Do Rabbits have dominance? What to do if a rabbit bites?

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Amaretti

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So I’m a bit of a noob with rabbits so forgive me if there is an obvious answer to these questions.

With dogs, they have a hierarchy where you need to be the “alpha”. Do rabbits have this kind of dynamic? If you have a rabbit do you need to be the “dominant” one? (Not being mean or forcing anything on it of course, just kinda like dogs) or do they more so see you just as a peer in the same environment rather than above/below them?


Another noob question is do rabbits need to be corrected if they bite, the way you would do with a dog? (Not like hitting it or anything of course!) Or is it more of a situation of if they bite, it’s not a dominance thing. They’re just scared or something and you need to respect their feelings and back off so they don’t feel like they need to bite again instead of giving any correction.


I know dogs and rabbits are to insanely different animals and aren’t so much to be compared, one being predator and the other prey and whatnot. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can about the social dynamics and behavior of rabbits, even if it’s through maybe stupid questions haha
 

Mariam+Theo

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For rabbits, you are more of a slave but you can think of it as you being a very giving companion. You are there to care for them and give them what they want. You do not need to be the dominant one, you just need a strong bond.

If a rabbit does bite you do not punish it. A small squeal from you it will teach the rabbit to stop biting.
 

Amaretti

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Thanks for the reply!

So they do kind of have a dynamic where they view you below them then? But it’s not one that disrupts your relationship with it or ability to get it to listen if you request something, like going into a pen for instance?

What if they are chewing at something they shouldn’t like a rug. Is there a way to tell them no and have them respect that?


Why does a squeal teach it not to bite anymore?

sorry for all the questions lol
 

Blue eyes

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It really is quite rare for a rabbit to bite. It takes alot before a rabbit resorts to biting. They would have to be severely pestered and bothered. Their first course of action would be to retreat. If they can't retreat, they may grunt as a warning. If that is ignored, they may lunge forward to get the point across. If all of that fails and one is persistently pestering them, then they may bite.

But for the average rabbit owner who is paying attention to their rabbit (and their body language), biting isn't something one normally needs to be worried about.

A very young rabbit may do the exploratory nip (not bite). But as Mariam mentioned, a high pitched yelp may get them to stop. Another option is to firmly but gently hold their head down for a few seconds. That's a momma rabbit's way of disciplining her kits.

Some particularly stubborn rabbits will try to be "top bun" with their owner. In those cases, then, yes, you'll do well to establish yourself as top bun.

It is recommended for a first-time rabbit owner to begin with an adult rabbit (not a baby). Rabbits are adults at 6 months of age. There is such a steep learning curve for understanding rabbits, that it really is best to begin with a more settled adult rather than a baby and all of the problems that can arise with that.
 

Blue eyes

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We both posted at the same time! ;)

If a rabbit is doing something naughty, you can try saying "no" firmly or even clapping your hands (startle). However, such measures only work while you are there watching them. Unlike dogs, they have no inclination to "please" you or to do what you want. The moment you are not there to correct them, they will go and do as they very well please. :p
 

Amaretti

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It really is quite rare for a rabbit to bite. It takes alot before a rabbit resorts to biting. They would have to be severely pestered and bothered. Their first course of action would be to retreat. If they can't retreat, they may grunt as a warning. If that is ignored, they may lunge forward to get the point across. If all of that fails and one is persistently pestering them, then they may bite.
But for the average rabbit owner who is paying attention to their rabbit (and their body language), biting isn't something one normally needs to be worried about.

A very young rabbit may do the exploratory nip (not bite). But as Mariam mentioned, a high pitched yelp may get them to stop. Another option is to firmly but gently hold their head down for a few seconds. That's a momma rabbit's way of disciplining her kits.

Some particularly stubborn rabbits will try to be "top bun" with their owner. In those cases, then, yes, you'll do well to establish yourself as top bun.

