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Thread: Encouraging final steps in bonding, advice please!

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    Default Encouraging final steps in bonding, advice please!

    Hi, so I've been bonding my female rabbit with a male for the last 2 months now - it's been a slow process but they've made a lot of progress. However, they've been stuck at more of less the same level of bonded with each other for the last couple of weeks now, so I'm wondering if there's anything I can do to encourage them to take those final steps and whether I should still be expecting a bit of nipping/chasing/nervousness in a recently bonded pair?

    At this point, we're up to long (4-6 hr) sessions in a large area with litter boxes, hay, water, and plenty of other distractions to keep them occupied. We initially tried a smaller area, but found she was just too scared to interact with him aside from lunging and wouldn't eat, so we increased the size to give her the opportunity to run away/spend time away from him if she needed.

    They're now close to being bonded (we think). Here's what they'll do at the moment: eat veggies together nicely, eat some pellets together (after a bit she hops off and then comes for more later), eat hay together/near each other, snuggle, groom (he doesn't groom her every session, but she always grooms him multiple times and he's groomed her at various points), drink water around each other, groom themselves, use the litter tray, flop/lay down, binky (him, not her), and I'm reasonably sure she's fallen asleep a couple of times too.

    This is all great and such progress compared to the beginning, but the issue is they're still having periodic fights (only a handful have been serious - no blood drawn, but tails up and "whirlwindy", and some fur pulled - certainly enough for us to intervene to prevent it escalating, but I don't think they were trying to seriously hurt each other) and there are still a few scuffles (small lunges/some agitation showing). He seems to be the dominant one (he certainly gets more grooming and he nips and chases more). Most of the aggression/fear comes from one of them scaring the other by moving too suddenly after cuddling/grooming, her lunging defensively if he runs past/towards her, him nipping her when he approaches or she moves past him, or her losing her patience with the repeated butt nipping/forceful grooming requests.

    They have been gradually trusting each other more over time and can move around each other comfortably most of the time, but there's still some defensive lunging from her (not trying to hurt him, just a warning) and a bit of nipping and chasing from him, both butt nipping and more recently some light nips on the bridge of her nose. Neither of them has humped the other at all which surprised me, but I guess the nipping and grooming is their way of establishing dominance. They're still breathing pretty heavy when they're lying together and there's still some tension when they approach each other. It quite hard to tell how an interaction will go because sometimes they don't react negatively at all and other times it starts a scuffle or fight, so I'm reluctant to let them have unsupervised time together untill they trust each other more and we trust them not to start a fight.

    So, is it just a matter of time and patience now, or does anyone have any advice for things we could do/try at this point that might help? And should there be any nervousness/scuffles/nipping/chasing in a bonded pair or should they fully trust each other by this point?

    Thanks for your help

  2. #2
    Warren Veteran DemiS's Avatar
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    I think it's time now that you put them together and leave them together. A bit of chasing and fur pulling is to be expected, even happily bonded rabbits will have scuffles sometimes. It's not nice to watch and it can be tempting to split them up at the first sign of aggression but it's all part of them testing their limits and figuring out the hierarchy. When I was trying to bond my boys I was terrified that they'd hurt each other so if they started to chase I'd immediately split them up, but the stopping and starting meant the bond got absolutely nowhere. In the end I took them to someone more experienced with rabbit bonding, she put them together, let them chase and hump and they quickly worked out who was boss and once that was out of the way they started to bond really well. I was advised to only intervene if there was blood/squealing/scratching involved or if the chasing/fur pulling was particularly severe and showing no sign of stopping. This is why I'm personally not a fan of the bunny dating method because I feel like just as the rabbits are starting to get used to each other they're separated and the whole process has to start again each time and so it takes longer for the rabbits to trust one another.

