How to Train a Rabbit to Do Tricks

Girl feeding her rabbit lettuce

Most people don't think of rabbits when it comes to training because they don't think it's possible. However, if you understand how animals learn, you can train any species to do lots of fun and useful behaviors. You can even litter box train a rabbit which makes cleaning up after them much easier!

Training a Rabbit

The key to training a rabbit involves understanding what motivates your rabbit and how to "mark" his behaviors so he knows he did something right.

Rabbit Reinforcers

Reinforcers are what trainers use to teach an animal they've done something correctly. For example, in dog training a reinforcer would be a dog treat, a toss of a tennis ball, or some tugging play on a toy. With rabbits, your best reinforcer will be food and ideally you should use food that's "special" and not normally on his daily menu like pellets. Some ideas are:

  • Apples

  • Bananas

  • Bell peppers

  • Blueberries

  • Broccoli stems

  • Brussel sprouts

  • Carrots

  • Celery

  • Cherries

  • Mango

  • Melon

  • Pear

  • Pineapple

  • Raspberries

  • Squash

  • Strawberries

  • Dried fruits also work but feed in very small amounts

Rabbits also enjoy leafy greens like basil, broccoli leaves, cilantro, kale, and more but these may be harder to chop up and handle as easily as "harder" fruits and vegetables. As you'll read in "Reinforcer Tips" below, timing is important so work with treats that you can grab and hand to your bunny quickly.

Reinforcer Tips

When training any animal, it's important to keep your reinforcers small because timing is important when pairing the reward with the behavior.

Close up of a rabbit
  • For example, if you're teaching the rabbit to high five and you give him a big slice of apple, he'll spend several seconds chewing it and this increases the time between the behavior and the reward.

  • If you give him a bite-size piece of apple he'll chew it quickly within a second or two of the behavior which makes the reinforcement for the activity much clearer to the animals.

  • Occasionally you can give "jackpots" when you've been teaching a behavior, and the animal is clearly "getting it." A jackpot means a larger, more desirable reward to clue the animal in that he's doing really well.

  • You don't want to give a jackpot every time but spread them out over time as a behavior gets stronger.

  • Another reason to keep rewards small is that you want to avoid stomach upset. Giving your rabbit large amounts of fruits and veggies during frequent training sessions may lead to diarrhea so keep your treats small!

  • If you need a guide for how big to cut up your fruits and veggies, a good rule of thumb to go by is cut up your treats to be about the size of the nail on your pinkie finger.

  • Before starting any training regimen, test out the treats you will use in your rabbit's diet beforehand for at least two weeks to make sure they don't produce diarrhea.

Marking the Bunny's Behavior

Popularly known as "clicker training," using a marker is a way that professional animal trainers let an animal know they've done something right. A clicker works great with bunnies but you can also use a verbal marker which is a short word like "yes!" or "ok!" For any behavior, you will use your marker signal this way:

  1. Timing is very important so if you're using a clicker, have it ready in your hand and your treats in the other hand.

  2. When the rabbit performs the behavior, immediately click and give them the treat. If you're using a verbal signal, say it in a happy, excited tone of voice and give them the treat.

  3. Eventually as the rabbit is doing the behavior about 80% of the time when asked, you can fade out using the marker and start to give treats randomly, but also add in jackpots.

  4. In some cases you may need to break the behavior down into tiny increments, so you'll be clicking/marking small movements toward the behavior rather than the full behavior itself. This is known as "shaping."

Fun Tricks to Teach Your Rabbit

There are many tricks you can teach your rabbit and once your rabbit understands the marker, you can be as creative as you like. Always work at your rabbit's level. Shyer rabbits may take longer to learn a trick so keep your training sessions short and positive and be patient!

Your Bunny's Name

A great first "trick" to teach your rabbit is to recognize his name. This is helpful for teaching future tricks since it's a way to get his attention.

  1. It's best to do this in an area where you're sitting on the floor and your rabbit can move around freely, such as a room with a closed door or a play pen. Sitting with your rabbit on a large raised surface like a table can work as well.

  2. Place the bunny on the surface or floor and pull out a treat so your rabbit is aware of it.

  3. When the rabbit comes to you, say their name, and then hand them the treat.

  4. Either wait for the rabbit to move his attention away from you, or move him a bit aways from you yourself.

  5. Repeat the process. Do this several times a day for short increments of time, such as five minutes.

  6. Begin to say their name before producing the treat. If the rabbit comes hurrying over when you say their name, mark them as they get to you and give them a treat.

Coming When Called

Teaching a bunny to come when called is the next step after teaching them their name. It's a useful command for getting your bunny to come to you particularly if you're outside in your yard with him and need him to get to you quickly.

woman rubbing noses with pet rabbit
  1. Put your bunny down on the floor or table and move a small distance of a few feet away from him.

  2. Call his name and hold a treat out in front of you where he can see it. You should be squatting down or sitting on the floor while doing this.

  3. When he starts to move toward you, mark the behavior and toss him a treat. Repeat as he comes closer to you.

  4. Repeat this process several times in small increments of time, no more than 5 minutes or so at a time.

  5. Once your bunny is consistently coming to you after a few sessions, add in your word, i.e. "come."

  6. When you call your bunny's name, use the word you've chosen as he is moving toward you and while you are marking the behavior. In other words, you want him to associate "come" with moving toward you rather than you saying it when he's not moving.

