Volume 5, Issue 1

March 2001

Tricks are for Rabbits

How to Clicker-Train Your Bunny

by Heidi Greer



I happened upon it completely by accident. One day I was watching TV, and my rabbit, Bretta, hopped across the floor in front of me. Feeling friendly, I made a kissing noise with my lips. How surprised I was when she ran right over, put her front paws on my legs, and touched her mouth to mine! Where had she learned what a "kiss" was? I didn't think I'd taught her that, but then I remembered something. You see, every night I go into the kitchen, get a couple of raisins, and give them to Bretta as a treat before going to bed. However, I give them to her only after I make a sound to get her attention, and I hold the raisins in between my lips. At some point she'd learned that the sound meant she should touch her lips to mine, where she would find a raisin. Then it hit me, if she could learn to give me a "kiss." what other tricks could she learn?


Think about it; your rabbit probably already responds to a variety of soundsthe sound of the refrigerator opening means "food," and the thump of your foot means "danger." Why not expand on that? Clicker training has been a popular method of training dogs and horses for several years, and it works with rabbits too! Clicker training is effective, because it uses the animal's tendency to repeat actions that have positive consequences. How does it work? To put it simply, the "click" is

way of saying "good"it helps to identify which actions result in positive consequences, and thereby encourages your rabbit to take those actions.


The first step in clicker training is to get your rabbit to associate the "click" with a positive consequence. You'll need a clicker, which is a small plastic box that makes a clicking noise when pushed. You'll also need something your rabbit already views as positive, usually food (use small portions!). Start by simply clicking and giving a treat. Do this until your bunny looks for the treat when he hears the "click." At this point he knows that this "clicking" noise means food, which is something he wants.


Next, begin shaping the behavior you want. For example, let's say you want your rabbit to come to you when you call his name. You'd begin when your rabbit sitting or lying down. As soon as the rabbit makes any movement in your direction, with his head, his paw, his ears, anything, "click" and then give a treat. The timing of the "click" is crucial. You want to click during the action, not after it. Otherwise, he won't associate the action with the sound of the clicker. Continue and his behavior will become more confident. Now try waiting a little longer before clicking. Wait for a greater motion towards you; maybe your rabbit will move a paw. Click again and treat. Repeat for a while and then raise the bar another levelmaybe he'll get up and take a step towards you. You get the idea! Breaking the desired action

Where To Find B.U.N.S.:


Rabbit Care






Darcy Freegard



Basic Bunny Class

Time & Location



Mailing Address

P.O. Box 91452

Santa Barbara, CA



Shelter Address

5473 Overpass Rd.

Santa Barbara, CA


Adoptable Bunnies



Government Access

TV Channel 20


B.U.N.S. Webpage



House Rabbit

Society Webpage


(Continued on page 3)

News Briefs

Visit potential mates on the web at www.bunssb.org. Spread the word that BUNS is the best place to adopt a rabbit in the county!


Buy Beautiful Art and Help BUNS at the Same Time

Artist Jodi Jensen has agreed to donate 10% of any sale, when the purchaser mentions they found her work through BUNS or the BUNS website. Jodi does beautiful watercolors of bunnies, kittens, and floral works. She also has greeting cards and a calendar. Her works are warm, full of character, and seem to come alive of the canvas. In fact, our founding bunny mother, Dorothy Diehl, has her own bunny Natasha modeling in one of the works titled "Apple Strudel." Please visit her website through the link at our website, and mention you found out about her through BUNS. Also, spread the word to friends and family. Isn't it nice to go shopping and help abandoned bunnies in need at the same time?


Website Updates

The newsletter is available on our website! You can sign up to receive notification when the latest newsletter is posted on our website. For more information, visit http://www.bunssb.org/newsletter.htm. You can now find guinea pig information on the site. Since launching the site, we have had many inquiries from far and near. We have also referred many people out of state to their closest HRS location. Thanks to the hard work of our principle respondent, Jean Silva. She has given people kind reassurance and information.