    Recently I added a girl to my bonded pair of boys. I arranged to do it when I had a few days off of university so I could stay home and I set them up in the bathroom (neutral, smallish area) with the door left open and a gate across so I could see and hear them from my bedroom. You don't want to get your hands or bare feet near a bunny fight so I kept a sweeping brush just outside the bathroom so that I could quickly break up any serious fights without getting bitten. My girl was quite curious about the boys but also very nervous, the boys would sometimes chase her and pull a little fur so they ended up sitting quite far away from each other and not really interacting. I watched them like a hawk for the first hour, then over time I felt confident enough to leave the room for short periods of time and eventually leave them completely unsupervised. Even after 48 hours together there was very little interaction other than chasing, so I was a bit worried about how the bond was going to progress. It felt like it took forever but slowly they built their trust and interacted more and more

    Anyway that's my reasoning why I think it's time to stop the dates and leave them together. As for the bonding itself keep the space and anything in it neutral, my rabbits tended to stick in opposite corners to begin with so I found that putting their hay and food right in the middle helped bring them a bit closer together. I would definitely keep a sweeping brush nearby in case you do need to break up a serious fight, maybe something that can make a loud noise too to distract them when things get a little heated. If you work through the week then perhaps Friday evening might be a good time to start
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  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by DemiS View Post
    I think it's time now that you put them together and leave them together. A bit of chasing and fur pulling is to be expected, even happily bonded rabbits will have scuffles sometimes. It's not nice to watch and it can be tempting to split them up at the first sign of aggression but it's all part of them testing their limits and figuring out the hierarchy. When I was trying to bond my boys I was terrified that they'd hurt each other so if they started to chase I'd immediately split them up, but the stopping and starting meant the bond got absolutely nowhere. In the end I took them to someone more experienced with rabbit bonding, she put them together, let them chase and hump and they quickly worked out who was boss and once that was out of the way they started to bond really well. I was advised to only intervene if there was blood/squealing/scratching involved or if the chasing/fur pulling was particularly severe and showing no sign of stopping. This is why I'm personally not a fan of the bunny dating method because I feel like just as the rabbits are starting to get used to each other they're separated and the whole process has to start again each time and so it takes longer for the rabbits to trust one another.

    Recently I added a girl to my bonded pair of boys. I arranged to do it when I had a few days off of university so I could stay home and I set them up in the bathroom (neutral, smallish area) with the door left open and a gate across so I could see and hear them from my bedroom. You don't want to get your hands or bare feet near a bunny fight so I kept a sweeping brush just outside the bathroom so that I could quickly break up any serious fights without getting bitten. My girl was quite curious about the boys but also very nervous, the boys would sometimes chase her and pull a little fur so they ended up sitting quite far away from each other and not really interacting. I watched them like a hawk for the first hour, then over time I felt confident enough to leave the room for short periods of time and eventually leave them completely unsupervised. Even after 48 hours together there was very little interaction other than chasing, so I was a bit worried about how the bond was going to progress. It felt like it took forever but slowly they built their trust and interacted more and more

    Anyway that's my reasoning why I think it's time to stop the dates and leave them together. As for the bonding itself keep the space and anything in it neutral, my rabbits tended to stick in opposite corners to begin with so I found that putting their hay and food right in the middle helped bring them a bit closer together. I would definitely keep a sweeping brush nearby in case you do need to break up a serious fight, maybe something that can make a loud noise too to distract them when things get a little heated. If you work through the week then perhaps Friday evening might be a good time to start
    Hi, thanks for the advice. I let them chase and nip and generally do my best not to intervene much, though it can be difficult to hold my nerve sometimes. I know it's important for them to be able to sort out their dominance with each other - I get the impression that they've agreed he's dominant as I've said, but she's a bit miffed he's so reluctant to groom her back.

    We do break up 'whirlwinds' as neither of us is experienced enough to know how much they're trying to hurt each other, and we've certainly had a few bites in the process (there are things we can use to break up a fight that aren't our hands which are ready on hand, yet we always seem to end up using our hands anyway...). I've read so many conflicting things on when you should and shouldn't intervene (from the first sign of aggression to under no circumstances and everything in between) that it can be hard to know what's best.

