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Forum BONDING Almost there, but the nipping won’t stop

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    • Ants
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      Spay/Neuter

      Before getting to the problem, the background info:

      Male, Dax, ~4-5 years old, neutered years ago, Mini Rex, black

      Female, Venti, ~1 year old (shelter says 6mo, but she’s too big for that), spayed about 25 days ago, New Zealand, white

      Prior to this, Dax has been the only animal in the house since adoption 3 years ago, and the only animal at this apartment for the one year we’ve lived here. Venti was rescued as a stray about a month ago. Our bonding process was setting her up in one bedroom (where Dax went, but infrequently, and we put her in a portion of the room he never goes to), and allowing Dax to meet her, which initiated some humping from Dax that we probably broke up a little too quickly. Following this, we’ve tried a couple sessions of table bonding which didn’t seem to work well, and adjacent housing with  set of modular 3′ fence panels. After that, we tried putting them together in a carrier, driving around, then placing them together  in a gradually-expanding space, up to a maximum of a pentagon 3′ on each side.

      This went generally pretty well. It’s only been about 6 days and they don’t really fight anymore, despite having spent the last 3 and a half days together 24 hours a day. There is, however, a lot of nipping from Venti, so much so that the first night we had to put her in “jail” (sat in the pet carrier for a while, while Dax roamed) so Dax could calm down.  The fights have gotten better, but the nipping continues, and it’s stressing Dax out enough that I think it’s preventing him from grooming her. I’ve tried the trick of putting food on their heads, and Venti has taken to it well, grooming Dax for minutes at a time, but Dax seems too afraid to touch her (usually resulting in a nip I can only interpret as “Hey, I cleaned you. Return the favor!). Only this morning did I get Dax to groom her for a couple minutes, but the nipping continues from Venti any time either one approaches the other. Dax has only bitten us twice in his life, once when I held him too long while transporting him somewhere, and once during this bonding process, so I don’t think he understands the way Venti is using it as her standard method of communication.

      I understand light nipping is one way rabbits establish dominance and communicate “get out of my way,” but it seems to be hurting Dax’s ability to bond, causing him to run away any time she approaches “his” side of the enclosure. Is there a way to discourage the nipping effectively? I think part of the problem is that Dax doesn’t seem to really “understand” territory, having been free-roam for so long. His cage where his water bowl is located is “his” in the sense that when he goes there it communicates to us he doesn’t want to be interacted with, but beyond that he seems to understand the house is a shared space wrt humans at least. Venti, likely due to being a stray until recently, is much more territorial. They can share a litter/hay box with only eventually getting fed up with the other’s presence, though Venti will eventually establish it as her territory given enough time with it in the enclosure. I think they’re improving steadily, but I feel like something has to be done to curtail this nipping if I don’t want to be bonding them for months.


    • Wick & Fable
      Moderator
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      You are noting a lot of territory delineations, which makes me wonder if active sessions are currently happening in a truly neutral area or not? Truly neutral is different from semi-neutral — semi-neutral is where both rabbits have visited, but at separate times, while true neutral is where neither rabbits have been (like the table bonding you tried). If the nipping is related to territorialness, then you want to remove that from the equation for now and have them establish a working relationship in just neutral. This is also why it’s generally recommended not to introduce litterboxes, tunnels, etc. either as those can facilitate territorialness too. Most people use the bathroom for neutrality, since free-roam rabbits usually don’t go there.

      We have an outline of a recommended bonding process here: https://binkybunny.com/infocategory/bonding/

      The answers provided in this discussion are for general guideline purposes only. The information is not intended to diagnose or treat your pet. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or a qualified behaviorist.


    • DanaNM
      Moderator
      7577 posts Send Private Message

      Hi there, thank you for the background!

      I also have a couple questions. It sounds like things have progressed very quickly? Am I correct in that you’ve only had her home for 6 days?

      People vary in their opinions on this, but I really like to allow the new rabbit time to settle in to the new home before starting sessions (usually a week is good for most buns, but if they are very shy or scared it can take longer). I set up the buns in side-by-side pens, in the original bun’s main area, so they live as neighbors during this time.

      Then I swap who’s in which pen every day or two, for a couple weeks. This is called “pre-bonding” and helps the buns start to get used to each other’s scents.

      Then, as Wick&Fable said, it’s really important to do bonding sessions in a completely neutral area. If you are doing their sessions in an area where they have been before, their relationship won’t form correctly. Bathtubs and bathrooms are popular for this, because most buns don’t really hang out in the bathroom, so it’s easy to clean and deodorize to make it even more neutral.

      It also sounds like you have been using a 24/7, small space bonding method. While these methods can work for some people, I have never had success with them, especially if the space isn’t neutral. You can end up with an uneasy “truce”, but not a true bond, which can lead to serious fighting down the road. I do like to use longer sessions, but only in a large neutral space, and only once I have a bit of a baseline established with the buns.

      Nipping is part of bunny communication, but hard biting and fur pulling should be stopped. You must work to prevent fighting. One thing you can do when they request grooming is to pet each bunny to keep them calm and help them not be afraid. I’ve found the food trick only helps once they buns are not afraid of each other.

      . . . The answers provided in this discussion are for general guideline purposes only. The information is not intended to diagnose or treat your pet. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or a qualified behaviorist.  

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Forum BONDING Almost there, but the nipping won’t stop