New at the Shelter

We have two new wonderful sheds at the shelter. One is being used for hay storage. This has come just in time for the rains to keep all the bunny hay nice and dry. The second shed is holding our "stuff." This also comes just in time as the previous shed's doors fell off and the sides were beginning to give way. You know you can never have too many places to store vinegar, bleach, and grass mats!

Three cheers to Karen Haskell, Colleen Sanford, and their helpers for volunteering all the time and skill to the building of the sheds. Also, a special thanks to Ann and Mike Lawler for donating all the materials for one of the sheds. There are bunny angels out there!






Fulfill Your New Year's ResolutionVolunteer!

We have just the way for you to fulfill your New Year's resolution of giving back to the community. We are looking for volunteers of all shapes and sizes! There are many odd jobs to do. If you do not have time to volunteer between 8am and 5pm, Monday thru Friday, we have other jobs that can fit into your schedule.

How about helping to set up for and teach the informational class held once every other month. Learn more about bunnies and meet other bunny lovers! How about taking


On Wednesday, December 28th, BUNS received 19 Agouti rabbits. Many of these poor little souls had sore paws, and two of them required extensive medical attention for jaw abscesses and GI blockage. Another one, named Gino, just decided he did not like this whole thing and stopped eating. Thanks to the quick response of all our volunteers we have been able to shelter them all. All of them are making full recoveries. Now we are on the lookout for good homes for all of them. This is not the first time we have been inundated with bunnies who are truly in urgent need of shelter and medical attention.

All of us sit and pray to the patron saint of bunnies at these times for the financial means to care for them. We have spent $1,900.00 to spay and neuter "the 19" alone. In addition to that we have paid over $1,000.00 to cover the cost of two jaw surgeries and medicine for GI stasis and antibiotics. This does not include the other spay and neuters being done on the bunnies being adopted, or the costs of feeding all the other bunnies at the shelter. If you can find it somewhere deep in your pockets to donate any money to help us with these costs, the bunnies and all of us here at BUNS would be grateful for your generosity. No amount can be too large or too small. Thank you.

We have many other new bunnies at the shelter. Spring is in the air! If you have a single bunny, now is the time to start the dating process for "summertime love!"

20 minutes to transport a bunny to the vet for there spay or neuter. We could always use a hand taking them back to the shelter. We need people to pick up donated veggies from the grocery store. Or maybe you would prefer sitting with another BUNS volunteer and a star bunny at one of the farmer's markets as part of our outreach campaign. We also have mailings, if you have an hour a night to spend folding newsletters (luckily this comes up only once in 3 months).

Please contact our volunteer coordinator Darcy Freegard at 968-5077 to find out ways you can help.


Outreach Programs

Thanks to the many creative minds at BUNS, we are revving up our outreach programs. These activities are designed to help educate the general public as to the joys of bunny ownership, as well as, to let them know about our wonderful organization. Some of the activities you may have heard about, such as Basic Bunny, and showings at the Farmer's Markets. We also have our annual Bunny Festival in September (so mark your calendars!). The Ark pet shop in Carpinteria has been displaying one of our adoptable bunnies at their wonderful store. We are in the process of negotiating in participating at one of the Mercados for this year's Fiesta. We are brainstorming now different ways and places we can do outreach around Easter. If any of you have any great ideas on how we can get the word out, please contact us. We are always eager for new ideas and suggestions.

Tricky Rabbits continued from pg. 1:

Rabbits are creatures of habit and are easily trainable. Once you get the hang of it, it's fun! Think of tricks your rabbit can learn! He can learn to come, stay (very helpful when at the vet!), fetch toys, stand on his hind legs, hop into your lap, etc. It's more challenging, but you can even train your rabbit NOT to do things, like bite or chew on the furniture. The possibilities are endless. Give it a try! At the very least you will enrich your relationship with your bunny.

into TINY steps allows your rabbit to progress quickly.

Once your rabbit has learned the desired behavior, you can introduce an additional cue, such as verbal command that he will learn to associate with behavior. It may seem strange not to give commands initially, but remember your rabbit can only learn one thing at a time. Gradually you should stop using the clicker and giving the treat. Eventually you will be able to simply give the cue and he will perform the behavior your want!

