How to Train a Rabbit to Stop Biting
What do you do when your nice fluffy timid rabbit turns into a nipping, biting beast and sometimes even chases you around the room? Could this be a scene from a new horror movie, 'When Rabbits attack' or is this shocking rabbit behavior not as unusual as you would think?
Fits of Rage
The first time you experience your lovable bunny's fit of rage can be quite alarming. After all, these fluffy, lovable animals are supposed to be timid and sweet, so the sight of sharp rabbit teeth and raking claws would send anyone running from a rabbit, right? What you should understand is that this behavior is not that unusual and you can turn an otherwise hopeless situation into a bright bunny future!
Rabbits are Intelligent Animals
Rabbits are very intelligent animals that enjoy expressing themselves; all they require is some respect and some ground rules in order to turn around their behavior to again become enthusiastic and affectionate. You can be assured your rabbit wasn't born to bite. Biting, kicking and scratching rabbits usually have a behavioral problem, not a genetic one. Have patience with your rabbit, though, because it won't change its ways overnight.
Spotting Behavioral Issues
You may spot behavior issues at around 4 months of age. This when you should visit your friendly veterinarian and discuss spaying or neutering. This procedure in itself may be enough to calm your rabbit down a bit, but if you neglect spaying or neutering, your chances of having a calm bunny is virtually null and void. Your rabbit is at that stage of life similar to that of a human teenager—hormonal changes are taking control of your rabbit's behavior.
Do not ever strike your rabbit or it will always associate you with hitting. When you attempt to control a bad habit by swatting its nose with a newspaper you'll only aggravate the problem. Your rabbit won't hate you, but it will fear you. Controlling anything by fear is the wrong way to go with any animal.
Which brings me to petting. Your bunny should see your hands only as a sign of affection. Pet your bunny several times a day, slowly from the top of the head and slowly back. Hands bring food, comfort, assurance and love - not pain! Hitting your rabbit for bad behavior such as biting will be something your rabbit will never forget. Always teach your bunny that this is a safe environment and you're there for help and aid. When biting occurs, keep calm but use a high pitch eep or eek, followed by a verbal, 'No bite!' to let the rabbit know that that was wrong behavior and it hurts. You can also use a soda can filled with some duct tape or a loud clap to get its attention, followed by 'No bite!'
Other Aggression Causes
A healthy rabbit is a happy rabbit. Be certain your rabbit is not suffering from some health issue. Rabbits often bite out of pain, say, from a bad tooth. So guess what time it is? You're right—a trip to your friendly neighborhood veterinarian!
Rabbits that circle your feet, mount your legs, then bite are classic signs of a sexually frustrated bunny. As stated above, spaying and neutering may solve this problem quickly and alleviate this aggressive behavior.
Motion, Position and Smell
Rabbits can see from great distances but close up they have poor eyesight. Placing your hand suddenly in front of a rabbit's face may cause a defense biting reaction because it is startled. But poor, close vision isn't the only rabbit sense that should caution you. The rabbit's sense of smell is very keen, so wash your hands often before approaching your bunny. Scents of dogs, cats or other animals on your skin may also trigger your rabbit's defenses, especially if your rabbit is not familiar with those types of animals.
"Get up outta my face," says bunny when you put your hand in front of your rabbit's face. Why? Because, socially, this is a hostile message. In the wild, a dominate rabbit will approach the subordinate rabbit from the front and place its body or face near the other rabbit's nose. This is the manner a rabbit maintains dominance. The subordinate rabbit will usually hop off but, if not,
the challenge is accepted and rabbit fur will fly!
This is My House!
A rabbit's cage is its home and rabbits can be very territorial over the place it calls its own. Dragging your rabbit out of the cage can bring out some defensive behavior. It would be best to open the door and allow the rabbit to come and go as it pleases. You should wait until your rabbit vacates the cage before cleaning it or changing the water. You can also coax your rabbit out of the cage by presenting him with a treat. After a few times of treats and occasionally a nose rub, your rabbit will eventually associate your hand with something pleasant and not a grab. In any case, as a precaution, I'd still wear gloves!
Curiosity Creates Closeness
Rabbits are ground dwellers and they become irritated when handled constantly. You can spend time with your pet on the floor by simply ignoring him. Eventually curiosity will make your rabbit approach. Have some treats ready so your bunny associates this encounter with something pleasant. Also make sure you have a safe place for your rabbit to exercise daily so they don't become bored or sedentary.
A rabbit bites not for fun but for defense if frightened or when protecting their space. Other than when sexual maturity occurs, reasons such as handling the bunny too much or how you approach your rabbit can easily be corrected. Rabbits prefer the ground to being handled. Rabbits are protective of their cage and belongings. A rabbit's raging hormones can cause a raging rabbit's rage. Being a social animal, a rabbit may bite to get your attention.
Whatever the reason your rabbit is biting, you can correct this behavior verbally, not with physical discipline. And remember, you should correct nips as well as bites. Once this behavior has ended, offer praise and love as quickly as possible. Though it will take time for your rabbit to unlearn biting and nipping, this is how your bunny with learn of your patience and love.
By Tom Matteo
About the Author
Tom Matteo has been a freelance writer since 1992. He specializes in hardware and software reviews for computers and gaming systems, and occasionally writes about such topics as animal behavior and care. Tom resides in Bethlehem, PA with his wife Tina and his beloved cockapoo, Angel.