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I adopted a 2-year-old Holland lop two months ago from a devoted family who was getting ready to move and couldn't bring the rabbit with them. I've never owned a rabbit before but as I have lots of experience with other pets I didn't think it would be an issue. The previous owners told me that the bunny would let them pet her if they were giving her food, but otherwise didn't really care for being touched and never liked being held. (I read online that this is a little uncommon but not that strange for a rabbit.)

Since then, I've made wonderful progress with the rabbit. She enjoys the other animals in the house (she especially likes chasing the cats around) and likes to hop up on the couch with us while we watch tv. She's okay with us petting her as long as she sees us coming and she seems to enjoy having her head rubbed. But she is still definitely not okay with us holding her.

Is there any kind of training I can do to make her less fearful and eventually maybe let us hold her? It's not like we want to cuddle with her all the time -- we would be able to give her free roam of more areas of the house if we had at least the option of picking her up to relocate her out of unsafe areas. Also I made her a harness but because she hates the idea of us picking her up, I can't put it on her so there's no chance of her going in the backyard with us.

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There is an answer at How to leash train a rabbit? that addresses putting the harness on, so I won't go in to it here.

As for holding your rabbit; holding a rabbit is problematic for two main reasons.

  1. They are built light and fast and a fall or jump from chest height (4 feet) on you can and does cause serious injury and or death to rabbits.

  2. Rabbits are prey animals, being held causes them anxiety, they are thinking I have been caught I am about to be eaten!

Now the other side, with handling most (but not all) rabbits can be trained to accept handling and picking up as an ok thing. Some rabbits are pretty high energy and while you might be able to work through it, it probably a lot more work than you want to invest. Let's say 90% of rabbits can be trained to accept being held.

The delicate balance, if you hold a rabbit too tight bullet 2 "fear" kicks in and they try to get away. If you don't hold them well, they can suddenly jump from your arms and hurt themselves as in bullet 1. As you begin training stay low, don't get any higher than on your knees, and sitting on the floor is better.

With a very hold resistant bunny as you describe I would start by laying on my back on the floor, get a healthy treat like "Vitakraft Nibble Rings" you can break these in pieces and use them as training rewards. Two or three rings per day is going to be about the max you want to feed. Have your bunny climb up on your chest of her own choice and while she eats the treat get her used to having your hands on her.

Next get her used to having her feet off the ground, you can slide your hand under her belly and lift her up, just like scooping up a towel, you are not holding just lifting. Go slow to start and if she starts kicking put her down. I have heard stories of rabbits breaking their backs by kicking their feet when the feet were not supported.

When all of the above is going well, you can practice holding her while you are sitting or up on your knees. Just a few seconds at first, than you can stretch it out to a couple of minutes, it is OK to feed treats at this time. By this point you probably have her climbing in your lap and up your chest to get the treat anyhow, so it is pretty easy.

You should have also been working on getting her in the harness, before you pick her up at standing have her in the harness. hold the leash so if she does jump she will not hit the floor. If at any time your bunny starts to struggle get low fast, they are quick and strong, if you try to hold her tighter she will just struggle more, get down and put her down, she is on the leash so no worries even if you are outside.

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  • Note that it can take months to convince cats to trust you enough to be lap-sitters on a regular basis, and my 7-year-olds are still skeptical about being picked up for more than a few minutes. Take it slow, be patient, and think about it from their point of view. – keshlam Mar 22 '15 at 1:18

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