Step 1: Hierarchy of Prompts
So here's what you need to know - there's something called the hierarchy of prompts. For rabbit training, here's how it looks:
At the bottom are the most hands-on prompts, like physically picking up your rabbit and spinning him in a circle.
Next comes putting a treat right in front of your bun's nose and using the sweet smell of a raisin to lure him into running around in a circle.
After that you can use a gesture without a treat, like making a circular motion with your hand.
And finally, with enough training and more than a handful of treats, your rabbit will be able to perform a trick with just the verbal prompt.
Your goal is to gradually reduce the amount of prompting needed for your bunny to complete a trick, from excessive pointing and grunting to a simple one-word command.
Step 2: Begin Training
Start by using a combination of lead-with-treat, gesture and verbal. Use a strong tone of voice, but not shouting. Lead-with-treat and gesture can be combined in one hand movement for now. If you need to physically push your bun, you probably need a better treat ;)
I like to begin each trick by calling my rabbit's name, positioning him in front of me by leading-with-treat, and then issuing the command + prompts.
Each time your rabbit completes the trick, click the clicker and give him a treat with a lot of verbal praise. If your bun doesn't, firmly say No and start again.
As your bunny understands what to do, gradually remove the prompts at the bottom of the hierarchy. Use a gesture, but don't have the treat in hand. Then minimize the gestural prompt further and further until a single word is all that's needed!
Step 3: Learning Multiple Tricks and Beyond
My rabbit had some funny ideas about tricks. He would often spin in circles without any prompting, assuming that the act of spinning in itself somehow magically produced raisins which fell from the sky. Like a rain dance of sorts. You'll need to be patient with your bun if he does this by not reacting to his self-prompted tricks.
Learning a second trick was a bit tricky, too. My bunny thought that any combination of words and gestures means Spin. So when I taught him Around Me, I had to start all over from the beginning with full gestural, lead-with-treat, and verbal prompting with a lot of corrections. Then to reinforce the idea of two separate commands, I would mix up the tricks, randomly switching between Spin and Around Me.
And of course, be sure to give your rabbit plenty of breaks and verbal praise. If you use raisins to motivate your bunny, keep your training sessions fairly short - it's not good for a rabbit to have lots of sugars in one sitting.
My bunny was able to learn Spin, Around Me, Figure Eight, Walk, Come Here, and Up Here (jump onto a piece of furniture). What can you get your bunny to learn? I'd love to see someone teach a bun how to fetch or roll over!
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