When being introduced to the idea of stress bonding, some rabbit owners are leery because they believe it to be unnecessary. Or, maybe the word “stress” is automatically associated with a negative action. Perhaps calling it “rapid bonding” would sound better.
Verbiage aside, many pet rabbits need to share space – plain and simple. Also, rabbits are social animals. Human owners who must be gone during the day will have a much happier bunny if he has a friend to keep him company. No bunny wants to spend long periods of time all alone. Even though your rabbit is domesticated, his base nature is intact. It is natural for him to be part of a colony (group of rabbits). A group of rabbits is sometimes referred to as a warren, though that word is also used to describe a network of underground rabbit burrows (a place where rabbits live out in nature).
Often, rabbits fight when they are initially introduced. Since they can (and sometimes will) fight to the point of serious injury or even death, it is not responsible to just toss them into the same space without proper introduction periods or bonding sessions. Bonding can be a good experience for some rabbits. It can also be a catastrophe – fur flying, teeth gnashing and a circle chase (tornado). When introductions are not so easy, humans working on bonding have to step it up and use rapid (stress) bonding techniques.
What Is Stress Bonding?
Stress bonding is placing rabbits together in a situation where they are a bit nervous, alarmed or slightly stressed. Being in a stressful situation causes them to draw close to one another for support. Though many articles could be written on different ways to stress bond, this article will focus on only one: the popular method of taking them for a car ride. This method is widely used because it is effective. Most rabbits hate riding in vehicles. Even rabbits that have been fighting will almost always put their differences aside, huddle together and become friends.
You are working on bonding and have decided to just cut to the chase and use the car-ride technique. You can do that at home by simulation. Get a deep plastic storage bin (container) and put a clean towel in the bottom for traction. You don’t want your rabbits sliding around as this could cause spine or leg fractures, or other serious injuries. Risk of injury due to slippery surfaces is why bathtubs should never be used.
Set the storage bin on a bed and get the rabbits. Once you put the rabbits into the bin together, don’t dally. You don’t want to give them any time to start scuffling. Take your hand and very lightly bounce the bin – just enough to simulate the feeling they would get if they were riding in the car. Don’t shake it back and forth and don’t overdo it. You are just trying to very gently mimic a gentle movement that they perceive as stressful. You will see that they start feeling a bit uneasy. Within seconds, they should huddle together – even if there was mutual loathing prior.
You do not have to create movement in the bin for more than a minute or so. Even though car rides are much longer, stop and observe them after a short time. It might not take long of being in close quarters together to start showing signs that they are going to start fighting. If that occurs, start the light bouncing again. If they don’t fight, give them each a small treat (like a raisin or dried cranberry) as a reward.
Up to this point, you have accomplished three important things: 1) You have them in a neutral territory which is critical for successful bonding; 2) You have created a situation where they lean on each other for support; and 3) You are teaching them that they get a treat for their positive response to this type of training. Bonding is really training rabbits to be friendly together so they can share the same living space and have a partner(s).
Watch them interact and closely monitor progress. When you think they are going to be okay together, you can let them out of the bin onto the bed. Make sure it is safe, meaning, they will not fall and hurt themselves. Watch their interaction and continue the bonding session. Don’t put them back into the primary living space together after one simulated car ride. If you do, they may have a vicious fight. They will remember that later and it will be even more difficult to bond them.
Though some sources disagree, we have found that long bonding sessions work well for many rabbits. In fact, hours of bonding, though it may exhaust you, is often much more effective than 20 or 30 minute sessions once or twice a day. Some rabbit owners have been known to do all-night bonding sessions. By the next day, they can trust their rabbits together in a primary living space. You should still monitor frequently until he/she is sure the bonding has worked.
It is important to learn the basics of bonding before-hand so that you know when you should intervene, and when to stay out of it and let them work things out on their own. Rabbits (whether bonded prior or not) need to establish dominance – which one will be in charge (alpha) and which will be submissive. Establishing dominance often involves mountain (humping), scuffling (having a few “tiffs” or arguments), et cetera. Circling or an all-out rabbit war should not be allowed.
During this process, if the rabbits express behaviors that indicate real fighting is about to break out, put them back into the bin and, without delay and start the car-simulation process over again. They will soon learn that fighting equals stress and they will not like that. Rabbits learn fast. After a few times, you should just have to slightly move the bin a few times to remind them that the rabbit beside them is a good support system in their time of need.
Why The Bed?
The reason you want to do this on a bed is because it has some “give” which makes it easier to simulate the feeling of riding in the car. Floors do not work well because they do not have that same give, so there is no bouncy (car movement) effect. The area inside the container is small enough that the rabbits are in fairly close quarters. Contrary to popular belief, a small area is often better for bonding because the animals are forced to make contact. In that, they are less likely to fight. Also, a bin is unfamiliar to either of the rabbits, so they will be more interested in investigating their surroundings than picking on each other – at least for a few seconds.
Whether you are bonding your rabbits (making introductions) for the first time or you are rebonding rabbits that were partners prior and all of a sudden started fighting, it is helpful to read the article entitled: When Bonded Rabbits Fight. To access that article, CLICK HERE.
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“Bunny Conversations, The Entertaining Dialogue Of Pet Rabbits“ was written by Author Jana Brock. She had the help of two co-authors: a bonded pair of Holland Lop rabbits named Lila and Bandit (also known as “The Littles”). This is a light-hearted, entertaining and informative book. It is also very special. After all, rabbit co-authors are very rare ((grin)). It was written with a wide audience in mind – even those who do not have pet rabbits.
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