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Home Forum BONDING Two Norse (Rabbit) Gods Having a Squabble

  • This topic has 6sd replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 1 week ago by DanaNM.
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    • Ancient Rabbit Deity
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      Hello,

       

      I have two Swedish landrace rabbits or Gotland rabbits, Loke and Freja. I have been trying to bond them now for around a year, I have been reading books, articles, blogs and watched countless videos on the process and also spoken with two friends who own bonded rabbits. I have achieved a certain level of familiarity but I’m uncertain if I should proceed or not so wanted to ask you if I should proceed and how to go from here.

       

      Background and Housing

      They are both from the same breeder and are half-siblings. Loke is an adult neutered male rabbit and born in February, 2018. Freja is a spayed female rabbit born in January, 2019. They were sterilised basically around half year of age. They live apart in giant cages (you could sleep in them as a human in a foetal position) but the cages are put next to each other so they can bother each other through the cages if they want (they usually just look or sniff). I bring them out separately a few hours each day in the room they live in (around 20 square metre).

       

      The Potential Bond Mates

      Loke
      is a very cuddly rabbit, you could probably pet him a hundred sessions per day and he’d love it. He easily accepts being pet and is not afraid of other humans (he often begs attention from them too). He licks me on the face or legs when he feels like it, which is quite often. He’s pretty nervous and can get aggressive if startled, he hates being picked up (more than most rabbits). Perhaps due to his nervousness he’s also very polite or law-abiding, after telling him no a few times (yelling, spray of water or “rabbit growl”) he won’t mess with my carpet or whatever again. He’s also a pretty relaxed rabbit, content with doing shorter walks and runs and then mostly eat, cuddle and chill. He treats me as the “dominant rabbit” and is dominant to Freja.

      Freja is a very energetic rabbit, often not having time for cuddles but want to nibble everything and run about. She looks at rules as recommendations rather than something to follow, she’s sort of what we’d describe in Sweden as an “eye servant”, as in someone who only obeys rules when being observed. I have little disputes with her almost daily, but she usually stops when I yell “NO” now, so she’s matured somewhat, before she didn’t care. She treats me with respect and she likes me, but she does not lick me, I think she views me as dominant to me. But we can cuddle when she’s relaxed (which is not that often due to her energetic nature). She is submissive to Loke.

       

      Current Situation

      I bring them together in neutral spaces (which they don’t have access to) such as another room and the bathroom. Loke is usually the one who is stressed the most and usually reacts negatively if Freja does sudden non-aggressive movements. What I do is let them sit together in a small confined space and try to relieve stress, I pet them both at the same time, which usually makes them relax. What usually happens is that when Freja hasn’t licked Loke after a few minutes he growls and do a “fake attack”, still usually scares Freja and she just lies in a submissive position (lower than Loke). If I stay with them, pet them and talk to them they usually both relax and seem to treat each other more calmly.

      I had almost given up on the project, but then Freja started courting Loke herself out of bonding sessions. Almost daily when Freja is out of her cage she runs around for a bit and Loke is usually sleeping on a small wood box, his tail usually hanging outside of the cage. Freja then approach his butt and nibble it to get his attention, or gnaw on the plastic underside of the cage. Loke usually turns around and present his head and Freja licks him for a minute or two and Loke seem very relaxed and does not growl.

      After that I began bonding them again but without stressors since Loke is really scared as it is and Freja usually licks him after 5-10 minutes together and he’s always really content, just as when I pet his head. But he’s still really stressed and still react negatively to Freja if she moves around which scares her. She seem to like him since she seeks him out outside of bonding sessions and she clearly displays submissive posture and behaviour (which she does not generally do to me). From my POV the problem is with Loke’s reactions to Freja, he also seeks Freja out outside of bonding sessions doing a similar “rabbit knock” on her cage by biting on her undercage to get her attention, which usually ends in sniffing each other.

      They didn’t meet much for the first 6 months but here are the few instances. Loke tried to enter her cage the first week when she was a baby though but apart from that nothing. I let them meet once before Freja was spayed, she was very calm and licked him. Once I slipped up and they were out at the same time and Loke jumped inside of Freja’s cage, she had just hit puberty and attacked him, one of those cartoon fights with a bouncing ball of flailing limbs. I separated them quickly and no one got more than a bruise. Freja has only attacked him once, after being spayed she always treats him as the dominant one. They had not had any direct interaction for more than a month when I started real bonding.

