Many pet rabbits are little troublemakers. They’ll be digging into the carpet and all you can do is get up and shoo them away. Or maybe it’s time for you to head out of the house, and you need to get your rabbit back into the enclosure since you can’t supervise them. Wouldn’t it be great if your rabbit would just come over to you in their enclosure instead of having to chase them around? The good news is that teaching a rabbit to come to you is not actually that difficult, it just takes a little bit of patience.
Using a variation of traditional training techniques, you can teach your rabbit to come to you on command. These technique make it easier to get your rabbit to return to their enclosure and keep your rabbit away from any dangerous activities they get into. Training a rabbit to come also strengthens the bond between you and your rabbit.
There are two ways in which you can teach rabbits to come up to you. The first is a more passive approach that will encourage your rabbit to trust you and spend more time with you on a daily basis. The other is specifically training your rabbit to come to you when you call their name. I use both of these techniques with my rabbit and both are useful depending on the situation.
Teaching your rabbit to come to you on their own
Teaching your rabbit to come up to you on their own is not a trick, per se, but instead a technique for bonding with your rabbit. The goal is to help your rabbit feel comfortable around you and willing to spend time interacting and playing with you. It’s a technique for developing trust between you and your rabbit.
The purpose of this technique is to gradually encourage your rabbit to trust you and be willing to come up to you on their own. They’ll stop running away from you all the time and will feel happy to approach you at any time. This is especially for those of you who have a shy rabbit who always hides away from you.
Step 1: Sit quietly near your rabbit
To get a rabbit to come to you, they have to be willing to trust you. This means they don’t see you as a threat, but instead as a friend who helps them feel comfortable and safe. The first step to gaining this trust is to simply demonstrate to them that you’re not going to hurt them. You want your rabbit to get used to your presence without feeling afraid.
To do this you’ll start by simply sitting near your rabbit. You’ll want to sit in a place where your rabbit can approach you if they want to, but far enough away that your rabbit isn’t feeling crowded. A good idea would be to leave the enclosure open for your rabbit to hop out and then sit a few feet away from the entrance.
Rabbits are curious and social creatures. After they get used to you coming to sit next to them every day, they will eventually decide to come over and check you out. At first they might flinch away any time you move or make a sound, but the more time you spend with them in a non-threatening way, the braver they’ll get.
During this time, you can also feel free to leave treats around for your rabbit. Place them outside of their hiding spot or even in a trail leading up to you. Treats are a great way to reward a rabbit for their curiosity and get them to see you as a friend.
Tips for success in gaining your rabbits trust:
- Leave a treat: Place a treat near your rabbit or just outside their hiding spot. This will encourage your rabbit to come out of hiding and help convince them that you are here to reward them, not hurt them.
- Don’t look at your rabbit: Rabbits will be less likely to come out of hiding if they think you’re watching them. You might even try completely turning away from your rabbit, so your back is facing them. Ignoring your rabbit is a surprisingly good way to catch their attention.
- Spend time every day with your: The more time you can spend around your rabbit, the more quickly they’ll get comfortable with you and get curious enough to approach. Spend at least 15-30 minutes every day sitting near your rabbit, but more time is even better.
There are a few actions you’ll want to avoid while you work to gain your rabbit’s trust:
- Avoid holding your rabbit: When rabbits are held, they feel trapped. They know they won’t be able to escape if anything scary happens. If at all possible, avoid picking your rabbit up until they have learned to trust you completely.
- Avoid loud sounds: Rabbits are very sensative to sudden and loud sounds. Make sure to keep the volume on any devices off (use headphones) and avoid talking loudly.
- Avoid fast movements: Rabbits are easily startled, so try to slow down your movements so that you seem like less of a threat to your rabbit.
- Don’t chase after your rabbit: If your rabbit goes away from you, it’s best to let them go. Following after will make it seem like you’re trying to chase them, which can make your rabbit see you as a scary predator instead of a friend.
- Don’t trap your rabbit: You never want to force an interaction with your rabbit, since this is likely to make them more scared of you. Always give them either an escape route around you or a hiding house for them to retreat to.
Step 2: Reward your rabbit for approaching you
As your rabbit starts to feel more comfortable and curious, they’ll start to tentatively approach you. You want to take advantage of this natural curiosity and reward your rabbit’s behavior with yummy treats. In general you want to use small pieces of fresh or dried fruits and vegetables, while avoiding yogurt treats and bags of mixed treats. Learn more about how to know which treats are okay to give to rabbits.
Start by keeping your arm extended toward your rabbit and wait for your rabbit to approach and grab the treat. At first your rabbit will probably run away from any hand or arm moving towards them. Eventually your rabbit will learn that your hands will give them the treats. At that point you can wait for your rabbit to approach first and then hand them the treat.
This all works as positive reinforcement to reward your rabbit’s brave and curious behaviors.
Step 3: Make a habit of sitting with your rabbit every day
As your rabbit becomes more comfortable with you, start to make a routine of sitting with your rabbit every day. Bring treats with you, but also start to phase out the treats so your rabbit doesn’t get one every single time they come to you.
You can schedule these sessions for around the same time every day so that your rabbit will start to expect them and look forward to spending time with you. You can spend an hour before bed reading and chilling with your rabbit, or wake up every morning and spend time with your bunny. As prey animals, rabbits like to feel like they have control over their environment. Routines like this will help them feel more comfortable and confident.
