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Shy, cage-attached, and nervous

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indianavex

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Hello forum-goers! I've finally caved and joined a forum because no matter what I did or where I looked, I could never really find the answer to what I was looking for. Rabbits refusing to come out of cages isn't anything new, but the answers I always found involved unbonded baby rabbits with brand new homes and owners. This is a bit different.

I've had my rabbit, Cassie, since mid-July. She appears to be mostly unsocialized, as any hint of a human other than me sends her darting into her hide in her cage to tremble. I've told plenty of people to let her be when she gets like that and only talk to her or offer a hand when she feels safe enough to come back out. Sometimes when I catch her off guard, she'll even duck in. She's a bit easy to spook!

The problem isn't that we aren't bonded, either. Cassie will often lovingly stalk and watch me from her cage. If I offer a hand to pet her, she'll accept readily the majority of the time and if I've given a good enough performance, will lick me back for a couple of minutes before begging for more scratches. She'll often begin the ritual by licking me first. I figure if licking is one of the higher forms of rabbity love, we're not missing on any love in this house. She also comes over to clucks, kisses, and the sound of my voice calling her.

The problem then seems to be her bizarre attachment to her cage. I imagine in the breeding barn she spent most of her time, she hardly left her cage. While she loves being touched by me, petted by me, groomed by me, and talked to by me, she never wants to be out of the cage with me. She may watch me, rattle the cage for me, squeak to get my attention, throw her toys around loudly, but if I go to pull her out, she immediately flees for home. Recently she's been able to get over the initial hurdle of even leaving her cage, and is now willing to jump out, wander within a 3-foot radius of the door, sniff around, tug at my carpet, and within a minute or two will race back to the cage to hide again. I would understand this all perfectly, if she didn't turn around and within the same moment hop right back out to repeat the process again.

As I type this, she's jumped in and out of the cage 3-4 times, wandered over to me, licked my arm as I typed on my laptop, then scampered off again. As of yet, I am not allowed to groom or touch her while she's out of the cage, despite her licking my arms, hands, sides, and the pillow I'm using to prop myself up with. I just want to know what she might be thinking or feeling from more experienced rabbit owners (as she's my first!), as well as a way to ensure her comfort and security enough that she feels comfortable coming out of the cage and interacting with me and her surroundings.
 

agnesthelion

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Aww, what a sweetie :)

To me, it sounds like you are making progress with her. You said as you typed that she came out and licked your arm and then ran back. That is good! So has she done that from the beginning? Or would you say that's progress from when you had her in mid July?

Rabbits are prey animals so it's natural for them to feel threatened. It's in their DNA. So bonding with them can take time, sometimes months! It is all about patience.

I like the ignore method, which it seems you are doing, so keep it up! :) I would leave her cage door open but do not pet her or reach for her at all. Sit on the floor and read, watch tv etc, let her explore you but no trying to pick her up or pet her.

I would also avoid trying to pet her or pick her up or get her out of her cage. Rabbits get very "weird" about their cage. Even the most bonded rabbits will complain about being touched in their cage. And with you trying to bond it disrupts that trust even more.

Also, I would avoid having lots of people around her. You mentioned that you tell people to leave her alone, which is good, but alot of commotion amd strangers can hinder bonding too.

I would also offer treats for good progress for her as a reward. Rabbits are very food motivated. My Agnes, even though she is totally bonded to me, can really turn up the charm and brown nosing when she knows I have a treat :) it's so funny! So when she does come out or come up to you, make it worth her while so she knows it's a positive thing.

I think she sounds very normal and you are doing great in forming a relationship. There are many RO members who have inspiring stories about how long it took to gain that trust and it is so fantastic once it happens. I'm suremothers will have suggestions for you too.

Keep us updated!
 

indianavex

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Back in mid-July, she was actually terrified of me! I couldn't touch her without her cowering and trembling. Made those vet visits a bit traumatizing, unfortunately. To try and help her acclimate, though, I spent about 3ish hours every evening with her cage door open laying on the floor nearby reading, playing on my laptop, listening to music, talking to her, and even sometimes napping. It took her until a month ago to accept me enough to pet her, and all of a couple of days ago for the hopping in and out of the cage to begin. So I'd like to think we came a long way!

As for being weird about her cage, she actually loves me petting her inside the cage. She'll press the side of her body up along the cage door and watch me or rattle the door for my attention. If I offer a hand, she melts into the floor of her cage. Inside the cage petting is a-okay, but outside of the cage petting so far is not allowed. I'm giving her the space to say no, though.

And the food reward works wonders with her. The only trick is I'm trying to teach her treats come from outside of the cage and she prefers to snatch them from my hand and bolt back to the cage to eat. Little rascal, haha.
 

