Rabbits love to hop around, there's no secret about that. However, enthusiastic rabbit owners in Europe take these talents for hopping and jumping very seriously. They harness these natural talents and teach their pet bunnies to show jump and it has become a favourite sport in many countries of the world – including the UK. It all started back in the eighties, when in Sweden bunnies were seen to bounce their way around show jumping courses and the trend soon found its way to Europe. The courses were naturally quite small jumps but they did vary in height and length. Some rabbits became the 'superstars of the bunny world' winning all the competitions they were entered in. Rabbits can jump pretty high – around two feet in fact which is 60 centimetres. Not only do the rabbits go around a show jump course very adeptly, they also compete against each other in long jump and high jump, with the world record for high jump standing at 99.5 centimetres and for long jump is stands at 3 metres.
Teaching your rabbit to do tricks is fun and they do enjoy it. Rabbits are intelligent creatures and they like to be kept busy. Most people think of them as being sedate creatures that don't move around too much – but this isn't true at all. In the wild, rabbits keep busy all the time, it is just domesticated bunnies who spend time in a hutch or small enclosure and often they get forgotten. You can teach you rabbit to go up and down ramps as well as through tunnels. Rabbit agility is a fun occupation for the bunny and their owners. People who take their rabbits to shows, take their pets around the set courses wearing a harness and a long leash – this is more to stop any errant male bunny from charging off after any females that might be at the show too.
Training your rabbit to do agility is not only a great fun thing to do, but it keeps your bunny in good physical and mental health. As mentioned before, rabbits love to be active and they adore being around people. Interacting with a pet rabbit is stimulating both for owners and their pets. The best way to train your rabbit is to use positive reward-based methods which will also help create a strong bond between owner and bunny. Your rabbit will really enjoy the companionship and interaction they have with you – the stimulation they get will do them so much good apart from keeping them very fit that is.
When it comes to training a rabbit to show jump – this is quite a different ball game altogether. Some rabbits don't have the right temperament to be taught how to show jump and others are just not suitable for this type of activity at all. This means you have carefully consider whether your pet rabbit should be taught to jump or not. One of the main concerns is the rabbit's build which in turn leads to the decision of whether they have the athletic ability to jump or not. Bigger breeds should not be taught to jump because they might end up injuring themselves. If your bunny is unfit or overweight, it is not a good idea to try to teach them to jump either but you could start by doing gentle exercises with them to get them fit – your rabbit will benefit from the activity and your companionship. Young rabbits should not be taught to show jump because their bones are not fully developed – and this goes for the joints too. If you're unsure of whether it would be a good activity for your rabbit to start, you could always ask the advice of your local vet. Ask the vet whether your rabbit is in good enough shape, whether they are old enough and if they would benefit from the activity and training.
Rabbits are really quite intelligent, they are also very inquisitive and they love to play. This is great because it means we can train them pretty easily. You can start off by teaching them to come when they are called and then to go back into their cages when you want them to. The next step is to teach them to retrieve things for you. Rabbits are also easy to litter train, which is why many owners now like to keep them as house pets. Owners teach their bunnies to go in and out of cat flaps. This can all be done by using positive reward-based training methods which includes clicker training as well as using healthy treats like sliced apple. Shouting, pushing and pulling are all methods that should never be used – rabbits are very sensitive creatures and will simply get scared.
Before attempting to teach your rabbit to show jump, it is a good idea to get in some training yourself. You can teach your bunny the basics things like coming to you when called by rewarding them with a healthy treat when they get it right, but for more complicated training, you need to know what you are doing. Complex activities like agility courses are demanding for rabbits to learn, so you need to know what you are doing so you don't confuse them. Seek some expert advice from people who already take their rabbits to agility classes and join in a few online rabbit forums. Once you have got the hang of how to train your rabbit to go over an agility course, you can set up some jumps, tunnels and ramps in your back garden, making sure they are all safe for your pet to use. You will need to invest in a good quality rabbit harness and a nice long lead making sure they are the perfect fit for your rabbit – then it's just a question of having fun with your rabbit!
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