Rabbits are smart. They will know when you are trying to chase them back into their cage or trying to pick them up. These negative experiences have taught the rabbit to react in ways that avoid human interaction.
Rabbits typically run away from people because they are afraid or angry. The rabbit has learned from past experiences that humans will chase them, pick them up, or trap them into a small cage. Naturally, their instincts will see people as dangerous predators that need to be avoided.
You can help your rabbit overcome their wary instincts by teaching them how to trust you. By offering your rabbit treats and companionship, you can slowly gain their friendship so that they no longer see you as a threat.
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5 Top reasons your rabbit runs away
Rabbits are skittish by nature, but they have also been bred alongside humans for centuries. Today, domestic rabbits are often very friendly and trusting toward humans as long as they are socialized at a young age. Rabbits who were not properly socialized may have learned the wrong lessons about humans.
Instead of learning trust, Your rabbit learned that people are scary. Most of the time, we accidentally teach our rabbits to fear us. Without an understanding of the rabbit mindset, we interact and cuddle with our rabbits in a way that upsets them and makes them run away. After you’ve learned why your rabbit is running away from you, you can make changes to improve the relationship you have with your rabbit.
Your rabbit doesn’t want to be held
Even though many people think of rabbits as cuddly animals, most rabbits absolutely hate being held. In fact, being carried is a scary situation for rabbits. Their first line of defense is to run as fast as they can and hide. When you hold your rabbit, they feel trapped in your arms. There is no way for them to get out and run if they sense danger.
If you pick up your rabbit every time you interact with them, the rabbit will quickly learn to associate you with the fear of being held. They won’t want to be picked up, so they will naturally start to run away from you every time you come near. At this point, your rabbit is afraid and does not trust that you will respect their boundaries.
Your rabbit feels cornered
If a rabbit feels cornered, their instincts as prey animals kick in. They will try to run away as quickly as possible to avoid feeling trapped. This could mean that they run to the opposite end of the enclosure as soon as you open the door, running away from any reaching hands.
If you try to corner your rabbit to pet them or pick them up, your actions are likely causing this fear reaction for your rabbit. They like to always have an escape route, just in case they need one. If you make a habit of cornering your rabbit, maybe to put them back into their enclosure, then the rabbit will learn always to run away from you to avoid being cornered.
Your rabbit doesn’t want to return to their enclosure
Rabbits learn how to know when you are trying to get them back into their pen. They are actually incredibly intelligent animals, and they’re good at recognizing patterns in your behavior so that they can protect themselves. A rabbit who does not want to go back into their enclosure will learn to run away from you whenever you try to chase them back.
Usually, rabbits don’t want to go back to their pen because they don’t like it there. Most cages that are marketed toward rabbits are actually much too small. These cages make rabbits feel cramped and trapped, so they will naturally try to avoid going back.
If you take the time to expand your rabbit’s enclosure and make it into a comfortable home base, there is a good chance you won’t even have to chase them back in. Your rabbit will stop running away from you because they have happy feelings about their home.
I always recommend using a pet playpen as your rabbit’s enclosure rather than a traditional rabbit cage. This gives your rabbit more space, and it’s easier to set up a comfortable home base for your rabbit. Learn more about the types of supplies you need to make your rabbit’s enclosure more like a home sweet home.
Your rabbit is mad at you
Sometimes your rabbit runs away because they are mad, not because they are scared. Rabbits really know how to hold a grudge. In these cases, you may have done something to offend your rabbit. Maybe you refused to give them a treat, or you didn’t pay enough attention to them. Your rabbit will stay just out of reach to ensure you know that they are upset with you.
Eventually, your rabbit might forgive you on their own. You can also try to appease your rabbit by offering them a treat or trying to pet them. In these cases, your rabbit probably won’t run away from you all the time, only when you’ve done something to make them mad!
Your rabbit is just playing
Rabbits will also run away sometimes as a form of play. Young rabbits, especially, will like to play a form of tag. They’ll come up to you and then run away. They’ll stop to look behind them and see if you are following and will still show confident body posture. You might even see your rabbit wag their little tail at you. This gesture is akin to a rabbit sticking their tongue out and saying, “you can’t catch me!”
Feel free to play along with your rabbit until they get bored of the game. When a rabbit plays with you like this, it’s a sign that they like you and are starting to trust you. So, if you pay attention to your rabbit’s body language when they are running away, you might find that your rabbit isn’t afraid after all. Maybe they just want to play.
How to gain your rabbit’s trust
Just because your rabbit runs away from you now does not mean that you can’t change the situation. You can teach your rabbit to trust you and form a bond with them. With a little bit of time and patience, your rabbit will stop running away from you. Instead, they will be happy and friendly around people.
Sit on the floor
Rabbits are more likely to trust a person who gets down on their level. You no longer look like a towering giant but instead someone that a curious rabbit can approach. When interacting with your rabbit, try sitting or laying on the floor to make yourself less threatening to your rabbit. Over time, the rabbit will learn to trust you more and become less afraid.
Offer your rabbit treats
Rabbits have a gigantic sweet tooth. The easiest way to gain a rabbit’s trust is to reward them with yummy treats. Every time your rabbit is brave and approaches you, give them a piece of their favorite fruit or vegetable. This makes the whole encounter a positive experience for your rabbit, making them more likely to come up to you again and trust you in the future.
Always make sure to cut your treats into small pieces. This way, you won’t have to worry about overfeeding your rabbit on treats. Rabbits have a sensitive digestion, and too many treats can cause an imbalance in their gut. As a rule of thumb, try to give them less than 1-2 tablespoons of treats every day.
Pet your rabbit without picking them up
Since rabbits hate to be picked up, it’s essential to interact with them in other ways. Instead, you can pet your rabbit and give them a nice massage. Most rabbits will love this! They might even start to purr by grinding their teeth together.
If you’re not sure where to start petting your rabbit, try the top of their head or behind their ears. These tend to be sweet spots where rabbits love being petted. Avoid trying to stroke your rabbit underneath their chin. I know many other animals like that spot, but not rabbits.
Holding your rabbit is also the cause of them running away if they have an enclosure they need to be lifted out of. It’s best always to give your rabbit a home they can hop in and out on their own. This way they can get some exercise without feeling scared or having a negative experience with you.
Avoid loud sounds and fast movements
Rabbits are susceptible to loud sounds and fast-paced motion. They can easily be scared by door slams, loud TV noises, or even loud talking. The more skittish rabbits will also be stressed out by sudden movements or by children racing around the home.
Be conscious of your rabbit’s feelings and sensitivities to help them trust you more and feel safe in their home. Avoid loud sounds when you’re around your rabbit, and pay attention to how your rabbit feels. If they seem stressed out around you, move slower and try to figure out what could be causing their distress.
Spend a lot of time with your rabbit
The best action you can take to gain a rabbit’s trust is to spend a lot of time with them. Let your rabbit hang out with you while you watch TV, and make a habit of sitting with your rabbit every day. You can spend this time getting to know your rabbit. As your rabbit feels safer around you, they will naturally trust you more and run away from you less. The two of you will develop a closer and closer bond.