  7. Eventually once he's reliably coming to you, you can begin to phase out using the marker and vary out the rewards, so he may get a treat the first time he comes, no treat but a brushing the second time he goes, a big jackpot reward the third time he comes, etc.

  8. Work on increasing the distance between you and the bunny. You may notice the behavior breaking down when you do this so go slowly and at your bunny's pace until he's able to come to you from the other side of a room.

Rolling Over

Teaching a rabbit to roll over can be really adorable, but you may not find this as easy to do if the rabbit is shy since this will involve some handling on your part.

  1. Start by holding a treat in front of the rabbit's nose so he can sniff it but not get it.

  2. Pull the treat under his nose and back around so that his nose is following the treat while turning his head back.

  3. Your goal is to get him to turn his head all the way around so that eventually it becomes more comfortable for him to roll onto his back to keep the treat in front of his nose.

  4. This takes some time and practice so be patient!

  5. Some rabbits will also do this behavior naturally so carry your clicker around with you and some treats and mark the behavior with a click/treat whenever you see your rabbit doing it. An animal will tend to "offer" behaviors if it is being reinforced for more often.

  6. Once you can get your rabbit comfortable doing this, you can add in the word or a hand signal to associate with the behavior, such as "roll over!"

Bunny High Five

Even more adorable than the roll over is teaching your bunny to high five (with one paw) or high ten (with both paws).

  1. With your rabbit in front of you, hold your hand flat out with your palm up and use a treat in your other hand to lure your rabbit forward.

  2. When your rabbit has walked forward so that his paw is now on your hand, reward him with the treat and click.

  3. Once your bunny is doing this reliably, start by slowing raising your hand up, about a one-half to one-quarter of an inch up depending on how big your bunny is (smaller increments for smaller bunnies).

  4. Repeat the process but this time your rabbit will have to reach his paw up to get onto your palm and he may also start having to sit up a bit.

  5. Reward him when he puts his paw on your hand and mark the behavior.

  6. Once he is doing this reliably, you will want to turn your hand so that your fingers are pointing up and your palm is facing your rabbit like the traditional high five stance.

  7. You may have to do this change in slow increments, so you may start with flipping your hand over so it's still flat but with palm down and get your rabbit to touch it in this stance, then slowly angle your hand so your fingers are pointing diagonally up, and so on until you are finally in the correct position. Remember, take your time and be patient!

  8. Put your palm right in front of your rabbit's face and lure him to it with a treat. Reward and mark the behavior when your rabbit touches his paw to your hand like a high five.

  9. Repeat the entire process with your other hand and your rabbit's other paw. Once he is doing a high five with either paw, you can hold up both hands to encourage him to give you a double high five.

  10. You can also try alternating and doing a left paw high five, then right paw high five and go back and forth.

Bunny Agility

For a really fun trick that's also terrific exercise, try teaching your bunny some rabbit agility. Just like a dog agility course, bunnies can learn how to jump over and go through obstacles. In fact there are even competitions internationally for rabbits to do agility courses and rabbit hopping!

  1. If you want to make some small jumps for your bunny, you can do it with some PVC following dog agility equipment plans. You can also buy small-size agility equipment made specifically for smaller animals.

  2. You can also just use simple "around the house" items to make jumps or even your arm or leg. Once your bunny learns to jump on command, your obstacles can vary.

  3. You can teach him to jump by luring him with a treat over the obstacle but another easy way to do this is to use a target stick. You can purchase a target stick at any pet store or just make your own using a dowel, wooden ruler or any similar thin, long item.

  4. Hold the tip of the target stick out in front of your bunny and use a treat to lure his nose to touch the end of it. Mark and treat him when he does.

  5. Repeat this process and eventually remove the lure and just hold the stick out. Mark and reward when your bunny touches the tip with his nose on his own. You can also add in a word if you like such as "touch!"

  6. Now start to move the stick around a few inches and see if your bunny follows it. Mark and reward when he does and touches the tip with his nose. If he doesn't, or he seems confused, it just means you're going too fast so move it in much smaller increments.

  7. Once you can work up to your bunny reliably following the stick, you can then use it to target train him to jump.

  8. Lay on the floor with your legs out in front of you. With your bunny on one side of your legs, hold the target stick out and move it from just in front of your bunny's face to over your legs. Reward and mark when he jumps over your legs to touch the target stick. You can add in a word like "jump!" or "over!" at this point.

  9. Repeat this process and then slowly move one leg up about ¼ to ½ inch up and repeat.

  10. You can eventually work up to doing this with your leg higher in the air. Try also switching it out to have your bunny jump over one foot while you're standing, or over an outstretched arm, or make a physical jump.

  11. You can also use the target stick to train in to go through obstacles, such as a small cat tunnel. Have the tunnel mostly closed and lure him through with the target stick. Once he is going through the "ring" reliably start expanding the size and repeat the process, until eventually you can have the tunnel fully extended. You can pair in a word like "tunnel!" once he understands what you want from him.

Teach Your Bunny Tricks

Once you start teaching your rabbit tricks, you'll probably catch the training "bug" when you realize how much fun it is and how smart rabbits are. It's also a wonderful way to bond with your rabbit and develop a stronger relationship. Be creative and have fun!

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How to Train a Rabbit to Do Tricks