Rabbits like to hop, so training them to jump hurdles is often a very fun way to help them get their exercise. It’s also a confidence building activity that can help rabbits feel more in control and happy in their environment. Whether you intend to enter your bunny into rabbit hopping competitions or you just want to have fun with them at home, this is a technique that you can use.
The easiest way to train a rabbit to jump hurdles is by first training them to follow a pointer. This will help them understand what you want them to do while you lead them over their jumps. As they get better at jumping, you can phase out the pointer and replace it with a verbal command.
Pointer training and jumping hurdles will use the dog training technique known as clicker training. This is a technique that uses the sound of a clicker with a treat reward to help your rabbit understand how to perform their trick. Learn more about clicker training and other rabbit training techniques.
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Part 1: Pointer train you rabbit
Pointer training is a basic technique that is essentially just teaching a rabbit to follow the end of a pointer or stick. This will allow you to lead your rabbit through obstacle courses and over jump hurdles with the pointer. Your rabbit will more easily understand what you want them to do because they will know to follow the pointer.
If you want, you can eventually phase the use of the pointer out as you teach your rabbit verbal commands instead. However, you can also continue to use the pointer to lead your rabbit through agility courses you create for them.
Equipment you need
There are only a few tools that you need for pointer training, none of which are expensive:
- A pointer. I prefer to use an extendable pointer, like one a teacher might have. You could also use just about any kind of long stick, such as a wooden dowel. Whatever you choose to use, you want it to be at least 2 feet long.
- A clicker. A clicker is a tool used in dog training. It’s used to signal to your rabbit that they are doing the correct action to get the treat. Since you can’t give your rabbit the treat at the exact moment that they touch the pointer, the clicker will be necessary to help them understand that this is what we want them to do.
- Treats. You’ll need some high value treats to reward your rabbit for succeeding at their training. It’s best to cut the treats into small pieces so that you don’t risk overfeeding your rabbit on sugary treats.
Step 1: Teach your rabbit to touch the pointer
The first step to pointer training a rabbit is simply teaching them to touch the pointer. Place the tip of the pointer down next to your rabbit’s face and wait until they touch it with their nose. As soon as your rabbit touches the pointer, you’ll give a click with the clicker and immediately give your rabbit a treat.
Keep the pointer to one side of your rabbit’s face, and not directly in front of them. Rabbits have a blind spot right in front of their nose, so they won’t be able to see a pointer unless it’s off to one side.
Usually, this is a simple step to teach rabbits. They are naturally curious about objects in their environment, so if you put the pointer near them, they’ll immediately touch it with their nose to check it out. You can click when their natural curiosity leads them to touch the pointer.
If, for some reason, your rabbit is not at all interested in checking out the pointer, you can rub a little bit of banana or leafy greens against the tip to tempt your rabbit with the yummy smell.
Step 2: Train your rabbit to move toward the pointer
After your rabbit understands that touching the pointer will get them a treat, you want to train them to touch the pointer when it’s a few feet away from them. You’re not moving the pointer and getting your rabbit to follow yet. This step is almost exactly the same as step one, except instead of being right next to their head, you are placing the tip of the pointer a few feet away.
This gets your rabbit to start moving toward the pointer instead of staying in one place. It also helps to solidify what your rabbit learned in step one, by making sure they understand when they touch the pointer they get a treat. Just like in step one, as soon as your rabbit’s nose touches the pointer, you click the clicker and immediately give your rabbit a treat.
Step 3: Train your rabbit to slowly follow the pointer
Now that your rabbit knows that they need to touch the pointer and is moving toward it, we need to teach them how to follow the pointer around. Start by moving the pointer slowly away from your rabbit. They should start to follow the pointer to touch it with their nose. Just like in the previous steps, you want to click and give your rabbit a treat as soon as your rabbit touches it.
At the start, you’ll want to move the pointer slowly over a short distance. As your rabbit gets better at following it, you can start to move the pointer a little faster and get your rabbit to follow it for a little longer before they manage to touch it. This will get your rabbit used to going longer distances before they get a treat out of it.
