Rabbits Are A “Hands On” Pet

It is very common that people will have pet rabbits and rarely handle or hold them. I meet a lot of bunnies and their families through my rabbit grooming business and it has become painfully obvious that there are a lot of pet rabbits whom are never being socialized.

It is true that rabbits are born with an instinct to not like being picked up or handled, but through socialization, we can teach them to tolerate it and even look forward to it, in many cases. Still, I run into so many families who have interpreted their rabbit’s not wanting to be picked up as the correct way to befriend a bunny.

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Actually, in the long run you are doing your bunny and family a huge disservice by not teaching your rabbit to allow this kind of interaction. You can literally go years without ever picking up your bunny, but what happens when it becomes grooming time or a vet visit is in order? I am finding that many people who are in this category are hiring me to come groom their rabbit. When I arrive, I learn that they have not handled or picked up their rabbit and he is totally freaking out, just for a nail trim or combing. This is not good. Imagine how terrified a rabbit like this is going to be if he has to go for a car ride to the vet.

Something that is even more tragic, as far as I am concerned is that these folks are missing out on the true joys of having a pet rabbit. If you are not able to get close enough to your bunny to pet him or groom him, you are really not bonding with your pet. Rabbits show each other love through grooming and if you want to tell your rabbit that you love him in his own language, that involves petting and grooming him, just as you would any dog or cat.

The way to begin socializing your rabbit is to spend time with him EVERY day. Not once or twice a week. If you do that, then it means the other five or six days a week, he will be pining for your attention. Having a pet is a daily function, not a whenever you have time function. Basically, it is like having children I often tell people. For that matter, I call all my rabbits my kids.

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All pet rabbits need at least two or three hours out of their cage and pens each day to run and play. Rabbits were born to run and this is an important part of having a happy pet rabbit. If your rabbit is not getting this simple run time every day, then you probably should not have one.

In order to foster the human animal bond, you need to spend about an hour or so each day interacting with your rabbit. You do not have to do it all at once and it can happen throughout the day, but he needs that human touch to learn that being a friend with a big scary human is OK.

You should start off getting down on the floor to teach the rabbit that you are a friend. Watch TV, read a book, talk to your bunny, just do something on the floor for a period of time. Your rabbit will eventually start approaching you to visit. All but the most skittish bunnies will start coming up to get their heads and ears rubbed.

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Learn how to pet your bunny. Do not rub him on the butt or lower back. That is an insult in bunny language. Rabbits do not like having their chins or underneath their heads pet. In their language you are telling them that you are the boss of them and are threatening them when you do this. Not a way to make friends. Some rabbits will tolerate, but most will become quite annoyed by any continued attempts to get underneath them in any way.

You approach a rabbit from on top of his head. A rabbit tells another rabbit that he loves and respects him by kissing the top of his head and ears. Gently petting them their conveys your love and respect.

I can always tell a person who has no rabbit experience at all, because they will try and approach a rabbit like a dog, by letting them smell or sniff their hand. This is the absolute wrong way to approach a rabbit. First, directly in front of their noses is a blind spot and if you put your hand under their nose, you are basically saying, “I am the boss of you! Kiss me!” Again, this is not the way to make friends with a rabbit.

The top of the head is where you want to first pet your bunny. This is universal amongst all bunnies. You can socialize your bunny to tolerate being pet and rubbed on his backside, but that usually comes after you are closely bonded with him. Do not expect him to like that kind of touching, right away.

I HIGHLY suggest that you pick your rabbit up at least once EVERY DAY. Not once a week or month, but every day. This is important. Through repetition, you teach your bunny that nothing bad is every going to happen when you pick him up.

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Therefore, the only time you pick him up it should not be to be stuffed into a pet carrier and thrown into the car for a scary car ride. It should also not be to have some big strange grooming person picking them up and hacking off their toe nails. If the only time a rabbit is ever picked up, these terrifying events are occurring you are actually reinforcing his fears.

The number of times that a rabbit gets picked up and something scary happens should be vastly outnumbered by the hundreds of time that they get picked up and nothing scary happens. Do you get that important point? It is critical that there are many many more good things happening when they are picked up and handled than scary things.\

I have a bunny who has always been freaked out about being handled. It was as self fulfilling prophecy that she feared she would be dropped because when you picked her up she would squirm frantically, causing you to drop her. It took me five years of working with her to get her 90% cured. She still runs from me sometimes when I want to pick her up but she is so much better.

I did this by picking her up and hugging her every day. I would just pick her up and set her on my lap or hold her and give her a kiss. I would be very careful to not let her squirming make me drop her. Then I would gently set her down.

