Rabbits are really intelligent pets, and they can be trained to perform cool tricks just like a dog. Rabbits are usually very treat motivated and will do just about anything to get that yummy piece of banana. Training is a really fun way to spend time with your little furry friend and bond with them.
I’ve put together this step-by-step guide for 4 of the tricks that I teach my rabbits. These tricks use a combination of training techniques including clicker training, luring, and plain old classical conditioning. If you want to learn more about these techniques, I have a post outlining them and how to use them to effectively to train your rabbit.
I’ve been able to use these techniques to successfully train my rabbits and many rabbits at the animal shelter where I volunteer, but you can change up these techniques however you need to work with your own rabbit. Every rabbit has their own quirks and personality. Feel free to change and adjust any of these training steps so that they work for you and your rabbit.
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1. Come when called
There are a couple ways that I’ve tried teaching my rabbits to know their names and come when called. I first tried using a clicker training technique, which uses a click sound to help the rabbit learn the correct behavior. But it seemed that my rabbit was having trouble understanding what to do, so I changed tactics. The most effective way I’ve found to teach a rabbit to come when called is to use a basic classical conditioning technique.
The basic steps you’ll want to follow:
- Call their name as you give your rabbit a treat. At first you just want to call their name (or whatever cue word you want to use) when they are already next to you and while they are taking the treat from your hand. The goal of this first step is to simply help your rabbit associate the sound of their name with the reward of a treat. You’re teaching your rabbit to recognize the cue.
- Call your rabbit’s name and give them a treat after they approach. After a couple weeks of calling your rabbits name while you hand them a treat, try calling their name when they are not next to you. If they approach, hand them a treat to reinforce the cue. Continue to call them periodically throughout the day to reinforce the trick. If they don’t approach you, then it means they don’t recognize the cue yet, and you should continue with step one for a little while longer.
After your rabbit starts to get the hang of the trick, you can start to phase out the treats. I still give my rabbit a treat for approaching me when I call her sometimes, just not every single time.
This is a very simple process but it can take a while for your rabbit to understand. It’s not something you’ll be able to teach in a day. This is a trick that just takes time and patience as you wait for your rabbit to make the association between their name and the positive reward.
A couple tips to help you out with this trick:
- Use a short word or nickname. Rabbits will have a harder time understanding long names with a lot of syllables. Picking a nickname they can understand will be easier to teach them. For example, my rabbit is named “Elusive,” but I trained her to come with her nickname “Ellie.” You’ll also want to say your cue word with the same intonation every time, so your rabbit will be able to recognize the word.
- Use a special, high value treat. It can be helpful to use a special treat that you don’t give your rabbit at any other time. This way your rabbit will always be really excited to come to you. I like to use pieces of dried fruit that I cut up into small pieces. I personally use the dried fruit pieces at my favorite online store Small Pet Select, and the rabbits love them! (and if you want these treats you can get 15% off your order if you use the code BUNNYLADY at checkout)
- Stand in different locations. If you stand or sit in the same place every time you give your rabbit a treat, they might only come to you when you call if you’re standing in that same place. Mix up where you’re standing and sitting, so your rabbit will understand they’ll get a treat no matter where you are located.
2. Give you kisses
Teaching a rabbit to give kisses is a surprisingly easy trick to teach a rabbit. Some rabbits will be able to figure this out in less than a day. I’ve even worked with a couple rabbits who figured it out in less than five minutes!
This trick uses mostly the luring technique, but with a little bit of clicker training principles to help out a little. The steps are as follows:
- Lure your rabbits nose up for a treat. First you need to teach you rabbit that they need to look up to get the treat. Smaller rabbits tend to understand this instinctively, but some larger rabbits will need a couple of practice rounds where you lure their nose up and give them the treat. This way they won’t get confused and start sniffing the ground, thinking you dropped it.
- Bring the treat up by your face. After your rabbit starts to follow the treat up without getting confused, bring your hand close to your face with the treat. You will probably need to bend over to bring your head closer to your rabbit.
- Hide the treat in your hand so your rabbit has to search for it. After you get the rabbit’s nose close to your face, close your fist and hide the treat in the palm of your hand. Your rabbit will instinctively start to sniff around the area to find the missing treat.
- When your rabbit sniffs around your mouth, make a kiss sound and give them the treat. As soon as your rabbit sniffs at, or near, your mouth, make a kissing sound and give them the treat. The kissing sound works like a clicker so your rabbit will know what they did to receive the treat. After a few rounds they’ll make that positive association with the sound and they’ll be able to repeat the trick easily.
If it’s your first time training your rabbit to do tricks, this might take a couple days, so don’t get too frustrated. The goal is to lure your rabbit’s nose up by your face, let them sniff around a little, and reward them when they get it right. You’ll also get a built-in hand cue for when you want to ask your rabbit for kisses. Simply raise a fist up by your face, and your rabbit will understand what trick you want them to perform.
This is undeniably by favorite trick to teach the rabbits at the animal shelter where I work socializing the rabbits. It’s easy to teach and it’s adorable, making the rabbits more likely to be adopted. It also encourages the rabbits to be friendlier and come up to people, since they know that they might get a treat out of it.
Spinning is another easy trick to teach a rabbit using a basic luring technique. The idea is to teach a rabbit to spin in a circle on command. This is a fun trick to teach a rabbit and combine with other tricks. Such as getting them to spin in a circle three times then give a high five.
A clicker can be useful for helping your rabbit learn this trick fast, but it’s not absolutely necessary. As long as you have a treat your rabbit loves, they’ll learn this trick easily.
