Bonding Our Quad

“I don’t think they’re going back to HRS.” 

The words for failed fosters everywhere, but this time they were for Magic Mike and Sully, who had been taking residence in our home office and slowly stealing our hearts with their affection and silly antics. However, we already have our girls, Elsa and Anna, who have free run of the house minus the office. After living in our house with multiple baby gates separating pairs of bunnies in different rooms for a decade, it was so nice to have the bunnies all living together in one area, so we were reluctant to go back to living that way again. My husband then asked, “how about we try bonding the four of them?” 

From my volunteer experience with House Rabbit Society and conversations with other volunteers on bonding, I have found that each bonding process is unique and dependent on the personalities of the rabbits that are being bonded. There are many tips and tricks one can find from the internet and from just talking with people who had been through the process, but ultimately, to set the rabbits up for the most success, I would have to adjust the strategies based on their behaviors and personalities. I felt that we were already advantageous when we began the bonding process for our squad since we knew the personalities of all four rabbits. Right from the start, we also knew that our bonding goal would be for the bunnies to coexist and not aiming for love all around.

Pre-bonding Preparation

Since we wanted the dates to start off on the right rabbit foot, my husband and I set up two exercise pens next to each other with clear plastic panels between the two so that the residents can see their neighbors but cannot poke their noses into the other group’s x-pen. Anna and Elsa supervised us from the other side of the house in this process, probably wondering what we were doing. We then put the girls in one x-pen and Mike and Sully in the x-pen next to it. This was how they lived for the next few weeks for the duration of the bonding process, in which I would constantly switch litter boxes between the two pens so that the scents mingled from the two groups. We felt bad to be limiting Elsa and Anna to the x-pen but kept thinking about the potential payoff at the end for everyone. This setup also gave me an opportunity to gauge the bunnies’ behavior and level of aggression towards the stranger bunnies, which I noted from the reduced number of droppings along the shared wall as the week progressed. 

The Dates

When the rabbits showed no aggression towards each other and started to flop on the shared wall, I figured it was time for our first date. We started with shorter dates, no more than half an hour, but gradually increased the time and frequency as the bonding progressed. From the sessions, I saw that Anna was submissive and Mike was the easy-going guy to everybun so they were not going to cause any issues. My troublemakers were Elsa and Sully, who were going through their own negotiations as to who was going to be the leader of the group. 

The Hump

I started doing extra bonding sessions just between Elsa and Sully, so that they can more directly discuss the terms of leadership with each other. Sometimes, we would bring in either Anna or Mike as the mediator, and sometimes I would put either Sully or Elsa in with Anna and Mike. My strategy here was to mix up the group interactions while also still bond the whole group so that all the bunnies can get used to one another. 

We got to the point in which the talks between Sully and Elsa began to break down, so I decided to break out tub time and stroller to make things a bit scarier for them to deal with together as a team building exercise. This proved to be super helpful in getting us over the hump since Elsa conceded and went to brave Sully for support during scary times.

The Overnights

Once I was confident that we were dealing with minor scuffles and not bunnies trying to seriously hurt each other, I set up a large x-pen area in our home office that has a cot, put all of them in it, and lived with them full time in the same room. I had another x-pen set up in another room as a holding area to separate the bunnies when I had to leave the space. This was also bad timing as my husband was travelling so I was by myself. However, after four nights of interrupted sleep since Sully kept testing her Top Bun power with Elsa and Anna, I was confident enough in the bond to decide that we have reached our goal of coexistence. I then cleaned the bunny area, set up a very large x-pen area, and moved them into the new space that they would be living in. After a few days, I was able to remove the x-pen altogether and everybun now has free run of our living area. 

Love at Last

As the bunnies spend more time living together, we start to see the group dynamic change and more co-mingling, grooming, and affection between the four. Sully and Elsa are now BFFs, they like to snuggle together under our chaise. At night, we often see all four of them lying in a pile, content as can be. Seeing all the bunny love made me think that it was so worth it that we bonded our awesome foursome.

Reviewed by HRS staff

Author: Nareeya Nalivka
Photo Credit: Nareeya Nalivka, James Nalivka, Julie Cheshire, Craig Church
Journal Issue: House Rabbit Journal, Fall 2023

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