At first, she would scamper off, thumping all the way. Then she would take a step to run away and seeing that I was not chasing her, she would turn around to re-approach me for another pet or ear rub. Eventually, I have gotten her to be so much better that I can even just walk up and just pick her up, but that took about five years of constant work. Still, I believe it is worth it. Most rabbits are not cuddle bunnies, but through daily working with them you can get pretty close.

Therapy Rabbits Bring Smiles

Star and Snickers in their stroller during a therapy session.

Star and Snickers in their stroller during a therapy session.

I thought I would post this blog about Pet Assisted Therapy.

My focus has always been education about rabbits and so I almost turned down the opportunity to take a couple of my bunnies to one of these therapy sessions. I know a friend whose bunny went to classes to become a certified therapy rabbit, so I thought that mine would have to do this, too.

It turned out that the nursing homes that we have been visiting gladly accepted us to come visit them, without any kind of certification. They were so glad that our rabbits were interacting with their patients, no one was worried about their lack of credentials but me.

Star is a notorious nipper, but only when she wants to tell you something. Not wanting her to have an excuse to ever nip, I never let anyone hold her during our outings. She usually only nips when she wants to tell you that she needs to use her litter box or wants down from your lap. It is never a hard nip, but it would be totally unacceptable if it happened to a patient.

I solved this problem by bringing them inside their stroller. My rabbits love to sit quietly and get ear rubs and pets. Snickers has learned to lean way out of the stroller to beg for pets, if someone tries to ignore him or does not immediately do it.

During some of the rounds to visit the bed-ridden patients, Snickers like to hop out of the stroller on his own onto their bed. He thinks it is fun to get some pets and then hop back into his stroller to tell Star all about it. Everyone thinks it is so cute and Snickers has never nipped anyone ever in the year that he has been with us, so I think he is really a perfect rabbit for this.

Snickers hopping back and forth entertaining a patient.

Snickers hopping back and forth entertaining a patient.

My point of this article is that this has turned out to be one of the most fun and rewarding things that I do with my rabbits. I am so passionately focused on rabbit education, I initially did not see the value in talking to people who would most likely never have a pet rabbit during their lifetime.

What I found instead, was a glow of happiness that they spread where ever they went in the process. I highly recommend that if you have an adventurous rabbit who likes ear rubs to try doing this. The ones that I do are through a local Humane Society. The nursing homes usually make a donation to the shelter in return for our coming to visit, so it is a win-win for everyone.

I was very surprised how much my rabbits actually enjoy all of this attention, with Snickers begging for ear rubs and Star smiling while getting pet. The smiles on the faces of the patients are also very heart warming, too. It gives you a good feeling for the next couple days when you think about it. It only takes about an hour once a month, but I have truly grown to enjoy doing it, almost as much as my bunnies do.

The Bunny Guy

Bonding 201

Well, it has been a couple weeks since I updated this blog and when I last wrote I was just beginning the process of bonding. Star is one of the most confident and aggressive rabbits I have ever met and I held little hope that bonding her with Snickers would be an easy task.

Instead, it went incredibly smooth and the two are now completely bonded. They kept surprising me with their eagerness to work things out and be together. It was actually me that held them back, because I was in disbelief that they could bond so quickly.

It all started when we were leaving for our usual Thursday bunny night out. Each week, we usually meet a bunch of other bunny friends at a night street market and we bring our rabbits in their strollers. We walk around the street fair and eat ethnic food. It has become a ritual.
Star and Snickers Bonding
As we were putting Snickers and Star into their respective pet carriers, Denise decided to put Snickers’ carrier up close to tell Star that she was getting a date tonight with the little boy. In response, Star lept out of her carrier into the one Snickers was in. We were pretty surprised, but she obviously WANTED to be with him in there.

The two rode all the way to the street fair and when we got there, we put them both into the same stroller. They were a little off guard about not having their own individual strollers and danced around inside the one they were both in, trying to avoid each other.

Star nipped him every so often, because he would thump at her. Any aggressive behavior on his part was met with a gentle nip. I noticed that she was not actually biting him but was giving him the same gentle nips that she usually gives me when she is trying to tell me something.

Because Snickers has such long thick fur, Star quickly learned that she could not nip him on the butt. She even tried a gnawing chewing nip to get through to his backside, but always came away with a mouthful of his fur. Star started chewing on his face instead.

This resulted in Snickers getting a funny stripe of short fur on his face. After a few more days that became a mohawk hairdo. We joke that Star was becoming a hairdresser. Now, even the mohawk is gone and all the hair on Snickers face is now cropped short.

