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Forum BONDING Bonding or Bullying?

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    • Lykan
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      23 posts Send Private Message

      Hi, all!

      Tess and Penelope, whose bonding I have chronicled in other posts on this forum, are still doing well with their bonding! A couple days ago, they took a bit of a step backwards (something spooked Tess, she barrelled into Penelope, Penelope assumed it was a fight and scrambled with Tess a bit; Penelope has been nippier since then), but they’re still bonding pretty well in their shared space! My main concern right now is how to tell when something may be bonding and when it may just be bullying.

      (Note: I use the word “nip” throughout this post to mean “pull out fur” — I don’t know if Penelope is aiming to do more, but she’s never gotten farther than that, and at the very worst she caught Tess by the scruff once but never broke skin)

      I don’t want to “pick sides” — I know this is a natural process — but I want to stress that Tess is entirely inoffensive. Since first being introduced to Penelope in a shared space a couple weeks ago, she hasn’t fought back once, always lets Penelope chase her, always backs off when Penelope gets defensive of her space, and has even tried to show what I assume is trust to Penelope by laying down or splaying out near her. She still marks semi-regularly, but other than that she’s been a perfect angel about this whole “bonding” thing.

      Penelope, on the other hand, has been consistently… not aggressive, exactly, but she’s been making displays of dominance often enough for me to worry that she’s just being a bully at this point. She’ll start a chase or nip Tess when Tess is just trying to eat out of the hay/litter box (there are three, all within 3 feet of each other, and a fourth one that’s only 2 yards away; two of them are right next to each other; Penelope will sometimes jump through or from one just to kick Tess out of the other). When Tess has let Penelope come up to sniff her (sometimes asking for grooming, but usually just staying still), Penelope will do so for less than a second before trying to nip her. I try to stay out of it since it doesn’t seem actually aggressive, but it’s hard watching Tess just try to eat or sleep in peace or even attempt to show Penelope that she’s accepting her role as the submissive bunny only to get pushed and chased around like that. I know that nipping and chasing is all normal bonding behaviour, but what gets me is that Tess seems to be showing Penelope over and over that she accepts Penelope as dominant and still Penelope doesn’t seem willing to move forward with bonding. In my last post, I listed the positive behaviours they both engaged in; some of these have stopped, though since there was a clear cause (Tess panicking and running into Penelope), I’m holding out hope that they’ll be able to get to that point again.

      Penelope is bonded to my boy, Gideon. Tess was as well (before Penelope arrived), the bond broke, and they’ve just gotten to the point of cuddling again. I’m not sure if Penelope is jealous, bullying Tess because she doesn’t like her and never will, or if this is just a small setback in the bonding process that will fix itself (they’re definitely still way better than they were when they started). On my last post, I was told that bonding three bunnies was usually just a matter of being willing to put in as much time, effort, and patience as it takes, but I was also told that if Tess remains the “odd bun out” then it might be impossible. I’ve grown very close to both of the girls, as has Gideon, and it’s taken Tess months to get comfortable due to her skittish nature so the last thing I want to do is have to rehome her (and it would have to be her, not Penelope, because Gideon and Penelope have an extremely strong bond). How do I know if they’ve hit a road block? How can I help? I’ve swapped, I’ve tried territory with varying levels of neutrality, and I’ve tried to Bunny Magic them, but Tess doesn’t like being touched, so that’s a no-go; the closest we’ve gotten is that Penelope will let Tess come nose to nose with her when I’m petting Penelope, but even then she sometimes tries to nip. Tess wants to be able to trust Penelope, but every time she extends the proverbial olive branch, she gets a nip on the nose. When is this cementing dominance and when is it just bullying, and at what point should I intervene, look for new ways to bond them (suggestions appreciated, I want to do gentle bonding rather than bathtub or car-ride bonds but I think I’ve tried every part of gentle bonding aside from just giving them more time), or (as a very last resort) call it quits?


    • Wick & Fable
      Moderator
      5484 posts Send Private Message

      Have you tried putting something on Penelope’s head to encourage Tess to groom her more? Being the submissive rabbit is also being the groomer rabbit in many cases, so if Tess is literally just running or being passive, that too is not going to help. Penelope may be less reactive to Tess if she learns that she can be a source of comfort and grooms, rather than just a random presence in her space that she can easily chase away.

      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.


