Rabbits are wonderful pets who usually love to be pet while snuggling safely on the floor. If you want them to cuddle in your lap, though, many rabbits will protest. They are not quick to trust any type of scenario where they can be easily trapped or picked up. To convince your rabbit to sit in your lap, you need to make it worth their while and give them many positive experiences.
Most rabbits won’t choose to come and sit in a person’s lap without being taught to do so, but they can be lap trained using a simple luring technique with one of their favorite treats. Some rabbits will learn to love snuggling onto your lap, while others will prefer to hop on and off as they please.
I have used this technique with my rabbits at home as well as with the many rescue rabbits I encounter while volunteering at my local animal shelter. After teaching rabbits to be friendly with people, this is often the first trick I teach because I know potential adopters will find it endearing if their rabbit will happily hop into their lap. You can use this technique to train your own rabbits at home to be a lovable lap bunny.
What to expect from lap training
You can train your rabbit to get into your lap, but you can’t necessarily train them to stay. Not all rabbits will want to sit in your lap for long periods of time. It all depends on your rabbit’s personality. If they are the kind of rabbit who would be happy to lay down on the floor and be pet for hours, they are also likely to enjoy sitting in your lap. However, if they tend to be more active and prefer to keep to themselves, then your rabbit may not be willing to stay in your lap for long periods of time.
There is also the question of location. While I find it easiest to train a rabbit to get into my lap when I’m sitting at their level on the floor, they are more likely to want to stay in my lap if I am sitting up on a chair or couch. If you want your rabbit to come hop up on the couch and sit in your lap, I recommend training in two phases. First on the floor, to get your rabbit used to hopping into your lap. Then on the couch to get them used to hopping up onto the higher surface.
Which rabbits are more difficult to train?
As a general rule, very large rabbits and young rabbits are more difficult to train how to sit on your lap. Very large rabbits are simply more difficult to lure onto your lap in the first place. They might be able to stretch all the way across your lap without ever hopping up into it, so getting them past step two may take some patience.
Young rabbits are simply more active and have a shorter attention span. You may be able to train them to hop up into your lap easily, but I wouldn’t expect them to stay until they are at least one or two years old.
Treats to get started training your rabbit
To train your rabbit to hop into your lap, you’ll want to have some high value treats. These are treats that your rabbit will absolutely love! You will use them to lure your rabbit and lead them where you want them to go. Fresh or dried pieces of banana, carrot or strawberry are often good options for rabbits, but it all depends on what your rabbit likes best.
You also want to be sure to cut these treats into very small pieces. Too many sugary treats can be bad for a rabbit’s digestive system, so you don’t want to give them more than 1-2 Tablespoons total in a day. This means, if you want to work with your rabbit more, and potentially even get them to hop into your lop on day one of training, then you’ll need to use small pieces of your rabbit’s favorite treats.
Step One: Front paws up
The first step is to get your rabbit used to coming up to you and performing a small act of trust to get a treat. Simply lure them to your lap and get them to put their front paws up on your leg. Many rabbits will do this naturally, but some will require you to lure them up a little bit.
To lure your rabbit, hold a piece of treat in front of their nose and lead them toward you until their paws are on your leg. Immediately when their paws touch your leg, give your rabbit the treat. The better the timing you can get, the sooner your rabbit will realize why they are getting the treat, and they’ll be able to repeat the trick.
Step Two: Stretch Over Your Lap
Now that your rabbit is readily coming up to you and putting their front paws on your lap, it’s time to go on to step two. It usually doesn’t take long to get to this step because most rabbits are very treat motivated and they don’t feel much fear from simply touching your leg.
For step two you are going to lure your rabbit so they are stretching all the way across your lap. Most rabbits will be hesitant to take the jump and hop onto your lap with their back feet. Instead they will stretch as far as they can as you lead them across your lap with the treat.
You want to get them to stretch just a little at first before giving them the treat. Then try to get them to go farther and farther every time. This will let your rabbit know that you are not trying to trick them, they will eventually get their yummy treat, but they have to reach for it.
It will also slowly teach them to trust being in your lap. Even though they feel safe by keeping their back feet on the ground, they’ll also be learning that nothing bad happens while they are stretching over your legs.
Step Three: Hop up on your lap
As your rabbit reaches farther and farther, you want to start keeping the treat a little bit out of their reach so they will be forced to hop up onto your lap in order to get the treat. If your rabbit gives up and goes away without hopping up on your lap, then you need to go back and spend some more time on step two.
Eventually as your rabbit stretches they will get desperate enough for the treat to decide to hop up onto your lap all the way. When this happens, you want to immediately give them their treat. This way, they’ll learn why you’re giving to them.
In most cases, the rabbit will hop off your lap right away after this. Take the chance to lure your rabbit again until they hop up for the treat. With this repetition, your rabbit will eventually learn that hopping on your lap will get them a treat.
It’s important to remember that once your rabbit is on your lap you should never hold them or trap them there. That is how you would ensure your rabbit never hops up on your lap again. They’ll start to believe that laps are dangerous and will avoid yours so they can avoid being held. If your rabbit wants to leave, you need to let them leave so they can learn how to trust you.
Step Four: Calm your rabbit down with petting
If you want your rabbit to become a lap rabbit, you’ll need to teach them how to calm down once they hop on your lap. The treats that you use to lure your rabbits and train them to get into your lap make them excited, so they are not going to want to stay in one place. To teach them to calm down, you’ll need to start petting them.
Petting is the easiest way to calm a rabbit down. Most rabbits love it very much. Eventually the petting may become its own reward for your rabbit. They’ll love to hop into your lap for that lovely massage.
As I mentioned earlier, not all rabbit personalities will be willing to sit on your lap. If your rabbit decides they do not want to be a lap rabbit, then that’s okay and you should respect their boundaries. Welcome them with treats and petting if they hop on your lap, but don’t force them to stay.
Some rabbits will also be unwilling to stay in your lap when you are sitting on the floor, but you can try to lure them into sitting on your lap on a chair or sofa to see if they want to sit with a while up on one of these places.
Teach your rabbit to sit in your lap on the couch
Teaching your rabbit to sit on your lap on the couch is basically the same technique that you would use on the floor, but you need to first lure them up to the higher surface. For small rabbits or those who are unwilling to jump all the way up, it’s a good idea to use a step stool to give your rabbit better access to the couch.
In the same way you took baby steps on the floor, you’ll want to take it slow when luring your rabbit up. First give them the treat when they just put their front paws up on the couch or step stool. Then get them to stretch farther and farther until they are forced to hop all the way up.
After they are up on the sofa, it’s usually not that difficult to lure your rabbit into your lap, especially if you have already trained your rabbit on the floor. They’ll automatically be able to make that connection between your lap and the treats.
Then, once your rabbit is in your lap, start to pet them and see what happens. This still comes down to your rabbit’s personality, but many rabbits will be happy to sit on your lap and let you give them a massage. Some will even fall asleep completely.
If your rabbit won’t stay in your lap, they may be willing to sit next to you on the couch instead. You can see what your rabbit is most comfortable with and then help them relax and enjoy the experience so they’ll want to come back for more another time.