Pictures & Fun
| Bunnies Teaching Bunnies |
Julie Smith, PhD
Because we humans isolate rabbits to make them our companions, many have a limited vocabulary for social interaction. They simply do not know what to do when they meet another rabbit, having been removed from all members of their own species at infancy. They have had no one with whom to converse in their native language. I often wonder what an adult rabbit is feeling as he reencounters another of his kind after such separation and loss. Were a human to experience this, his story would be a most poignant tale. Rabbits who have had, and then lost, a partner-our widows and widowers-have a much greater social repertoire at the outset of a new relationship.
Rabbits whose initial instincts drive them to chase and mount eventually learn to interact face to face. Their partner teaches them, using the materials at hand and her own ingenuity. When confronted with a rabbit who seems determined to interact only with the back-end of his new friend, a rabbit may turn and present her nose to be groomed. The chaser usually ignores this and proceeds to mount her head. She then will scurry away, reactivating the pursuit/lesson. Eventually she will let the chaser mount.
In one especially telling case, that of Binkie and Justice, the chaser (Justice) was truly indefatigable and needed much educating, which Binkie provided.
Her solution was to back herself into a corner of the pen or the litterbox, or get under a stool facing outward, or just find some place or some way to make only her head accessible when she presented to be groomed. By using space as a kind of curfew, she was teaching him her definition of friendly behavior. An overturned crate in the dating territory worked well for this lesson, because it let her be present but not fully available. The door to the crate had been cut big enough for one. Sometimes Justice squeezed himself into the crate, but then he did not have enough room to mount. Binkie easily scooted out while he tried to maneuver in this impossible setting. Sometimes he attempted to mount the back side of the crate, or to enter from one of the side openings. Like humans, rabbits will try an ineffective way of doing things over and over until they realize that they have to reassess their tactics.
Binkie never stayed in the crate very long but always came out for more chasing and some mounting before she returned to it, becoming withdrawn once again--except for her head. Eventually, Justice modified his behavior to include some quiet head-to-head time, reposing near the opening of the crate. As I watched these two I remembered a very different couple. Unlike the tireless Justice, Colby lacked stamina and was unable to chase his new partner without physical discomfort. He tried for a while but quickly gave up, sitting by himself, breathing somewhat laboriously. After a period of confusion and seclusion his new friend, the splendid Faith, tentatively approached and lay down near him. With her head a few inches from his, their bodies formed the lovely V that rabbit couples sometimes lie in; and she tooth-purred encouragement and approval of him and (I suppose) life in general.
Life After Graduation
Chapter Manager Julie Smith (Madison, WI) has developed a very special School of Rabbit Bonding and Communication. The rabbits are both teachers and students; the humans take care of basic administrative, clerical, and janitorial duties. Julie writes, "Because I now spend my time identifying and observing truly compatible rabbits rather then controlling their behaviors, I am free to pay attention to the way they create their own bonds. I have learned that when I attempt to control, I am less mentally free to learn." We are fortunate to share some of her observations (see also HRJ vol.III, no. 9).
House Rabbit Society is a nonprofit rescue and education group.
We welcome your feedback and appreciate your donations. Please join today!