Training your rabbit with a leash can be a great experience for you and your rabbit.
In the wild, rabbits are very mobile creatures. They get a lot of exercises just by performing their natural behaviors.
Oftentimes, when we get a rabbit as a pet, we don’t realize how much exercise they really need to stay healthy.
Walking your rabbit is one great way to let them stretch their legs, burn off some energy, and safely enjoy the outdoors.
How to train a rabbit to walk on a leash:
- Earn your rabbit’s trust.
- Let them get used to the harness and leash.
- Start off with short walks indoors.
- Find a place outdoors where they feel safe.
- Begin taking short walks outside.
- Let your rabbit lead as you begin to take long walks.
Training your pet rabbit can be a rewarding experience.
They are able to learn to do many activities, from walking on a leash to playing fetch or even using a litter box.
When we first got our Lionhead Rabbit, the person we purchased him from gave us a cage, etc. and a Leash and Harness – we hadn’t really ever thought about that before!
But our daughter just loved taking her rabbit for a “walk” around our backyard, and it saved many tears since we lived in the city at the time and with all the dogs at the park behind our house…sad times would have been had by all if Snowball had gone under the fence to the park.
While they are intelligent creatures, keep in mind that perfecting a skill will take your rabbit time to learn and requires extensive reinforcement.
Have a plan before beginning to leash train your rabbit and be patient along the way.
How To Train A Rabbit To Walk On A Leash
Rabbits can be wonderful pets, and each one has a distinct personality.
When you are training your rabbit to do anything, remember that not all rabbits will react the same or take the same amount of time to learn something.
Not all rabbits like wearing a leash, either. Never force your rabbit to do something that makes them uncomfortable or fearful.
This will damage your relationship and will make further training more difficult.
The good news is that no matter the age of your rabbit, they will likely be able to learn how to walk on a leash.
It will simply take time, persistence, patience, and plenty of treats.
1. Earn Your Rabbit’s Trust
The first thing that you will have to do when training any animal is to earn their trust. This is especially important when working with rabbits.
They are quite intelligent and highly social.
When you first bring your bunny home, spend time together, and allow the rabbit to become comfortable around you.
Start by letting them hop around you while you sit or lay on the floor.
Rabbits can easily become fearful, so give them time to investigate and warm up to you.
Let them spend time sitting in your lap and letting you pet them.
Eventually, you will be able to hold them and carry them around without them being fearful.
If you are having a hard time getting them to come to you, use treats as a reward when they respond correctly.
2. Let Them Get Used to the Leash and Harness
Do not use a collar when walking your rabbit as they can easily slip off.
Once you have an established bond and there is mutual trust between you and your rabbit, start to introduce the leash and harness.
You won’t want to jump right in and put the harness on. Let the rabbit interact with the harness and leash for a while, so it becomes familiar.
Here are a great H Harness and Leash option with multiple sizes and colors available (tap for more info):
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You can reward your bunny with treats when they push it around.
Once they feel comfortable around the harness and leash, start by laying the harness across their back.
Give them treats when they leave it there but do not force them to keep it.
Moving slowly, put the harness onto the rabbit but do not buckle it or attach the leash yet.
Let them walk and hop around with it on. Take it on and off multiple times a day just and let them wear it for a few minutes at a time.
Remember to reward them during this process.
If you are struggling to put the harness on them or they seem uncomfortable while wearing it, back off a little and go back to simply laying it on their back or only have them wear it once a day.
If, by this point, your rabbit doesn’t seem to mind the harness being on them for a few minutes at a time, have them wear it while it is buckled up.
Once you’ve buckled the harness, observe your rabbit’s behavior very closely.
If they begin to panic or show fear, unbuckle the harness or remove it completely.
If they are comfortable, let them wear it around for about five minutes or so.
Repeat this process several times a day until the rabbit is able to move around and play without noticing the harness at all.
Once they’ve become fully comfortable wearing their harness, attach the leash.
This will lead us to the next step in the training process.
3. Start Your Walks Indoors First
Now that your rabbit feels confident wearing the harness, you will have to attach the leash.
This may be confusing to them because it will restrict their mobility.