    I do know what you mean about it interrupting the process by separating them - they tend to be a little more agitated at the start of each session, so I think it's getting to the point now where separating them is counterproductive. We wanted to do the 'slow method' to minimise stress for her as she's had some serious GI stasis before and we were concerned she'd refuse to eat if stressed (which turned out to be right for the first week or so of sessions so I'm glad we did things this way), but I can certainly see the benefits of the 'fast track' method too. I think we'll try doing an overnight session either tomorrow or the day after now they're both able to eat, drink, poop, etc in each other's company and see how that goes. If that goes well, then I won't separate them after that.

    We've got hay in the middle but in two piles at the minute (not that far apart though) and two litter trays side by side; I think we'll move the hay into one giant pile and swap out the two trays for one large one once we've cleaned it (it's been in her cage, so needs vinegaring first). We put the veggies and pellets in one large slightly scattered pile, so they have to eat next to each other but one can't hog all of it at once. They are choosing to approach each other and interact (he mostly initiates this, but she does sometimes too), but more interaction should help.

  4. #4
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    If you are putting them in the same space every date, your female is possibly getting territorial over it, andas she isn't fully bonded with him, it could be causing uncertainties as they haven't had time to settle down together. So I would put them in the area where they will be living and it should work. When you put rabbits in a different area, they sometimes have to re-establish the pecking order but it usually only takes a couple of seconds. Start early morning on a day when you're home so you can monitor them until evening, if all has been well then keep them together.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonibun View Post
    If you are putting them in the same space every date, your female is possibly getting territorial over it, andas she isn't fully bonded with him, it could be causing uncertainties as they haven't had time to settle down together. So I would put them in the area where they will be living and it should work. When you put rabbits in a different area, they sometimes have to re-establish the pecking order but it usually only takes a couple of seconds. Start early morning on a day when you're home so you can monitor them until evening, if all has been well then keep them together.
    Sadly, I don't think they're ready yet We're doing a session at the moment (taking turns to supervise) and they've had a couple of fights already. We were going on a strict no intervention unless a fight breaks out to see how they get on without us petting them/distracting them and it was fine for a bit (some nipping or chasing from him, her running off) and them sleeping on opposite sides of the pen.

    But he kept coming up to her and nipping her on the bridge of the nose, which eventually ****** her off enough to react. Lots of fur was pulled and they weren't showing signs of stopping on their own, so we broke it up. Second time was worse, he came up to her while she was in a box and nipped her, things escalated and by the time we broke it up he'd got her immobilised by gripping the back of her neck, we had to pull him off.

    Neither bun was hurt, but I'm not sure if that would have been the case without intervention. How do we know when a fight is serious enough that we should break it up, or should we always break up a fight? I've heard if they hurt each other badly it will be much harder for them to trust each other, but I'm not sure how to tell if that's their intention or not when they're flying all over the place...

    They've not been interacting much since then, he approaches her but doesn't come right up to her, she's sat in the corner sleeping and periodically eating hay. There's also been absolutely no humping throughout the whole bonding process, is this normal? I was expecting at least some at first, but they've not even tried to do that, just nipping, chasing, and the occassional fight.

    I was wondering about whether the space would become less neutral over time, we're cleaning the litter trays out and sweeping up any poops, and sometimes swap/change out some of the items, but it seems logical they'd eventually see it as their territory. Aside from putting them in the shed together, is there anything we can do to make things more neutral? Or will they see it as 'their' space instead of his/hers if we leave things as they are? If she is getting territorial, won't it be worse in the shed as that was previously "her" space?

    It's frustrating because sometimes they act like a bonded pair (mutual grooming, snuggling, flopping, eating together) but things seem to flip really quickly and then they fight or become really nervous/irritated with each other. Thanks for all the advice tonibun - I remember you suggesting a larger space before (which did help by the way, so thanks for that).