Step 4: Start teaching your rabbit basic maneuvers with the pointer
Once your rabbit is easily able to understand the concept of following the pointer, you can practice teaching them some basic maneuvers to test what they can do. During this time, you can also start to phase out the sound of the clicker because your rabbit should start to understand that they just need to touch the pointer. They won’t need the extra click to remind them they’re doing the right action.
I start by teaching my rabbits to hop in a circle around me first. I’ll lead them in a circle where I’m standing with the pointer. Maybe I’ll even get them to go between my legs and do a figure eight. I’ll also try other simple maneuvers, such as leading my rabbit to hop up on top of a footstool or a box. These little maneuvers will help your rabbit to understand that there are specific tasks you want them to complete before you let them touch the pointer and get a treat.
Part 2: Teach your rabbit to jump hurdles
Now that your rabbit knows how to follow a pointer, it’s time to teach them how to jump over hurdles. Most rabbits are able to quickly learn this skill, but others are stubborn and don’t want to take the effort of hopping over something. With these rabbits, you’ll need to start by teaching them to hop over a pole or stick laying on the floor before you can start teaching them on an actual jump.
Equipment you need
To train your rabbit to jump hurdles, you will need some kind of jump set for your rabbit. You can find these sets marketed towards small dogs (such as this one). If you prefer, you can also make your own. I have a step-by-step guide for making a small rabbit jump out of cardboard. Many people also choose to make their own jumps out of wood or PVC pipes.
Just make sure that whatever type of jump you get or make, the poles are able to drop if they are hit by your rabbit. You don’t want the rabbit’s foot to get stuck and injured on a pole if they don’t make it over the jump.
The equipment that you need includes:
- A pointer
- A jump set
Step 1: Low jump
Start by putting the pole on the lowest setting of your jump set. You don’t want it to be too much of a barrier right away, or else your rabbit will simply go around the jump rather than over it. Use the pointer to lead your rabbit up to the jump. Then continue going with the pointer through the middle of the jump set to stop at the other side of the hurdle.
Usually the rabbit will pause first and then hop over the low jump. At which point you would allow them to touch the pointer, then give them a treat to reward them. If the rabbit stops and then goes around the jump to follow the pointer, then try moving the pointer back over the middle of the hurdle again so your rabbit can’t get the pointer without going over the jump.
If your rabbit refuses to go over the jump and gives up following the pointer, then you’ll need to start with the bar at floor level first.
Step 2: High jump
After your rabbit is pretty good about jumping over a low jump, you can start to raise the level a little bit. See how your rabbit does jumping over the bar at the second notch or even the third notch. Many rabbits actually have a lot of fun going over these higher jumps.
Continue to use the pointer like you did in the first step so you can lead your rabbit through the hurdles. If the bar is high enough, you’ll have to have multiple poles on the hurdle so that your rabbit doesn’t choose to go underneath the pole instead of over the top.
Step 3: Add a voice command
As your rabbit starts to understand the trick of jumping over the hurdle, you can choose to add in a voice command. This would allow you to train your rabbit on hurdles using verbal commands instead of the pointer. It’s not necessary if you don’t want to take this step, but it can be fun to teach your rabbit to go through obstacle courses based on verbal commands instead of using a pointer.
Say the word “jump” every time you lead your rabbit over the hurdle with the pointer. Make sure you say the word with the same intonation every time to help your rabbit understand the pattern. After a number of sessions combining what they’ve learned from pointer training with the hurdle jumping, they’ll start to associate the word “jump” with going over the hurdles.
Step 4: Phase out the pointer
After a number of sessions using the word “jump” you can try phasing out the pointer when training your rabbit over hurdles. Instead of directly leading your rabbit, simply say the word “jump” and see if your rabbit will jump over the hurdle. If they do, give them a treat and see if they’ll do it again. If they don’t, then go back to using the pointer while saying the command again.
At first you’ll have to do a combination of pointer and verbal commands. But eventually your rabbit will get better at understanding what you’re saying. They’ll be able to jump without using the pointer at all.
