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Rabbit communication: body language, from Binky to Thump

Did you see the post about rabbit vocalizations?  Talking isn’t the only way these complicated creatures tell us what they think. Rabbit communication requires that we do more than just listen, we have to watch too.  Rabbits are quite capable of having dialogues with us, once we know how to speak their language.


Everyone who has been around rabbits knows about the BINKY…that leap for joy that our friends do when life is oh-so-good.  This dance can include dashing about, twirling, hopping, twisting…really quite a celebration.



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 photo credit: The Hoppington Post

THE FLOP is what we call it when a rabbit throws herself over on her side rather suddenly.  It is adorable, and means your friend is happy and maybe just had a great romp. 






UPSIDE DOWN, FEET IN THE AIR means extreme happiness and worn-outedness.  Yes, worn-outedness is a real word.  I just made it one.  It fits like no other words would.  Your rabbit has probably just had the zoomies, run all over the house at top speed, and had a lovely time.  She is now reliving the moment in her head.


BRICK position refers to that pretty typical pose, lying flat on the ground with legs sticking out.  This is just a typical, relaxed, Zen kind of pose.  Nothing upsetting, nothing exciting going on – your rabbit is just thinking about philosophy and quantum physics, maybe composing a haiku.


Does your rabbit get close to you and rub his chin against you?  CHINNING is a sign of affection and, well, ownership.  Take it as a compliment.  Rabbits have scent glands under their chins, and they rub their scent on things they want to claim.  Consider yourself claimed.



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 photo credit: barrowbunnies.com

The NOSE BUMP is a demand for attention.  It is an order for you to “groom” – not to get out the nail clippers and soft brushes, but to run your fingertips along your rabbit’s forehead (from front to back only), massage the base of the ears or maybe the back of the jaw.  If you do it right, you may get a PURR (see below).  Don’t put your hand under your rabbit’s head: this is a demand that you be groomed in return, and, well, it’s just presumptuous. The nose bump is not a request.  Ignore it at your peril.  A rabbit who has made this demand may nip or misbehave (go chew on a baseboard right in your line of sight, for example) if the demand is not met.


STANDING ON HIND LEGS was originally just for getting a better look around out in the meadow.  For our house rabbits, however, it proves to be such good treat bait (what human can resist?), and often becomes a begging behavior.  Don’t fall for it, at least not often.  Rabbits are smart – they do figure out how to manipulate us, and when goodies are involved, they can be relentless.






The rate at which NOSE WIGGLE is happening can show you your rabbit’s current level of interest.   Fast wiggle – something is interesting.  No wiggle – nothing going on here, I’m daydreaming.  Fast wiggle with sudden stop –something caught your rabbit’s attention, and has just become confusing.  Your rabbit is taking a moment to contemplate, and is deciding whether there is a threat or not.


Smelling is important when getting to know someone, so you might see a lot of nose action when your rabbit is making new friends.  SNIFFING, however, is little sharp inhalations or exhalations, meaning indignation.  Exasperation.  Dismissal of your ridiculous self.  It means just what it does when we do it.  Think of your uppity great aunt, and that noise she makes when she disapproves.

paper bedding, carefresh

GIVING YOU THE BUTT means you have been very disrespectful and your rabbit is done with you until you mend your ways.  This comes in a few versions of escalating severity.  Depending upon how big an oaf you have been, your friend may turn away from you but look over one shoulder, with ears at half-mast.  If you do not respond appropriately, the head will face away from you, the ears will go all the way down, the tail will face you completely, and there things will stay until you have repented.


THUMPING with those powerful back legs is a big disapproving rabbit move.  It means they are unhappy with the situation, and you are supposed to fix it right now.  Make the bad thing go away, human.


SCATTERED DROPPINGS, not all in a nice tidy pile, are a way of claiming territory.  This most often happens when a rabbit comes in to a new place (not just a new house, but a new room, or even a new corner).  It almost always happens if a new rabbit joins the family.  Your rabbit is just saying “mine, mine, mine”.


CIRCLING YOUR FEET is a compliment, although it might be a little bit misplaced.  This is a mating behavior, and your rabbit is “in love”.  Um, has your rabbit been spayed or neutered?  If not, please do so.


SPRAYING and PULLING OUT FUR/COLLECTING NEST MATERIALS are behaviors related to mating and nesting, so none of us should ever see these things going on.


Off you go!  Time for quality time with your rabbit.  Tell them we said hi. 


PS – you may have noticed we didn’t mention the ears.  Those wonderful ears get a post all of their own!



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