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    Was the female with you first? They shouldn't still be fighting imo and a fight should only last a couple of seconds. I wonder if she is being territorial (sorry I don't know the background) this is why she is lunging at him and why he keeps nipping her. It's very complicated sometimes. Have you considered sending them away to be bonded?

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonibun View Post
    Was the female with you first? They shouldn't still be fighting imo and a fight should only last a couple of seconds. I wonder if she is being territorial (sorry I don't know the background) this is why she is lunging at him and why he keeps nipping her. It's very complicated sometimes. Have you considered sending them away to be bonded?
    Ok, here's the background (sorry for the long read!):

    Yes, the female was with us first, previously bonded to her daughter who sadly passed away. They'd had a bit of a rough time of it before she came to us (tiny hutch, no hay) and clearly had been with an unneutered male at some point, so I wonder if there are some past experiences making her more fearful/aggressive. Both rabbits are neutered, he's around 6 months old, she's around 3-5 years. It could be her being territorial (honestly we were surprised she wasn't more dominant with him as her personality is pretty dominant, so we tried to find a more submissive bunny for her, but he's been the one doing the nipping/chasing for the most part). We were expecting it to be a fairly difficult bond, as I know she can be bossy and a bit 'lungey' with food or sudden movements and it's her territory they'll be living in after all. I considered sending them to be bonded somewhere, though I'm not sure where does this around here (I'm based in Manchester), but as she gets stressed pretty easily we thought she might find things easier if we were with her. If they start another fight, that might be worth considering though, as this obviously isn't a particularly beginner-friendly matchup!

    We've had them living in her shed (with a pen set up for him with double mesh to prevent any bites) as we have cats so couldn't keep the rabbits inside for long periods without supervision. We kept them like that for 2 weeks before starting introductions and let them explore each other's 'space' by putting one in the attached run and giving one full access to the shed for a couple of hours each day and have been swapping toys, litter, etc to get them familiar with smells.

    We started bonding in a smaller area in the living room (3-4 ft pen) but found she was terrified and just backed herself into a corner, tray, or box and either lunged or froze when he approached. She also refused to eat to start with, not even treats. He seemed fine, just confused and frustrated that she wouldn't 'play' with him. After some advice, we switched areas and since then we've been doing the bonding sessions in the kitchen in a large area (about 5ft square, with a longer thin strip attached) for about a month now, gradually increasing the length of the sessions over time. There are plenty of distractions (food, two litter trays, some hay piles, hidey houses, etc) in there with them now.

    I've noticed that sometimes when she's pulled fur during a fight (neither pull fur any other time) there is sometimes a bit of skin attached, which is worrying, but never any blood. She has a few very small scabs around her neck, he has a slightly larger one on his back from their earlier fights. The fights probably seem longer to us than they actually are, but when we've needed to separate it's been longer than a few seconds (we intervene quite quickly, but it's long enough for us to have time to do so). They've had 'scuffles' which do last a couple of seconds and then separate on their own, but at the moment the fights are infrequent but more serious when they happen - which makes it harder for us to trust them together.

    Update:

    We've kept them together in the kitchen overnight and things have been going pretty well - there was one further scuffle a few hours in, but not as bad as the previous two. Aside from that, there's been a bit of nipping/chasing from him, and he's freaked her out a few times binkying and zooming about, but the lunging from her seems to have stopped. They were snuggled together sleeping most of the night - with much more grooming than usual from him and quite a bit of grooming from her as well, some flopping/lying down, tooth purring, etc.

    There was a bit of chasing early this morning which seemed mostly playful, but she was starting to get a little stressed out after a while and running away faster. They're getting more comfortable with the other moving around them and sitting closer together to eat hay and use the litter tray. He's nipped her a few times, but mostly on the bum rather than the nose and fairly lightly from what I can see. They're both still a little on edge and more easily scared than normal, but there were no fights overnight or this morning so far and they've been grooming (mostly her grooming him this morning) and eating near each other.

