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!)
This time around, I began introductions with an x-pen in the kitchen on the slippery tiled floor. I put Lacey in 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. This 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 toys. 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).
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 HARD. 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 buns 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!
The 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 herself. 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!