Learning how to interact with a shy bunny can be a long process. And, it can be quite frustrating when all you want to do is give your new rabbit a big cuddle! After all, they’re so cute, and you know you’ll never do anything to hurt them. But – it’s important to remember that your new bunny doesn’t automatically know this. Not all rabbits are confident and affectionate from the start. Almost all bunny owners will have to work at their rabbit’s pace to build up that trusting relationship.
If you’re dealing with a shy bunny, these tips will help you turn your timid rabbit into a loving, affectionate pet. However, it’s important to remember that all rabbits have individual personalities. Some will naturally be more reserved than others, and that’s okay!
How to Gain a Rabbit’s Trust
Learning how to bond with a shy bunny is an important part of being a new rabbit owner. Perhaps you’ve seen other rabbits who are older and more than happy to leap into their owner’s lap for some petting. Not all rabbits are going to be like this. Especially when you first bring them home! Everything around them is new, and they’re likely to be a little scared until they get used to their new home.
Luckily, this won’t last. Over time, your shy bunny will become more comfortable with their surroundings, and with you! But, it’s important not to rush this process. Work at your rabbit’s pace. You can use tasty treats to help with this. Here are some tips to help your shy rabbit feel more comfortable around you and your home:
Choose An Appropriate Location
An important part of gaining a shy rabbit’s trust that is sometimes overlooked is the location. Rabbits are prey animals. So, they are constantly looking out for things that could hurt them! Often, people think that their rabbit is shy, when actually it is scared. But, with time we can teach our timid rabbit that there’s nothing to be afraid of from us! The best way to do this is with repeated positive experiences. And, the first step to this is choosing the right location.
Choose a room in your house where your rabbit is most likely to feel safe. Here are some things some things you’ll need to avoid:
- Other pets, eg. cats or dogs
- Children that are too young to understand they aren’t able to pet the bunny straight away
- Slippery, smooth floors which are hard for your rabbit to walk on
- Any items that may move without warning, or make noise without warning, eg. alarm clocks
Instead choose a room with plenty of space, so your rabbit has room to move away from you when they want to. Make sure you provide somewhere for them to shelter and feel safe, such as spacious, dark boxes filled with hay and bedding. Once you’ve set up your ideal location, you can get started on building that trust.
Make the Most of Treats and Food
Rabbits are herbivores. They’ll get a balanced diet from pellet food, which is popular with many owners. However, they also need access to plenty of fresh hay or grass (which will help them grind down their teeth and provide plenty of fiber). Added leafy greens and fresh veggies are also ideal. You can use these tasty fresh additions to gain the trust of your shy rabbit.
When you first bring your rabbit home, it’s a good idea to give them some time and space to get used to their surroundings. Most shy bunnies will retreat into one of those dark, den boxes you’ve left in the room for them. Once they have, place some tasty treats just outside the entrance of the box, and leave them to it. As your rabbit gains confidence, it will come out to snack on the treats, and observe its surroundings. Some rabbits benefit from a few days of this.
It’s a good idea to ensure your rabbit sees you leaving the food for them, so they know you aren’t just big and scary! The goal here is to create a positive association with you, to build the foundations of trust we want to achieve.
As your rabbit gains confidence in their home, you can leave the treat and wait slightly closer for them to come out and eat. Over time, gradually decrease the distance between you and your shy bunny’s little den. Only decrease this distance once your timid rabbit is coming out and eating the treat with confidence, despite your closer presence.
As you move closer, make sure to stay as still as possible. Sudden movements will only scare your rabbit. You may like to speak to them in a calm, quiet voice. Don’t try to pet your rabbit at this point. If your rabbit is very shy, this could make them more fearful, and mean you will have to start the process from the start.
Spend Plenty of Time With Your Rabbit
Even though you aren’t yet petting your rabbit, spending time around them is vital to building a trusting bond. You want your shy bunny to understand that you aren’t a threat to them! So, keep associating your presence with positive things, like tasty treats. In fact, as you decrease the distance between you and your bunny, you might even find that they gain enough confidence to eat some food from your hand.