Since the two got along well together in the pet carrier on car rides and in their stroller at the street fair, I decided to do all of their bonding inside those two things. Every day they spent at least an hour in the pet carrier or stroller. Eventually, I just used the stroller and they got to where they could spent 3 or 4 hours in it together.

It is the super small size of the stroller and carrier that helps to make the bonding process easier. As I have said before, space is your enemy when you are bonding. The smaller the space you put your rabbits into, the less stressful it is for them. It also forces them to not ignore the other rabbit and deal with them being close.

When the two of them would start bickering, I would grab them and force them to lay side by side and cheek to cheek. I would pet the tops of their heads and ears and make them remain calm. If they tried to nip, I would not let them and make them lay there and be pet. I would always end a meeting like this so that they would always part on a peaceful friendly note. You can never let biting or fighting end a bonding session. It will only teach your rabbits that if they fight, that they will get separated. They must be shown that having a tiff does not cause them to be taken away from each other.

Snickers was very unhappy about being schooled by Star. He rarely retaliated by biting her back, but did box her regularly. Remember, Star is three times his size. Snickers was constantly thumping to tell everyone that he did not want to be near Star. This was extremely insulting to her and she would nip him every time he did it. I would have to intervene when he would just not stop thumping and therefore Star would not stop nipping him. This is when I would usually end the bonding session and make them lie quietly together before letting them go back to their respective abodes.

Every time I got a chance to take them both someplace in their stroller, it became a great bonding session. The two spent all day in it at a bunny friend’s BBQ for teenager’s graduation. They even went out to dinner with us and sat there bonding, too.

In a little over a week, I felt it was time to try them in an x-pen and so after a long day at the park at an HRS event, I put them in one together at the beach. Their first time in an x-pen was very successful and they even shared their salad there on the sand. I think they were too tired out from their 8 hours in their stroller together to fight about being in the x-pen.

The next day after the beach, Ricky went into stasis for two days and so bonding efforts were abandoned in order to nurse our sick bun. I was concerned that after two days of not working on their bonding, that I would have to start over, but I was very wrong.

I sent up a 3’X3′ x-pen on the patio and put Star and Snickers inside with a fresh new litter box. I did not use either of their regular litter boxes, because I did not want them claiming it as their own. They did relatively well for about three hours with Star only nipping Snickers when he would thump to tell me he wanted out of that pen with her.

Star is very in tune with me and most of the time I could just sternly tell her to STOP and she would obey. Only a couple of times, did I have to physically step in and stop them from harrassing each other. I was extremely pleased that they were almost bonded and that all I had to do was to figure out how to get them to share their abodes together.

After three days of at least three hours in the tiny x-pen together, I decided to see if Snickers would tolerate Star in his indoor x-pen. I let Star loose inside for about an hour and while there was some thumping and nipping, there was no real fighting. I still cannot believe that we had gotten this far without any blood. When bonding Ricky and Lucy, there were terrible fights and poor Ricky would get so many bad wounds.

The day after they spent some time together in Snickers x-pen, I decided to see how they would play together during their run time. I made them spend about three hours in the tiny x-pen on the patio, then I let them loose to run and play there. It was instant party time. The two were racing around and doing non-stop binkies. I think it is what they wanted all along.

Usually, when I am bonding I would be concerned about chasing games. A chasing game can quickly turn into a rabbit brawl and I was not sure if I should let the two do it. I soon realized from the binkies that they both would do while playing chase, that they were having the time of their lives. Star rarely binkies with abandon, but Snickers would do one and she would do a bigger one. They were actually playing together.

It has been three days since this revelation and last night, they both spent the night in Star’s two story condo with a big four foot x-pen attached to the front. It went well, but I think six month old Snickers might have kept Star up half the night with his unlimited energy.

Still, I think that at six years old, this new younger boyfriend is going to keep Star young. I overheard a comment at the HRS educational event we were at last weekend, that Star is a “Bunny Cougar”. I thought that was priceless.

We are still working out some small issues, like Snickers is an Angora style rabbit and needs high protein pellets to keep his fur nice. We give him a couple teaspoons of alfalfa pellets each day. Star is part Rex and can never have those kind of pellets or she will gain weight and be unhealthy. We are going to have to separate them when they get them, but Star is like a kitty and likes to come back and nibble on hers all day long. Snickers does eat them faster and so we are trying to let him eat his apart from Star. It does not matter if he eats some of Star’s pellets.

Since Star has a digestive condition called mega-colon, I was worried about her grooming Snickers and ingesting his long fur. It is a good thing that she is a big hay eater, because the fiber from the hay will help keep any problems from occurring from this.