Begin by holding the leash tightly and giving a gentle tug so your rabbit can feel the leash.
Do not pull so hard that it moves their body. Hard pulls on the leash can lead the rabbit to dislike the harness and the leash altogether.
Once you’ve established control with the leash, let the rabbit lead the way around the house.
Start by following behind them and simply holding the leash as they go.
As they get used to you walking with them, begin to introduce redirection using the leash.
This is a good time to introduce a clicker into the training. Don’t forget to use treats either.
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Ideally, your rabbit will barely notice the leash at all while they are walking.
While you are training for redirection on the leash, keep in mind that for success in leash training, the rabbit will need to lead most of the time.
You want them to respond to redirection as much as possible as to help them avoid obstacles that could entangle the leash or to restrain them from prey.
Forcing your rabbit to do anything while on the leash will cause them to dislike the activity, and you will have to begin the training process from step one.
Avoid actions that incite fear or anxiety.
4. Find An Outdoor Place They Feel Safe
Give your rabbit a minimum of 7 days of walking on the leash indoors before you introduce them to an outdoor area.
You want them to understand the activity as much as possible before adding things that could be overstimulating or stressful.
This is especially important if your rabbit has never been outside at all.
Before you and your bunny go outside together, scope out an area that you think your rabbit will feel safe.
This means that it should be somewhere there are not many obstacles or other animals.
Ideally, it would be an open grassy area with very little traffic.
You will want to visit it at different times and on different days to see when the area is the least busy and then you can determine where and when to bring your rabbit.
If you have a yard, it is often best to start there.
Letting them get the leash on and walk from the inside to the outside yard is a good first step.
Then you can begin small outings together.
5. Venture Outdoors For Short Walks
Once they’ve established that they enjoy walking on the leash outdoors, you should be able to start going on short walks together.
Start by walking them daily in the same area just for a few minutes at a time.
You may have a hard time getting them to move around as much of this is so new to them.
Try leading them with treats to entice them to walk and hop but do not pull them around using the leash.
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Treats can help reinforce to them that this activity should be positive.
As they begin to move and hop around on their own, you can phase out the treats.
You will want to follow where they lead you as best you can. Only redirect them with the leash when necessary.
If you have been using clicker training indoors, try getting them to follow you by training them to respond to the clicker.
If they begin to act frightened, or there is an immediate danger, pick up your rabbit and calm them to the best of your ability.
You do not want them to associate danger with the activity, so be hypervigilant of predators.
6. Eventually, Go On Longer Walks
Once your rabbit has graduated out of treats to hop around, and they seem comfortable walking around in the outside area you’ve chosen, they are ready for longer walks.
When we say longer walk, we only mean about 10-20 minutes at a time. This should be done gradually, just as everything else was.
When you are out on a longer walk, it is especially important to let them lead as you go.
You can take them multiple times a day, but keep it in those 10-20 minute increments.
You will need to remember that bunnies are not dogs. They will likely only hop a few feet at a time.
Be patient with them, and they will begin to enjoy the long walks and the fresh air.
Choosing the Right Harness
One of the most important aspects of training your pet rabbit to walk on a leash is having the right harness.
As mentioned earlier, you should never walk a rabbit with a collar, always use a harness.
The best harness to get for your rabbit is an H-shaped harness. It will look like the letter H when it is laid out flat.
These styles of harnesses are most often found in the cat section of the pet store, or here’s an option as well:
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Some pet stores do have rabbit sections. However, you will likely only find the comfort harnesses there.
These will work but are slightly harder to secure.
You want to avoid using a figure-eight style harness. This style of harness has a collar that attaches to the neck.
This can cause injury and make it easier for the rabbit to slip out of the harness.
Some harnesses for rabbits will come with a stretch leash. These are ideal if you are planning on letting the rabbit always lead.
If you are more set on training your rabbit for agility purposes, then you will need a regular cat or dog leash.
Retractable leashes are nice for rabbits if you have access to a large, open grass area.
Fitting the Harness Properly
This will take some time for you to get it right, which is another good reason to train them inside first.
You want to make sure that the harness isn’t so loose that your rabbit can escape, but you also don’t want it so tight that they are uncomfortable and won’t move.
