It’s time for bed and you need to get your troublemaker rabbit back into their enclosure for the night so they don’t destroy the house. For many bunny caretakers, this can be a frustrating experience. No matter what you do, your rabbit manages to learn and evade your attempts at returning them to the enclosure. Wouldn’t it be much better if you could teach your rabbit to return on their own every night?
The best way to get a rabbit to go back into their enclosure is to entice them with treats and create a daily routine. It’s also essential that your rabbit feels comfortable and safe inside their enclosure. This way they can remain happy even when they aren’t allowed out.
While it may take a little bit of time for your rabbit to understand the new routine, it’s much easier in the long run to train your rabbit to go back into their enclosure. I have a simple two-step technique that I repeat with my rabbit every day. By using this technique, you can even teach your rabbit to be excited about going back to their enclosure every day.
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How to set up your rabbit’s enclosure
The real key to getting your rabbit to go back into their enclosure happens long before you are actually training your rabbit to go back. You need to make sure the enclosure feels like a safe and comfortable home for your rabbit. They need to actually actually like to be there.
The moment your rabbit feels like they are trapped, they will start figuring out how to avoid going back. Before you even get started with this technique, take some time to adjust your rabbit’s home base so that they can remain happy and comfortable when they need to be closed in.
Make sure the enclosure is large enough
The number one problem that most rabbits have with their enclosure is that it’s too small. Rabbits need a lot of space to sprawl out and hop around, even when it’s not exercise time. To be comfortable, their home base should be at least 3-4 times the length of your rabbit.
For most rabbits, the size of a traditional cage just doesn’t cut it. You need to either expand the space by attaching a fenced-in area outside their cage, or you can simply set up an exercise pen as your rabbit’s regular enclosure. Read more about how to make sure you have an appropriate enclosure for your rabbit.
Using one of these ex-pens will also make it easier to get your rabbit back once you start teaching them. It’ll give you the ability to stand inside your rabbit’s enclosure as you lure them in with treats. This makes it easier for your rabbit to understand the routine.
Give your rabbit toys in their enclosure
A rabbit’s enclosure should also have a variety of toys that they can play with. Rabbits have the natural instincts to dig, chew, and forage so you want to give them toys that will allow them to use these natural abilities.
You can give them wooden and cardboard toys to chew on. Natural hay-based toys and willow-balls are also good options to give your rabbit for lots of fun. You can give your rabbit cardboard boxes, woven mats, or even cat scratcher mats for digging into. Puzzle toys, where your rabbit figures out how to get a treat from inside, make great foraging toys. You can purchase a sampler toy pack at Small Pet Select so you can figure out which toys your rabbit likes to play with most. (and use the code BUNNYLADY to get 15% off your first purchase!)
Provide hiding spots
Since rabbits are prey animals, they won’t feel safe unless they have someplace to hide. You want to make sure they have at least one of these hiding houses inside of their enclosure. This could be a small wooden hutch that you get at a pet store, or it could be something as simple as a cardboard box. You just want to make sure your rabbit can fit inside of it so that they can hide if they ever feel that they are in danger.
Make sure your rabbit can get out of their enclosure on their own
It’s also very important to make sure your rabbit is able to hop in and out of the enclosure without being picked up. This means putting the enclosure down on floor level or installing a sturdy ramp that your rabbit can use to get in and out. Most rabbits really hate to be held. If they need to be picked up to go back into their enclosure, they will never cooperate.
Give your rabbit enough time to exercise
Even my rabbits, who are well trained and enjoy being inside their enclosure, will refuse to cooperate if I don’t give them enough time to exercise. If I try to get them back into their enclosure after only 15 minutes of exercise time, they will immediately become suspicious. It’s important to make sure you are considering your rabbit’s physical needs before expecting them to cooperate with you.
How to teach your rabbit to go back in their enclosure
Once you have your rabbit’s enclosure set up in a way that will make them feel safe and comfortable, it’s actually pretty simple to teach them when to go back. You will need to develop a routine that you use to lure your rabbit back to their enclosure. It will take a little bit of time and consistent practice, but most rabbits will start to understand the routine within a few weeks.
The goal of this simple two-step routine will be to lure your rabbit back to their enclosure, and then distract them while you close the door. This works to get your rabbit to come. Even better, it gets them excited about staying because they’ll have a fun toy to play with. They won’t really notice the door closing in their excitement and will never feel that sudden loss of freedom.
Step 1: Lure them with a treat
The first step in the routine is to get your rabbit to go back into the enclosure. The best way to lure your rabbit is by using one of their favorite treats to lure them back. Eventually your rabbit will know exactly what the crinkle of the treat bag sounds like and come running to you to get it.