It is recommended for a first-time rabbit owner to begin with an adult rabbit (not a baby). Rabbits are adults at 6 months of age. There is such a steep learning curve for understanding rabbits, that it really is best to begin with a more settled adult rather than a baby and all of the problems that can arise with that.
How would you establish yourself as “top bun”? I do plan on getting an adult from a shelter
 

Blue eyes

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How would you establish yourself as “top bun”? I do plan on getting an adult from a shelter
As I mentioned, it really is rare for this. I would try the holding head down thing when bunny misbehaves, but of all the rabbits I've had, I've not had one particularly over-dominant one. @Nancy McClelland has had more experience with this with a few of their rabbits (out of their 40+ they've had over the years). I'll let them explain when they see this.
 

Amaretti

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Thanks, hopefully the can reply because I’m quite curious! Do they take petting on the head as a gesture of dominance then? Or it’s more of holding it still there?
 

Blue eyes

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Actually, petting their head is considered grooming. The bunny being groomed is generally the dominant one, but both rabbits (of a pair) will groom each other. So petting your bunny on the head is like bonded grooming.
Holding the head down firmly for several seconds is discipline and isn't confused with grooming (in a rabbit's eyes).
 

Amaretti

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So how do you balance bonding with a new bunny, with letting it know you’re alpha bun? I assume you’d want to establish dominance right off the bat. Will using rabbit language to show you’re dominant discourage it from bonding with you?
 

Blue eyes

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Don't get hung up on the dominance thing. It is only rarely an issue at all. If a rabbit gets settled in and then starts acting unusually bossy, then you can easily deal with it at that time.

A bonded pair of rabbits may have an obvious alpha (or may not), but even if there is an obvious alpha, they both still groom each other and will be lovey-dovey. Same would apply with an 'alpha human.'
 

Amaretti

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Well, I don't feel like a slave, absolutely no.

I am an alpha for sure, when I go sleep my rabbits sit still, they are perfectly trained and know their place.

I never punish my rabbits I show and feel respect to them and it is mutual feeling I believe.
Yes I use same strategy as with my dog, it works for me.

Rabbit would bite in defence I have one rabbit who is with me over a year and she still can bite. We keep working on it but this came from her previous home where she wasn't feeling safe, so she would attack if she thinks I am going to touch her, she even attacks when you just want to feed her, she's very territorial, this is just lack of confidence and her bad experience with humans. She gets better now but still lots of work ahead. I am also hoping that when she is fixed she will be less territorial.

Other my rabbits can bite occasionally, accidentally, if they are hungry and I give them their fav food but they are so excited and bite my fingers thinking that is their food, well my fault I need to be quicker next time.

But mostly they only bite in defence, they don't feel safe with you that would be main reason.

With a new rabbit, I just show my confidence, I am friendly and confident, so they know somehow that I have right to do what I do, I usually take them on me and talk to them, do full grooming trimming nails, brushing coat checking teeth etc, it can take an hour or so, I move them in any way I want and they usually like that, well tolerate at least. But do it regularly and they will love it. They understand and accept confidence.

Even Smokey (the one who bites, she's in my avatar btw) she loves grooming it's only if I manage to pick her up and have her on my lap she's very happy and making purr sounds in a few minutes, I clip her nails, brush her fur, she is relaxed and happy. But I need to be very quick when I want to pick her up before she attacks and bites me.

She's getting better, definitely.
So other than be a confident presence, what do you personally do that makes them believe you’re the top?
 

Amaretti

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Don't get hung up on the dominance thing. It is only rarely an issue at all. If a rabbit gets settled in and then starts acting unusually bossy, then you can easily deal with it at that time.

A bonded pair of rabbits may have an obvious alpha (or may not), but even if there is an obvious alpha, they both still groom each other and will be lovey-dovey. Same would apply with an 'alpha human.'
It doesn’t present any behavior issues if they view themselves as the top? Like peeing all over or chewing whatever they want up, ect?
 

Cluckin'Bunny

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The moment you are not there to correct them, they will go and do as they very well please. :p
Exactly what happens with my chickens! *rolls eyes*

One time I had cardboard in my chickens run (long story why) and they started pecking at it and eating little bits! I wanted them to stop so I got a spray bottle and waited until they started doing it again, then I snuck up on them and sprayed! They stopped. As soon as they thought I wasn't watching they started again. I sprayed. Pretty soon, they were always good when I was around and then when I was gone they ate. :rolleyes: Soon I gave up and took the cardboard out. LOL

Sorry, that was a little off topic.
 

