Rabbit agility (‘show jumping’) started in Sweden in the 1970s. Rabbits are trained to jump hurdles and to go up/down ramps/through tunnels, being led around courses by owners/trainers, wearing a harness and lead. Competitions have been held in Europe, Scandinavia and the USA, increasing in popularity in Britain.
Show jumping - benefits
Show-jumping can provide good physical and mental stimulation for rabbits. Positive reward-based training enhances rabbit-owner bonds, providing companionship and stimulation.
Meeting individual needs
Rabbits’ needs must be met at all times. Deciding to train rabbits to show jump should only be made after careful consideration of whether it’s in the individual rabbit’s best interests.
We wouldn’t recommend show jumping for every rabbit -they are not all suited to it. Many lack the temperament/build/athletic ability to participate. Unfit rabbits could injure themselves jumping. Juvenile rabbits can’t participate until their bones/joints are developed and strong.
Anyone considering training rabbits to show jump or perform other activities, should consult their vet for advice before undertaking training, to ensure they’re physically fit, are suitably aged and may benefit from the activity.
Training your rabbit
Rabbits are intelligent, inquisitive and playful. They can be litter trained, taught various tricks (e.g. coming when called/entering their cage on cue/retrieving objects) and learn to use cat flaps. Only positive reward-based methods e.g. clicker training, should be used. Punishment e.g. shouting/physical coercion must never be used.
Inexperienced owners should do basic training (e.g. encouraging rabbits to come when called, rewarding with a healthy treat) and see whether their rabbit responds positively, before attempting complex activities. Owners can create agility courses in their gardens, instead of taking rabbits to shows. Seek expert advice regarding the equipment needed, to ensure jumps/ramps/tunnels are safe, and harnesses/leads are suitable and well-fitted. Before training rabbits to show jump seek advice from a vet/clinical animal behaviourist.
Rabbit welfare is the key priority before, during and after events. Event organisers and owners should consider potential welfare problems that could arise during an event (see Rabbit Agility Factsheet (PDF 183 KB)) and make every effort to avoid/minimise problems before the event. Further information: performing animals webpage.