The steps to train a rabbit to spin:
- Lure your rabbit in a circle with your hand. With a treat in your hand, directly lure you rabbit until they’ve spun in a full circle. Then give them a click with the clicker and let them have the treat. Do this a number of times with the treat in your hand and the click to help them understand they get the treat when they complete the circle.
- Without a treat in your hand, sweep your hand in a circle. When your rabbit easily follows the treat all the way around, start making the same circle motion with just your hand (and no treat). Usually the rabbit will have no problem following your hand. Continue giving them the click and treat when they complete the circle. As your rabbit gets the hang of it, make the hand gesture faster and faster.
- Move your hand in the direction you want them to spin, but don’t make the full gesture. As the hand gesture gets faster, your rabbit will start to understand what they need to do just based on the quick motion. At this point you can start just making a motion of part of the circle and see if your rabbit will continue on their own. As they get better at it, you can start making your hand gestures smaller and eventually just start pointing in the direction you want your rabbit to spin.
The goal here is to teach you rabbit to spin in a circle when you point or make a small gesture in the desired direction. You will need to train your rabbit to spin in both directions separately. Most rabbits won’t automatically know you want them to spin counterclockwise if you’ve only been training them to spin clockwise. You can also phase out the clicker after your rabbit is doing a good job and is able to spin easily.
4. High five
Teaching a rabbit to give you a high five is a more complicated trick that usually takes a little longer for a rabbit to understand. This was the first trick I taught my elderly bun, Tenshi, so many years ago. It took a little bit of trial and error, but with patience we figured it out together (okay, really she did all the work). If you keep at it, I know you and your bun will be able to do it too!
For this trick, we will need to use some clicker training! So if you haven’t read the basic training post, then head on over there first. This trick uses some terms and techniques, and it will be helpful to start with a basic understanding of how clicker training works.
If you don’t have a clicker yet, you can get one here. They are a dog training tool that are pretty cheap and easy to use with no mechanical parts. If you don’t want to use a clicker you can also make a clucking sound with your mouth.
Her are just a few reminders for you:
- If you click you must give your rabbit a treat, even if you made a mistake.
- Keep training sessions to around 5 minutes so you don’t exhaust or frustrate your rabbit.
- Make sure you cut your treats into small pieces so you don’t have to worry about giving your rabbit too many treats.
You may find that when working with your rabbit you need to adjust the steps a little.
That is perfectly okay, we’re working with intelligent creatures who all have their own learning styles.
Now it’s time to go get your clicker and your treats and let’s get started. If we want our rabbits to give us a high five, we need to start by breaking the movement down into its parts. So let’s think, what would a rabbit need to do to give us a high-five?
- First the rabbit needs to recognize the hand cue.
- Then the rabbit lifts their paw,
- and last the rabbit touches your hand.
If we can teach our rabbit to put all three of these pieces together we’ll get a high five. So where should we start?
Step 1: Lift a Paw
As we get started, we need to work with behaviors that are natural for rabbits. No rabbit will automatically understand a hand cue, and most rabbits won’t regularly touch your hand with their paw. So we’ll start with the most natural piece of the puzzle. Teaching our rabbit to lift their paw.
Watch your rabbit very closely with the clicker ready in your hand. As soon as you see your rabbit lift a paw click and offer your rabbit a treat. Then settle down and wait for your rabbit to lift a paw again and immediately click and offer a treat again. Repeat.
It might be helpful to use a lure at first to lift up their nose and get them to raise their paws off the ground. But make sure the click happens as soon as they lift off, or else the rabbit will get confused.
Your rabbit will probably start to catch on pretty quickly. And even if they don’t, that’s okay there’s no rush. Be patient with your bun and you’ll be rewarded in the end. You’ll want to stick to just step one on the first day. Moving on too fast can be confusing for your rabbit.
Step 2: touch your hand
You might have a smart bun who figures out step 1 after only one day, or it may take a little long. That’s okay, just keep moving at your rabbit’s pace. After your rabbit starts to confidently understand step 1, it’s time to move onto step 2 and add in your hand. You will want to position your hand on the ground near your rabbit, so that when their paw goes back to the ground, there is a chance it will touch your hand.
From step 1 your rabbit knows to get a click and a treat, they need to lift their paw. When that doesn’t work they will eventually bring their paw down again. If the paw touches your hand, immediately give your rabbit the click and treat. Repeat this process until your rabbit starts to figure it out.
Then start experimenting with moving your hand farther away. You’ll want to make sure your rabbit learns that the click happens when they touch your hand and not just because they put their paw back down.
Step 2b: Only use one paw
Some rabbits will naturally use both paws at the same time to touch your hand. Before moving onto the next stage you’ll want to teach your rabbit to touch your hand with just one paw. Try keeping your hand on one side of your rabbit’s body. This way, when they put their paw back down, they will naturally touch your hand with just the one paw.
I learned the first time I taught a rabbit this trick that it’s a lot more difficult to make this correction if you wait until the end to get your rabbit used to using one paw. It’s better to try to get it right from the beginning.
Step 3: Teach the hand cue for a high-five (or low five)
Okay, now we’re ready to add in the hand cue. Because of the way you can angle your hand closer to the floor, I find it easier to start with a low five hand signal and then move on to a high five after the rabbit gets the hang of the trick.
By now, your rabbit should be pretty confident about touching your hand to get a treat, so usually the transition to touching your hand in the air goes pretty smoothly. Start by putting your hand into position and waiting for your rabbit to touch it. As with every other step, as soon as your rabbit touches your hand, click and treat! And then repeat.
Eventually, your rabbit will be confident enough that you won’t have to use the clicker anymore. They already know the correct behavior, so they won’t need the clue you’re giving them with the clicker.
This whole process can take a number of weeks, but it’s one of those tricks that’s worth it in the end. You can show off your amazing high-fiving bunny to the world!