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Clicker Trained Bunnies Gain Confidence

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Animal shelters are taking in more and more "house bunnies" these days, and looking for homes for them. Bunnies make great house pets; they quickly learn to use a litter box, they're clean, they are active in the evening when you get home from work, and they can be very amusing. The bunnies in shelters have usually been spayed or neutered as well, so you can have more than one without worries.

Where do you start, when clicker training a bunny? First, find some treat foods. Rabbits that have eaten pellets all their lives may actually have to learn to eat lettuce, carrots, and apples; cut these strange foods up into small pieces and mix with the pellets until the rabbit catches on. Try broccoli, kale, grass, clover, and pet-store rabbit treats as well.

What behaviors can you click? Targeting is always good; teach the bunny to touch and follow a target stick, chopstick, or wooden spoon; then you can teach it to follow a target across obstacles or through a tunnel. Teach a recall, so you can get your bunny back if it gets out, or find it if it takes a nap behind the couch. Rabbits can press buttons, close and open cupboard doors, and use their paws to hit balls. They like to pick small objects up in their teeth and toss them around. They are fabulous jumpers, so think about rabbit hurdles or agility courses. Rabbits also have an excellent sense of smell and can do any scent discrimination a dog can do.

The clicker experience will help your rabbit feel confident in its surroundings and comfortable with you. It's a quick way to teach your rabbit to enjoy being petted and to trust people. A few sessions of clicker training for handling will make things easier for everyone, especially the rabbit, if the rabbit needs veterinary care. You might try using the quiet i-Click; it has a soft sound that some bunnies may prefer.

There are rabbit rescue organizations and rabbit clubs and schools. One rabbit club in Canada meets once a week to practice agility and hurdle racing. The rabbits can play together and the owners can get new ideas for behaviors and tricks from each other.

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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

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