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Oh, lol, you can’t.
Like cats, they dgaf.
Do rabbits understand punishment?
Honestly, I don’t know.
Like most animals, rabbits live in the present.
They don’t have hopes and dreams past their next meal, and if you punish them for something, there’s a pretty hefty chance that they have no idea which of their behaviours warranted the punishment.
So, if you return from the kitchen to a pee stain on the carpet, there’s zero point punishing your rabbit. They won’t know what it is they’re being punished for.
All you’re ding is making yourself feel better for having done something, and if you’re the kind of person that punishes an animal (including a human) to make themselves feel better you need to have a little quiet word with yourself.
Can you train a rabbit?
But also no.
You know when you’re watching TV and there’s a dog doing all kinds of swell tricks?
TEHNICALLY you could teach all dogs to do this. Or cats. Or rabbits. They’re physically able to be trained. They certainly have the brain capacity.
There are cats that can do amazing tricks. There are rabbits that can do amazing tricks.
But behind these amazing animal is an amazing (and probably very tired) human who taught them how to do those tricks.
But it’s easier with dogs, because they want to learn. They recognise that they’ve made the human very happy AND they got a treat, and well, it doesn’t get much better for dogs.
Rabbits and cats simply don’t give a shit if we’re happy. Sure, they like a nice treat, but it’s easier to just follow us round incessantly until we inevitably give them something.
We have two rabbits, one of whom stands up on command for a treat, one who doesn’t.
Holly is greedy. When my boyfriend lifts the treat above her head, she stands up to get to it. Sure, she gets a bit of praise and that reinforces the behaviour.
She actually now stands up a lot – it’s like living with a meerkat – because she’s learned she can see more if she stands up. Also, who knows when a wild treat might appear?
Daisy doesn’t stand up (I mean she can’t know due to the head tilt, but she didn’t before that either). Not because she doesn’t want the treat, but because she doesn’t really care either way.
Especially since she’s pretty sure she’ll get it anyway.
She’s no less intelligent than Holly (one might argue she’s cleverer), Daisy just…doesn’t care.
I can train her to use a litter box because she understands that it’s nice not to have to wade around in one’s own pee, but standing up for treats? Nah mate.
Obviously, don’t hurt them
Do not smack your rabbit, or physically punish them in anyway.
Actually, you can (VERY GENTLY) push their nose down to assert your dominance. But not as a punishment. I sometimes do it to Holly when she’s playing, and she looks at me like I’m a massive idiot.
How to get your rabbit to stop doing something
I favour a stern ‘ah ah’ but, er, it doesn’t always work. In fact, it rarely works.
Imagine Holly is chewing the corner of the sofa. I say ‘ah ah’. Holly jumps as if she’s been shot, and looks at me like I’ve dishonoured her and her entire family. Then she returns to chewing on the sofa.
Hence the method I actually use:
The three strike then bed rule of discipling rabbits
She gets three ‘ah ah’s and then if she continues doing whatever she’s doing, she has to go back into her pen.
Her pen is huge, so it’s hardly a punishment, but being sent to your room is a punishment that’s stood the test of time. It’s more the action of being told what to do that stings, not the actual room – the journey, not the destination, if you will.
But rabbits are stubborn little buggers and they’re not stupid. At the second ‘ah ah’ Holly returns to her bed with a smug look on her face.
She’s actually graduated to running and flumping just outside the door to her pen. The girl has sass.
But she’s no longer chewing the sofa, so I guess it’s a happy ending.
How to set clear boundaries with your rabbit
This is really the key to good bunny behaviour – if you don’t want them to chew it, don’t let them near it.
In the chewing the sofa example, I can’t really punish Holly, because she’s a rabbit that wants to chew my sofa, and I’m a human that wants to have an unchewed sofa.
The easiest option for me is not to try to tame a wild beast, but to protect a sofa.
Set clear boundaries by setting physical boundaries.
Rabbits don’t really have bad behaviour when it comes to chewing stuff they’re not meant be chewing – rabbit chew stuff. Deal with it. It’s up to you to protect your stuff.
You do need to set boundaries with biting though.
It hurts when rabbits bite, but they don’t do it for no good reason. Unfortunately, they may be biting you because it’s fun, or they want something. They won’t stop just because you shout at them.
Kind of like how if you shout at a barking dog they just thing you’re joining in. Learn why your rabbit is doing what they’re doing and try to placate them.
I also like saying ‘ah ah’ if they bite, despite a lot of people claiming that squealing makes animals stop biting because they know they’re hurting you. Sometimes they like that you’ve made a fun noise.
Is your rabbit hungry? In pain? Frightened? Playing?
Biting isn’t normal behaviour. Try to work out why they’re doing it.
Final thoughts on punishing rabbits
I don’t believe in punishing animals. Even if they vaguely understand the process, they don’t truly understand understand.
A bit like how little kids understand that bad people go to prison, but they don’t really fully understand law and order.
Don’t spray your rabbit with a water bottle. You’ll just end up with a damp, confused rabbit.
Sometimes it can seem like your rabbit is chewing something just to annoy you, but they’re not. They’re just being rabbits and you’re frustrated.