As a former teacher, dishing out discipline comes easy to me no matter who it is — wayward children or naught rabbits, I can discipline with the best of them. That being said, disciplining a rabbit does require certain skills as they’re not like dogs, cats or children in the way they respond. Firmly but kindly.
While you can be quite aggressive or raise your voice with a dog or a cat, a house rabbit rarely responds to that. There are little tricks you can use, however, to make sure your rabbit stops doing things he shouldn’t when you tell him to.
Get him used to his name – The first trick to disciplining a rabbit and getting him to pay attention to you is to get him used to his name. I start off when I first get a new rabbit by choosing a name and then using that name all the time when I’m petting him, feeding him or playing with him. Within a couple of weeks, he’s usually used to his name and, in some circumstances, will even come when called, especially if there is food involved. That’s when you can start using his name with a lower tone when he’s doing something you don’t like.
Chewing the furniture? “Booooooo stop that”. Trying to eat through wires? “Boooooo. You’ll go up in a puff of smoke”. The first few times you do it, he’ll stop and pay attention and then, as time goes on and he only hears his name in that low long tone when he’s doing something he shouldn’t, he’ll begin to realize maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
Time outs – I use ‘time outs’ with my rabbits just like I would with a small child, and they work wonders.
If one of my rabbits is doing something wrong, I first let them know by using their name with a low tone. This often works but, if it doesn’t, it’s time to move onto step two. A time out.
That means he gets picked up and put back in his cage with the door closed if he won’t stop doing what he shouldn’t be doing, and he has to stay there for 5-10 minutes. Then I let him out and watch what he does. If he immediately goes back to the naughty thing he was doing before (rabbits have long memories), he gets picked back up and whisked back to his cage. Mine are so used to it now, it often only takes one or maybe two times at the most before they stop what they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place. At least for today, anyway.
The spray bottle – I’m not a big fan of the spray bottle but I do use it as a last resort, particularly if one rabbit is biting another. Just fill up a spray bottle with water and when your rabbit’s behavior gets particularly bad, zap it with a quick spray of water. They hate it, as most rabbits hate water, but it usually does stop them in their tracks.
Remember positive reinforcement – Disciplining a rabbit shouldn’t be all about the negative, however, which is why I also make sure to give my rabbits positive reinforcement on a daily basis. If they do something good like stopping chewing when I tell them to, I immediately pet them (my oldest loves long soft strokes of her head) and make sure I repeat that every time they respond in the way they’re supposed to.
Some people use treats for positive reinforcement but the problem with that is, if they keep doing the good thing they were doing and you constantly reinforce their behavior with a treat, you’ll soon have one extremely overweight and very unhealthy rabbit. That’s why a nice long stroke on the head or a back scratch is often much better.
Just remember, you should never hit a rabbit and never shout at him. Not only do they not respond to either of these types of discipline, it will also ensure your rabbit begins to hate you. In a worst case scenario, they can even become aggressive right back and that won’t make you or your rabbit happy.