The first thing to know is discipline is all about timing. Often by the time you notice your bunny has been up to something naughty their attention has often turned else where. It is likely they will have forgotten what they were doing, so any telling off you give them is wasted. For this reason it’s an important rule to only use discipline when the unwanted behavior is happening or you will simply confuse your bunny.
When you do catch your bunny in the act, success will come from offering clear guidance as to what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not. By giving a clear instruction in a firm but calm manner you will be able to make it clear that it is inappropriate behavior. You should never behave aggressively towards you rabbit as they will not respond well to this and its likely to make them timid towards you, making it harder to control them in the long run. There are lots of ways to get you bunnies attention without harming them such as voice commands, using a rattle or a water mister and we go into more details about these below.
Lastly its important to remember that rabbits have very strong wild instincts and are often only doing what’s natural to them. Remember discipline is not punishment, the aim is to discourage bad behavior. Its your choice to have your rabbit in your home so you will need make some compromises by removing temptations, by being patient when they do something inappropriate and forgiving and forgetting pretty much immediately so you can focus on activities that are acceptable and reinforce good behavior.
Should I hit or shout at my rabbit? – NO!
Never push or hit your rabbit as they simply do not understand physical discipline. Unlike dogs for instance where you may steer their behavior with a firm touch, any sort of physical aggressive with a rabbit can trigger antisocial behavior leaving them permanently disturbed. This can be displayed by bunny cowering or turning away from attempts to approach them. It may also result in aggression, biting or being less affectionate as a result.
Shouting or loud clapping should also be avoided. Bunnies have very sensitive hearing and loud noises can also trigger a fear response and ultimately lead to timid or anti social behavior. You could also find yourself and other family members becoming stressed with this behavior as well so its best to avoided. Try using some of the other discipline methods below.
Bunnies only have a small vocabulary of words they will remember and by far the most important one you can teach them is their own name. This is key to getting their attention with an aim to giving them an instruction. To get them used to their name use it frequently in a positive manner such as calling them when you give them food or treats. Then later on when you need to stop them from doing something inappropriate start by saying their name in a firm voice followed by a command like No’, You may have to say this a few times for it to sink in. Get down works well if your bunny is climbing on furniture, it can be an effective way of getting them off a surface without scrabbling away, scratching surfaces and knocking things over. Some people have even reported success using voice training to encourage their rabbits to use a litter tray regularly which can help to avoid toilet accidents on furniture like sofas.
A technique some bunny owners recommend is to use a jam jar with some coins in it that you can use as a rattle. This will stop your bunny in its tracks giving it a clear signal its doing something you don’t want and will not be confused with other voices or noises in the room. When you catch you bunny being naughty you rattle the jar and say your bunnys name and No! After a while they will get the message that they should do something else instead.
Another way of getting your bunny to leave an area alone that they may be developing a habit around is to give them a blast with a water mister. The cold mist will stop them in whatever they are doing, hopefully the association of this happening every time they start naughty behavior will make them choose something else to do instead. It can however be tricky to get close enough when they are in the act as they may be wary of you approaching with something in your hand.
You can pick up a water mister from most gardening shops very cheaply, if you are re-purposing something make sure it does not have any chemical residue in it from a previous use. Only ever use the mister setting NOT the water jet setting if it has one. The idea is the cold mist gives the effect. If you end up blasting your bunny with a jet of water this could not only be harmful if you catch areas around eyes nose or ears, but it will also be stressful and your rabbit could develop aggressive behavior towards you or become antisocial and timid. Do not soak you rabbit. This can be really bad for their health and should be avoided along with bathing.
If your bunny keeps going to a spot to chew on a piece of furniture or dig an area of carpet and no amount of saying No! seems to work you could try shutting them away for a 10 minute time out to show your disapproval. Rabbits are social by nature so by excluding them every time they start doing something inappropriate and ignoring them they will hopefully change their behavior and prevent naughtiness.
What if my rabbit bites me, what can I do!
Probably not biting but some rabbit do nip when they want to get your attention, for instance they may do this if you sit in their place in the room, sofa or withhold treats. If this does occur a bunny will responds to a quick high pitch squeal as they will see this as a sign of pain or alarm which they understand. Again you need to practice only doing this at the moment it happens or it will be lost to them that you are being hurt.
Why are bunnys hard to discipline
Using discipline with a rabbit is very different to cats and dogs. Dogs grow up leaning how to behave in a pack and kittens have the guidance of their mother. These natural instincts to learn behaviour have further been developed by thousands of years of domestication which ultimately helps us control them. Rabbits on the other hand are hidden by their mothers mostly undisturbed when they grow up so learn to survive on their own. That are still very much wild animals and don’t have many boundaries either as they grow up or in adult life, so setting boundaries for them is very hard to achieve and can be misunderstood by them.
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