The rabbit guide to training your human #barbarablogs

Hello, I’m Barbara the rabbit. I’m taking over this blog today, with some words of advice for my fellow rabbits. I want to talk about how to make sure your human is taking proper care of you.

Barbara the rabbit

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

How to get adopted properly as a rabbit

I have two humans, and I came to live with them in December. I worked hard on making this happen – I’d been living at my adoption centre for nine months, but hadn’t found anyone to take me home.

Firstly, I wanted to meet them before I made my decision. It’s a big commitment, taking on new humans and new brothers, and I wanted to be sure it was the right thing to do. Take your time in deciding!

My new mum came to visit me two or three times, firstly. I mostly ignored her. Test them! Make sure they’re really interested in you. She passed the test and I got interested too.

Next, they brought my new brothers in to visit and bond. This is always a bit daunting – I’d been living on my own for a while and I wasn’t sure about meeting new bunnies. Particularly young ones – I’m a more mature lady, myself, and these were young lads of not even two years old! I decided that the smaller one would be the most helpful, as he was less likely to attack. The moment they put him in with me, I snuggled up to him. He was a bit alarmed, but all of the humans were very impressed. Get a small, non-threatening ally who can help your cause. Ned is literally half my size, so I felt very safe in using him here.

One more test before I committed to this adoption: test their knowledge of health problems! I decided to have an upset stomach the day before moving in. It meant that my homecoming was delayed by two days, but it also ensured I got a vet visit immediately upon getting home. I wanted to check out my new vet for myself – and I was quite pleased.

How to set up your room, rabbit-style

Now, I know somebunnies are very happy living outside, but I’m an indoor kind of girl, myself. In my first home, I lived outside, and that just wasn’t for me. I explained this very clearly to the people at the adoption centre, so my new parents knew that I was going to be a house rabbit right from the start. This wasn’t a problem for them as my two brothers had been living inside already.

Make it very clear you don’t want to be outside. The moment we left the adoption centre and I knew we were outside, I started thumping and didn’t stop until we’d got into the car. When we got home, the window was open. I thumped my disapproval of the birds outside until the window was shut. Result!

Humans will have an idea of how the room will look. Their design skills aren’t very good. I prefer to think of them as a guideline – take your room as a blank canvas! I think my carpet looks much better with hay on it (easy snack!), and the occasional pee stain adds character. Feel free to make changes to the carpet as necessary. After all, you’re the one who’s closer to it!

Move your furniture around as much as you like. Particularly at night. Humans like hearing noise in the night and may even come to play with you! But, seriously, if they’d put the litter box in the left corner of my room rather than the right to begin with, I’d not have needed to do it!

How to bond with rabbit siblings

I hadn’t had too much experience with other rabbits before meeting my brothers, so I was a bit nervous. The adoption centre had tried to bond me with some other boys, but it hadn’t gone well. But I’m here to tell you that it can work out!

I’m lucky because my two new brothers are both smaller than I am. This means that I have an advantage – so, if possible, select very little siblings. You can overpower them more easily.

Don’t let them get complacent. When Ned and I still lived in separate rooms, I learnt how to open his door. He’d come running out, expecting human fuss, and I could ambush him. I never hurt him, but he learnt very quickly that I wasn’t someone to be trifled with! Even months later when we were getting on much better, I’d still occasionally nip his tail to make him drop whatever food he was holding and then eat it myself. Needs must, you know!

However, that doesn’t mean you always have to be cruel. With Gingee, I took a different tactic. Learn their psychology. Gingee wanted to protect me, so I’d sit unmoving on the floor during our bonding sessions. He loved this and really thought he was in charge!

Now we all live in the same room and I have them well trained. Ned knows that he needs to guard me as I sleep, and Gingee knows that he’s in charge of investigating anything that happens on those scary stairs. They both know that the largest share of the apple is always mine. They’re pretty good boys, all in all.

How to get the humans to bend to your will

So here’s the hardest bit. Humans are big. They can pick you up. They can take you the vet. Sometimes they might not give you as many treats as you’d like. It’s hard to train them but it’s so worthwhile. Yes, it can be tricky – no one likes seeing their human upset or frustrated, but you mustn’t back down.

Here are my top five tips:

  • The silent treatment. This is surprisingly effective. I know the weekly routine. There are five days where we are left alone between 7am-6pm and get to play in the evenings, and there are two days where we get human interaction throughout the day. What I don’t like is when the humans try and intrude on the sacred Five Days of Rabbit. So if they do, I sit with my back to them, or flop dramatically on the floor and fall asleep immediately. They quickly work out that I don’t feel like interacting – sometimes this works amazingly well and they’ll even take one or both of my brothers out of the room to play so I’m not disturbed!
  • Make them feel guilty. This is easy for me. I have arthritis in one of my front paws, although it rarely bothers me. I can run just as fast as my brothers, despite being much older. But if someone is trying to coerce me into something I don’t want to do, I can hold up my front paw and hop forlornly on the other three. They quickly come around, and you might even get some yummy Loxicom! (The trick to this is putting your “bad” paw down again very quickly so you don’t end up with a vet visit!)
  • Responding to words. I don’t mean commands. Learn which sounds they use to represent your favourite treats, for example. Mine say “apple” and “food”. If I hear one of these sounds, I go up to the human, nuzzle them and give them about 30 seconds to produce the “apple” or the “food”. If they don’t, thump angrily. The treats will appear, trust me. Ideally, you’ll also get praise for how clever you are!
  • Remind them that you make the rules. My humans say “Barbara, are you going in for a bit?” when they want me to have some cage time. Fine, I’m happy to go in there sometimes, but they need to know that they don’t get to boss me around too much. I like to do a lap of the cage before I go in. That way they know that I understand them and that I’m clever, but they also know that I make the decision about when I’m going in for a bit.
  • Physical punishment. I try and keep this as a last resort, but sometimes it does need to be done. Occasionally my mum hands out the food too slowly, or she sits in my way when I need to take the quickest route towards the bookcase, for example. A small nip usually does the trick. Purr and nuzzle immediately afterwards to show that you still love them, you just needed them do what you asked.

