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Rabbits, like people, have preferences when it comes to toys and games. Some rabbits, like my Oreo, are very dignified, and will only play a certain game or a certain type of game. Oreo would use her nose to roll a ball to me. My job was to roll it back to her. That was her only game but she enjoyed playing it as long as she was physically able. Other than this, she had no interest in games (or toys, for that matter).
At the other extreme are my two small rabbits, Cappuccino and Wilbur, who have the happy outlook that the entire world and everything in it are their toys. It’s all fun and games for them.
I can’t find any studies about bunnies and game-playing, but I think there are many factors determining whether a bunny is given to playing games. In addition to individual personality types as referenced in the preceding paragraphs, there are other considerations such as:
Some bunnies tend to play more games with their owners if they have no bunny friends to play with; however, my Guillermo never played any games (except “BITE THE GROWN-UP”) until he had a bunny friend. Now he is so very happy that he plays a variety of games.
As they age, some bunnies play games less often, or play less strenuous games. I also believe that game-playing is at least partly a learned behavior: if a bunny has grown up with an owner that does not play games with him, he may not know HOW to play a game. I have an older bunny that I adopted a couple of months ago who is just now learning to play Dandelion Tickle, and he appears to find this game hilarious.
Obviously a bunny with health problems may not feel like playing games (then again, if they are able, they may continue to play games/adapted games no matter their medical status). Older, disabled or timid bunnies may prefer these games:
DANDELION TICKLE – a great starter game for bunnies who don’t know how to play, or who are old, or perhaps physically unable to play other games. Just as it sounds, get a dandelion or other long-leafed green, and tickle their nose with it. At first a bunny usually snaps at the green and eats it; in the more advanced version, the bunny attempts to take the greens out of your hand, and places them in a stack away from you. Milkshake has gotten very quick at this game, rapidly snatching all the greens one at a time, stacking them up, and then smugly guarding them.
TOWEL (FLEECE) COVERUP – another nice starter game but if playing with a timid rabbit, you will want to go slowly so as not to frighten them. Just place a small hand-towel or fleece over the bunny (make sure they don’t chew off bits and eat it). Depending on the rabbit, you may get a whirling dervish or just a bunny who ‘finds her way out of’ the fleece and appears smugly contented (see photo). With a timid bunny you may wish to start by placing the fleece just over the bunny’s back end.
STACK UP YOGURT CUPS – stacking up clean, empty yogurt cups in a tower will frequently result in a bunny deliberately knocking them over. It’s like bunny bowling (not to be confused with cat bowling – see the video for that). With timid rabbits you may want to start out small, perhaps placing an empty yogurt cup on top of a hay cube.
My bunnies wait for me to reset the “pins”. Yes. I have two college degrees and I have been reduced to acting as a pin boy for rabbits.
JINGLE BELL ROLL – some rabbits do not care for toy balls, or for cat toys with bells inside, but they enjoy a large jingle bell (photo). This is one of very few games Cookie plays (another of her games is ignoring Guillermo to annoy him).
I didn’t train any of my rabbits to play these games. I just offer them different toys and try to interact with them in a variety of ways. Sometimes the rabbits play with me and sometimes they do not. The bunnies sometimes come up with games all by themselves.
Continue to spend time with your bunny to try and determine what sort of game he or she likes. None of it is time wasted, as your bunny wants your attention – game playing or not – most of all.
Once your bunny is used to playing with you, you may want to try some livelier games:
TUNNEL PEEK– you need a cardboard tunnel (see photo in slide show) or a box with both ends cut out. Sit on the floor and “hide” at the side of the box, and when the bunny peeks out at you, you stick your face around the corner and say “peek-a-boo!” or “Charlie Sheen is crazy!” or whatever works for you. The bunny pulls his head back into the box; you resume hiding, and then he peeks out again. If you miss your turn the bunny will usually come looking for you, at which point you are playing HIDE AND SEEK.
HIDE AND SEEK– tickle your bunny or ruffle his ears, then head off into another room (or hide behind the sofa). The bunny will come and find you. If he doesn’t go and “hide” on his own, play a round of GETYOURBUTT and he will probably binky off someplace so that you can go “find” him.
GETYOURBUTT– Very slowly announce: “I’m….going….to….GETYOURBUTT!!!” and then tickle the bunny’s haunches; this usually elicits a leap into the air and binkies while hopping away. The bunny then stops, turns around and looks at you, and if you don’t come after him he will likely return to you to repeat the game.
TAG – in this variation of GETYOURBUTT, the bunny in question returns and butts your feet with his nose until you try to GETHISBUTT again. My Guillermo will frequently initiate the game by creeping up to me and butting my feet as I am minding my own business.
PEEK-A-BOO AROUND FURNITURE – see “tunnel peek” above. Can also be played while playing HIDE AND SEEK and waiting for bunny to come find you.
FETCH – in this game, you give the bunny a lightweight toy that he or she can easily carry in her mouth. Bunny joyously flings the toy across the room; you retrieve the toy for the bunny, who then joyously flings the toy again. You get the idea: bunny owner as Labrador Retriever.
Keep spending time with your bunny and see what games the two of you can come up with. Sometimes just sitting with your bunny and fiddling with their toys will interest them enough that they will take the toy away from you and hide it, or fling it, or some other fun behavior. Even bunnies who are not much into games will enjoy the time you spend with them trying to play.
Let the games begin!
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