How to Train a Rabbit to Use the Stairs

how to train your rabbit to use the stairs

Training your bunny to use the stairs can be both fun and practical. It’s great for rabbit exercise and mental stimulation, and it gives your rabbit more space to roam and explore. Some rabbits will take to the stairs right away, but many others find them daunting. In these cases, you may have to teach your rabbit how to go up and down the staircase.

To be successful at this, it’s important to understand that rabbits have limited depth perception and are far-sighted, which means they may find navigating stairs to be a non-intuitive and potentially daunting task. This is particularly true when it comes to going down the stairs, since descending requires a rabbit to figure out exactly how far down the next step is.

You can also use the tips in this article to help you teach your rabbit how to climb in and out of a hutch or enclosure that does not have a ground-level entrance. For example, the rabbits I work with at the animal shelter are often kept in enclosures that are about a foot and a half off the ground. I like to add a step stool so the rabbit has less space to jump down, making it very similar to a two-step stairway. You can do the same thing if the entrance to your rabbit’s enclosure is off the ground.

Before you get started, it’s important to take some precautions to make sure your stairwell is safe for your rabbit. I’ve written a quick article about stair safety that you can check out. The gist of it is to make sure you don’t have a slippery staircase, and to make sure your rabbit can’t fit through the banister poles.

1. Start at the bottom of the stairs and learn to go up first

You’ll find that going up tends to be easier for rabbits. This is because ascending allows them to know exactly where the platform of the next step is. It’s not like going down, when your rabbit’s limited depth perception can make them not able to see the next step down easily. Your role is to guide and reassure your rabbit through the process, ensuring they feel secure enough to attempt each step.

For this reason, it’s often a lot easier to teach a rabbit to use the stairs by starting them at the bottom. Most rabbits will automatically want to explore by going up the stairs. Then when it comes time to go back down, they already had experience with the stair height and are more likely to remember how to get down.

For many rabbits, this is all you need to do to teach them how to use the stairs. By starting at the bottom, your rabbit will be brave and curious enough to figure it out for themselves.

lead your rabbit up on surfaces
Lead you rabbit up or down onto the next step by luring them with their favorite treat.

2. Lure your rabbit with treats

Put some tasty treats down one step, make sure to show your rabbit where it is

Not all rabbits will be willing to figure out the stairs that easily. Or, in other cases, it might not be practical to start your rabbit at the bottom of the stairs (such as the example I used earlier with teaching rabbits how to hop out of their enclosure on their own). In these cases, the next technique to try is the treat method. 

Most rabbits are highly treat motivated. You can place one of your rabbit’s favorite treats one step down or one step up to encourage them to be brave. Make sure your rabbit notices the treat and sees you put it down so that they can figure out how to get it.

Once your rabbit takes the plunge and goes down (or up) a step for the treat, place another one on the next step. Usually, each step becomes easier and easier to lure your rabbit. However, it’s important to remember that every rabbit learns at their own pace. Encourage your rabbit with every step they take, because that is a little victory.

shorten the distance between the two steps with towels
place a couple of towels on the step to give your rabbit a halfway point.

3. Make the stair height slightly shorter

Add a thick, folded up towel or a box that is half the stair height to bring the floor up a little higher

Some rabbits will still be a bit too nervous. In this case, you may want to shorten the height of the steps so that your rabbit doesn’t have to jump down. Instead they can feel more secure by walking down halfway at a time.

This is essentially the method that I use at the shelter to help the rabbits hop out of their enclosures on their own. I add a small step stool in between the floor and the entrance (and place a treat on it) to help the rabbit halfway down first. 

To adjust the step height on an actual flight of stairs, you want to use something that’s not going to slip easily. I recommend a stack of two or three towels that will be approximately half the height of the stairs. Place the towels on half of the stair so that the rabbit can hop from the top stair to the towels to the bottom stair. Then repeat for each step until your rabbit gets the hang of it.

4. Sit one step down on the stairs (so your rabbit knows where the platform is)

Another way you can help your rabbit go down stairs is by showing them exactly where the next step down is. The way I did this with my bunny, Teddy Bear, at home, was to sit one step down from where he was.

The idea here is to help make up for your rabbit’s farsightedness. They might have difficulty seeing exactly where the stair is, but they can see that you’re sitting on something, making them more willing to take the risk and go down a step. 

Each step your rabbit goes down, you can move to sit one further down, so they can trust that the next step will be where they expect it to be. I recommend using this method in combination with the treat method, since yummy treats offer extra incentive.

5. Don’t watch your bun too closely

When introducing your bunny to the concept of stairs, try to strike a balance between supervision and over-monitoring. Just as with children learning a new skill, rabbits often need a sense of independence when trying something new. Your rabbit might wait to try until they feel that you’re not looking.

Interestingly enough, this is something I see all the time at the shelter. Every time a rabbit is being super hesitant to come out, I’ll leave their enclosure open with the step stool in place then go to clean out one of the guinea pig cages (while watching the rabbit out of the corner of my eye).

When the rabbit thinks I’m preoccupied with something else, they’ll seize their chance and jump down to explore. This usually doesn’t happen immediately (give it 15 minutes at least), but it’s frequently the trick that works when nothing else does.

Sometimes a rabbit who is new to the shelter will be too nervous to come out for a week or so. Don’t pressure them, they’ll choose to use the stairs in their own time. As your rabbit becomes more familiar with their home, their curiosity will get the better of them, and they’ll want to explore new places.

6. Make sure the ground isn’t slippery

The other thing that will stop a rabbit in their tracks is a slippery floor. Linoleum floors and sometimes wood floors are too slippery for rabbits feet (which don’t have pads, like cats and dogs). 

The lack of traction will cause your rabbit to completely refuse to even attempt to go down the steps. This is generally for the better anyway, since slippery stairs can cause injury to rabbits. So, taking precautions and adding anti-slip rugs to the stairwell is best.

Tips and Tricks Newsletter

If you are new to caring for rabbits, check out the Bunny Lady bimonthly newsletter. Right after you sign up, you’ll receive a FREE pdf rabbit care guidebook. I put together a guide that goes over all the basics of rabbit care so you have it all in one place. Then you will receive tips and tricks about rabbit care straight to your inbox so that you know you’ll be taking excellent care of your new rabbit.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

Recent Posts