The benefits of training your rabbit
Training rabbits is actually very beneficial for them. It gets them moving around, giving them lots of exercise, and it lets rabbits use and strengthen their minds. Training is also a way that you can interact and socialize with your rabbit in a positive way, strengthening the bond you have with your bunny.
Just like with people, it’s beneficial for rabbits to get exercise every day. While there are many ways to make sure your rabbit is moving around, jump and agility training is one of the easiest methods. You can work with your rabbit directly, teaching them to jump higher and race through different obstacle courses. Just be sure not to overdo it. If your rabbit lays down to tell you they’re done, then it’s time to end the training session for the day.
Bonding with your rabbit
Training is also a chance to spend some quality time with your rabbit. It’s a way to socialize with your rabbit and increase the amount of trust they have in you. After all, they have to trust you enough to believe they’ll get that treat when they finish their task. If you’re not all that close with your rabbit right now, you’ll be surprised at how quickly training them can help bring the two of you together.
Many rabbits struggle with self confidence. The mental enrichment of training sessions allow rabbits to make their own decisions. They have the chance to learn and improve while also earning their own treats and rewards. This helps shy and scared rabbits improve their mental health and become happier, more confident bunnies.
What types of rabbit do well with jump training?
Young rabbits and naturally active rabbits are usually the best to train with agility courses. These rabbits often have a lot of extra energy and would benefit from the added exercise. It can even help to reduce the amount of destructive behaviors around the house that your rabbit gets into because they get tired out from training.
Not all rabbits are cut out for jump training and agility courses though. Rabbits who are elderly or obese would benefit from a more relaxed type of exercise so that they don’t risk injury trying to jump over hurdles or race through obstacle courses.
Most rabbits who are not cut out for jumping will simply refuse to cooperate with you, but some rabbits are treat motivated enough that they will attempt maneuvers even if they shouldn’t. So make sure to keep your rabbit’s health in mind so that you never push them too far.
Even for healthy rabbits, it’s best to keep training sessions to around 15-20 minutes. At the start, you’ll want to stick to an even shorter timespan, of around 5 minutes or less. Slowly increase the amount of time that you are training your rabbit so that their attention span and endurance increase.
Rabbit hopping and agility competitions
If you want to take your training to the next level, there are rabbit hopping and agility competitions that you can enter your rabbit into. There are two types of events. Hopping competitions mimic horse shows where rabbits hop over various heights of hurdles. Agility contests are styled after dog agility shows where the rabbit runs through many different kinds of obstacles. Some of these obstacles include:
- Dashing through tunnels
- Running over a bridge
- Running over a see-saw
- Jumping through a ring or tire swing
- Weaving through poles
Training rabbits for competitions
In addition to training rabbits to perform different kinds of tricks for these shows, you also need to prepare your rabbit in other ways. If they don’t have the right personality, they can become stressed or aggressive at these shows, putting their own health or the safety of other rabbits at risk.
Consider your rabbit’s personality
These types of games are not for all rabbits. Shy or anxious rabbits might easily get stressed out by all the new sounds and smells they’ll encounter from spectators and other rabbits at the competition venues. But confident rabbits who enjoy a lot of attention can have a lot of fun at these events.
Spay or neuter your rabbit
You also absolutely need to make sure that any rabbit entered into the competitions are spayed or neutered. An unaltered rabbit is much more likely to be aggressive with other rabbits, so you don’t want to bring them any place where they may come into contact with others.
Because of this, you will also not be able to enter very young rabbits into these training competitions because they cannot be fixed until they are around 4-6 months old. Then they will need a month for their hormones to calm down and to recover from the surgery.
Rabbits entered into competitions must also be leash trained. You will need to get them used to wearing a harness and walking with you on a leash. You’ll need to train with them wearing the harness and leash, so they can learn to do their tricks with it.
It’s important to spend time getting your rabbit used to this, because if not, they may injure themselves trying to dash in different directions on the harness and leash. If they absolutely hate the feel of the harness, then hopping and agility contests might not be a good fit for your rabbit.