Good Bunny, Bad Bunny: How To Handle A Bunny 101
Rabbits are prey animals. This means that once they reach maturity, if they have not been well socialized, they will not much enjoy being held and picked up. Even rabbits who were content to be cuddled as babies may sometimes start to struggle as they mature.
To a rabbit, being picked up and held represents a threat to its very survival, which is why they will often struggle and grunt and fight for all they are worth. If your rabbit reacts like a hysterical 1950s movie heroine when you try to handle it, you need to go back to basics, which means putting your bunny down, and building a relationship literally from the ground up.
Being able to handle your rabbit is vital not just for your enjoyment of your pet, but for the health of your bunny. Rabbits require regular grooming, which of course requires handling, and they will also need to be able to be caught in order to be taken to the vet if they become sick, or for check ups. A rabbit which is not handled regularly can become overly stressed when it is handled, which is not good for its health. It is also a quirk of a bunny's anatomy that it can actually break its back by kicking out too viciously in certain positions, so knowing how to handle your rabbit properly isn't just about your comfort, its also about the rabbit's safety.
Friendship By Degrees
To start off with, leave the rabbit alone, and simply lay on the ground. Curiosity is as strong in rabbits as it is in cats, and sooner or later, the rabbit will hop over and sniff you. Once you are at the point where the rabbit is comfortable being in your presence, you can start to use your secret bunny bonding weapon, the sweet spot.
The Sweet Spot
Most bunnies are absolute suckers for gentle head rubs which are delivered above the nose, stroking up towards the ears. Even Wicket, who spends her days plotting against me and still occasionally bites for the sheer effrontery of having gently removed a tangle from her fur, will quite often amble over and demand a head rub from her faithful though dull subject, yours truly.
This sweet spot can be your secret weapon in taming an angry, aggressive, or unsocialized bunny, or at least building a relationship with it to the point where it only attacks you every other day.
Sit quietly with your rabbit, and when it approaches you, gently extend your hand and rub the sweet spot. More often than not, the rabbit will settle down into a crouching position, eyes slightly closed as it enjoys your ministrations.
The Devil Spot
On the other hand, if you want to provoke a rabbit attack, touch its hindquarters. Actions are like language to a rabbit, and touching a bunny's bum amounts to fighting words! It will sometimes be necessary for you to examine this area however, so you will need to acclimate the bunny to being touched there. Gentle but firm handling on a regular basis will gradually desensitize your rabbit to being touched in this area, but many rabbits never fully accept it.
Holding and Picking Up
Petting and stroking are the beginning stages to accustoming your rabbit to being handled. Once your rabbit is happy to be petted on the floor, you can try sitting on the floor and lifting the bunny gently into your lap. Odds are the rabbit will immediately leap off your lap as if it were made of lava, but that is to be expected. You can keep repeating the exercise, gently holding your rabbit there for a few seconds, then a minute, then a few minutes whilst petting it the way it likes to be petted, or if bunny is a greedy guts, you can lure him or her onto your lap with a little piece of carrot, or apple.
Once the bunny is happy being held on your lap, you can start to repeat the gradual process when picking it up, making sure it is well supported against your chest, that its legs do not dangle free, and that you have a firm grip on it for when it inevitably begins to struggle. Wait until it calms down before you release it, teaching a rabbit that struggling earns freedom is a surefire way to increase its struggling next time, and that is tiresome for you, and potentially dangerous for the bunny.
The Bunny On Its Back
Sometimes you will need to have your bunny on its back in order to examine its tummy and rear end. Experienced rabbit owners with well socialized rabbits can actually hypnotize their rabbits to relax and go into a trance in this position, but for the bulk of rabbit owners, the challenge will not be to put the bunny in a trance, but to stop it from killing itself. Whenever you have your rabbit on its back, prevent the back legs from kicking by using your arm as a brace. It is vitally important that the rabbit is not allowed to kick freely in this position, as kicking and twisting can actually cause the rabbit to break its own spine.
Next: Basic Bunny Grooming
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