Remember to always avoid sudden movements and speak in a calm voice when you talk to your bunny. And, most important of all, move at your rabbit’s pace. This will be different for each individual rabbit. Some will be more confident than others, even if they seemed shy at first. But, if you rush them, you might face setbacks and increased levels of fear. Ideally, you want your shy bunny to come to you on their own. So, choose how close you’ll get and wait there. This could take a few days, but with patience, your rabbit will soon be confident enough to come and see what you’re doing. Especially if you’re holding one of their favorite treats.
Make sure to reward any curious behavior!
Petting Your Shy Bunny
Once your rabbit is happy and confident approaching you and taking food from your hand, you can move on to the next step – petting them. Initially, you might need to reach your hand towards them and pull it back without even touching them. Try to move in from the side, rather than swooping down from above. Move slowly, and give your rabbit the option to move away if they want to. This can be the slowest part of this process, as many rabbits will be scared to let you touch them at first. Even if they’ve been happy to eat from your hands.
When you first pet them, be gentle and brief. Pet them once, and then let them eat the treat without more stroking. Over your next few attempts, you can increase the amount of time you spend petting your shy bunny. And, when they’re comfortable with your touch, you can pet different parts of them.
It’s important to build up this step gradually if you have a skittish or timid rabbit. Don’t dive straight in for a big cuddle. This will just scare your bunny. Move at their pace. If they want to retreat, let them. And make sure any successful petting is rewarded with their favorite treats.
Patience is Key!
Throughout this entire process, it’s important to move at your bunny’s pace. It may not be a smooth process for everyone. In fact, there may be some days where it seems like things are going backwards – like your bunny is less confident in coming towards you than they were yesterday. But, if you are persistent, gentle, and keep pairing your presence with positive things, you will build a trusting bond with your rabbit.
Every bunny is different. Some could take a few weeks to be comfortable with petting. Others could take a few months. But, as long as you move at your rabbit’s pace, you will end up with a much more confident bunny than you started with. Some rabbits may never be completely comfortable to climb in your lap for a cuddle. And many will remain shy and fearful when picked up. But, you can work towards these goals with positive reinforcement, and plenty of patience.
Learn Rabbit Body Language
Does your rabbit stare at you, or find it awkward to even take a glance in your direction? Are they doing things that just don’t make sense.
Since our rabbits can’t talk to us, we have to rely on body language to understand how they’re feeling about things. And this is a pretty large topic! So, it’s a great idea to read up on what different types of body language can mean. We have some useful guides that can help with this. Here are some to get you started:
- Why Do Rabbits Keep Turning Their Ears?
- Why Do Rabbits Chew On Their Cage?
- Rabbit Thumping At Night
- Why do Rabbits Grunt?
- Why Do Rabbits Scratch At My Clothes?
Do You Have a Shy Bunny?
Do you have a timid rabbit at home that you’re building a bond with? What tips would you offer to others who are looking to boost their bunny’s confidence? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments. And be sure to let us know if any of the information in this guide helped you bond with your own rabbit!
References and Resources
- Magnus, E. ‘Behaviour of the Pet Rabbit: What is Normal and Why Do Problems Develop?’, In Practice (2005)
- Guen, B. ‘Misconceptions Regarding Rabbit Behavior’, The Veterinary Record (2015)
- Crowell-Davis, S. ‘Behavior Problems in Pet Rabbits’, Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine (2007)
- Bradbury, A. & Dickens, G. ‘Appropriate Handling of Pet Rabbits: A Literature Review’, Journal of Small Animal Practice (2016)
- Trocino, A. (et al), ‘Housing of Growing Rabbits in Individual, Bicellular and Collective Cages: Fear Level and Behavioural Patterns’, Animal (2012)
- Csatadi, K. (et al), ‘Specificity of Early Handling: Are Rabbit Pups Able to Distinguish Between People?’, Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2007)
- Ducs, A. (et al), ‘Physical Contact While Handling is Not Necessary to Reduce Fearfulness in the Rabbit’, Applied Animal Behavior Science (2009)