Contributed by Barbara Russo
My rabbit Luke has a very spacious enclosure, or “rabitat,” as I like to call it. When I’m home, his door stays open, giving him full access to our living room and hallway. This part of my house is rabbit-proof and safe for him to hop about and explore. There is a lot of healthy, enriching fun for him to discover here, including chew toys placed in almost every corner, furniture that he can jump upon, and boxes for him to cuddle in.
But Luke likes to hide. As a small Netherland dwarf mix, he fits into every crevice, making him a most elusive bunny. Once, I searched everywhere for him: the closet, under the couch, behind his rabitat. But my efforts to find him were fruitless. Until I pulled out the one thing that always works.
“Luke, Luke!,” I called.
He appeared in a second. Turns out he was under a sweater I left on my computer desk. I don’t know how I missed him, but it was probably because he and the sweater were almost the same shade of brown. Oh the ways animals can camouflage!
Training your rabbit to come when called is possible for a lot of these lovable lagomorphs. It’s also fun. I’ve done it with Luke, my other rabbit Boxy, and a very timid rescue bun I took in once. All it takes is some time, patience and your rabbit’s favorite treat.
The first thing a rabbit caregiver must do is sit next to his/her pet. Give the animal her favorite treat as you say her name. Luke loves carrot tops, especially the green parts. Do this on and off for about an hour.
Next, have some treats handy, but don’t make it obvious, and step away from your rabbit. Start calling her name. Keep calling her until she comes over to you. It may take a while, but she should eventually respond. Once she comes over to you, give her the treat and maybe a light pet on the head.
Practice this training until you both have it down, and then eventually wean her off the treats and give her another type of reward, such as a gentle pet. There will come a point when no treat is necessary, but you will always want to reinforce what she’s learned by occasionally surprising her with an unexpected treat.
Training your rabbit to come when called is a fairly easy process, but it’s important to remember a few things. First, don’t give your pet too many treats. As any informed house-rabbit caregiver knows, Timothy hay must be the main part a rabbit diet. Too many treats could result in your rabbit not eating her hay, which could lead to dire consequences on their oral and digestive health. But need not worry: simply cut each treat in small pieces to prolong your training session. For example, I cut Luke’s carrot tops in halves or thirds so he doesn’t take in too much, therefore I can train him longer.
Never, ever starve or withhold hay from your rabbit to get her to respond better to training. A treat is like dessert to us. It’s just an extra. Keep your bun healthy by providing her with unlimited Timothy hay.
Training your rabbit to respond to her name is pretty neat, but there are also practical reasons for doing so. If your rabbit is lost, just call her name and as long as she hears you, she’ll come. It’s also a good tool for noticing any health issues. For example, if she’s always responding when you call and then suddenly stops, it might indicate a hearing problem.
Every rabbit is different, so levels of success with training can vary. Unfortunately, some rabbits just don’t respond. But most rabbits do. And the best part is, it helps develop the special bond that exists between rabbits and the caregivers who love them.
About Barbara Russo: Barbara Russo is the caregiver of two house rabbits, Luke and Boxy, and has rescued rabbits and found loving homes for them in the past. She has written many articles about rabbits and other animals
Note: The above article was submitted by a guest author. All articles written by guest authors do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of ilovemyhouserabbit.com