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Forum BONDING Stress bonding question

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    • attemptedquad
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      I’m around month 4 of bonding my 2 boys and they’ve come a long way. In their early bonding days, there was latching, bald patches, a torn eyelid, and blood drawn semi frequently, followed by stressful vet visits, so they could only improve lol. I’ve been looking on reddit and bonding stories and have found that a lot of claims are being made about stress bonding that I find interesting. For what it’s worth, I haven’t used much stress bonding with these 2. One of the rabbits early on seemed to get too worked up in stressful situations and so I didn’t use stressful techniques for too long. I haven’t had a huge success with car rides or bathtubs, but carrying them around in a carrier for a minute or two when they are annoyed with each other seems to help a lot and would reset them when they would get fixated on fighting. They’re now hardly showing aggressive behaviors and are both finally grooming each other.

      What I find interesting is that there’s a lot of claims that stress bonding “creates unstable bonds” and these rabbits are more likely to break because their bond is basically “fake”. I’m guessing this is BS because it doesn’t really make any sense to me and I haven’t seen any evidence to actually support the claim. The idea behind stress bonding is the rabbits create positive experiences with each other (finding comfort) and it causes them to continue to rely on each other and snowballs the positive experiences into a bond.  The stress is just what causes the initial relationship of trust to form. They will still communicate (humping, nipping, requesting grooms, etc,) they will just be less likely to get into full on fights. This is just my understanding of bonding, so please correct me if I’m wrong! I found it interesting that some people compared it to forcing 2 humans to bond in a stressful experience, but I know there is a lot of data that supports that couples that go through stressful experiences are more likely to stay together because stress also causes humans to bond more as well.

      Is there any data to actually support these claims? Or even anecdotes? I’ve read quite a few stories of broken bonds and it seems like every scenario was from new bunnies in the house, vet visits/separation, or a health complication.


    • attemptedquad
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      Sorry, I meant for this to be put in bonding. Could someone move it?


    • Wick & Fable
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      Moved the topic for you 🙂

      Stress bonding is contentious in nature, though arguably every bonding process people recommend as “THE” method is going to have people say it’s not ideal for XYZ reason…. ultimately, bonding isn’t an exact science and if a pair of rabbits are compatible, they’ll likely bond regardless of what method you choose among the informed, safe methods of bonding paired with owner-savvy on being attentive to body language during sessions.

      I believe it comes down to how each individual rabbit reacts to the stressful environment throughout its presentation. For example, in the case of my Wick and Fable, Fable becomes very narrow-minded and a type of “freezing” stressed, therefore, stress bonding tactics are not helpful for her as she is not paying attention to anything in the environment outside focusing on making herself the tightest ball as possible, regardless if there’s another rabbit in the carrier or not. Additionally, my Wick responds to stress by… exploring? So in car rides or stress scenarios, while Fable is an anxious ball, Wick is trying to get out of the carrier or trying to roam around and figure out what’s going — you can imagine that, anecdotally, these two types of responses to stress together are not creating any sort of relationship foundation between them. They aren’t doing what we would like to see in stress bonding, which is being afraid and turning to each other for comfort.

      To get data, you would likely need to contact rescues and bonding services to see who uses stress bonding and their success rates. That being said, it’s not like those are experiments as some will always use stress bonding and some never do, so whether the success of the bond and/or it breaking is contingent on using stress bonding is hard to distinguish.

      At the end of the day, I think it’s most wise to consider every bond open-mindedly and that it could be different, so it’s good to have a general process that is safe and viewed as reliable (e.g., both spayed/neutered at least 1mo, start with pre-bonding, move into neutral, expand, graduate to semi-neutral…) and if things are not going smoothly, then try employing techniques like stress bonding as necessary to see if it helps.

      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.


      • attemptedquad
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        Thank you! This is always the way I’ve seen it- just seeing what works for you and the bonded pair and adjusting when needed.


    • DanaNM
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      So, I personally think that stressing can be a useful tool, and have personally used car rides etc. to get past rough patches. But I think it should be used judiciously and based on the buns you are working with. In a case where the buns are very aggressive towards each other, I think stressing can be really helpful.

      I think the times where it can lead to a “fake” bond is when 24/7 stressing is used, and the buns are just so stressed they don’t behave normally at all, and then the human deems them “bonded” because they stopped fighting. I personally had 1 bond break where I was using a small space method and 24/7 bonding from the start. One of the buns was very timid and basically just shut down. They basically got to a tolerance phase that lasted 5 months, and then a bad fight broke out. So in that case, I think a false or only temporary truce had formed, rather than a real bond.

      In my other pairs, I have often used car rides, interspersed with normal sessions in larger areas. I’ve found these help the buns realize “hey this other rabbit isn’t so bad” and get past a cycle of immediate aggression. But then they have to have lots of other sessions that are not stressful, to make sure they are not only behaving that way in times of stress.

      Some forms of stressing (namely small space bonding for long periods of time with an added stressor) can be considered “flooding”, which used to be a more widely used technique in animal training and socialization, but that is now considered inhumane in most cases. I think part of the push back on stressing is that the rabbit community is catching up to the dog community and realizing that some bonding techniques are inhumane.

      The type of stressing you used sounds very in line with what I’ve used and had good success with. I think the conversations about fake bonds and inhumane treatment are more related to extreme cases of prolonged stressing during bonding. I like to stick to types of stress that are within the normal range of what a rabbit could encounter. For example, a car ride or a walk-about in a carrier is something that rabbits have to do sometimes, such as for a vet visit, so I don’t consider that to be in humane.

      . . . 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.  


      • attemptedquad
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        That would definitely make sense to me! That reminds me of hoarding/breeding situations where tons of rabbits are stuffed in cages and seemingly fine with each other, but when they’re rescued, they need to be separated. I can’t imagine how stressed my bunnies would get if stress was used beyond a short period of time.

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Forum BONDING Stress bonding question