Many people don’t think that animals like rabbits can be trained. This is a guest post by Melissa Jolene Viera of The Dog Trick Project on how clicker training helped her rabbit.
Rabbits can be playful and outgoing animals when they are comfortable in their environments, but some rabbits are very timid. Rabbits are prey animals, and even if we understand that they are safe, they might not. It is our job as pet owners to keep our pets stress levels to a very minimum. They should not have to feel unnecessary fear. The good news is, we can help our rabbits understand that they are safe, and encourage them to be their true lively selves. Using science based clicker training, you can help your rabbit build confidence.
Clicker training is a way of training animals using rewards and a marker, like a click, to tell the animal exactly what they are getting rewarded for. The possibilities are endless when using clicker training. Positive reward-based training gives the animal an opportunity to experiment with their behaviors and movements to earn rewards. The animal is not physically manipulated, or told they are wrong, instead they are rewarded for desired behaviors. When teaching a new behavior, it is broken down into tiny steps that build up to the finished behavior. Any animal can be trained using clicker training, including rabbits.
When I first brought Mia home, my New Zealand Rabbit, she was very shy and nervous. She had no interest in exploring her new home, or interacting with people. I wanted her to feel comfortable rather than fearful. I needed to make her understand that she was safe, and help her build confidence. I hoped Mia and I could share a trusting bond.
I started clicker training Mia, hoping for the best. The first few sessions were nothing more than rewarding Mia for showing interest in the clicker game. Once she made the connection that the click meant a treat was coming, I started to click and treat her for various movements, like making small movements toward me, perking up her ears, and showing curiosity. She was realizing that her body movements could earn a reward.
I taught Mia to touch a target stick, which she quickly started following to earn a treat reward. The target stick gave Mia a focus point while moving around, and learning that her environment was safe. Mia learned how to do a number of tricks in short sessions, like spinning, sitting up, and putting her feet up on a box. The change in Mia was amazing to watch. I could see her confidence growing
With clicker training, Mia learned to accept handling, and soon she started to enjoy it. Just like when teaching tricks, I taught Mia to be calm for handling by working in baby steps. At first she got rewarded for being still for a few seconds, but later she was able to calmly accept having her nails clipped, and other necessary handling. With time, Mia went from a rabbit who was afraid of being touched, to a rabbit who nudges you to get pet.
Mia has been with me for two years now. She continues to amaze me with her learning ability. She is a very bold rabbit, who is never afraid to let you know when she wants attention. She enjoys interacting with people. Her playful nature is fun to watch, but most importantly she is comfortable and confident.
Clicker training has many benefits. Training animals gives them mental exercise, and strengthens the relationship between human and animal. Often times, rabbits need some help to build their confidence, and clicker training is a great way to help them. Spending time training your pet and watching them progress is a rewarding experience.
Melissa is a dog trainer, and Certified Trick Dog Instructor, who uses reward-based positive methods and clicker training. She believes in giving animals both mental stimulation and exercise through training. Melissa also has a special interest in the care and behavior of rabbits, and other small animals.
Thank you Melissa for sharing how clicker training helped Mia. You can find Melissa online at her blog The Dog Trick Project and her website Mj’s Dog Training.