I know, I know. It’s a difficult topic; no one wants to acknowledge that bunnies aren’t adorable and sweet and perfect 100% of the time. It’s hard, but let’s be strong together and face it. Bunnies can be naughty.
Before I had bunnies, I had experience only with cats and dogs (probably true for most people). Dogs are pretty easily taught with a firm, repeated “No!” Cats just stop doing whatever it is when you’re looking. (Cats can be a-holes.) Bunnies are not like that. If, for example, Flopsy is not using her litter box, the only thing you can do is confine her, praise her for exhibiting the desired behavior, and hope she ‘gets’ it. Rabbits are, through no fault of their own, creatures of habit. Once they do something two or three times, that’s how it’s done, and it’s hard as all get-out to convince them that your way is superior.
Some behaviors cannot be eliminated, but they can be changed. For example, rabbits are chewers. Chew, chew, chew. They love to chew, and indeed they must – it helps wear down their ever-growing front teeth. Russell still has the urge to chew and he doesn’t even have front teeth anymore. They particularly enjoy chewing wood (YUM!) and I’ve heard horror stories of destroyed baseboards and three-legged chairs that would make any bunny parent shudder. However, they’re extremes for a reason. The vast majority of bunnies are not psychotic, fanged lumberjacks. And I would venture to say that the bunnies who are could very fairly blame it on inattentive or ignorant humans.
Anyway. Let’s review some common “bad” bunny behavior.
1) Picking at the carpet – Oh, bunnies can F up some carpet. For real. In our house, Jane is the carpet-devastator. She’ll get behind a dresser or bookcase and go to town on the carpet. You can hear the telltale thup, thup, thup as she rips up little chunks. It’s maddening because, well, she has free run of the entire apartment, their shared “bunnies-only” space is huge, and they have more toys and baubles than most human children. Can’t she amuse herself some other way? GOSH.
2) Chewing – Not just wood. Furniture, clothing, electronics. Everything is fair game. In the past week alone, I lost a pair of earphones and a cell phone charger. Jane’s also a chewer (not to pick on her, of course), and I strongly suspect she is responsible for the fact that I have to find time for a visit to Best Buy this week. Jane has chewed holes in my jeans (she was kind enough to chew out the entire crotch, just to make absolutely sure they were not wearable), through the wooden slats on our apartment-complex closet doors, on the couch and – last night – our mattress. The thing is, when Jane and Russell were bonded, Jane’s foster mom told me that she was just a dream to have around because she never chewed, kept to herself, and used the littler box religiously. None of which she does nowadays. Oh well.
3) Digging – Not necessarily a bad behavior, but you have to make sure right away that they have something awesome to dig in. At my old apartment, Russell had a mountain of old towels and sheets to dig in, and he could spend ages in there. If you don’t provide your bunny a safe and non-destructive way to dig, they’ll dig through the floor. Or your mattress. Or that pile of clean laundry.
4) Not using the litter box – This one is tough. Most bunnies can and will use the box if you clean it reasonably often (I do it every morning, but some people only twice a week) and if you make it obvious that it’s where they should do their business. Don’t make it fancy, don’t cover it, don’t put a bunch of weird-smelling potpourri or something in it. Bedding + hay = done. The internet is full of resources for what you can do if your bunny’s litter box habits aren’t quite up to par, but make sure that you ascertain first that you’re not causing the problem. Aside from it being dirty, rabbits will also refuse to use the box if it a) is filled with bedding they don’t like, b) smells like a strange bunny, or c) is too small. Do not get one of those ridiculous triangular litter boxes that you clip to the corner of the pen. Bunnies will not use them. Go out and get a big litter box for multiple cats. Cheapo.
These are some of the most common bad bunny behaviors, but I have total confidence in the creativity of bunnies and I know there are dozens and dozens more. PLEASE keep in mind, if your bunny is “bad,” that she is just being a rabbit. Work to reinforce good behavior; remember, they’re creatures of habit. Spend plenty of time down there on the floor with her. Make sure all your cords are covered or out of reach. Bunny-proof your home and everyone will be happier. Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, for any reason, should you physically punish a rabbit. Aside from being just plain cruel, you won’t accomplish anything but confusing, scaring and hurting your bun. She’ll be terrified of you and have no idea why you’re suddenly being a jerk to her. She won’t trust you and absolutely will not make the connection between the behavior and the punishment. And if I find out, I’ll come to your house and punch you. In the face. With a bat.
Happy bunny parenting!