Deaf, Dumb and Stupid – Not!

Shadow on dining room chair

Planning my next move ...

Shadow is a particularly stubborn bunny. For months after we first brought him home, we thought he was a bit stupid, because he wasn’t appearing to understand or respond to “No! Bad Bunny!”  We had Tigger for two months prior to bringing Shadow home and Tigger understood and did not like to be called “Bad Bunny or be spoken to sharply. She would stop what she was doing and hop off.  Then later she would try to slink back to the bad behavior once she thought our attention was on something else.

Then I discovered Shadow clearly did understand “Bad Bunny”.  One day after I had chased him away from chewing furniture, we settled down for some head pets which he loves.  I had caught him mishbehaving with his chewing and now I was kind of chewing him out verbally. I was saying things like, “Why do you have to be such a bad bunny. You know how to be a good bunny. You don’t have to be a bad bunny.” Shadow suddenly stood up, turned around and looked at me with his head tipped to the side. It was clear he was questioning me.

That is when I realized he did know the difference between “Bad Bunny” and “Good Bunny”. I had confused him by petting him and calling him a “Bad Bunny”. After that Blaine and I both watched him more closely when he misbehaved.  We realized that when we would start calling him “Bad Bunny”, he was trying to misbehave faster. He knew how much time it would take us to physically get to him and he was speeding up the bad activity trying to get it done before we could stop him. Stubborn bad bunny!

When the rabbits are out of our line of sight and we hear “bad chewing”, we immediately start to loudly say or yell (depends on our distance to them), “No! Bad Bunny”.  That will stop Tigger, but with Shadow, we have to physically get to him.  Usually we distract him with something he can chew.  If it is the second time on the same bad activity, we try to relocate him to another part of the house to get him focused on something else.

We make sure to spend quality time with the rabbits interacting with them.  Bored bunnies easily become bad bunnies. 

Rabbit Sounds

Tigger & Shadow at play

Just look at the mess we made with our toys and hay. It was so much fun!

To the uninitiated, rabbits seem totally quiet since they don’t bark or meow. For those in the know, rabbits rumble doing the Bunny 500. You had also better beware the guinea pig like grunt. The growl sounds cute, but could be followed up with a lunge and bite that won’t be so cute.

We have also learned to listen for sounds of bunny misbehavior. It is amazing that we have become attuned over the years to the differences in a bunny who is eating or chewing a safe toy and a bunny who is consuming the house and furnishings.

With careful bunny parent training to fine tune our hearing observation, we can now identify bunny activities by sound. We can hear the difference between a bunny who is chewing on cardboard, paper, or toy chews from one who is chewing the carpet, furnishings, baseboards, and yes even the plaster and drywall! As we are in other rooms from Tigger and Shadow, one of us will often suddenly jump and run yelling to head off the offending rabbit.

I know some people will think we should never yell.  We usually need to with Shadow who will chew and quickly swallow things.  Household paint, pillow and furniture stuffing, sheets, and carpet are all very bad for a rabbit’s digestive system.  Human parents will yell to warn and try to stop a child in danger as they race to get to the child.  Since rabbit’s warn each other of danger by thumping, we yell and we thump our feet to try to try to distract and stop them as we are moving to reach them to prevent them from swallowing harmful things.

Shadow in particular seems to feel he is a bunny goat and can eat anything he can sink his little teeth into.  In the cartoon Futurama, one of the characters picked up an alien pet animal she called Nibbler.  When people weren’t looking, Nibbler would consume whole planets.  Had we seen that character when Shadow was a baby, we might have called him Nibbler.

More about Shadow the bunny goat later today… 

Rabbits Eye View

Shadow as Art - Bunny Boy Blue

Shadow as Art - Bunny Boy Blue

Shadow hopped into the office and around my feet and sat up on his hind legs looking at me.  He wanted me to follow him.  He led me out onto the landing and just sat there looking up at me, so I sat down on the floor and after a minute laid flat on the floor on my stomach to get closer to him and be able to see him eye to eye. 

That is when Shadow began his game of ring around Mom.  He would hop around me in a circle, stop at my head and look me in the eyes.  He hopped around me a number of times.  Sometimes when he stopped at my face he would just look  me in the eyes, other times, he would hop closer and give me a kiss.  I would pet his head and then he would take off again on his hop around me.  He played this game for several minutes before racing off to other bunny pursuits while I returned to work.

Most people picture having a rabbit as a snuggle bunny to pick up and hold and walk around hugging.  Estimates by rabbit groups are that only about 5% of rabbits like to be picked up and held.  The others react as if the eagle has swooped down and captured them.  They fight for dear life, kicking, scratching and biting.  As a baby, Tigger was like trying to hold a twirling Tasmanian Devil.  I could hold on to her barely as she somersalted and whirled around feverishly in my arms, leaving scratches everywhere her paws connected.  I would come away looking like I had been mauled and she was just a two and a half pound baby bunny. 

I shared this story of Shadow to show how wonderful the interaction with a rabbit can be if you learn to read their body language and put yourself on their level.  The relationship and mutual understanding shared then is just so fun and loving.