Since most rabbits are so fluffy, you will have to go by how the harness feels versus how it looks.
It may look rather tight once you adjust it down to their skin, but that is just because their fur will poof around the straps.
To do a proper check, you will just need to see if you can fit at least one or two of your fingers between the harness straps and the rabbit.
Things to Watch For on Walks
Rabbits are relatively low on the food chain, and that makes them susceptible to many different predators.
That’s not the only concern when you are taking them for a walkthrough.
As with most pets, it is your job to ensure their safety when they are in your care.
Here are some things to look out for when you and your bunny get into the habit of walking outdoors.
Don’t Let Them Eat Anying Toxic
Rabbits love to eat, and they will eat all day if you let them. They also will eat almost anything, even if it is toxic to them.
While it is okay to let them snack on some grass or dandelions, make sure that they aren’t stopping to eat any plants that may harm them.
As with other pets, extreme heat can be a danger. It is best to avoid taking them out on walks in temperatures higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Depending on where you walk with your rabbit, you will also want to be sure that any pavement won’t harm their paws.
You can simply touch the pavement with you’re palm for a minute, and if you are uncomfortable, your bunny will be too.
Even when it doesn’t seem too hot out for you, your bunny might be having a hard time.
Be aware of their behavior, and if you notice these signs, they may be having a heatstroke.
- Reddened Ears
- Lethargic Movements
- Weak or Slow Movements
- Confused Behavior
If you think your rabbits is experiencing heatstroke, bring it to the vet as soon as possible.
On the way, lower their body temperature as best you can. You can do this by wrapping them in cool, wet towels.
Do not place a heat-stressed animal in cold, ice water.
Check for Bugs
As with our other furry friends, rabbits can pick up and be bitten by an array of insects.
Be careful of mosquitos and flies when you are outside with your rabbit.
They can bite them, transmitting diseases such as Myxomatosis.
You may be able to get a natural bug deterrent from a pet store for them to wear when you are on walks to avoid any issues.
Once you get home, you will also want to look for signs of ticks and fleas.
After you take their harness off, rub their skin and check inside their ears for signs of ticks and/or bug bites.
Keep An Eye out For Predators
Being a look out for your rabbit is especially important in the early stages of leash training your rabbit.
There are a variety of animals that could hurt or scare your bunny, and even if a predator doesn’t attack them, rabbits are easily stressed and startled.
Excessive stress can cause health issues and potentially death.
If you come across a scenario in which they are threatened by a predator.
Do your best to keep them calm by holding them and stroking their fur.
You may need to leave the situation quickly, but try not to cause extra stress or injury by startling the rabbit when picking it up.
Alternative Ways to Exercise Your Rabbit
Not all rabbits will be willing to walk on a leash. You may have to accept this at any time during the training stages.
If that is the case, then you should look for alternative stimuli and ways to exercise your rabbit.
Let Them Roam The House
This is one of the easiest ways to let your rabbit get some exercise.
If they are the only pet and they use a litter box, you may be able to let them roam the house often.
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This can also be a great way for your rabbit to bond with you.
During this time, you can set up obstacles or give them toys for extra stimuli.
Many rabbit owners also like to lay on the floor and let their rabbit hop around them.
This reassures the rabbit that you are not a threat and gives them time to get to know you.
If you primarily have them indoors and are unable to take them outside, you may also want to consider getting them a larger rabbit hatch.
If they have room to move and play when they are in their pen, they will be much happier.
This allows them to get exercise while you are away during the day as well.
Set Up An Outdoor Pen
This can be great if you have a large yard. You can even consider fencing in your entire backyard to let your bunny roam and play.
When setting up an outdoor fence for them, you will need to ensure that there are no holes or gaps along the bottom that would allow them to escape or let a predator enter.
Some smaller pens allow for a net or screen on the top to prevent predator attacks, as well.
This area doesn’t have to be exceptionally large, but it should be big enough that they can run and play freely. Here’s a good example (tap picture for more details):
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They will also appreciate if there is grass or dandelions growing for them to snack on.
It is advised that you monitor them while they play outside as some birds and other predators could potentially attack.