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A Brief Introduction to Training your Rabbit


Wednesday November 26th 2014

If someone told you they were training their pet you'd be forgiven for assuming they were talking about their dog - but rabbits are also capable of learning a number of tricks if they have a patient owner. Interested in teaching your rabbit to jump through hoops? Then read on to find out how to get started.

Clicker training
You'll teach your rabbit to obey your commands through a process known as clicker training - by making a noise with a clicker (any device that makes a clicking sound) and then offering the rabbit a treat. Over time your rabbit will associate this sound of the clicker with a treat, which will encourage it to repeat desirable behaviours such as walking on two legs, running through tunnels and anything else you can think of.

First thing's first
Before you start training your rabbit you should ensure it's in tip-top condition and ready to hop. A rabbit with an injury or suffering from illness isn’t going to be in the right frame of mind for training, and it could even aggravate the condition. If in any doubt about whether your rabbit is fit enough to be trained consult your vet.

Another thing to bear in mind is that your rabbit may eventually become tired or bored, which is often a sign to give up training for the day. Continuing can not only confuse the rabbit and be detrimental to the training process, but can even cause it distress - rather than associating the click with a treat, it will associate it with feelings of uneasiness.

Choosing a clicker and treats
As a rabbit owner you'll know your pet doesn't respond too well to loud noises, so it's important you choose something that makes a soft clicking noise. In many cases a simple ballpoint pen will suffice. If even this noise is too harsh for your rabbit you could try muffling the noise by closing your hand over the clicker.

As for treats, you'll want to choose something your rabbit really enjoys eating, so establish what it likes before beginning the training regime. Portions should be very small so your rabbit can eat it quickly and without overfeeding it, and if you are going to use concentrated food for treats make sure you don’t go over the recommended daily allowance. To keep a rabbit's interest for long you can use a variety of different treats.

First steps
Before you can get your bunny to sit up on command you'll need to teach it that clicks and treats go hand in hand. To begin this process make sure you have your rabbit's full attention. Make the clicking sound wait just a second and then offer the rabbit a treat. Repeat this process several times and your rabbit will soon understand that a click means a treat is on the way. You can see if your rabbit has learnt to associate clicks with treats by clicking when it has distracted itself with something else. If it comes to you looking for a treat you've successfully taught it to associate the two things.

Capturing and Cues
Now that your rabbit understands a treat will follow a click you can start to encourage certain behaviours. While playing with your rabbit react to what it does - if it jumps over an obstacle click while it's in the air and offer a treat as soon as it land. If your rabbit is reluctant to jump naturally then placing a bar between a rabbit and its litter box or water supply is one way to increase the chance of it jumping.

Soon your rabbit will learn that jumping results in a click and a treat. When the rabbit is clear about this you can add a cue word ('jump' is a sensible one!). With patience, repetition and rehearsal, you'll soon find yourself with a bunny that can jump on cue.
Just remember when training your rabbit that you need to speak very clearly. If it appears your rabbit doesn't quite understand you don’t talk simply talk louder - this will only intimidate the rabbit and halt progress.

More advanced tricks
You should always give your rabbit a treat when it hears the clicker as this establishes trust between you and the pet. However, this doesn't mean you have to click every single time the rabbit does something. In fact, over time you should be training the rabbit to do a little bit more for each click and trick. This might mean encouraging the rabbit to stand for a little bit longer or to jump over an obstacle and then run up to your hand. If the rabbit doesn’t behave as you've intended slow down and start making smaller adjustments.

This is just the beginning of your rabbit training. If you and your rabbit have had fun with these basic training steps why not find more? Who knows, you might even find yourself competing in the annual Rabbit Olympics!

This article was written on behalf of helpucover. helpucover is a trading style of Pinnacle Insurance plc, an insurance company who offers pet insurance.