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Rabbits hissing is not something you come across that often, and I know that because when we had a hissy rabbit, no amount of googling got me any results.
Only one of my rabbits has been a frequent hisser, though he very helpfully taught this behaviour to his mate. Thanks, George.
Your rabbit is mad
This is why George hissed. The hissing was also accompanied by a lunge. He wasn’t much of a biter (unless vet flesh was on offer) but he’d lunge if he was mad.
In my experience, hissing is a bit of a defensive strategy. George stopped doing it as often when Alice (whom he was very protective of) died. In fact, he became a whole different rabbit.
My only advice here is to consider what you were doing when you got hissed at, and er, don’t do it again.
I know, I know, sometimes the most innocuous thing (like putting down a food bowl) can cause a hiss, but rabbits are naturally always on the offensive.
Something as simple as putting a bowl down in front of them can frighten them because there’s a blind spot in front of their face. Put the bowl down a few feet away.
Your rabbit feels threatened
If you find that your rabbit is hissing at you when you venture into a particular part of your rabbit’s territory, you may be inadvertently sending signals to your rabbit that you want to fight them.
How territorial a rabbit is varies a lot depending on their personality BUT the most important thing to consider here is whether or not your rabbit is spayed or neutered, and get them fixed if not.
You might find that certain things trigger territorialism, or make your rabbit feel threatened. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things that have provoked hissing in George:
- Offering him a piece of carrot
- The vaccum cleaner
- The washing machine
- The extractor fan for the oven
My boyfriend plays shooting games on his PlayStation and we’ve NEVER had a rabbit react in any way other than mild interest.
When we bring rabbits home, we’re always super conscious about how scary the TV must be to them. A lot of our rabbits have previously been outdoor buns, so the TV isn’t something they’re used to.
But they never care. Ever. The banging of fake guns on the TV is much louder than the faint fireworks we can sometimes hear, but the fireworks mean a lot of thumping and staring at us with boggly eyes.
The PlayStation? They dgaf. None of ’em.
Your rabbit wants to be left alone
If you go to pet your rabbit and they hiss at you, back off.
Again, remember that your rabbit has a blind spot directly in front of their face, so approach from above so’s not to scare them BUT sometimes they’re just not in the mood.
One thing I always advocate is to respect your rabbit’s movements. If you sit down by them and the run off, don’t follow them. Stay where you are and see if they come back. Perhaps offer up a little treat.
A rabbit that thinks they have to fight to get away is a stressed rabbit. Leave them be.
How to deal with an aggressive rabbit
The hissing thing seems to be a gentle warning rather than a stern one (a hiss is waaay preferable to a bite). So don’t push it.
It’s a bit like those people that train dogs not to growl, and are then surprised that their dog bit them.
The hiss/growl serves a purpose. They’re telling you that what you’re doing isn’t ok, but they’re being nice enough to tell you in a way that won’t require a visit to the doctors.
When it comes to actual aggression, there isn’t a lot you can do other than behave in a way that doesn’t provoke that response. Most aggression in animals is fear based, so you need to teach them that there isn’t anything to fear.
This can be difficult (because it hurts when they bite!), especially if the bitee is a child. A lot of animals don’t like children because of their unpredictable behaviour, and parents are naturally more on guard when their kids are around, which the animal can sense.
You can’t punish a rabbit by yelling at them or striking them. 1. They don’t understand and 2. It’ll make the problem worse. It certainly won’t help the situation, even if it doesn’t actively make it worse.
Rabbits can be great pets for some kids, but only if your kid can respect your rabbit’s space. If you have boisterous, outdoorsy kid, you’re either going to have to wait until a suitable rabbit crops up in a rescue, or consider a dog.
These types of rabbits do exist – we had a rex that wasn’t scared of anything, and loved to play all day, every day. Whilst this isn’t a common trait in rabbits, all the gregarious rabbits I’ve seen have been rexes. That’s not to say ALL rexes will be this way, just that it’s a good place to start.
Can you train aggression out of a rabbit?
Yes. No. Maybe.
It really, really depends.
You know how you can learn to train dogs, but learning to train cats is way, way harder (and very, very dependent on the cat in question)?
It’s kind of like that with rabbits.
Some will ignore you 24/7, others will learn to play the flute to get a single piece of dandelion leaf.
Dogs form strong bonds with people. We’ve all seen those videos on the Dodo where a big, aggressive dog is transformed with tlc and training. The dog is so so happy because he loves the trainer and the trainer is happy because the dog is doing so well.
Cats dgaf. They just don’t.
Some rabbits are like dogs, others are like cats.
I’m afraid that most of them are like cats.
You can’t train them not to be aggressive. All you can do is teach them that you won’t hurt them, and that they don’t have a reason to be a aggressive.
And if any of you out there have ever had to train a reactive dog, you’ll know it takes time. So it’ll take even more time with a rabbit.
And yes, some rabbits are naturally angry, but if you treat them kindly and don’t expect too much of them, they’ll mellow over time.