Our Socialization Practices
We have dabbled in rabbit world for years, engaging in rescues and breeds of all kinds. Before we decided to breed, we purchased from pet stores, Craigslist, and questionable breeders. All we were seeking was a cuddly pet, but despite giving the bunnies a loving place to call home, they seemed skittish and aggressive to the point where we almost gave up. We have bought from pet stores only to be disappointed by life-threatening health issues. We have first-hand observed barns filled with 2x2 ft. wire cages stacked up high and too many bunnies to count. How does each bunny (especially babies) get the attention deserved daily this way?
It may seem like you are 'saving' the bunnies from these places, but remember that, by purchasing, you are actually supporting their bad practices. This is not meant to be a pessimistic post, but it raises some topics, based on our experiences, that should be thought about before adopting any animal.
Our goal here at Emerald City Rabbitry is to ethically raise bunnies that are accustomed to a family-oriented, loving lifestyle. "Socializing" can be a vague term, so this blog is dedicated to explaining exactly what our bunnies are introduced to from birth!
From the hour bunnies are born, we hold, touch, cuddle, and work with each baby. At birth, Holland Lops are only a few inches long. Due to the strong bond we have formed with each of the mamas, they are comfortable letting us borrow the babies and leave our scent in the nest. We check genders at birth, but due to their minuscule size, it is difficult to determine. For the first week of life, babies nurse and sleep frequently.
For a minimum of an hour per day, we are with our babies, plus additional time for the care and maintenance of our adult rabbits. This is arguably the most important step of the process. Holland Lops are born blind, deaf, and hairless; they instantaneously learn to trust human hands with their fragile bodies and paper-thin skin. If they feel loved, protected, and comforted by us, they will associate the interaction with something good.
By this age, babies have grown fur and begun to move about the nest box. Such wiggly little "popcorn babies", bouncing all around while looking for milk. We continue the cycle started in week one, spending hours handling the babies, with the addition of "baby bunny boot camp". This is similar to Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS) for puppies, and it helps prepare them for being the best pets possible.
Their ears open on day seven, and their eyes open around day twelve, meaning they become extra adventuresome using their senses! They fall asleep easily and are very cuddly still. We usually start doing longer photoshoots of the babies in baskets at this age.
Babies have been dependent on their mother's milk from birth, but now they begin nibbling hay and sampling water. Some believe this is their cutest stage, as they really look like miniature adult bunnies with extra fluff and whacky ears! Now babies start hopping out of the nest box, chasing mama for milk, and playing with toys. They love using our bodies as a jungle gym, and we let them explore the play area and house as much as possible when under supervision. We also introduce young children at this stage. Baby animals are sturdier with age, and all kids have been properly instructed on how to handle our rabbits.
This is a bittersweet milestone, as they are already halfway through their time in our home! If the first three weeks have gone smoothly, babies go up for reservations. Meet & greet visits with waiting list members are such a fun opportunity to have interactions with strangers. Our amazing family, friends, and neighbors are so helpful with the socialization process.
Similar to week four, interactions with toddlers and new people are frequent. Litter box training is usually accident-free at this stage, but we are patient and work with each rabbit to ensure they are doing well using the box. Of course, daily snuggles with each bunny are the best part of the business!
We start introducing other animals at this age if we haven't already. We do not own other animals besides rabbits, but our neighbors are extremely gracious with letting us work with their dogs, cats, and birds to fully socialize the bunnies from a distance. Despite highly trained pets, we would never leave the animals together in an unsupervised area because natural hunting instincts could be disastrous. Bunnies are fearless, so whenever combining species, it is important to take the predators' temperament into consideration.
We begin introducing crowds and household noises, too. Though loud sounds take longer to adjust to, it helps to vacuum, flush the toilet, load the dishwasher, and even play music around the young creatures.
The noises and crowds are gradually increased. Activities, petting, and holding from everyone are encouraged since hands can be petrifying for rabbits. Imagine something larger than yourself coming down to scoop you up! Bunnies also learn simple tasks needed in their future homes, such as hopping up the staircase. We trim nails, groom fur, and prepare the bunnies to be rehomed. At this age, babies are fully weaned but remain with their mother and siblings for as long as possible.
The babies are now ready to leave our care and head to their new homes to start a lifetime of adventures! They have been socialized to the fullest extent, and are ready to share the love with their new owners. We encourage every rabbit parent to socialize with their pet each day, whether it’s simply petting their forehead or snuggling on the couch, as it will help grow the bond and build trust.
Let's not forget about the wonderful adult bunnies that make our rabbitry possible! Each of our senior rabbits gets outdoor exercise time (weather permitting) in supervised, predator-proof playpens during the day.
Their health is our top priority, so wellness checks at the vet are routine. We understand that temperament is partially hereditary, so none of our bunnies are aggressive or anxious. They are fed a select diet and kept in pristine condition. Our females get ample breaks between litters, and we only buy purebred Holland Lops from trusted, reputable rabbitries.