we hit a wall.  Marathon bonding allowed me to get them over this issue by not separating them at all.  Not separating eliminated the issue of re-establishing their dominance at the beginning of each session and they will able to continue forward with establishing a hierarchy.  The key to marathon bonding is understanding and recognizing the positives of what is happening as the group establishes an order between themselves.  Marathon bonding is HARDwwt14. WORK.  I cannot stress that enough.  It’s exhausting, it’s grueling, and it’s time consuming.  You WILL want to give up and it’s nearly impossible some nights to not just separate them long enough to get a few hours of shut eye, especially when it seems like the bickering will never end.  The easiest solution for me with marathon bonding, to ensure I was making the right decision with them, was to keep a log every two to three hours of how the group was doing.    During the tough moments when it felt like everyone was aggravating each other, I could go back and read the passages I had written before.  Was I seeing a positive in the group at certain times despite the bickering at other times?  If yes, I encourage to continue pushing through.  If no positives are coming from the marathon bonding – I would suggest stepping back and seeing if you need to re-evaluate your bonding strategy to ensure marathon bonding is the right step for you and your rabbits at this particular point in their relationship.  Marathon bonding is meant to establish and cement a semi-existing bond, not to create one (although this does not mean this is impossible, it’s just more unlikely).

Now on to my all-nighter!  I changed up the area a bit (so I could fit my air mattress in next to them!) The wwt5buns did awesome until about 4:30am.  They had been together for close to 10 hours by this time when all heck broke loose!  I had managed to fall asleep for a few minutes and woke up to a whirlwind of buns in the x-pen!  I’m not even sure if THEY knew who they were chasing as everyone was just running a circle.  I immediately grabbed the x-pen, shook it, and yelled “STOP!” really loud.  Every bunny halted right in place (and all of them had a mouthful of fur in their mouths!).  I did a quick check-over, no one was injured, and after a minute or two all were back to normal and laying down nicely together again.   Tip number five:  DO NOT FREAK OUT!!  No one wants to see their bunnies bickering or arguing but unfortunately, this is how rabbits deal with bunnies they are annoyed with!  Being too cautious can interfere with your bond so know when to be worried and when to step back.  This is, of course, easier said than done.  I was a nervous wreck when I got them all settled down (funny because I was feeling so confident beforehand!).   These things happen when bonding but the positives in our bonding session had definitely outweighed the negatives – one big scuffle in 10 hours?   Really, that’s awesome!  Of course, when your heart is pounding a million miles a minute, it can definitely be hard to see the light in the situation!   But find it – it’s your key to survival during a marathon bonding session!

wwt9The most intriguing thing to me within the group bonding was the constantly changing of who the “aggressor” was each time I added a new rabbit.  I hear an extreme amount of people who claim that some rabbits are meant to be loners.   Bonding my group has led me to believe just the opposite.  Each rabbit has their own unique set of quirks and personality.  Their relationships are a lot more complex than many bonders have led me (and others) to believe.   But I’ll leave this for another blog post!  Back to the aggressor – the aggressor has always changed.  In most cases within my group, I felt it was always the bottom rabbit causing the problems.  Establishing their dominance in hopes of not being on the bottom anymore.  However, Sidney has been the aggressor before as well and she has shown no signs of ever being the “bottom bun”.

After they kept up the positive interaction throughout most of the next day (pushing us over 24 hours together), I decided to make the area smaller once again in hopes of encouraging more interaction.  They were interacting but at some points I felt they were chasing Lacey off by wwt10herself.   I wanted to nip that in the bud before it became the “norm” with them.   I made the area an extreme sort of small for six buns and gave them their daily veggies sprinkled in the litter boxes.  If you recall from my previous bonding adventures, I have always used the smaller cardboard box to increase interaction before upgrading them to the x-pen.  This time, I chose to continue in the x-pen rather than switching them into a new territory to see how they would react.  It became a little too crowded with the litter boxes so after about an hour (when they were done with veggies) I took away the litter boxes and decreased the size of the pen even more.   In this tiny area, they did wonderful together.  Everyone finally just laid around with each other.  The small size of the x-pen forced snuggling which no one seemed to mind too much.

After two hours together in their small area, I made the final decision to make the jump from the x-pen in the kitchen to what would be their final shared territory.   I added in new items, like a brand new Cottontail Cottage, to help encourage curiosity rather than territorial behaviors (by making their shared area look completely different).   They were all great at first but Tanger became pretty territorial of the Cottaintail Cottage with Lacey so I removed the cottage from the situation and voila!  They did wonderfully together for over 6 hours.  By bedtime, I decided to make their shared territory smaller as I noticed Lacey hiding in one particular corner (making it smaller also removed that corner so she couldn’t hide in that specific spot).

It worked beautifully.  The next morning, I opened up the space again.  We officially deemed them bonded a day later with little to no chasing.  No actual scuffling.  And everyone had spent hours cuddling with different combinations of rabbits, all which included our new family member, Lacey!

