The rescues that come to our rescue do so for a variety of reasons, however, the most common is....AGGRESSION! Rabbits are very social creatures and love interaction and can be misunderstood rather easily. By they time a rabbit reaches the age of 6 months old they can become very hormonal as they are ready to breed. Now this is usually more often Doe than Bucks. Rabbits can even have what is called a "phantom pregnancy". I have seen a doe that had never even been bred or introduced to a buck actually pull fur, make a nest and protect it as if she were going to kindle or already had! Bizarre stuff I agree! Hormones can make them crazy! Now I am not an expert on animal behavior and I have read tons of material on the subject and have even spoken with expert animal behaviorists about what can be done to overcome aggression. I combined many different ideas as well as my own experience with rabbits over the years and feel I have come to a solution that continues to be successful for me. Please consult with an expert before doing anything your self.
I have seen all kinds of different aggressive behaviors in all different breeds of rabbits, but the worst I have ever seen was right here in my own rabbitry! Twilight is a black tort lionhead doe that I purchased from a very sweet breeder out of Oklahoma several months ago. The breeder warned me of her unique nature and told me that her mother was the same way! Well, I decided to go ahead with the purchase, as nothing much seems to worry me, and had her transported to Texas where I made arrangements to have her come here. Talk about the cutest little rabbit I have ever seen! She is so adorable! But, she was a vicious little thing! I have never seen aggression so bad! Twilight has something we call "cage aggression". She has a need to protect her area at ALL COSTS! Well it got so bad that my husband and I started calling her "NINJA BUNNY"! This rabbit would literally jump and stick to the top left corner of her cage like Velcro and back flip to attack us! She charged at us non stop! I had been bitten so many times that I eventually resorted to using garden gloves just to feed and water her! I was tired of the constant drama at feeding time and started looking into how we could work out our differences. I had been told to do everything from thumping her on her nose to sedating her! WHAT? How is that suppose to help anything? Wouldn't that cause more FEAR? After all aggression stems from fear! I was so frustrated because it almost seemed that no one believed I could overcome this challenge! That's when I found a lady on line who used to work at Sea world and now had her own business dealing with exotics. She has such an understanding of animal behavior and how to interact with them in a healthy and safe way. She made me realize that it is OK for an animal to have his/her OWN SPACE! That it was Ok for her to not want me to come into that space. It makes so much sense to me now! It got me thinking!
I made a list to help me plan how I was going to approach working with her aggression:
1. Why is she aggressive? FEAR!
2. When is she most aggressive? IN HER CAGE!
3. What is her favorite thing? What will she work for? PELLETS AND RAISINS! She loves them! (raisins are high in sugar so they must be given sparingly!)
I placed Twilight in a smaller cage (to help restrict the amount of space she needed to protect) and brought her inside to my bedroom. She needed to get used to my environment. If she was not going to tolerate me in her space, I would welcome her into mine on MY TERMS! I gave her unlimited water and hay inside her cage but did not give her any treats or pellets! I sat about 4 ft in front of her cage and placed the pellets in front of my lap. The purpose of this is to make her come into my space to get what she wants without aggressive behavior. I opened her door and waited. She eventually came out. She sniffed and hesitated! There was thumping ( warning me to stay a way from her) and growling. Then she charged me! NO! This is not what I was hoping for! I picked her up gave her a firm "NO" and put her back in her cage. I walked out of the room for 5 minutes and then returned to follow the same steps. This time she came as far as to grab a mouthful of pellets before nipping me! Back in the cage you go! I gave her a firm "NO" and left the room for another 5 minutes. I returned to follow the same steps. This time she came to the bowl to eat. She thumped at me and I said "NO"! She kept eating. Then she growled and I said "NO"! She kept eating. When she finished her pellets I said "good girl" and I placed 1 raisin in her bowl. Then she went into her cage. I closed the door and left her alone until the next day. I repeated these steps for a week and then used the same idea for beginning to feed her in her cage. She attempted to attack a few times but that just means you use a firm "NO" and make her wait a little longer for what she wants. I can now feed her in her original cage outside. She does not like to be pet or cuddled which is ok. But we found a solution to help with our situation of me needing to feed her and she needing to be fed. We have a strong respect for each other now. Please keep in mind that growling and thumping is a warning that it is about to "go down"! I had to teach her that it was never going to "go down" in my space or hers. She needed to know that I was not going to harm her and that she could get what she wants by redirecting her behavior.
I had not shared this story with anyone until recently. The week before Christmas eve I got a phone call from a very distressed lady near Austin, Tx. Her voice sounded of desperation and hesitation. I soon found the hesitation to be that she wasn't sure she really wanted to give this bunny up. She called me because their English Spot "Louie" was showing signs of aggression. They were at their wits end with being bitten. They could not hold, cuddle or much less even feed this rabbit without being charged and attacked. She was such a sweet lady. I could tell she really cared for this animal. We talked and shared stories and laughed! Before I knew it I realized I was falling in love with this family I had never even met! I knew that them surrendering their bunny to me did not have to be their only solution. I began to tell her about "Ninja Bunny" and could tell she was interested in hearing more. She had mentioned " Louie really is a sweet rabbit, we just cannot handle his aggression anymore"! She made arrangements for me to take him a week from that day as I was going to Austin to visit family then.
The morning of Christmas eve I got a phone call from her. Her tone was different! It was excited! She said "Brandy, I don't think we will need to bring him after all! I did some thinking and tried the techniques you had told me about and it WORKED! I can feed him, pick him up and pet him! He is a completely different rabbit! He loves raisins too!"
I was thrilled! I was so proud of her and Louie's accomplishment! She emails me with questions that I love to answer as she has discovered a new relationship with her pet and is now excited about having a bunny.