Nancy McClelland

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The only time dominance has been an issue for us is when we have a "biter" that draws blood. We have rescued several from death row that had tendency for biting and drawing blood. I read that the alpha will pin a sub down and grunt at them. So, I pin them down, body and head so they can't squirm away and know they are being controlled and drop my voice down a couple of registers to simulate grunting and tell the "don't do that" a couple of times. Another thing an alpha will do is to roll a sub on their back and pin them and do the grunting thing--had to do it with a couple of very aggressive little stinkers, but they quit biting and became really friendly little citizens. We still have Cosmo and he was turned back in a couple of times and was scheduled for euthanization--he now is very friendly and likes to be rubbed and grooms me constantly while I fix his veggies every morning and night.
 

Amaretti

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The only time dominance has been an issue for us is when we have a "biter" that draws blood. We have rescued several from death row that had tendency for biting and drawing blood. I read that the alpha will pin a sub down and grunt at them. So, I pin them down, body and head so they can't squirm away and know they are being controlled and drop my voice down a couple of registers to simulate grunting and tell the "don't do that" a couple of times. Another thing an alpha will do is to roll a sub on their back and pin them and do the grunting thing--had to do it with a couple of very aggressive little stinkers, but they quit biting and became really friendly little citizens. We still have Cosmo and he was turned back in a couple of times and was scheduled for euthanization--he now is very friendly and likes to be rubbed and grooms me constantly while I fix his veggies every morning and night.
Thanks for the reply @Nancy McClelland! Sounds like you do have some experience with this

So a couple questions for you if that’s okay then, sorry if this is too many questions, I’m just a sponge for info from experienced people right now haha

1. So would you think it’s good to let them know pretty quick after getting home that you’re alpha, or does it really not affect anything or matter if they think they’re alpha, as long as it isnt leading to biting?

2. Does your displaying dominance hurt bonding?

3. I’ve heard turning them on their back is called trancing and is dangerous, is what you’re talking about done differently than that?

4. When looking for one at a shelter, what are some qualities to look for that would suggest a rabbit is more submissive or dominant by nature? I’d assume just get one that seems more submissive than “I’m the king!” right away to avoid as much of that as possible haha
 

Pumpkin

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Honestly, dominance is usually the last thing you have to worry about unless you are getting one from a shelter that has a traumatic past or one that is biting. Just worry about establishing a strong bond. Once you have a strong bond, your rabbit will respect you and not bite you. Neutering/spaying will strongly reduce aggression, spraying their scent, and fighting for dominance. Your bunny probably is going to look at you like he's the alpha considering your the one that's going to be slaving over him, feeding him, cleaning after him, etc😂 (it comes with being a rabbit owner). But your rabbit is going to understand that you are looking after him and will thank you in all the ways a rabbit can.

The moment you are not there to correct them, they will go and do as they very well please. :p
I could've said it better😂. Sometimes when I'm in another room, I'll hear him destroying something, so I run over and check. And once he realizes I'm watching, he'll stand there wide-eyed and be all cute by flopping over. Then I'll walk away and hear him get up and start wrecking the place again.

What if they are chewing at something they shouldn’t like a rug. Is there a way to tell them no and have them respect that?
Like Blue Eyes said, probably not lol😂. The best thing you can do to stop them is by providing a lot of chew toys which they will take their energy out on.

Why does a squeal teach it not to bite anymore?
Squealing is a bunny's way of showing extreme pain, so once they realize that they are hurting you by nipping, they'll stop. This works for when you get a rabbit that likes to do "exploratory nips."
 

JBun

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Best thing you can do is try and find a rabbit that you feel some sort of connection with and go from there. All rabbits are different, you might get one that is completely comfortable with people, you might have a timid or nervous bun that needs patience and persistent effort to help it come around, or you might get one with some behavioral issues that need to be worked out. Rabbits are unique pets and are very different than cats or dogs. They are very independent and have a completely different body language and way that they play. I would suggest reading up on rabbit behavior just so you have some idea what to expect and to understand the body language that you see.
 

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