Spring is Here...

And So is Myxomatosis

Myxomatosis is a virus deadly to rabbits. Every year myxomatosis kills rabbits in Santa Barbara County. It is carried from rabbit to rabbit by mosquitoes and other biting insects. After a mosquito bites an infected rabbit, viral particles are left on the probe that the mosquito inserts into the next victim. The mosquito will continue to inject the virus into its victims until the virus is rubbed off the probe. While mosquitoes are the most common means of passing myxomatosis, fleas and biting flies can also transmit the virus.

Rabbits with myxomatosis become inactive. Their eyelids droop and they look sleepy. Swellings develop at the base of the ears and around the genitals. They die within 7 to 10 days of infection. Recovery is extremely rare.

The mosquito season on the south coast generally begins in February and ends in September depending on the weather. During these months the risks are the greatest.

Protect your rabbit. Clean up all standing water around your house. Mosquitoes are most active in the early morning and early evening. Do not exercise your rabbit outdoors in the early morning or early evening. If your rabbit lives outside, staple fly screen over the cage wire and cover the wire floor with mats, cardboard or wood. Be sure that mosquitoes cannot enter your hutch. If your rabbit lives indoors, be sure the screens on your doors and windows are intact. Do not allow screen doors to stand open for long periods of time.

If your rabbit shows symptoms of myxomatosis, immediately separate it from all rabbits and take it to a vet.

Molar Spurs

You can help prevent molar spurs by feeding your rabbit long fibered plants with high silicate content such as hay and grass. The side-to-side motion required to chew long vegetable fibers wears the molars down evenly. Rabbits should chew hay or grass for several hours each day. Rabbits who eat only pellets are more likely to develop molar spurs than those whose diet includes lots of hay or grass.

There are three causes of molar spurs. Spurs result from genes that cause the teeth to be misaligned. Such spurs can present fairly early in a rabbit's life. Second spurs may also result from changes in the mechanics of the mouth due to injury. These spurs will present several months after the injury or surgery. Third, spurs can result from changes in the cheek teeth due to normal aging. Such spurs present later in life. In older bunnies the roots of the teeth can also extend further into the upper or lower jawbone; they can impinge on the tear ducts causing runny eyes.

Harrison was a sweet tempered bunny who never ate hay or vegetables. He ate his pellets and maintained his weight. As he grew older, Harrison would only eat the yellow pellets from his Kaytee Exacta. He began to go off his food and would only eat pumpkin or softened pellets. Harrison had molar spurs.

Nick was a skinny, friendly boy. Nick showed a lot of interest in food, but he always left some of his food uneaten. He snipped the leaves from parsley and cilantro and left the stems. Then B.U.N.S. volunteer Heidi Greer noticed that Nick chewed with his mouth open. Nick had molar spurs.

FooFoo had sweet nature despite dental problems. His front teeth were damaged in a fall and were removed. After he healed, he was still very, very selective about his food. He ran up to his food, but would refuse all but a few items and only ate a little of those. His right cheek was noticeably larger than his left, but it wasn't abscessed. FooFoo had molar spurs.

Beaver was a big white guy whose face was matted and soaked with droolclassic symptoms of molar spurs. Beaver loved to eat. Beaver had molar spurs.

Ebony went off his food at age 6. He refused his favorite: carrots. Treatment for GI stasis would start him eating, but he didn't eat much and would stop eating if the treatment stopped. Ebony had molar spurs.


I knew about molar spurs, but in my six years at the shelter I had never found one. Then this year I found five cases. Now, I wonder if I have been missing the signs of molar spurs all along. Molar spurs cannot be seen without a special instrument, so they are easy to miss in our monthly examination. Here is what I have learned.

Rabbits have 28 teeth that grow their entire life. In the back of the mouth equally distributed between left and right are 12 molars and 10 pre-molars. These are called cheek teeth. We do not know how fast the cheek teeth grow; we do know that front teeth grow four to five inches per year. Both the front teeth and the cheek teeth are kept at normal lengths by the wear caused when the teeth rub against their opposing partner. When the teeth are out of alignment, overgrowth occurs. In the case of cheek teeth, elongated tooth enamel points can develop. These points are called molar spurs. These can points grow toward the tongue and toward the cheek. The points can cause painful sores and cuts. The points can also interfere with the use of the tongue and chewing.

