Rabbits love being outdoors, but because they are prey animals, their natural instinct is to bolt to safety and hide when out in the open, says Dr. Angela Maxwell, MBBS, founder and CEO of the Bunny Hutch and CLIMATES-Rescue, a small animal rescue, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. However, there is a way to satisfy your bunny’s longing to be outside and keep her safe: Take your rabbit walking on a leash.
Any bunny, at any age, can be trained to walk on a leash, Dr. Maxwell says. The trick is to do it slowly, and to have plenty of patience and rewards. Here are some tips on how to leash train a rabbit.
1. Earn Your Furry Friend’s Trust.
Even the jumpiest bunny can learn to associate rabbit training with rewards and positive experiences. Before you even bring out the leash, sit on the floor and let your rabbit come to you, Dr. Maxwell says. Reward his efforts with yummy treats. Once he trusts you, start introducing him to leash training.
2. Use a Harness.
Rabbits easily can slip out of a collar, which is why rabbit experts recommend using a harness to take your rabbit walking. The harness should be secure enough that your bunny can’t get it off, but not so tight that you can’t fit a finger or two between the straps and his body.
“Depending on your bunny’s fluffiness, the harness may look too loose or tight, but go by how it feels, not by how it looks,” Dr. Maxwell says.
3. Start Slowly.
It may take days or even weeks, but with enough coaxing and positive reinforcement, your fur baby will get used to the feel of a small animal harness on his body.
“Bunnies can severely injure their backs if they panic, twist and jump out of your arms the wrong way,” says Dr. Maxwell, who recommends gently and securely holding your pet close to the floor when leash training a rabbit. “If your bunny is struggling too much, call it a day and try again tomorrow.”
4. Keep Rabbit Training Sessions Short and Sweet (with Treats!).
“Training sessions should not be longer than 15 minutes,” Dr. Maxwell says.
End each session with cuddles, words of encouragement and a treat or two. Just don’t go overboard with edible rewards, or intersperse the sweet treats with herbs like basil or cilantro.
5. Stay Indoors at First.
Start leash training a rabbit inside the house where your he feels safer. Let your bunny lead the way and follow behind.
Once your pet feels comfortable in his harness, begin using a clicker and treats to encourage your bunny to follow your lead.
“Just keep in mind that most bunnies don’t have the same training instincts as, say, dogs, so you’ll need a lot of patience,” Dr. Maxwell says. “Any bunny can be trained, but you can’t expect them to ‘get it’ overnight.”
6. Go Outdoors Only After Your Rabbit Has Mastered Leash Training Indoors
Once you’ve learned how to leash train a rabbit inside the house and your rabbit is comfortable with following your lead, it’s time to take him into the back yard—especially if your rabbit already is acquainted with it. Out there, you can continue clicker training, but never drag your rabbit. If he doesn’t want to go somewhere, don’t force him.
Once he’s comfortable in the backyard, you’re ready to take your fur baby into the wider world.
7. Don’t Force Your Rabbit to Do Anything He Doesn’t Feel Comfortable Doing.
The key to success is to make sure your bunny always feels safe. If he gets startled, speak to him in a calm, reassuring way and remove him from the situation.
“That’s why we like pet stollers so much,” Dr. Maxwell says. “If your bunny gets stressed, you can put him in the stroller and zip the top so he feels secure.”
While many bunnies enjoy their walks, leash training a rabbit simply may not be in the cards for yours. Or maybe the leash will simply be a means to get your furball from the house to the car.
This doesn’t mean your fluffy friend can’t enjoy the outdoors in a playpen, travel crate or his cage. To keep your bunny entertained, get him a toy that will keep his mind active.
If your yard is fenced in and secure, you can even leave the door open so your rabbit can run in and out as needed. Just don’t leave him unsupervised.
Now that you know how to leash train a rabbit inside the house, and he’s getting comfortable in the back yard, you’re ready to take your fur baby into the wider world. The key is to make sure your bunny always feels safe. If he gets startled, speak to him in a calm, reassuring way and remove him from the situation.