Rabbit agility, or ‘show jumping’, started in Sweden in the late 1970s. Rabbits are trained to jump over hurdles, and sometimes to go up and down ramps and through tunnels. Rabbits are led around a course by their owner/trainer, usually whilst wearing a harness and held on long leads. For several years competitions have been held in Europe, Scandinavia and the USA, and rabbit agility is becoming more popular in the UK.
Benefits of show jumping
Show-jumping can provide good physical and mental stimulation for rabbits and should help increase rabbits’ fitness. Training, if done correctly using appropriate positive reward-based methods, can enhance the rabbit-owner bond and provide the rabbit with more companionship and stimulation.
Meeting individual rabbits' needs
However, great care must be taken to ensure that the needs of the rabbits involved are met at all times. Potential welfare issues must be considered and steps taken to avoid or minimise them beforehand. The decision to train a rabbit to show jump should only be made after very careful consideration of whether it is in the best interests of the individual rabbit concerned.
We would not recommend show jumping for every pet rabbit, as not all rabbits will be suited to this activity. Many rabbits will not have the right temperament, build or athletic ability to take part in this type of activity. If a rabbit is not physically fit enough to take part, he/she could injure themselves when jumping. In addition, juvenile rabbits will not be able to participate until their bones and joints are well developed and strong.
Therefore, the decision to train a rabbit to show jump should only be made after very careful consideration of the potential impact on the individual animal's welfare. Anyone considering training their rabbit to show jump or perform other types of activity, should speak to their vet for advice before undertaking any sort of training with their rabbit, to ensure he/she is physically fit enough to take part, is of a suitable age and likely to benefit from the activity.
Training your rabbit
Rabbits are intelligent, inquisitive and playful animals and can be taught a variety of tricks, including coming when called, going back to their cage on cue, and retrieving objects. They can also be litter trained and can learn to use cat flaps. Only positive reward-based training methods, such as clicker training, should be used to train rabbits to show jump or perform any other type of trick. Punishment techniques, such as shouting or physical coercion, must never be used.
Inexperienced owners should learn how to do more basic training (such as encouraging a rabbit to come when called and rewarding him/her with a healthy treat) and see whether their rabbit responds to this positively, before attempting more complex activities like agility courses. Owners can set up agility courses in their own gardens, rather than having to take their rabbits to a show. Seek expert advice regarding the equipment needed, to ensure any jumps, ramps or tunnels used are safe for their rabbits, and that rabbit harnesses and leads are suitable and fit correctly. Before attempting to train rabbits to show jump seek expert advice, from a vet or clinical animal behaviourist.
Shows and competitions
At rabbit shows and competitions, the rabbits' welfare should be the key priority before, during and after the event. Event organisers and owners should consider any potential welfare problems that could arise during an event* and make every effort to avoid or minimise any such problems before the event. For further information on the use of animals in a performance environment, and to request further advice, please visit our performing animals webpage.
*For more in depth information on the potential welfare issues connected with rabbit agility and how to avoid them, please download our Rabbit Agility Factsheet (PDF 183 KB)