It is often recommended to let the rabbits sniff each other first to determine if they can “smell each other”.
These recommendations have a strong impact on subsequent socialization. When rabbits sniff each other, either through a grate or by placing the new rabbit with the old rabbit or by placing them somewhere else together, the socialization actually begins. If the new rabbit is in the territory of the old rabbit, the resident rabbit will fiercely defend its territory. Many owners are shocked and put the new rabbit back into its old enclosure.
Sometimes they behave harmoniously but are nevertheless separated again. Some owners then put them together “again and again” until they understand each other, because they want to leave the two together only under supervision, for fear that they quarrel if they are not present. Some owners try to put the initially harmonious rabbits in the cage or enclosure where the old rabbit lives, whereupon the old rabbit usually attacks the newcomer because it defends its territory.
After each separation, the socialization starts all over again and may even be more violent from time to time. First let the rabbits sniff each other, then separate them, and then put them together again usually does not work!
Letting rabbits sniff each other without letting them clarify the ranking (e.g. separated by a fence or by holding them or interfering) stirs up aggression in many rabbits, which they discharge later, when they are put together normally, by fighting very violently. Therefore, the recommendation is: Put them together or no contact at all.
the territory of the old rabbit is defended, In rabbit language it is impertinent if the new animal simply intrudes into the territory of the resident rabbit. This can lead to fierce fights with injuries. Rabbits must always meet outside of territories in a completely foreign area, get to know each other, clarify the hierarchy and get along with each other – only then may they move back into the territory.
Putting the new rabbit in the territory of the old one
Rabbits are very territorial, even in nature, groups of rabbits respect the invisible territorial boundaries very carefully, because if they cross them, they will be reprimanded accordingly. However, in nature, when attacked, rabbits can flee back to their territory and leave the other rabbit’s territory. This is not possible in the domestic animal husbandry, so that it can come with the violent fights to strong injuries.
Of course, as a pet owner you do not want to provoke this, so especially inexperienced rabbit owners should never socialize their rabbits where the other rabbit has already been. If they have gotten to know each other outside, they can later move back into the territory.
Imagine that one day a complete stranger is sitting in your living room on your sofa watching TV. Probably they would be pretty annoyed at first and try to kick him out of the apartment. But now this stranger doesn’t leave, he just stays in your apartment, eats your food, uses your bathroom, sleeps in your bed… Probably your anger would build up even more now, because this behavior is simply outrageous. Doesn’t he have any respect for her privacy and right to live in this apartment?
It is often recommended as a standard socialization to keep the rabbits in enclosures or cages next to each other at first, and when they have become accustomed to each other, to leave them together. This form of socialization is not the best for starters! The sniffing without being able to clarify the rank order, leads mostly already at the fence, but particularly with the following composition of the rabbits to fights with heavy injuries.
This form of socialization is only recommended for limited/handicapped rabbits or for rabbits that do not show any aggression at the grid. It can also be used for extremely difficult, non-socialized rabbits if other methods have already been exhausted. This method is not suitable for beginners and can lead to severe injuries. Usually such socializations fail. See also socialization methods.
Socialization of rabbits of the same sex
Still you hear in pet shops, breeders and private owners the tip to keep rabbits of the same sex, so that the castration costs are saved or so that there are no offspring. Unfortunately, this well-intentioned advice usually goes wrong, because only a few same-sex couples get along in the long run. Two females growing up together often quarrel during puberty and are then kept alone, because one does not know how to solve it differently… The cohabitation of two males growing up together works quite well, if they have both been neutered, but they often go through a difficult phase during puberty. Groups of three with neutered males can be more complicated and may also hurt each other during puberty. Unneutered males often fight each other suddenly after many harmonious months or even years, injuring each other badly. In extreme cases they can even kill each other. They especially like to injure their genitals. Later socialization of rabbits of the same sex is only recommended if rabbits of the opposite sex are added. Pure neuter groups or female WG’s are difficult to socialize and not a good combination for beginners.
Solution: If you have already purchased same-sex rabbits, they must be neutered as early as possible. Early neutered males are more compatible. If the males are already at odds, they can wake up together after surgery and then be socialized in a neutral area. This way the socialization is much less dangerous and easier. If there are still disputes, an opposite-sex rabbit should be socialized as well, this usually brings peace to the group. If this does not help either, one of the same-sex animals can then be placed or kept separately with another rabbit as a pair. Keeping rabbits alone is never a solution for rabbits as highly social animals!
Premature separation of the fighting rabbits
When rabbits are socialized, there will be chasing, fighting, roughhousing, fur flying – it’s all perfectly normal. Many owners assume that rabbits must understand each other from the beginning and are otherwise certainly incompatible. However, this is pure wishful thinking, because rabbits can only live together harmoniously if they have clarified the hierarchy beforehand. Do not intervene, it looks worse than it is. Likewise often to separations it comes, if one of the rabbits suffers something under the other. Also this belongs to the rank order clarification. If necessary, leave the room and let the rabbits alone to clarify their ranking. Intervene should be basically only if it comes to more severe injuries that need to be treated by a veterinarian. Otherwise it belongs to the normal ranking behavior.
Again and again I hear from owners who are surprised that their rabbits do not get along in the cage or hutch. Let’s face it, would you put up with another human in the guest litter box? They would probably even curse their best friend after a short time of having to live so close to them. Imagine, you can not withdraw to rest or to eat in peace or to go to the toilet, your friend is basically next to you and when you sleep, he jumps over you to eat or to use the toilet next to you. Since both of you are a bit bored in the confines, you try to occupy yourself there in a meaningful way, one of you dismantles the toilet, meanwhile the other wants to sleep in peace. Can this work? Probably not. Rabbits need a larger living space to get along. A hutch or cage, no matter how big, is totally unsuitable!
Unsuitable facility with dead ends
Completely unsuitable for socialization are hiding places that one of the rabbits already knows, because it sees these as its best and defends them. Also unsuitable are all types of shelters with only one entrance, through such shelters a rabbit can be cornered. It can then no longer evade, which can lead to severe injuries.
Socialization with breaks
Many owners tend to let their rabbits run together from time to time and separate them again in between. The reason for this is usually fear that they might hurt each other at night or very narrow night hutches where it is difficult to keep them together. It is very important not to separate the animals in between, because this endangers every reunion and the animals start again from the beginning with every reunion. This stress and unnecessary length can be spared to the animals. In addition, much of the ranking clarification takes place at night, when the animals are very active. Rabbits are active and do not sleep through the night. Therefore, they need a lot of space at night. A hutch or cage is not species-appropriate and like a “prison”.
Do not prevent the formation of territories
Rabbits form under circumstances very fast a precinct in the actually neutral area. Especially if they entrench themselves in a certain area (e.g. in a toilet tub or in a corner of the enclosure). There are even extreme cases, where in principle every toilet tub is recognized as a territory, even if the environment is absolutely new or they already form a territory within five minutes. This problem can be seen in the behavior of the animals. If an animal stays only in a certain area, it should be regularly “mixed with the others”. If you observe that a rabbit defends an area, proceed as follows:
- separate the area from the socialization area so that it cannot be used for the time being (if possible).
- in the case of toilet pans, move them regularly or replace them with flat/different looking containers.
- Prevent animals from “splitting” the socialization territory (forming groups with small territories), e.g. by mixing them, reducing the area or avoiding subdivisions/boundaries /e.g. partitions).
- Offer food in such a way that the animals use the whole enclosure.
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