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Agility Training your… Pet Rabbit?

Year by year, the amount of households with dogs and pets has increased tremendously, and now, people are discovering how smart their pets really are. Dog agility is a very popular sport many dog owners participate in with their canine companions, but what about other pets? Surely no other pet can do agility except dogs…and rabbits.

For those who don’t enjoy, or simply don’t have time to take care of dogs, yet want a social companion for the same 8-12 years, rabbits are the best alternative. Because they are much easier to take care of, many people choose to own rabbits, yet they don’t understand their rabbit’s full potential. This is the story of how I trained my rabbit to do agility.

When I first got Bailey, I wasn’t sure how he would ever get used to me or my family. At first, he was very shy and would run away whenever I tried to pet him. After months of working with him, we found a connection, and he lost all of his instinctive fear around my family. It was then that I realized that this was it, I had accomplished the main struggle of owning a rabbit, gaining his trust.

Now what? What else was my rabbit capable of?

Training Bailey for agility wasn’t the first thing that came to mind; instead I worked on basic obedience like coming to me when I call him, and following a stick in order to get a treat. He would run around the house following the stick like a puppy, but soon I could tell it was boring him, so I did some research, and found that rabbit agility is, in fact, a thing people do! According to the website Homesteaders Rabbit Project, “Rabbit hopping [and agility] originated in Sweden in the early 1970’s. It was patterned after miniature horse jumping.” After watching many videos on rabbits jumping in competition, I decided to test out agility training with Bailey.

Video of Bailey Jumping

To start, I didn’t have any equipment, so I placed my softball bat on pillows and called him over. At first, he would stop right before, or simply go around it. I could almost tell he was thinking, “What do you want me to do? Jump over that? No way, too much effort.” We had a silent debate about whether or not he would actually jump over, but after coaxing him with his favorite treat, he finally made his first jump.

It took a while, but after three or so months, Bailey could start from one end of the carpet, run, jump over the bat (which I gradually raised) and run to me. After numerous runs, he started slowing down and just barely jumping the jump without the enthusiasm he had before. I knew I could not make the jump any higher because If he hit the heavy bat with his foot, he could get badly hurt. It was one weekend that I decided to do some shopping for Bailey. Unfortunately, the first price I saw for rabbit jumps were over $100! As I kept looking, the prices decreased to around $80, but that was about the lowest I could find. I was not about to spend all that money, so I decided to make my own.

The process of making jumps was easy enough that in no time I had made two jumps out of wood, with around one and a half inch spacing in between each bar. As I set it up, Bailey was looking at me, then at this new wooden thing like he wasn’t sure what was happening. After the setup, I could see it dawning on him that this is the same thing he had been practicing with the softball bat. Bailey promptly jumped the lowest height without any difficulty, and I was able to increase the height to three bars in less than a month. I no longer worried about him getting hurt because the jump was designed so that if his foot knocked one of the rods, the rod would immediately fall to the ground. In his mind he was probably thinking, “I go through the jump I get a treat,” and he always made sure to move past the jump whether he jumped, or ran right through. He really enjoyed himself as the height got higher and more difficult.

As soon as it was clear he could easily clear the jump, I was able to channel his focus on another part of his training: the tunnel. I bought a cheap cat tunnel and put a treat on one end while encouraging from the other. Rabbits enjoy being in darker places where they can hide, so I was not surprised when he immediately went inside without any commands. The problem was, he loved the shade and the soft blue hue so much he didn’t want to come out! In order to get him out, I guided him through the the tunnel, and gave him a treat to reinforce his good behaviour. He ran back and forth through the tunnel multiple times and increased his speed as he gained confidence. Now that he could easily clear the jump and run through the tunnel, I was ready to introduce him to the most important step.

The big day came in late October, when both of us were ready to put the equipment together. Since he had never seen the tunnel and the jumps together, I placed them in line with one another and let him explore and familiarize himself with the set up. Once I felt he was ready, I lead him to the start, and he was off. The first few times he avoided the tunnel, or missed the jump due to the spacing I used in between each obstacle. It took some time, but in a couple of tries he could clear the jump then go through the tunnel with ease. I was so proud of everything he had accomplished in the past months, and I can’t express how proud I am of Bailey to this day.

If you are interested in training your rabbit for agility, or are thinking of getting a rabbit, I recommend you visit these websites:

As always you’re going to need ample patience, rabbit treats, and love!