      I’ve had Freja for around 14 months and have tried to bond them for 8 months, I used to bond them once or twice a week and took three months of rest. The bonding sessions are usually 10-20 minutes. I’ve tried stressing techniques but I feel that with Loke’s anxious disposition giving them affection is a better glue than getting them more stressed (but here we are).

      I live on a big island with a huge uncontrolled wildlife population of rabbits so the rabbit viruses are rampant (most of the local population die each year). Responsible breeders and owners are reluctant to bunny dates (or even having me visit their breeding farm) since the viruses are highly contagious as you probably. There’s also no local rabbit rescue so it’s pretty hard to “try before you buy” with compatible mates. This does not really add to my plight, but just wanted you to know so we can get those comments out of the way. 😉

       

       

      So, where should I go from here? Is it a lost cause or should I keep trying? Thanks for taking the time. 🙂


    • DanaNM
      Moderator
      2855 posts Send Private Message

      Hi there, welcome!

      So to me nothing sounds too bad with the pairing (they aren’t fighting on sight or anything). I think the main problem is lack of consistency. Bonding only 10-20 minutes once a twice a week is usually not enough to make any real progress. Ideally once you start the process you work with them every day. Skipping a day here and there is OK, but until they get the message that they NEED to sort things out they usually won’t. Especially when they mostly get a long (which is sounds like they do).

      Also, have you been doing side swaps? This can be really important so they get really used to the other rabbit’s scent. I usually will swap who is on which side every 2 days (making sure the litter box is at least kind of used before swapping them).

      What happens if you don’t immediately pet them when they interact? I am a big fan of petting early on, but at this point I think I would try to ease off and let them interact more freely. Of course prevent fighting, but some level of lunging and grunting, even light nipping is usually necessary.

      The bond is forged through building trust. When you mention her “submissive posture”, what do you mean? I’ve noticed sometimes people new to bonding interpret dominance displays (such as requests to be groomed and putting the head down) as submissive, when it’s the opposite!

      The final thing is that if you’ve always done sessions in the same room, you might change it up if you can. Neutral tends to become less neutral when you spend that much time in it.

      So I think in your case I would start doing daily sessions (if sessions are short you can even do two in a day), ease off the petting a little and see how they do, and maybe try a new room if you’ve got one.

      . . . 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.  


    • Ancient Rabbit Deity
      Participant
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      Thank you DanaNM for the warm welcome! Also, is there no quote function on this forum? Couldn’t find it so improvising. 🙂

       

      “I think the main problem is lack of consistency. Bonding only 10-20 minutes once a twice a week is usually not enough to make any real progress. Ideally once you start the process you work with them every day. Skipping a day here and there is OK, but until they get the message that they NEED to sort things out they usually won’t. Especially when they mostly get a long (which is sounds like they do).”

       

      Alright, that’s an area I could improve at, doing daily I mean. I basically felt sorry for my rabbits I guess and didn’t want to give them daily pressure, but repetition breeds familiarity! That’s as true for them as for us. 🙂

       

      “Also, have you been doing side swaps? This can be really important so they get really used to the other rabbit’s scent. I usually will swap who is on which side every 2 days (making sure the litter box is at least kind of used before swapping them).”

       

      You mean letting them live in the other cage? No, I have changed litterbox and “stolen” some droppings and redistributed though. But due to the proximity they should be able to smell each other. The first few months their cages were apart but the last 8 months or so they’re next to each other, since then Loke has occasionally (once/twice a month) peed a little in a corner of the cage, outside of the litterbox. He never did that before and never does it outside of the cage. This lead me to believe that he is very aware of her presence and want to mark. But sure, their layout is almost identical so switching would not be hard.

       

      “What happens if you don’t immediately pet them when they interact? I am a big fan of petting early on, but at this point I think I would try to ease off and let them interact more freely. Of course prevent fighting, but some level of lunging and grunting, even light nipping is usually necessary.”

       

      They usually lie down, facing each other head-on just breathing heavily. Loke then usually presents his head to Freja, she usually look scared and usually press her body further down. That’s usually when Loke lunges at her, growling and nipping. After that she tries to press herself even harder and look scared (you can see a little of the white and eyes bulge more). But sure, I can try easing off.