Symptoms of Molar Spurs


Changes in food preference (especially, but not always, from harder to softer foods or to a few preferred foods)

Showing interest in food but not eating or eating only small amounts

Weight loss

Swelling or pain at the jaw line, under the chin or in the cheek

Bad odor from the mouth

Runny Eyes

Grinding teeth

Reclusive or grumpy behavior

It is always important to notice changes in your rabbit's diet or behavior. Changes in eating patterns can result from dental problems like malocclusion or molar spurs, intestinal problems or other health problems. Grinding teeth usually means your rabbit is in pain. Behavior changes can be another sign of discomfort or pain. If you see one or more of these symptoms describe them to your vet and ask for an examination that includes the molars.

Your vet can remove molar spurs. The rabbit is anesthetized and the mouth propped open. Spurs are then removed with a dental drill or blunt nosed file. Antibiotics may be prescribed if the sharp tooth points

have damaged the tongue, gums or cheek. The rabbit's eating should return to normal in a couple of days. The procedure will need to be repeated from time to time as the spurs regrow.

Left untreated, molar spurs can cause your bunny to go into GI stasis. They can also result in abscessed cheeks and teeth which are much more difficult and costly to treat than spurs. As usual the best advice is to go to your vet as soon as you notice a problem.



· Oral Health in Rabbits, Carolynn Harvey, DVM. www.rabbit.org/journal/3-9/oral-health.html

· Causes and Treatment of Common Dental Problems in Rabbits, Jeffrey R. Jenkins, DVM. www.rabbit.org/chapters/san-diego/health/vet-talk/dental.html

· Dental Problems in Rabbits Common, Yet Rarely Diagnosed! Dana Krempels, Ph.D. http://fig.cox.miami.edu/Faculty/Dana/Dental.htm.

At the Risk of

Being Crass...


BUNS Needs Money

Despite many hours volunteered by members of our community, BUNS cannot provide the medical care, housing, feed, and education programs without monetary donations.

Any amount will be appreciated to help pay down our expenses. Thank you.

Bunny of the Quarter...



Meet our New Year miracle bunny, Ms. Gridlock. Gridlock's story is amazing. One day some one called the CHP. There was a rabbit on the 101 freeway causing a traffic hazard and gridlock. The CHP found the location and pulled off to the shoulder. As the officers discussed the best way to catch a rabbit, Ms. Gridlock hopped right over. The kindly CHP picked her up and escorted her to the shelter. On arrival to the shelter one of our expert volunteers, Lesley Fagan, noticed that Gridlock's right hind leg was badly misshapen. Gridlock needed immediate medical attention. Lesley took Gridlock to the St. Francis Pet Clinic. Dr. Lawrence found that Gridlock's hind leg was broken in 3 places and her right hip was dislocated. Surgical correction was not an option. Gridlock was in pain and unable to bear any weight on her right leg.


Much discussion ensued, and the possibility of euthanasia came up. Fortunately, Dr. Haskell had read that bunnies generally had a good success rate with hind leg amputations. Gridlock was much too weak and thin to undergo surgery, so she was placed in foster care to strengthen her. Her hind leg was bandaged so she could not move the leg at all. Jean Silva researched hind leg amputations. She contacted another bunny rescue group in Los Angeles. They had had some experience with this surgery, and were positive about the outcomes.


Gridlock had survived so much and showed strong determination to live. We did the surgery. Gridlock came through with flying colors. After the effects of the anesthesia and pain medications wore off, she got up and hopped around. Today, except for the fact that her hair is still growing back from where she was shaved for surgery, you cannot tell anything is missing unless you look closely. Gridlock enjoys running, climbing, and thumping just as any other bunny. She is very active, and playful. She also enjoys lots of love and attention. Gridlock is looking for a loving home where she can be a house rabbit and steal your heart with bunny kisses!