And as a parting gift – Tip number six:  DO NOT EXPECT IT TO BE THIS EASY!  As I’ve discussed, this bond was one of my easiest bonds, taking less than five days to complete.  Throughout the bonding of my group from a trio, to a quartet, to a quintet, and now a sextet, I have learned MANY things about each and every one of my rabbits as well as their reactions to different stimuli in a group setting.  This has done wonders for helping me quickly cement additional bonds, especially with both Nora and Lacey.

Take time to check out the other bonding articles located under the Bonding category for further information on bonding!

wwt13

Rabbit Bonding Series Part 4: Bonding My Quintet

If this particular article catches your attention but you haven’t kept up with the series, I strongly encourage you to go back and read Rabbit Bonding Series Part 3:  Bonding My Quartet before continuing with this article.  Many of the things I have learned and developed with this group had been first put into motion when bonding my quartet.

My fifth bunny, Nora, was an unexpected addition to say the least.  A picture of Nora was sent to me by a friend walking around a pet store and being the bunny lover I am, I had to go take a look.  My boyfriend and I showed up at the pet store.  As soon as we saw her, we could tell she was not in the best of shape.  She had no food or water, no hay, not really much of anything,… except attitude, she had a lot of that!  She was covered in mats and had pine shavings stuck throughout her long Lionhead mane.  Needless to say, she came home with us.   We had her entered as a foster into our local rabbit rescue, Rabbit Wranglers, in the intentions of letting them adopt her out once she was old enough to be spayed.  After battling an upper respiratory infection, a slight head sway, and chronic sneezing, she was ready to be spayed and adopted.  However, after spending three months with this beautiful girl we made the decision to officially adopt her into our large bunny family!

First Night Home - NOW!

First Night Home – NOW!

Once ready to bond, I decided to go ahead with a first initial meeting.   I set up an x-pen on the neutral kitchen floor, which leads to the first tip!  THE WONDERS OF SLIPPERY FLOORS!  Hesitant to bond your rabbits on the slippery tiled floor because it’s hard for them to get a grip?  Don’t be.  Bonding on a surface the rabbits are not comfortable with is perfect for first and continuing introductions.  Rabbits unsure of their footing are a lot less likely to feel aggressive than ones who feel comfortable with the area they’re in.  The uncertainty of the floor will help push them to be mbonding1ore accepting of the protection that another rabbit offers rather than feeling territorial and aggressive.   Continuing on – I shortened the x-pen by two squares so they would have adequate room to move around and explore but small enough to still encourage interaction, whether positive or negative.   Tip number two:  KEEP YOUR EXPECTATIONS AWAY.  I cannot say it enough.  Do NOT go into a bonding session with expectations set on your rabbits shoulders.  Keep an open mind and open thoughts to the new situation you’re putting them in and expect nothing.  Don’t expect them to get along, don’t expect them to fight.  First introductions are just that – a first chance for the rabbits to feel each other out and to meet one another, not to fall in love.  Going into a first bonding session (or any bonding session) with expectations is setting yourself and them up for frustration and failure. Continue reading »

Rabbit Bonding Series Part 3: Bonding My Quartet

Once we had our trio, we said “No More Bunnies”.   We were pretty set on it too.  But then… I made the decision to start volunteering at the local Humane Society.  My Tans are pretty much the poster children for their breed.  They are hyper, they hate to cuddle, and they love to cause trouble.   My first day at the shelter, I experienced the exact opposite with a beautiful bunny named Twilight.   I couldn’t stop gushing to my boyfriend just how wonderful it was to snuggle and cuddle with a bunny, after spending so much time accepting the fact that my Tans would NEVER be cuddle buns.  So with this in mind, we made the decision to begin looking for a fourth addition to our bunny family, with one criteria:  whoever we adopted, had to be a cuddle bun.   We made our very first potential adopting session with a handsome little Lionhead named Simba, who was adoptable through Rabbit Wranglers – our local rabbit rescue dedicated to the care of behaviorally challenged and disabled bunnies.  Simba had been on the verge of being euthanized for becoming extremely cage aggressive – Rabbit Wranglers pulled him from the shelter he was located at to give him the love and one-on-one attention he needed and deserved so he could become adoptable.  As soon as we met Simba, it was love at first sight.  He was everything we were looking for in a rabbit and more.  We brought him home, on a foster-to-adopt contract to see how he would work out with my already bonded trio, although I believe we knew at the time this little man would never leave our home.  To me, it wasn’t a choice:  he was going to be bonded to my trio.

wwt100

Initially, I went home with the intentions of giving Simba one or two weeks to settle into his new home before introducing him to the other rabbits in the house.   Which leads to my first tip:  GIVE YOUR NEW BUNNY A WEEK OR TWO TO SETTLE INTO HIS NEW HOME!  Giving them time to settle in can do wonders for building up your own relationship with the new bunny – and it gives your new rabbit a chance to know you and feel comfortable in your home before introducing him into a potentially stressful situation.  At the time, we had our bonded trio in a three-level NIC cube condo attached to a huge run that took up our entire dining room.  Not thinking it completely through, I let Simba out of his carrier in the middle of the dining room (with no access to the other rabbits – but they could still see him).   I wanted to give him a chance to run around and check out his new surroundings.  Tip number two:  WATCH OUT FOR AGITATION AND AGGRESSION Continue reading »

Rabbit Bonding Series Part 2: Bonding My Trio

wwt4

I will warn you… This was by far my easiest group to bond.  This could be due to a few different things but my main theories are:   all three were siblings, separated for only a month before altering AND all three were still very, very young.

