Bonding Struggles :(

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Davethyqueen

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My mother and I have been struggling to find the right way to bond our two female bunnies. One is nearly a year old (Bella, grey lop) and the other is going to be a year in November (Phoebe, lionhead). Both are neutered
Phoebe is definitely the submissive of the two. Bella has never once groomed Phoebe in return but often Bella will come up to Phoebe’s enclosure to sniff and flop for kisses. Phoebe tries to groom her through the little holes in the gates.
Sometimes Bella will jump into Phoebe’s enclosure and mark or try to hump Phoebe. And sometimes they’ll end up laying together while Phoebe grooms her once they’ve both calmed down. Bella lunges and bumps allot but rarely seems to when they’re in Phoebe’s enclosure together. Mostly just short chases, an attempt at humping before munching hay or grooming themselves separately. I have been swapping toys, litter boxes and a few stuffed toys along with their hay feeders and food dishes to get their scents in each other’s houses. I even tried putting Phoebe in Bella’s cage, and when Bella noticed she was very unhappy until eventually just flopping outside it. While bonding in the actual neutral space, Bella gets mad very easily. We can barely keep her contained in the plastic kiddie pool we use, and takes it out on Phoebe, Who usually just sits there quietly, unmoving. I’ve been worried our methods are inadequate and that letting Bella stay in Phoebe’s pen could be damaging. Any advice? Thanks :)
 

WhiteBunnyEcho

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When bonding, rabbits should always, always be in a neutral area such as a bathtub or bathroom. You don’t want the rabbits to smell each other’s scent anywhere.

you can do short 15/30 minute bonding sessions 1-2 times per day and get results pretty quickly!

taking them for car rides with them being in a carrier together also works well for stress bonding (putting them in slightly stressful situations so they seek comfort from the other rabbit). Or simply swaying the carrier a little while they are both in it.

When they are finally showing signs that they are bonded, thoroughly wash everything in their pens (and their pen) so they can’t smell themselves and want to be territorial) then you can monitor them sharing the clean unmarked pen until you are sure they won’t fight.

You didn’t necessarily say they bit each other I don’t think… does Bella bite Phoebe? Or just mount her? Mounting shouldn’t be stopped just so you know, it’s their way of establishing dominance. :)
 

John Wick

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I agree that neutral territory needs to be emphasized more, despite the fact that that may seem the most challenging for your sessions. They can start small, but what is helpful about neutral spaces in the beginning is that a relationship hierarchy can be established without the security/insecurity of being in one of the rabbit's territory. They need to work out what their relationship is in novel territory, rather than a relationship contingent in one rabbit owning the space. Admittedly, I am not thoroughly experienced with bonding, so this interpretation may not track with what other's have experienced.
 

Davethyqueen

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When bonding, rabbits should always, always be in a neutral area such as a bathtub or bathroom. You don’t want the rabbits to smell each other’s scent anywhere.

you can do short 15/30 minute bonding sessions 1-2 times per day and get results pretty quickly!

taking them for car rides with them being in a carrier together also works well for stress bonding (putting them in slightly stressful situations so they seek comfort from the other rabbit). Or simply swaying the carrier a little while they are both in it.

When they are finally showing signs that they are bonded, thoroughly wash everything in their pens (and their pen) so they can’t smell themselves and want to be territorial) then you can monitor them sharing the clean unmarked pen until you are sure they won’t fight.

You didn’t necessarily say they bit each other I don’t think… does Bella bite Phoebe? Or just mount her? Mounting shouldn’t be stopped just so you know, it’s their way of establishing dominance. :)
I do have them in a neutral area! I do sessions around 15-30 minutes every day or every other day. I might’ve accidentally left that out in the initial post 😅 but yes, Bella does bite Phoebe. Or if not bite, lunge and bump aggressively. One moment they’ll be face to face cuddling, but the second Phoebe turns to move around or her butt is to Bella, she’ll go for her! She’s a bit of a brute while Phoebe just wants to sniff her and play
 

Davethyqueen

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I agree that neutral territory needs to be emphasized more, despite the fact that that may seem the most challenging for your sessions. They can start small, but what is helpful about neutral spaces in the beginning is that a relationship hierarchy can be established without the security/insecurity of being in one of the rabbit's territory. They need to work out what their relationship is in novel territory, rather than a relationship contingent in one rabbit owning the space. Admittedly, I am not thoroughly experienced with bonding, so this interpretation may not track with what other's have experienced.
No no that definitely makes sense! I never considered that to be the reasoning before. Thank you for your input!! :)
 

JBun

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If after Bella has jumped into Phoebe's enclosure and they have settled down and are laying by each other and grooming and getting along, I'm not understanding why you separated them after this happened and just didn't keep them together to see if they would continue to get along. Did they start fighting or having scuffles or something? Though I should point out that normally unbonded rabbits should never be allowed access to get into the other rabbits enclosure, as this is how fights can break out.
 

Davethyqueen

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If after Bella has jumped into Phoebe's enclosure and they have settled down and are laying by each other and grooming and getting along, I'm not understanding why you separated them after this happened and just didn't keep them together to see if they would continue to get along. Did they start fighting or having scuffles or something? Though I should point out that normally unbonded rabbits should never be allowed access to get into the other rabbits enclosure, as this is how fights can break out.
I don’t separate them, usually Bella just jumps out on her own and Phoebe runs to hide from her. Phoebe can’t (or won’t) jump out of her pen but Bella can and does whenever I turn away. I usually take Phoebe upstairs (they both live in my basement with me) in case Bella does get in so Phoebe doesn’t get in a scuffle with her or anything.
 

JBun

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So do they still scuffle when Bella jumps into Phoebe's area, or do they snuggle, groom, and get along fine?
 

Davethyqueen

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So do they still scuffle when Bella jumps into Phoebe's area, or do they snuggle, groom, and get along fine?
Kind of depends! Sometimes they sit nose to nose for a while until Bella tries to mount Phoebe. Phoebe runs away, Bella chases, ignores her, tries again, gets bored and leaves on her own. That’s usually how it goes anyway. I’ve never tried splitting up humping and they’ve never really fought before, just Bella bumping or nipping Phoebe in neutral and out of neutral area. We actually have done two sessions of stress bonding in the past few days and it seemed to work really well!
 
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