    So, the issue now is when should we trust them to be alone? Their behaviour most of the time is positive, but because there's been a few fights which seemed to come fairly out of the blue, I'm worried they could hurt each other if we're not there to break it up. And when should we move them to their final living area? We have a camera set up in there, so we could monitor them from the house after sitting with them for a while, but it's when we trust that they don't need us to sit in there with them or monitor them remotely that I'm unsure about. There's also part of me that's wondering if they're still fighting after a couple of months, whether they're incompatible with each other or if it's something we're doing (if we need to clean the area more thoroughly in between sessions, change areas, intervene less/more etc.)

    Anyway, sorry for the long read and thanks for your advice and support

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    Well you are certainly doing your utmost to get them together! Do the cats upset them I wonder sparking off some Referred Aggression? Your latest update sounds really promising and perhaps once outside in their own home as it were, they might just settle down and learn to trust one another more rather than in the kitchen. I think you are going to have to try them outside but at the end of the day it is up to you. You are there with them. Also, if your female lived with her daughter she would possibly have been the dominant one and possibly doesn't like the idea of being submissive to the boy. It's good you can monitor them from the house, they might react a bit differently when on their own so you can understand them better. How long did your female live in the shed and how long ago did you move her into the house?

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonibun View Post
    Well you are certainly doing your utmost to get them together! Do the cats upset them I wonder sparking off some Referred Aggression? Your latest update sounds really promising and perhaps once outside in their own home as it were, they might just settle down and learn to trust one another more rather than in the kitchen. I think you are going to have to try them outside but at the end of the day it is up to you. You are there with them. Also, if your female lived with her daughter she would possibly have been the dominant one and possibly doesn't like the idea of being submissive to the boy. It's good you can monitor them from the house, they might react a bit differently when on their own so you can understand them better. How long did your female live in the shed and how long ago did you move her into the house?
    Yes, we are doing our best! He was terrified of cats initially (there are some neighbour's cats outside and he really freaked out when he saw them from the run) but seems to be calming down now. We don't let them near them, they're kept upstairs while we're bonding but I imagine they can hear them which could perhaps be causing some issues. She's not really bothered by them though.

    Yes, she was the dominant one in the pair with her daughter which was why we expected her to want to be dominant with him too - she seems to have accepted him as dominant now (I think) - perhaps because he 'won' that last fight, who knows. She's lived in the shed for about 2 years now (we didn't move her into the house when her daughter died, but were fairly quick to try bonding with her and spend more time out there with her in the meantime). His pen is set up in the shed and she lives in the remainder of the space there at the moment, alongside him. We'd have preferred not to do this, but it was our only option.

    I'm glad you think their progress sounds promising, I'm pleased they seem to be calming down now and enjoying each other's company a more There have still been no fights or need for intervention from us today so we've set up a temporary camera in the kitchen to give them a little time alone and see how they do. Aside from a little chasing, they're getting along fine so far.

    I'm going to clean the shed with a gallon of vinegar today and remove anything either bun might get too possessive over and try them in it to see how they go. I don't think letting them in the run just yet is a good idea, so I'll probably close the catflap for the time being. The shed is quite large (8ftx6ft), would you recommend penning off part of it for the time being or just letting them have full access straight away? Also, should we transfer the stuff from the kitchen to the shed (litter trays, floor coverings etc, or start fresh with no smells of either?

  10. #10
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    I would let them have all the shed but take their litter trays with them.. When I lost Oreo who had been living with Pandora in the shed, I introduced Hatter to Pandora in the same shed and it went really well. They are a very happy couple now. I think your 2 have had enough time to get to know one another and as you say they slept close to one another last night, so really there shouldn't be any problems. Let us know how it goes.

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