Skip to Content

How to build trust and tame a rabbit

Rabbits are like most people; different. Some are confident and cuddly from day one, while others need more time. A newly arrived rabbit often need peace and quiet in its cage for the first day or two, to get used to its new surroundings. Be calm and quiet, and avoid sneaking up on it. As prey animals, rabbits are easily startled, especially in a new place where they don’t know their surroundings.

The rabbits cage should face at least one wall, so the rabbit can have its back free. It’s recommended to put a small house in the cage, where the rabbit can feel safe. When dealing with very shy rabbits, who spend a lot of time in the house, you can consider removing the house to speed up the process of getting to know each other. This will make it easier to establish contact, and the rabbit will sooner understand that no dangers are lurking.
You should still keep in mind that rabbits don’t like wide, open spaces, so some other form of safe place should always be available in a large, open cage.

When the rabbit has had time to familiarize with its cage, you should start spending time around it. Talk to the rabbit, and offer pellets from your hand. The rabbit has to learn that the human hand brings only positive things. You can sit, or lie, in front of the cage to be less intimidating. In the wild, predators attack from above, and shy rabbits may respond with fear if you lean over the cage while trying to become friends.

Most rabbits enjoy being stroked on their noses and by the root of their ears. As the rabbit gets used to your hand, you will probably be even more popular if you calmly cuddle these areas. Feel free to read about the rabbits bodylanguage to learn about the signals and responses you’re getting from your rabbit. As your rabbits trust increases, it will accept more handling by human hands.

When its time to let the rabbit nose around outside of its cage, its best to let it jump out by itself. When finally on the outside, the rabbit will probably not be too interested in you and instead explore its new turf.
A lot of bunnies don’t like slippery floors, so laying down a rug or carpet by the cage could be a good idea.

If the rabbit isn’t too secure in you or its surroundings, getting it back into its cage can be quite a challenge. If you have to chase your bunny down, and force it into the cage, the trust you have built will diminish. If you don’t have time to wait till the rabbit gets back in by itself, you can try coaxing with treats. If this doesn’t work at all, perhaps you should wait till the rabbit is more confident before you let it out again. Making a pen out of NIC-cubes or other items is a nice way to let the rabbit run free, while still being in a safe and controlled area.

A common question when building trust, is when and how often one can lift the rabbit, and if ‘forced’ cuddling in the lap is a good idea to calm the rabbit down around people. Opinions are varied, and the best general advice would be to consider the individual bunny. Having some knowledge of the bunny body language will be of help, and most will learn to know their rabbit and how to handle it over time.

Rabbits aren’t naturally comfortable with heights and being held firmly, but one can’t escape situations where this is necessary; nail clipping, health checks and trips to the vet are times when the rabbit needs to be handled, even though the rabbit doesn’t like it.

Some rabbits may stay shy and wary around humans, even after several months of trying to build trust. You may have gotten an animal that has inherited the natural shyness of wild rabbits, or the kit could have lacked human contact in the vital faze around 4-6 weeks after being born. The rabbit may also have bad experiences with humans. A naturally shy rabbit, can prove to be difficult to tame. A rabbit that’s not used to humans or has had its trust broken, can most often become a good friend if you’re patient and willing to work with it.

There are no absolute truths regarding the taming of rabbits, as they all are individuals with different personalities. However, the advice in this text will help you along the way.