JBun

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Her running to her cage is cause that's her safe place, and her coming in and out of the cage sounds like she might just be testing it out to see if she'll be ok out of the cage. With some rabbits that aren't well socialized it just can take a while for them to feel safe and open up. You could try bribing her with treats. Food motivation can work really well with rabbits. You just want to be careful not to give her too many treats. Check the rabbit.org website for recommended treat amounts cause excess sugars can actually cause digestive problems with some rabbits, just keep an eye on her poop when introducing anything new and if there are any changes discontinue what you're giving her. You could maybe try little pieces of carrots to get her to come out of her cage, or maybe if you feed her veggies, then feed her those outside her cage so she associates being out of her cage with good things. Same with visitors, they could give her a tiny treat so she associates new people with good things, unless she's really too scared. Being a former breeding rabbit, breeders will feed oats, so she may like oats. Just remember to not overdo the treats, but they can help if you can find something she really likes and helps motivate her to be brave and explore her surroundings. Just be patient and she should come around. That's really great that she'll let you pet her and she'll groom you in return. It sounds like you are making some progress.
 

whitelop

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I've had my bum for 3 years and she is bonded to me, but she doesn't like to be picked up or held. I think a lot of rabbits are like that. My bun will also jump in and out of her cage many many times while she's out.
It sounds like you're doing a good job bonding with her and it sounds like she is coming around. Does she have a hidey box for out of the cage? My bun loves to get in her box to relax and be away from everything.
But to me, she sounds pretty normal. Im sure her life as a breeder was A LOT different than it is now, so she may just need some more time to adjust. But, it sounds like she is making food progress.
 

ldoerr

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She sounds like she is coming along really well. These things take time. Shiny Things LOVES it when I pet her in her cage. She is just recently starting to come to me when she is out of her cage. The way that my cage is set up, it is imposible for them to get out on their own. I have to pick my girls up and carry them to the run area (the kitchen). They are learning to associate being picked up as a good thing. I have not put much effort into them yet though.

Some rabbits just do not like to be out of their cages and are not active when out. Beauty is like that. I would just keep up what you are doing. It sounds like you know what you are doing and are doing a good job with it.
 

MiniLopHop

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Sounds like great progress to me. My Cinderella took a year to be comfortable coming out of her cage and it took bonding her to a more bold bun. She would only come out one hop behind him and if he went back then she did as well. She had spent 4 years in a rescue, basically in the cage all the time so the whole house was frightning at first.

Don't lose heart, it is so worth gaining their trust and you are right on point for doing that. Cassie just runs back home because that is her safe spot. Does she have hide boxes out and about the room? That can also help her transition from the cage to a hide box to being more boldly out.
 

Nancy McClelland

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Sounds just like Bambi when we got her. Her ears were full of crust and she'd never been handled or socialized. I took a couple of years, but, now she follows me all over, will come when called by either of us and in general is a very loving bunny. No problem picking her up to put her out to play and when it's time to go up, she goes right into the "put up" box. Time, patience, and BRIBERY work wonders.
 

indianavex

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Thank you everyone for responding!

I'm glad it all seems like fairly normal behavior and that I'm doing the right thing. I've made a couple goofs with her as a new rabbit owner, and I've been sort of hoping I hadn't traumatized her or something. She does generally very much so dislike being lifted and held, so I've taken to avoiding it whenever possible, though obviously sometimes I can't, like trimming her nails. I'd like to eventually teach her being lifted isn't always a terrifying prospect, but I don't expect her to ever really enjoy it. So long as she'll happily crawl up next to me on the floor, I'm happy with that. :)

I'll definitely make sure to stock up on treats for bribing; she seems to be less than picky about her vegetables. Unfortunately she's taken a ravenous liking to pet store sweet biscuit treats a friend brought over and gave to her one day. And it looks like I probably need to invest in more hides. She only has one plastic igloo as of yet that I keep in the cage so she can feel protected in there if she really wants time to herself.

Again, thank you all so much! I'm all ears for help with rabbit/human relationship training!

*Edited for pitifully obvious gramatical mistake!
 

Imbrium

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as far as "investing" in more hidey-huts, I have two words for you: cardboard boxes :D

they're cheap/free, chewable, replaceable, come in different sizes to be cozy or roomy, they can be moved around by a rabbit head-butting them, they can be climbed on top of, you can cut multiple entrance/exit holes if you want...
 

agnesthelion

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Ditto! Cardboard boxes or pop boxes or beer boxes all work great. Agnes LOVES them.
 

indianavex

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Oh, that sounds fantastic and significantly cheaper! I always have some boxes lying around, I'll see how much she likes them!
 
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