Rabbit Temperament - An Interview With the Experts

Published: 16th November 2005
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Rabbit Temperament

We love holland lops! I believe they are the greatest breed in the world.

Most of our herd will run to the front of the cage when they see us. They love

to be petted, and often lick us affectionately. Each of our three daughters

breeds their own rabbits, including our eight year old. She will often carry

her 8 or 9 week old kits around as though they babies, and the bunnies

absolutely love it.

Every rabbit we've purchased from a breeder has had good enough temperament

for us to breed and show. Unfortunately not all of the bunnies in our barn have

that temperament. We have rescued several bunnies. One bunny we rescued is one

that we are very cautious around. We will never sell him nor will my daughters

use him in their breeding programs. He is very aggressive and has bitten on

several occasions. We will continue to care for and love him, but his

temperament is such that he would be a risk to anyone that purchased or tried

to breed him.

It's funny to watch holland lops on the show table. They often get very

inquisitive. They will peak their heads over the side of the box to see who

their neighbors is. Sometimes they will repeatedly hop out of the box as if to

say, "hey judge, judge me next!" Once in a while you'll see a bunny

that is nearly out of control on the table, and difficult for the judge to

assess. On rare occasions you'll see a holland laying in the back of the

judging box as if to say, "ho hum, another rabbit show."

There is a great article on the Holland Lop Rabbit Specialty Club site by

Sylvia Hess called Holland Lops Personality. Sylvia classifies the temperament

of holland lops into three categories. My favorite category is one she calls

"cuddles". I think most of us would agree that this is the personality

we desire of all of our hollands as long as they stay inquisitive. But how much

emphasis should you put on temperament? How do you get hollands with the cuddly

personality that Sylvia talks about? We decided to go to some of the top

holland lop breeders and ask them those questions. I think you will find their

responses helpful and informative.

Interview with Top Breeders

1. How would you describe the temperament you most want in your

holland lops?

Pam: I like a Holland that

is very personable and loves to show off on the show table, but is not so hyper

that it cannot be posed.

Laurie: I like a curious, interactive personality the most. I love to

see my rabbits investigating new toys and I always want them to come forward in

the cage to see me when I visit.

Heather: The temperament that I like the most in my herd, are more like

me, hyper. My favorite rabbit in the barn is extremely hyper. He will race back

and forth in his cage until you open the door, but as soon as you get him out,

he is very calm. He loves to snuggle and share 'treats' with me. I like the

hyper rabbits, but I also like the rabbits that will snuggle with you, and it's

just a matter of luck to get both.

2. When considering temperament, do you put more emphasis on rabbit

selection or rabbit breeding?

Pam: Temperament should be a concern both when choosing rabbits for your

breeding program and when selecting rabbits to breed from your own herd.

Laurie: I breed first and foremost for conformation to standards. Then,

from the resulting rabbits, I choose the ones that I keep. I will not keep

those with aggressive personalities (those that bite with no warning or fight

when held, even after a period of adjustment). Luckily, I've had precious few

of those. I do not cull out rabbits that are not as interesting as others

personality-wise - not consciously at least - but I know I'm drawn more to the

curious, interactive rabbits just like I'm drawn more to broken pattern

rabbits. Over time, that has an effect on the population of my barn.

Heather: I am most concerned about temperament when I am purchasing a

rabbit. I don't want to add a new rabbit to the herd that has a bad attitude

and have to work extra hard to get the rabbit to behave when I already have

rabbits in my herd that need to be worked with.

3. When purchasing a new rabbit, do you do any type of evaluation of

temperament, and if so what do you look for?

Pam: We try to avoid hyper bucks that spray a lot and are sexually

aggressive. These bucks general don't do well on the show table because they

won't sit still, and these are the most likely candidates for vicious


Laurie: Temperament is very hard to evaluate when you are purchasing a

rabbit. Rabbits may behave at a show because they are intimidated or misbehave

because they are more excited than usual. They may behave toward a man

differently than they do toward a woman. If I have concerns about a rabbit's

temperament, I ask the owner for their assessment. I should not be purchasing a

rabbit from someone whose evaluation I cannot trust.

Heather: When I purchase a new rabbit, I take time and really work with

the rabbit, to see if it will let me hold it, flip it over, or when I get it

out of it's cage, if it attacks me. I don't really want a fighter that won't

let me flip it over or fights me when I try to hold it, or lunges at me with an

open mouth. Most of the time, a Holland Lop won't display any of these

characteristics if they have been worked with a lot.

4. If you have a rabbit with what you consider poor temperament, is there

anything you do with that rabbit to improve it individually?

Pam: I find that genetics play a large role in individual temperament,

although handling a rabbit will help calm their "show table jitters".

When judging, it's generally easy to pick out the "first-timers" or

those rabbits that have been handled very little. They may try to bolt on the

show table or are often difficult to examine.

Laurie: I will tolerate poor temperament in a doe as long as it is

associated with high hormonal activity. I've had young aggressive does turn

into sweethearts after their first litter or two is born and this has happened

numerous times. But they must come around at some point. I do not tolerate poor

temperament in bucks, however. With a buck that shows some aggression, I place

my hands over him and hold him down gently for several minutes at a time. I am

just trying to communicate that I'm the big Kahuna around the barn and deserve

more respect than that. If he doesn't come around with extra attention, then he

just can't stay in my barn. Also, I refuse to pet out any rabbit that I do not

feel has a pet personality, so it is definitely to his advantage to cooperate!