I love stories like this! Stories that have positive endings to help encourage others and to give hope that with a little understanding (and the right treat! Ha!) They too can have a great relationship with their pet!
We are so proud of you Louie! And your family! Keep up the great work!
Thinking about showing your rabbits?
I recently got into showing rabbits, and attend local shows here in Texas for now. My first show was the SARBA show in Seguin, Tx. My experience the first time I went to a show was very rough. I almost decided to never show again. I have decided now that instead of giving up, I will try to help others avoid the same experience I had. I am not very experienced as I have only attended a few shows at this time, But I do feel I know enough to share the experiences I have had already. I have prepared below a small description of what to prepare for, what to expect and what to avoid.
*What to prepare for-
First chose a show you want to attend. Find out where it is to be held and who is hosting it. For example: I went to a show in Seguin, Tx that was hosted by SARBA ( San Antonio Rabbit Breeders Association). Find out what breeds will be sanctioned at the show. Note: just because your breed is not listed as a sanctioned breed, does not mean it cannot be shown! Is it a specialty show or an open variety show? There is usually a phone or email contact for the person hosting the show that can answer your questions regarding the breeds shown.
Next You want to make sure you take a copy of the breed standard for the breed you have chosen to take with you to the show. If you do not have a breed standard you can get one from Bunnyrabbit.com .Your rabbit must have a Tattoo number in it's left ear to be shown!You choose the ear number you want ( letters or numbers) and place it in the rabbit's left ear. I had a very nice breeder through SARBA teach me how to tattoo my rabbits. Prepare the way you are going to transport your rabbits to the show. Do you have a carrier? Bunnyrabbit.com and Hasenpfeffer Rabbitry and Cages can help you with the purchase of items needed for show such as carriers, grooming supplies and tables. Your rabbits nails need to be clipped, their coat needs to be clean and brushed, ears need to be clear of debree and their vent area needs to be clean. Present your rabbit in tip top shape. If you are 18 years and older you will enter in the "open" show. If you are under the age of 18 years old, you will enter in the "youth" show.
You need to plan to arrive at the show at least 30 minutes prior to the first show starting to set up and register your rabbits for show. For Example: The seguin show I attended had 2 shows in one. An A show and a B show. You can show in both. Prepare for separate entry fees per rabbit per show. I have seen entry fees to be about $3.00.
You may want to take folding chairs, a blanket and a cooler with drinks and snacks. Also do not forget your grooming supplies.
*What to expect-
When you arrive they may not have someone direct you where to go. ASK SOMEONE! If you don't know then ask. It is usually a table at the front. When you get to the registration table, they will ask you what show you are showing in and then they will hand you some white slips. These are the Judge Comment Cards. You will fill out your rabbits information on this and it will be used to judge your rabbit.The information it may ask for is: Your name, address, and date. Your rabbit's name and breed, ear number, sex, age(-6 months= junior/ +6 months= senior) and variety/color. You will need to fill one out for each rabbit for each show you would like to be in. You will pay your fee and hand the cards back to the person at the table. After that you will go back to your spot with your equipment and belongings and wait. You must pay attention to the announcements as that will be your Cue to show your rabbits. They will usually have several judging tables, so it is important to listen! They will call the breeds (usually) in alphabetical order. For example: Blue mini rexes would probably go before Castor Mini Rexes. When you hear the announcements you will probably hear something like " OPEN...MINI REXES....CASTOR.... JUNIOR DOES"! So if you are showing in Open and have a male Mini Rex that is over the age of 6 months that is black, this is what you would listen for: " OPEN....MINI REXES....BLACKS....SENIOR BUCKS"! When you hear your group being called you will carry your rabbit in it's carrier over to the judging table. On top of the show coups will be the judging cards. When you find yours you put your rabbit in that coup. Make sure you shut the coup door. Then you wait! As the judge makes his way down the table you will see another person following close behind. This person is writing the judges comments down on the comment cards. IF you hear "DQ" this means disqualified. A rabbit can be disqualified for not meeting the breed standard or for not being labled correctly on the comment card. For Example: If you mark your rabbit junior when it is a senior, or a buck when it is a doe. "BOB" means best of breed, "BOV" means best of variety, "BOG" means best of group and "BIS" means best in show. If your animal gets "BOB" you will go on to compete for best of show. Now when Show "A" is over that is usually the half way mark and is also usually LUNCH TIME! This is a great opportunity to look around at other rabbits and grab a few refreshments. Also there is usually a raffle with items that were donated by club members. You can purchase raffle tickets for the items of your choice. They will usually announce the winners when both shows have ended. If you are staying for The "B" show it is the same as the "A" show. After your animals are done showing, you will receive your comment cards back from the judges. KEEP THESE! I keep mine with my rabbit's pedigree in a plastic sleeve in a binder. Even if you do not win, these cards help you to identify any flaws or strengths in your herd.
*What to AVOID-
Make sure you are aware of the show rules! You want to abide by the rules and regulations of the show. Make sure the cages you have brought are shut at all times. You want to avoid your rabbits getting loose! Also, I made the mistake of watching others to get an idea of what I should do. I watched a Judge handle the rabbits in and out of the coups while judging. I thought for sure that it was correct and did the same! NO NO NO! When placing the rabbit into the show coup, do so gently. When removing the rabbit from the coup...place one hand under it's chest/belly and another around the top of it's back and lift the animal gently out of the coup. If the animal is afraid, place him/her in a "football" hold with it's head tucked under your arm. This makes handling much easier!
As I have said I am not an expert at showing, however it has become something I do enjoy. I did not have very much help and it was in fact very scary at first. If you have anything to add to this or any questions please let me know! I will add more as I learn or experience more!