This is easiest when you have a rabbit enclosure that you can stand in, such as an ex-pen, because when your rabbit comes up to you they will already be inside their enclosure. However, it is also possible to lure your rabbit into a large cage or hutch by placing their treat inside.
It’s best to always stand in the same place every time you want your rabbit to go back to their enclosure. This will become the cue your rabbit needs to know that it’s time for them to get their treat. For example, whenever I stand next to my rabbit’s food bowls she’ll come running because that’s how she knows it’s time to go back.
If your rabbit is used to being chased and tricked into going back in their enclosure, they might be hesitant to come up to you at first. You can try luring your rabbit by putting the treat near their nose and slowly leading them back. Alternatively you can sit and pretend you’re not paying attention while your rabbit makes their way to the enclosure. They’ll be more likely to take the chance and hop in if they think you’re not looking.
Step 2: Give them a fun puzzle toy
It may be tempting to shut the door behind your rabbit immediately after they step into their enclosure, but in the long term this is a mistake. Your rabbit will immediately understand that they were tricked and they’ll be more wary about it next time. Instead you will want to distract them with an exciting and fun activity.This is where you give your rabbit a toy with a treat or some pellets inside.
Immediately after they hop inside the enclosure and get their first treat, you’ll want to give them their puzzle toy. The goal is to distract them while you go ahead and close the door. This way they don’t make the immediate connection between going into their enclosure and feeling trapped. Instead they’ll have a positive association of going into their enclosure and having fun!
My preferred toy is a little ball food dispenser (like this toy) that your rabbit can roll around to try to get the food out. It’s my rabbit’s favorite toy, and she gets very excited about it. You can make a DIY version of this using toilet paper tubes, but you will have to replace them frequently since rabbits can chew through cardboard quickly.
Giving them a foraging toy with a hidden treat will also help your rabbit to become super excited about going back inside their enclosure. They’ll no longer associate it with feeling trapped. Instead they’ll have the happy feeling they get when they are figuring out how to get the treat out of their toy.
It may take a little while for your rabbit to really understand the routine, so don’t expect immediate results. You will have to plan in some extra time and be patient with your rabbit at first. Once they know what to expect, your rabbit will not only learn to go back to their enclosure whenever you want them to, but they’ll be excited to also.
What types of treats to use
This is the time to use your rabbit’s favorites, especially if they’re already a little suspicious of you. Their favorite treats will do the best job of luring them over to the enclosure.
The best types of treats to give a rabbit are fresh or dried fruits and vegetables. Foods such as banana, carrot, strawberry, and bell pepper tend to be big hits with a lot of bunnies, but there are many options out there. Test out different foods and see what kind your rabbit likes best.
If you are looking for more information about what types of treats are good for rabbits (hint: avoid yogurt treats), then you can check out my article going over all the different types of treats you can try.
What NOT to do
Before I end this article, I want to go over some of the mistakes that many caretakers make when trying to get their rabbit to go back to their enclosure. Using these techniques may work temporarily, but your rabbit will almost always protest. Eventually our smart little bunnies will figure out how to avoid us and their enclosure. It will become more and more difficult to get them to go back.
Pick up your rabbit and place them in the enclosure
Most rabbits are terrified of being picked up. Being held in someone’s arms makes a rabbit feel trapped. They feel like they won’t be able to escape and go hide if something scary happens. Every time you pick your rabbit up, they associate you with that feeling of being scared.
Eventually they learn that they need to run away from you to avoid being held, making it more difficult to get them back into their enclosure. This is one of the reasons that it is important for your rabbit to have full access to their enclosure door at all times. That way they can hop in and out on their own and won’t need to be picked up.
Chase your rabbit back
Chasing a rabbit is generally not a good idea. When rabbits are chased, they start to get scared and feel like some kind of predator is trying to get them. The last thing they’d try to do if a predator was chasing them is to get themselves cornered in a trap with only one entrance and exit.
While chasing and cornering a rabbit to get them back inside the enclosure might work in the short term, they’ll be constantly working to find ways outside of your grip so that they don’t end up trapped.
Make them feel a sudden loss of freedom
Immediately shutting the door behind a rabbit who enters their enclosure will make them feel a sudden loss of freedom. They, understandably, will not like this feeling and will start to avoid going back into their enclosure when anyone is watching.
That’s why it’s so important to distract your rabbit after they go back in. They won’t make the immediate association between going in and the loss of freedom, so they won’t hesitate to go back again in the future.