    • Lykan
      Participant
      23 posts Send Private Message

      Thank you! I haven’t tried that yet — I wasn’t sure if Penelope would let Tess close enough without nipping, as Tess has asked Penelope for grooming once or twice, but Penelope only asks for grooming from Gideon. I’ll give it a shot, though! I just have a few questions…

      Would Penelope be able to tell Tess’ intention from body language and allow it to happen more easily? She doesn’t really ask for grooming, but Tess also doesn’t offer it.

      Would it be better to put something on Penelope’s head and then let Tess figure it out/sniff it out on her own? Or would it be better to be petting Penelope, let Tess approach, and then have Tess take over for me?

      What kinds of things would work? The only thing that comes to mind is unsweetened applesauce, but I can’t imagine Penelope would be a fan of that if Tess didn’t groom it off immediately…


    • DanaNM
      Moderator
      7577 posts Send Private Message

      Hmmm, this is tricky.

      To answer the question about what to put on heads to encourage grooming, I’ve used mashed banana with mixed success. I did have one bond where it worked a charm, so it could be worth a shot, especially at this point. It could be a little tricky if Tess comes in to get the banana and Penelope goes to nip her, so it might be good at first to be petting Penelope, put the banana on, and then keep Penelope calm until Tess actually starts grooming.

      In terms of bully vs. bonding, at this point it’s really important not to anthropomorphize or project our own emotions, even though I know it’s really hard! Sometimes we (myself included) will see one bunny as the perfect angel, but really we are missing signals that the other rabbit is seeing. Penelope sees Tess as another rabbit that’s threatening her territory, who has not groomed her. Tess may not be exerting dominance, but she also isn’t grooming Penelope.

      When Tess approaches Penelope nose to nose, she also may be requesting grooms, or her intentions may be unclear to Penelope (could be an approach for a mounting request, a nip, or a grooming request).

      I won’t push car rides, but I will say I’ve had pretty good luck with them as a tool just to get past plateaus in bonding (never as the primary method, just a couple car rides here and there). Other things to try in addition to the banana on the head trick are a new bonding location, a different size bonding space and more or less hides/tunnels in the bonding area.

      At this point if they aren’t fighting, I would try to intervene less if possible.

      . . . 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.  


      • Lykan
        Participant
        23 posts Send Private Message

        I really appreciate this advice, and it clarifies a lot! I had just been wondering about the balance between the “stick with what works, ditch what doesn’t” mentality when things seem to get stuck in this sort of limbo, but this answered that on top of all my other questions! I’ll try changing the environment again now that they’ve gotten less aggressive around each other and keep you all updated!


    • Lykan
      Participant
      23 posts Send Private Message

      Okay, I know it hasn’t been very long, but I think I got some new insight on the problem between Tess and Penelope that I’d love some advice on. I put the girls back in the kitchen (neutral territory, and smaller than where they were before so they have to interact a bit more). There was a tunnel and a hide, and Tess seemed to immediately assume that the hide was hers — she hopped in until Penelope chased her out, then started running all around it and thumping at Penelope for 10 straight minutes until I took the hide away altogether. That seemed to help a bit! Penelope stretched out in the tunnel, which Tess has never had much of an attachment to, so there were no disputes over it.

      The last time the girls were in neutral territory, Tess was getting chased a lot. This time, they’re fine — a couple chases, but no fights. In fact, while in the tunnel, Penelope actually asked for grooming every time Tess passed by her! Therein lies the problem, though: Tess will not groom. I put banana mash on Penelope’s head at the beginning of the session (which they both love) and had to eventually lure Tess over to Penelope by putting food pellets (her favourite) on Penelope’s head. Tess has gotten as far as eating them off of Penelope’s head, and she licked at the banana mash for maybe a couple of seconds, but I’m not sure that Penelope even registered it as grooming and it certainly doesn’t seem like it occurred to Tess that she could keep doing it. I really want the girls to bond and I feel like they’re close to some kind of breakthrough, but Penelope wants to be groomed and there is no food that Tess likes enough to follow through.


    • DanaNM
      Moderator
      7577 posts Send Private Message

      That’s a great observation!

      For a rabbit to groom another rabbit, they really have to trust them. So it’s partially about dominance, but it’s also about the submitting (grooming) rabbit deciding it’s safe to groom the other bun. It sounds like Tess isn’t quite sure yet, so I think more time is the answer here. Since you are seeing less chasing and no fighting, that’s definitely progress, so I would keep up what you’re doing 🙂

      . . . 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 Bonding or Bullying?