Although our vet wasn’t happy that we allowed the rabbits to run up and down the stairs, we taught them to do it safely very early on. We understood the vet was concerned because she had seen many injuries to animals from stairways. However, we knew that Tigger and Shadow were way too focused on going wherever they wanted to go. We felt the safest way to prevent them from having any accidents on the stairs, was to teach them how to navigate them safely. Since the house is a tri-level with two sets of stairs running openly through the middle, we weren’t at all sure our bunny proofing would completely prevent them from getting to the stairs anyway.
We started when they were just a year old and were very swift and agile. We would block off one stairway so that the training only involved one set of steps at a time. Blaine or I would sit on a step near the top while the other would sit on a step near the bottom. In that way, we used our bodies to block a good portion of the stairway and were within arms reach of the rabbits should they have a misstep.
However, this was the one thing in life that Tigger and Shadow took with caution. Until they really had the lay of the stairs and the feel of going up and down them, they took them quite cautiously and slowly. With practice and time, they would fly up and down the stairs and seem to not touch some of the steps at all.
Shadow was always able to negotiate the stairs throughout his life. Tigger late in life began to go blind and we had to block her access at that time which wasn’t hard since she herself was no longer feeling safely able to use them. If Shadow went downstairs, we would see Tigger at the top wanting to go down too and would carry her down to be with him. Then we would block the stairs until we could make sure they both safely made it back up, Shadow on his own and one of us carrying Tigger back up.
When my Mom first visited, she was fascinated to see the rabbits running up and down the stairs and determined to get pictures of them on film. Tigger was way too swift for her to catch, but I think Shadow with his sweetness recognized what Mom wanted. There was a time shortly before she was due to leave on that visit that Shadow slowed down and paused on a step or two to allow Mom the ability to take these pictures showing him navigating the stairs.
There were only two occasions when I was scared that the rabbits would be hurt on the stairs. At first we blocked access to the stairs with a baby gate that was about 30 inches tall. That actually proved to be too short for Shadow’s athletic jumping ability and he leaped the gate and very fortunately landed squarely on a stair. After that if we blocked the stairs at all for the rabbits, we did it with a fence 48 inches high.
The second time I was terrified, it was due to one of Tigger’s stupid stunts. Tigger had been hopping on Shadow’s head to hump him. We began to recognize that certain look on her face and had begun telling her no quite strongly. So then she became a bit craftier and would just take a flying leap onto his head. That would usually land her more onto his body rather than his head and she would be giving him a full body hump. However, Tigger being smaller than Shadow, her paws would be dangling above floor level and Shadow would just hop out from under her.
So one evening, Tigger, Shadow and I were all standing at the top of the stairs. I saw that look on Tigger’s face, yelled ‘NO!’ and she took the flying leap anyway. Tigger’s backside landed on Shadow’s head with her body sprawled across his back with her front paws and head by Shadow’s tail. That is when Shadow decided to take off, … right … down … the stairs. I watched in horror as they went down them piggyback. I was expecting at any time to see rolling balls of rabbits. I do not know how Tigger managed to hold on and stay on Shadow’s back and I have no idea how Shadow saw where he was going with Tigger sitting on his head, but they made it all the way down, safely. When we told the vet about it at our next visit, she told us we had better hope that Tigger didn’t enjoy the ride or she would try it again.
That was a rub my eyes did I just see that moment and a time I wished the whole house had been wired for video to have captured it. I think the adventure must have scared Tigger, she never leapt on Shadow by the stairway again.