My trio of Tans.  Two boys and one girl.

Fleury

Fleury

Sidney

Sidney

Tanger

Tanger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first introductions were made with the typical amateur mistake.  Right into already claimed territory.

wwt8

I just so happened to get lucky.  Neither bunnies had really aged or grown into their hormones yet so the introduction actually went pretty well.   Which leads me to my first tip:  ONLY INTRODUCE IN NEUTRAL TERRITORY! Continue reading »

New Rabbit Bonding Article Series Part 1: Lacey

First off, I would like to introduce everyone to my SIXTH bunny.  This gorgeous barely three pound Teddy Bear Lionhead (French Angora x Lionhead) made her way into our home about three weeks ago when I made one of my few monthly trips to the local Humane Society to do some volunteering.  This beautiful little girl had the most beautiful brown eyes that stuck out from nothing but a big ball of fur.

She instantly grabbed our hearts and within a few minutes, Lacey (then Frazier) had found her forever home.

wwtLacey had found herself at the shelter after being surrendered for biting.  Continue reading »

Rabbit Poos – The Good and the Bad

If you’re a rabbit owner you have, without a doubt, googled pictures of rabbit poo to see if changes in the size, shape, or consistency of your own rabbits droppings is something you should be concerned about.    Each time I always manage to come across a different site – some with consistent information and some with not so consistent information – which sends me into a flood of even more googling.

So while sitting on Facebook this morning, strolling through my usual array of various rabbit rescues and site posts, I stumbled upon the BEST article I have ever seen concerning rabbit poos and their meanings.  Complete with easy to compare pictures AND accurate information.

Knowing how many sites I’ve used to compare rabbit poo possibilities – I wanted to share this site to all the bunny parents who follow my blog to help make your future inquiries easy to find and understand.

Guide to Bunny Poops is a great go-to when you just aren’t sure what your looking at when it comes to your bunny droppings.  Enjoy bunny parents!

5 Ways You’re HURTING Your Rabbits’ Bonding (When You Think You’re Helping)

The Goal!  Now How Do I Get My Buns Here??

The Goal! Now How Do I Get My Buns Here??

After having bonded 5 of my own rabbits and helped many other people with bonding issues, I have recently gotten literally dozens of requests to help with bonding.

Unfortunately, as much as I love helping people, I don’t have enough time to respond to everyone. I try to reply to as many emails and Facebook messages as I can, but my Skype clients always are my first priority.

I get lots of messages where people do something that they really, truly believe is helping with bonding, but in reality, the action is making it WAY harder to bond.  I wanted to share a handful of the most common things I see when people message me asking for help, and some solutions that I have seen work.


Without further ado, here are 5 ways I see people regularly HURT their chances of bonding their rabbits:

1.   Sitting in the bonding area with
the buns. Continue reading »

The Power of Rescue

Rescue Buns are the Best Buns <3

Rescue Buns are the Best Buns <3

Rescuing a rabbit.  It’s an amazing thing to do and it takes a self-less, caring person to do it.  Giving a rabbit a second chance at life – a chance they may never have had without you.  Rescuing does not just take a caring person, it takes a strong and courageous person who is willing to put their pain behind them and make the rabbits future the number one priority.

Simba.  Simba is my five year old Creme colored Lionhead.   Continue reading »

Rabbit Emergencies: What to Do

meds

What emergencies qualify for taking your bunny to an off-hours/emergency vet appointment?  How do you know if the situation is serious enough to warrant this sort of action or if your bunny will be fine until you can get to the vet the next day?   I know many people — including myself — have struggled with these situations, and sometimes it can take a lot of contemplating (we all know making decisions in panic mode is not the easiest).

When I saw the comprehensive article, “Dealing with Medical Emergencies,” on the House Rabbit Society, I HAD to share.  Print this article out and take notes on it.  You want to have this on hand in case of serious – and not so serious- emergencies relating to your beloved furry rabbit children.

I also suggest that you download and print our Wheek Wheek Thump Rabbit First-Aid Kit & Uses article.  This is your ultimate guide to knowing exactly what you should have in your home (on hand) at all times to be adequately prepared for any emergency that arises.

I know that having these have helped me — not only has in preparing for FUTURE emergencies but also when I have needed to make a quick decision on how to respond to emergencies.  Having this easy go-to guide on what to do first and where to go next can be the difference between making the right investment to save your rabbit’s life in a life-or-death emergency or spending hundreds of dollars on an unnecessary vet appointment.