       

      “When you mention her “submissive posture”, what do you mean? I’ve noticed sometimes people new to bonding interpret dominance displays (such as requests to be groomed and putting the head down) as submissive, when it’s the opposite!”

       

      I could of course be mistaken, this is my first pair of rabbits. And rabbit behaviour seems to be a very undernourished science compared to cats and dogs for example so a lot of guesswork out there to fill the blanks. What I have read is generally that the one pressing down to the ground is the submissive one, for example in Rabbits for Dummies (2nd ed, 2009).

       

      <video controls=”controls” width=”300″ height=”150″>
      <source src=”https://i.imgur.com/iNRmQjP.jpg&#8221; /></video>

       

      But apart from that, Freja never attacks Loke. Loke attacks Freja, she doesn’t fight back when bitten, just ducking more.  When I pick them up they react very differently; Loke struggles and snarls and may do fake attacks, when Freja knows she will be picked up she just lies down and try to disappear into the fleece (no struggle, no aggression).  She also shows signs of being scared (showing the whites and bulging eyes) after Loke has growled and nipped.

       

      “The final thing is that if you’ve always done sessions in the same room, you might change it up if you can. Neutral tends to become less neutral when you spend that much time in it.

      So I think in your case I would start doing daily sessions (if sessions are short you can even do two in a day), ease off the petting a little and see how they do, and maybe try a new room if you’ve got one.”

      Alright, I have some rooms left (and also a small balcony) so I could give that a go too. For how long do you think it makes sense to keep going? Yes, individual cases, but let’s say they’ll live for 10 years; should I try for 10 years? 😉


    • DanaNM
      Moderator
      2855 posts Send Private Message

      Yes I am not sure we have a quote function at the moment, but I will add it to the fixit list, as the forum is still being actively worked on!

      So putting the head down is a dominance display with bunnies! It is the oppossite of dogs and cats! When they lay down and both put their heads down, they are asking to be groomed, and the one that grooms first is submissive. So basically I read this is as Loke comes up, asks to be groomed, Freja refuses and asks to be groomed back.

      I wouldn’t allow him to just bite and nip her relentlessly, but see what happens if you just let things play out a bit. One of them will eventually give in and groom the other, but they need to trust each other first.

      Freja looking scared is ok, try not to comfort her too much at the point, and allow some nipping from Loke (as long as it’s not hard biting or huge chunks of fur being pulled out). It can feel awful to let one rabbit seemingly pick on the other, but it’s their way of communicating who will be top bun enough to defend the warren from intruders. 🙂

      Also do be sure to always end on a good note. This could be them relaxing ignoring each other, relaxing near each other, or even them in a nose to nose grooming stand off but with you petting them. Just don’t end it because Freja looks sad or is getting picked on. That teaches them how to “make that other rabbit go away”.

      And I def recommend full on side swaps or litter box swaps at a minimum. You want them to lose track of who’s territory is who’s. Expect some poop and pee wars, but all should go back to normal once they are bonded.

      . . . 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
      2855 posts Send Private Message

      Oh and to answer your last question, that is really up to you. In my mind, since you haven’t been working with them consistently, the clock hasn’t really started ticking yet. My toughest bond (i’ve had a few tough ones) took about 3-4 months of daily sessions, including very long ones (6-10 hours) towards the end. But they were totally worth it, and were suddenly madly in love with each other. So personally I would probably start doing daily or almost daily sessions when you know you have several weeks of time to dedicate to it. If no progress has been made after a month or so, reassess the plan.

      But honestly from the behaviors you describe and the fact that the longest sessions have only been 20 minutes, they sound totally bondable to me, they just haven’t felt the need to yet. 🙂

      . . . 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.  


    • Ancient Rabbit Deity
      Participant
      3 posts Send Private Message

      Alright, thank you for the great feedback. I’m privileged enough to be able to work from home during these hard times so I might as well start now since I spend most of my time at home. 🙂

      I will do what you suggest and try bonding them for a couple of months, if that didn’t work I will keep them separate. I did get Freja mostly to keep Loke company in the beginning, but I’m too attached to both of them now to let them go whatever happens. But I’ll try to give them an even better life with bonding.

       

      Thank you!


    • DanaNM
      Moderator
      2855 posts Send Private Message

      Sounds like a great plan! It’s awesome you plan to keep them both regardless. It makes things much less stressful. Even if bonding is not successful, I’m sure they appreciate each other’s company as neighbors.

      . . . 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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