It can also help if you sit in approximately the same spot every day. This will cause your rabbit to make the association of you sitting there with coming to you. Your rabbit will start to approach you every time you sit in that spot.
You can also start to reward your rabbit with other types of attention. Petting is another type of reward that many rabbits will come to love (learn how to pet a rabbit). You could also try training your rabbit to do some simple tricks, such as spinning in a circle or giving you a high five. Training is a great way to further your bond with your rabbit.
When to use this technique
This technique of sitting with treats to get your rabbit to approach is useful for when you have some free time and you want your rabbit to come and hang out with you. Once your rabbit is used to seeing you as a positive source of rewards, they’ll be happy to approach you at any time you’re available.
This could be:
- Quiet time petting and cuddling your rabbit.
- Training your rabbit.
- Letting your rabbit hop on you or your lap.
- Playing with toys with your rabbit.
Teaching your rabbit to come when called
Training your rabbit to come on command will take a little more consistency and patience than simply gaining your rabbit’s trust. Most rabbit caretakers don’t go through the process of training their bunnies to know their names, but I find it is a very useful skill to teach.
Teaching a rabbit to come when called can recall them from a dangerous or destructive situation. For example, if your rabbit suddenly found their way behind the TV where there are a lot of exposed wires, you can call them back before they start chewing and potentially electrocute themselves. This is also a way to get your rabbit excitedly running toward you whenever you want to spend time with them.
It’s important to remember that your rabbit won’t learn this trick overnight. In fact, it will likely take 1-2 months before your rabbit will consistently come when you call them. At the start, your rabbit will listen sometimes and ignore you others, but as you continue they’ll start to come more and more frequently until it’s a habit.
Step 1: Say your rabbit’s name as you give them a treat
The actual steps behind teaching your rabbit to come on command are actually pretty simple. You need to teach your rabbit to associate the sound of their name (or whatever command word you choose) with getting a reward.
To do this, start by saying their name as you hand them a treat. You’ll want to do this every time you give them a treat, at least 5 times a day. Do this when you reward them with a treat for some other trick, and if you’re just giving them a treat for being cute.
Instead of saying their name, you could use the word “come,” make a clicking sound with your mouth, or use whatever word you would like to. By doing this you are creating a cue for your rabbit. When they hear this cue word or sound, they’ll eventually learn that they need to go toward you. You are conditioning your rabbit to recognize their name the same way they would recognize the crinkle of a treat bag.
To successfully get your rabbit to make this association, you have to be consistent. You’ll need to say your chosen word with the exact same intonation every single time. For that reason, it can be advantageous to use a short word or nickname. Continue this step for about a week so your rabbit can get used to the sound of their name.
Step 2: Standing a couple feet away and call their name
Now that your rabbit is starting to hear the sound of their name, it’s time to start teaching them to come to you.
Stand a couple feet away from your rabbit and call their name while holding out a treat. Then just wait for your rabbit to approach. Sometimes you’ll see your rabbit sitting there looking at you as if they are thinking. Give them 10-15 seconds to figure it out. If they don’t make a move, try calling again after 15 seconds. Repeat this up to 3 times, and if your rabbit doesn’t respond, then return to step 1 and try again later.
At the start, it can help to get your rabbits attention if you also use the crinkle of a treat bag. If they don’t seem to respond to their name, try calling them, then shaking the bag a little. This can help to reinforce the association and get your rabbit to start moving toward you. After a week or so, you should be able to leave the treat bag aside when you call their name (as long as you still have the treats in your hand, of course).
Don’t expect your rabbit to come every time you call at first, but they should get more consistent over time. Try this step at least 3-5 times a day to get your rabbit in the habit of coming to you when you call their name. This step may take a few weeks to get to the point where your rabbit is coming to you almost every time you call them.
Step 3: Stand far away or in the next room and call their name
After your rabbit comes to you pretty consistently when you are only a short distance away, it’s time to move even farther away to call their name. You’ll want to start calling them from different locations so that your rabbit will get used to coming on command no matter where you are located.
Start by standing across the room and calling your rabbit’s name. Again, you’ll want to give your rabbit 10-15 second to respond before calling again. If they don’t respond after 3 tries, try again later in the day, but stand a little closer to them.
As your rabbit starts to come to you almost every time, you can choose placed to stand that are farther and farther away from your rabbit. Eventually you can even try to call you rabbit around corners (something that confused my rabbit for a long time), up the stairs, or from an entirely different room in the house.
At first it may seem like your rabbit only comes to you half the time. Don’t worry, this is normal. If they don’t come, then just put the treat aside for now and try again later.
In general rabbits are less likely to respond to you calling when they are intently focused on something. For example, if they are digging intently into a cardboard box, they might not pay attention to you when you call. Eventually they’ll start to come when you call even during these times, but don’t expect them to pay attention right away.
A word of warning: when NOT to use this technique
I learned the hard way that you do not want to call your rabbit over to you if you are going to pick them up. It may seem like a convenient way to catch your rabbit, but they will learn what you are doing really quickly.
My rabbit, Elusive, got out of the rabbit room one day and into a part of the apartment that wasn’t fully rabbit-proofed. To try to get her back quickly I called her name. She ran toward me, I picked her up, and brought her back to the rabbit room.
This was a big mistake! For weeks afterward she would run away from me instead of coming whenever I called. We had to go all the way back to step one to relearn the trick.