Star gives Snickers lots of kisses all the time. She always was a kissy bunny and kissed me all the time while she sits in my lap. I have yet to see Snickers kiss or groom Star in any way. I would have never thought that Star would end up as the submissive bunny in any relationship. It remains to be seen whether this is true, but it appears as if Snickers is the dominant bun.

You never can tell how things like this will turn out in the bunny world. Sex and size absolutely do not matter when it comes to figuring who will be the dominant rabbit after bonding. Even personality seems to not play that big a factor, since Star is the most gregarious and confident bunny you will ever meet. It just goes to show the rabbits themselves are the ones who figure all this stuff out.


The Bunny Guy

Oh Oh, We Have Another Foster

Through circumstances seemingly out of my control, we gained a new foster bunny about a week and a half ago. His owner suddenly found herself in the hospital and this bunny was one that someone had basically dumped on her when they found him.

To make a long story short, we now have a little fuzzy guy about 4 or 5 months old who is living in our kitchen. He is an unneutered Jersey Wooley boy whose Netherland Dwarf genes are fully apparent. He is quite the jumper and never misses a chance to scamper off with us in hot pursuit.

Normally we have a strict “no foster” rule in our house because we are past “foster failures”. We can never give up a bunny after he has lived more than a few months in our home. We always fall in love and end up not putting him up for adoption.

It looks like the first step is getting this little guy whose name is now, Snickers to the vet so that he can be fixed. He is starting to get quite the smell that unneutered males are famous for. We are talking about ordering an addition to Star’s condo, so that we can get our kitchen back.

For the first week he was here, we had to go out to eat or do take out because we could not cook in the kitchen. We moved some of Denise’s prized orchids and now there is at least enough room to walk through it now.

Denise wants to try and bond Snickers with Star, but that is over a month away from happening and the clock is ticking. I fear we may have somehow increased our bunny stock from three to four. haha

Personally, I do not see Star bonding easily with this boy unless he becomes extremely submissive. She is the biggest fighter I have ever known and she either likes a bunny or doesn’t right off the bat. She has already given Snickers a few good nips on the nose since he has been here and so I am not holding my breath. One can always hope, right?

Snickers posing at the beach in Feb. 2012

Waiting For Proofs of the Book

As with any monumental undertaking, there are always set-backs and problems and my book has been no different. I uploaded the newly proofread edition of my book to the publisher site and found that because I had added about 30 more pages to it, that the margins I had designed were no longer big enough. ARGH!

That meant I had to layout the book again from cover to cover. One thing that made it easier was to enlarge the final size of the book. I was able to do that but it also meant I needed a new cover. After I made the cover larger, too I am not sure I like the way it looks.

I went ahead and ordered proof copies, but I may end up changing the cover again in order to get exactly what I want. Meanwhile, I have to wait until Monday to receive my proofs. Only when I have seen the complete book printed out, will I know if all the writing, layout and graphix are what I had envisioned.

If everything goes according to plan, I will be able to upload a new cover and publish the book within the next week. I am very anxious and nervous at the same time after over eight months of work.

This weekend I have an educational event that I do monthly at a Petco store and then Sunday is the Superbowl, so I will have things to keep me busy. Come Monday, I will be chomping at the bit to see the fruits of my labor. I am praying for the need for minimal fixes and reworking to the book, so I can go ahead and release it.

I was very disappointed to find that I would not be able to simply convert the book into an ebook, like I had thought. With so many graphics, it was going to take another layout job to make it work in e-readers. I will be starting work on that project next week, as soon as I put the printed book to bed.

So for now, I will just keep on “trucking… what a long strange trip it has been.”

The Bunny Guy

Getting Closer!

I am nearing completion of the website and publication of my book. The small details of the site should be done by tomorrow, which is when I am due to receive my copy of the proofread book.

Once it is delivered to me, it should only take me a couple of days to attack the changes in the copy and upload it to my publisher for a proof copy. I anticipate uploading it no later than Monday morning and hope to be able to get my copy back within a week.

Once I have that proof copy in hand, I can approve the book to be released to the public. This should be sometime between Feb 5th and 8th, which is my birthday. What a great birthday present to finally get this book out there.

There have been dozens of people who have offered to buy a copy of the book and I have a lot of marketing to do in order to make it a success, but I am optimistic about it’s prospects. At the very least, I plan on it making a difference for hundreds if not thousands of rabbit’s lives.

Check back next week for my next blog entry, which I have written about the “Cuteness Factor”. I should have my book on sale on the site at that time. I plan to take orders about a week before it is released, so you will be able to get your copy ordered then.

Wish me luck!

The Bunny Guy