I hope this has helped, and that you can use this advice to create a happy rabbit-human bond in your home. Remember, you’re in charge!

Barbara the rabbit with her arthritic paw

Until next time, my furry friends!

So you’re thinking of getting a house rabbit?

I never thought we’d ever have a house rabbit, but now we have three, and we love them so much. I feel like we talk about them constantly.

A lot of people have said, after hearing me talk about them, that they’d like house rabbits themselves. And they can be wonderful and it can be a fantastic decision! But there are the things I don’t tell you, as well. And maybe I’m doing everyone a disservice in not sharing some of the more difficult aspects of being a bunny parent.

So, here’s a quick crash course in getting a house rabbit.

Why do you want a house rabbit?

As far as I can tell, you probably want a house rabbit if you can answer yes to at least one of the following questions.

  1. Do you think that there isn’t enough hay in your house right now? Because within six months, your house will be 80 per cent hay. You can vacuum and sweep as much as you like, but that stuff will get everywhere. You will be cleaning constantly. (All of these pictures I see online of immaculate rabbit homes – I can only assume that they were taken in the three minutes after cleaning. Please let me continue to assume that!)
  2. Do you not have enough worries in your life? Rabbits can help. “Is he eating enough? Why is her urine that colour? Does his stomach usually make that much noise? What were the symptoms of GI stasis again?”
  3. Does it bother you when all of your cables are intact? Your new house rabbit can help! Chewing through cables is a specialty many of them have been working towards their whole lives. And you might even get to make new (human) friends at your local hardware shop when you have to go in every week to buy new phone cords!
  4. Do you like answering the same questions again and again from friends and family? “So, they live inside? Like, in the house?” “You know they eat their own poo, right?” “Aren’t they just really boring pets? Why not get a dog instead?” “Don’t they die really easily?” (Yes, yes, no, we prefer rabbits, and I really hope not!)
  5. Rabbit stuck in a crisp packet
    If crisps are bad for me, how come my head fits the bag so perfectly?

    Do you like being watched mournfully every time you eat anything? Fruit, vegetables, meat, cake, biscuits, crisps… I mean literally anything. For bonus points, do you enjoy not being able to look away from your food for 30 seconds because a greedy bunny might have taken it by the time you’ve looked back? I’ve known my rabbits to lick the salt from the inside of an empty packet of crisps, and even snatch a cookie or a bit of toast directly from my mouth. What can I say, these guys know what they like! (And no, they don’t care that most human food is bad for them. They love grapes, apples and greens but I think they’d still choose chocolate over all of those if given the option.)

  6. Do you like repeating the word “Noooo” more times than if you had an unruly toddler? “Nooo, you don’t need to go in the airing cupboard/climb behind the TV/stop your brother from going on the stairs” are phrases in constant use in our house.
  7. Do you want to have weird barricades all over your house? Now, we didn’t actually intend to have house rabbits. We intended to have rabbits, the outdoor kind that most people expect. But when Ned and Gingee came home, they were so small and we enjoyed spending time with them so much that there was no way they could be sent to live outside. So we ended up doing most of our bunny-proofing as and when needed. So we have raggedy cushions blocking off the TV, boxes under tables to stop eager rabbits hiding there, and many other terribly attractive features in our home. This could be your reality too!
  8. Are you looking for a way to stop taking too many holidays? We’ve not been away for more than a night since we adopted the boys. That was in October 2015. They don’t really like other people and we don’t feel comfortable taking them somewhere for boarding. I know this one is our hang-up in particular, but, yeah. They don’t get left alone very much.
  9. Have you always wanted to be on first name terms with everyone in your local vet surgery? And maybe, if you’re lucky, the not-so-local specialist as well! Rabbits need to go to the vet more than you’d think. They get sick a lot, and if you have a sick rabbit, you could well be there every week. We had a regular weekly slot (Friday at about 5.20) for about two months. When Ned stopped being so sick, we adopted Barbara and she moved right into the Friday vet slot.
  10. Have you got too much money lying around? Vet bills can add up quickly. If you get lucky and end up with special needs bunnies, insurance might not help. And rabbit health problems usually need to be dealt with immediately – so if she gets sick at night, that’s the out-of-hours vet.

Wait, there is still good stuff about having a house rabbit, right?

But, you know what? Every terrifying, exhausting, why-am-I-holding-a-broom-yet-again moment is worth it.

I wouldn’t exchange these funny little hopping loaves for the cleanest house in the world, the most stress-free life ever, or the ability to eat a meal in peace.

These little guys and girl are our family. There’s no better feeling than when Barbara reaches up to touch noses,  Gingee bops his head against your hand, or Ned demands a cuddle. Watching them interact with each other is so much fun. We have “rabbit parties” at least twice a day, where they run around, climb on us and everyone has a great time.

So, uh, should I get a house rabbit or not?

… Yes. Get two. They like company.

Ned the house rabbit enjoying a cuddle