Clicker Training for Rabbits

Last updated: March 17, 2016

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What is a Clicker?

A beautiful white and grey rabbit lying down with ears pricked up.Clicking your clicker lets your rabbit know exactly which behaviour you are asking for.

Rabbits need to be rewarded straight after they show the behaviour that you want, so that they can associate the reward (i.e. – the food) with the behaviour. It is much more precise than a verbal or physical reward. Clickers are unemotional. They reduce the likelihood of confusion due to voice tone, they can reward behaviour at the precise moment the trainer wants to reinforce, can be used to “pinpoint” a particular part of behaviour and can be used at a distance. Although the concept of being rewarded for a desired behaviour is not a new one, clicker training only gained popularity recently through its use in dolphin training.

Charge up your Clicker

First of all we need to teach your rabbit what the ‘click’ means. It is important to pair the sound of your clicker to a treat. This is a very easy exercise. Press the clicker and give your rabbit a treat. Repeat several times. How do you know when you’ve done this enough? When you press the clicker and your rabbit spins their head around to get their treat. Although it seems like the clicker is a good way to get your rabbit’s attention, remember that we intend on using this as a marker for good behaviour. If you press your clicker several times to get your rabbit’s attention when it’s doing something naughty, you will teach them that being naughty is what you want them to do.

No punishment or corrections are required

In traditional training, you tell an animal what to do, make that behaviour happen (using force if necessary), reward good results, and punish mistakes. In clicker training you ask for the behaviour you desire, mark it the instant it happens with a click, and reward with a treat. The treat may be food, a pat, praise, or anything else the animal enjoys. If the animal doesn’t do the behaviour you were wanting, or offers another behaviour instead, simply don’t click and treat, then try again a few seconds later. The rabbit will figure out very quickly that it is worthwhile responding to your requests as this will result into this fantastic outcome ‘- the ‘click and treat’. Rabbits who are usually not very interested in responding are now suddenly much more motivated.

Do I have to continue using the Clicker & treats forever?

Clicker trainers focus on building behaviour, not stopping behaviour. Instead of yelling at the rabbit for doing something you don’t want them to do, you click and reward her for doing what you would like her to do (eg. getting on your lap, not scratching you?). Click by click, you expect Roxy to do the behaviour longer and longer before clicking. Once the behaviour is learned, this means that the rabbit can do it successfully 9 out of 10 times, you reward with praise and anything else the rabbit enjoys. Be mindful that if you practice a behaviour that you have taught in a new place or siuation, you may have to teach it again as a new behaviour (with the clicker). Every time you want to train a new behaviour, or fine-tune an old behaviour, use the clicker.

Why does Clicker Training work?

Clicker training uses a distinct and consistent signal to mark a desired behaviour in real time and then follows that signal with a motivating reward. Because animals understand precisely which action earned the click and subsequent reward, they learn new behaviours quickly and easily.

My rabbit isn’t food motivated, what do I do?

The food rewards that you use during training should be especially yummy and your rabbit’s meals should not be just before a training session. If your rabbit is still not interested in food rewards you may use anything else they love such as playing with something or getting a pat. If however, your rabbit is still not interested it may be best to stop the training session and try again later.

Do you require a lot of experience to Clicker train successfully?

No. Clicker training is easy to learn with the right instructions. The part of clicker training that may require a little practice is timing the clicks to mark the exact behaviour you are seeking. But don’t worry if you make a mistake, clicker training is forgiving and any mistakes you may make won’t interfere with your rabbits training in the long run.

When can I expect results?

We often talk about the “light bulb moment”, the time when you and your rabbit connect through the sound of the clicker. Teaching fun and simple behaviours like sitting and shaking hands can often be accomplished in one or two sessions. More complex behaviours can be trained one piece at a time, shaping the action over a series of sessions.

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RSPCA animal training courses are available across Australia:

  • Queensland: call the RSPCA Animal Training & Behaviour Centre for further information in regard to courses available on (07) 3426 9928.
  • Victoria: for any information on training and behaviour in Victoria call Amanda Murcutt on 92242521.
  • West Australia: call the RSPCA PawsCentral Adoption Centre for further information about courses available near you on (08) 9209-9309 or visit the RSPCA WA website.
  • NSW: Information is available on the RSPCA NSW website.
  • Australian Capital Territory: Information is available on the RSPCA ACT website.
  • South Australia: Contact information is available on the RSPCA SA website.
  • Northern Territory: Contact information is available on the RSPCA Darwin website.
  • Tasmania: Training is available at the Hobart Animal Care Centre in Mornington. Go to the RSPCA Tasmania website for further information.

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