How to Bond with Your Rabbit
Rabbits are social animals! They need relationships to thrive. One of the most important relationships a rabbit will ever have is with their caregiver. This foundational relationship will determine the quality of a rabbit’s life. Creating a connection with your rabbit is mutually satisfying and rewarding. Failing to take the time to develop a good relationship can result in unintentional neglect.
How do you build a relationship with your rabbit? Won’t it just happen, like with a puppy or kitten?
Probably not. Because rabbits are a prey species (unlike cats and dogs, both predator species), it takes a more deliberate investment on your part to build a relationship with a rabbit. A rabbit may start out as shy, afraid, very independent, or hesitant to trust you. It takes deliberate action on your part to build trust and mutual understanding with these sensitive, intelligent prey animals.
First and foremost: get on your rabbit’s level
Compared to a human, rabbits are small. Most of the time, it’s our feet and legs in their field of view. It’s hard to build a connection with a pair of legs. To build a relationship with your rabbit, you’ve got to get on the same level. Sit or lie down on the floor. If the floor won’t work for you, bring the rabbit up on the sofa or bed with you.
Be patient, don’t rush
It can take a few months for a rabbit to adjust to a new home and new people.
Those big ears are good at conveying sound! Rabbits seem to enjoy listening to humans, as long as your voice is gentle and soft.
Let your rabbit come to you.
Rabbits are naturally curious. If you are quiet and patient, they will come over and inspect you. Resist the urge to pet right away. Let them explore you first, and learn that you are not a threat.
Give a few small treats as you are getting to know each other. Eating is a social activity for rabbits and eating together builds trust. Small portions of carrot, apple, herbs, or oats are offerings a rabbit will appreciate.
Hold your rabbit properly.
And bear in mind that rabbits generally dislike being held. Rabbits are ground-dwelling animals who naturally fear being lifted from the ground by predators. Lifting and holding should be kept to a minimum. Although they don’t like to be picked up, most rabbits do desire physical affection. Most find petting, snuggling, nuzzling, and sitting companionably beside each other pleasurable activities.
Play with toys together
Most rabbits are playful, and some games are great for two. Stacking cups, plastic baby keys, and wooden blocks are fun for tossing and knocking over.
Be a rabbit
Mimic the way two rabbit friends interact with each other, such as grooming or relaxing. This is a good opportunity to learn about rabbit body language, and how rabbits communicate. Rabbits don’t bark like dogs or meow like cats (although some do make vocalizations), but their body language is diverse and clear.
Each rabbit has a distinct and different personality
Many rabbits have BIG personalities. They run the gamut — some are easygoing and relaxed, some are active and demand attention, some are affectionate and engaged, some are fearful and territorial. Bonding with your rabbit will help you learn about and appreciate your rabbit’s unique personality. A rabbit won’t ever be a cat or a dog. A rabbit is their own special creature with many gifts to share.
The House Rabbit Society can help you learn more about the types of mental stimulation, toys, exercise, activity and human contact your rabbit will need to thrive. With hundreds of educators across the country, we are always happy to educate you on ways to build a good relationship with your rabbit. If you’re looking to learn more, please consider purchasing the House Rabbit Handbook: How to Live with an Urban Rabbit.