Hello from me and my four hooligans! We need bonding help!

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Jun 20, 2023
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Hi everyone!
I am new to the forum, and forums in general lol. I have four amazing buns. My first adopted I've had since he was 4 months old, an English Spot named Newt Bunmander. He was surrendered to the shelter as part of an oops litter and came home with me soon after the pandemic started. A few months later I realized I'd be going back to work at some point and didn't want to leave him alone all day, and started looking for a friend for him. I found Luna Fluffgood, a 1.5 year old American Mix, who had been seized from a hoarding situation and they are super in love. About a year later, I saw a beautiful little lady who was dumped on the city streets as a baby, and we welcomed the roughly three month old Silver Martin Bunadora Tonks into our home. She obviously needed a friend as well (we tried a trio, and Tonks was heavily bullied) so a year later we brought home the 1.5 year old Netherland Dwarf named Pig and they quickly fell in love.

I want so badly to have them all live in a big happy quad. I did all their other bonds myself and feel pretty confidant in my abilities, but am questioning if I'm doing things right for this situation. Pig and Tonks live together full time, and Newt and Luna live together full time. They swap pens every night after a four hour (give or take) bonding session. The pens are right next to each other. The bonding pen is set up correctly, a little over two feet by two feet in a neutral room, only hay on the floor and a bowl of water, etc. I see so much of each bond squishing themselves into opposite corners. We've been at it for about a week and a half now with little to no improvments. Luna is aggressive towards everyone but Newt. Neither of the other girls do anything to challenge her, even running away if she gets too close.

Has anyone had this situation work out?

Also, the Harry Potter names were chosen before the transphobic remarks were made. The three with obvious HP names go by nicknames more often now for obvious reasons
Welcome to the forum!

Having two bonded pairs living well in the same home is an accomplishment in and of itself. So don't minimize the benefits of the current situation.

Quads can work... sometimes, but that doesn't mean that it would be ideal. Bonded pairs are what are considered ideal but sometimes groups can work. Bonding rabbits (into pairs or into groups) is mostly about the individual personalities of each rabbit and the dynamic of how they interact with the other rabbits. It really has very little (if anything) to do with what we humans do. While we can easily do things that prevent a bond from happening, there's really nothing we do that causes them to bond (other than not make mistakes). The bonding is all up to the rabbits.

I'd suggest reading the following excellent article on bonding. It is quite long, so do note the table of contents on the side. #10 is about Trios and Groups.
I had two pairs that I wanted to make into a quad, but no matter what I tried, 2 of the girls just couldn't get along, so they had to remain 2 separate pairs. So sometimes it's just not going to work out no matter what, because the rabbits aren't compatible. But I also had a group of 6 that were bonded successfully. Granted, they were all related, but that's not necessarily an indicator that rabbits will get along.

For them, they were separated when they became hormonal around 12 weeks old, until I could start getting them fixed in pairs. Then I would add them to the group. What worked for me was having a larger neutral bonding area outdoors. They were too busy exploring to be bothered with each other much at the start, then gradually were just running around foraging and exploring together. It was a pretty easy bond, except the last bun.

I think picking the right environment and bonding set up for each individual groups particular needs, is critical. Maybe something similar to using a larger area will work better for your group. That's what I would suggest trying. Either a larger area outside, or if that's not possible, a neutral room inside. I think a small space probably works better if you already have an established trio, and you're just adding one more rabbit to the group, but it's too small when you have all the rabbits needing space to sort out this new heirarchy.

If you're going to try the fast track method, it might even work best to completely clean and rearrange their current set up, into what they'll live in as a quad, and do the bonding in this space. Rearranging and cleaning (with vinegar), will create a semi new neutral environment for the bonding, and you won't run the risk of there being a falling out when having to move from a bonding space to their permanent living space.

The first video in the above link, under the group bonding section, is a good group bonding set up I think. The size of the area worked well for the particular rabbits being bonded, with lots of space to work out who's in charge and space to get away when they needed to. And the hay covering the floor was a good distraction for the rabbits. Having platforms for bunnies to get away when they needed a break, was also helpful, and no dead end spaces. There needs to be entrances and exits so no bun gets trapped.

What you don't want is a situation like the third video (no working video on second link), but it's good to watch to see what isn't working out well. The area seems too small for the rabbits involved, there aren't enough distractions for the rabbits, and there's pretty immediate escalating aggression, not just the minor squabbling that's normal for rabbits sorting out heirarchy. Also, there was the rabbit starting off in the carrier in the bonding space, which creates a dead end with no escape, which the person realized was a mistake after. You just don't want any dead end enclosed spaces where a rabbit can feel trapped.

If you find that the group method of bonding isn't working out, you may need to switch your bonding method. I had one rabbit left to bond to my group. I first tried bonding him with the group as a whole and it just didn't seem to be progressing well, primarily with his bigger brother who was top bun. So I decided to pull the two of them from the group and work on bonding just the two of them. Now sometimes this wouldn't be a good idea to be separating a rabbit from the group, but I felt it's what was needed to get this last rabbit bonded in.

I did a fast bond in a smaller 3x3 pen. Once they seemed pretty stable, I added another from the group, then the rest of the group. This is just what seemed to work best for my particular group, but it shows that you need to be flexible and adapt if it's not progressing well, and especially if you're seeing an escalation of aggression. Also go with your gut. Sometimes you can just feel the dynamic is off and something needs to be changed.