Heather: There are many things you can do to improve any rabbit's

temperament. It helps to play with them everyday, just petting them or holding

them. Sometimes, if I am worried about how my rabbit is behaving towards me or

someone else, I carry them around while I am feeding the rest of the rabbits,

this way they get familiar with you and get used to being held at the same


5. When breeding rabbits, do you consider temperament?

Pam: We do take temperament into account and avoid using vicious


Laurie: I don't try to fix temperament with breeding. Rabbits with poor

temperament are just not part of my breeding program. The exception is

moodiness due to hormones in does, once again.

Heather: Temperament is a tricky subject. I don't want to breed two

rabbits that attack me together and pray that the babies will all be friendly,

but I don't want to breed two extremely hyper rabbits together either. I prefer

to breed the poor tempered rabbit to the hyper rabbit to get a calmer, less

mean version of the parents.

6. Is it possible to breed a poorly tempered rabbit with one of good

temperament and produce offsprings of a good temperament?

Pam: There are many genetic influences on behavior as well as

environmental influences, so it is possible to produce animals with good

temperaments out of those with poor temperaments. However, it is more likely to

produce animals with a pre-disposition to poor temperament when you use animals

that exhibit undesirable behaviors.

Laurie: It is not worth it to me to keep a rabbit with poor temperament

in my barn. So trying to fix it in a breeding program would not come up. But,

since my sweetest doe of all times produced my meanest buck of all times, I'd

say that it is possible for things to go the other way around on an individual

rabbit basis. But what we need to concentrate on is trends.

Heather: I believe it is possible to breed out bad temperament. If the

breeding works out properly, the babies should have a better temperament than

the poorly tempered parent.

7. In comparison to appearance, how much emphasis do you put on


Pam: Type is the first consideration, but temperament must certainly be


Laurie: With a rabbit's conformation, there is always something that I'm

working on. With temperament, either a rabbit has an acceptable one or doesn't.

It's apples and oranges. Would I keep a rabbit with exceptional conformation

that has a bad attitude? I hope that never happens, but if it does, I hope I

have the resolve not to use him in my breeding program.

Heather: I believe that if a rabbit has a bad temperament, but shows

well, then it is worth keeping. However, if the rabbit is putting you and

others at risk, then the behavior should be taken very seriously and dealt


8. Do you find that breeders as a whole need to put more emphasis on


Pam: I think breeders have been doing a good job in culling animals with

poor temperament and producing high quality show animals. I don't personally

know any breeders that will tolerate a vicious animal in their herd.

Laurie: I think that there are as many different temperaments in

breeders as there are in rabbits. Some breeders do not necessarily need a

highly interactive rabbit to enjoy their hobby, for example. Some breeders

don't care if their rabbits snuggle. I think it is more important that you work

with the type of rabbit that you enjoy most. And it is probably best to

purchase stock from breeders who have similar views on temperament to yours.

Heather: I believe that all breeders need to work on temperament with

their rabbits. I know that I don't want to reach into another person's cage and

get bitten. I don't really mind if my own rabbits bite me, because I know that

I will work with them later.

9. Would you like to give any closing thoughts regarding temperament?

Pam: Temperament varies widely by individual. The nice show-type Hollands

that sit up on the table are generally more high-strung than the Hollands

with a low head mount that sit close to the table.

Laurie: I also want to mention that I take responsibility for being

nipped if I frighten a rabbit. Sometimes we get busy with our chores and don't

realize that we've reached into a cage and scared a sleeping rabbit.

Temperament is much more long-term than a single behavior. I don't hold the

actions of a scared or upset rabbit against him. Breeding rabbits is a hobby

and should be enjoyable. Don't work with rabbits you do not enjoy spending time

with. It's just not worth it.

Heather: Some rabbits don't like certain people. I have one rabbit that

will attack everyone but me. There are other rabbits that will try anything to

get their teeth into me, but never bite anyone else. They are just like people.

They want to choose who they are associated with.

Thank you to each of our participants. I trust that you will find their

answers insightful as you raise and breed your own herd of holland lops.

Our Expert Panel

Pam Nock. Pam is both a breeder and an ARBA judge. Visitors to many

rabbit forums know the name Pam Nock. She spends a great deal of time sharing

her knowledge with rabbit breeders and pet owners alike, much of which she does

through the rabbit forums. She has been a great help to us on many occasions.

We owe a lot of thanks and gratitude to Pam for her excellent advice. You can

visit her website at http://www.geocities.com/pamnock.

Laurie Stroupe. Laurie's web site The Nature Trail is the primary

website we go to for rabbit raising information. Her site has a wealth of

information, including her new blog

which she adds to on a daily basis. Whether you are a new pet owner or an

experienced rabbit breed, you will find Laurie's site very helpful. Laurie had

the top Broken Senior Buck at the 2005 ARBA convention in open. Her latest

project is Precious Pet

, a website for pet rabbit care information.

Heather Washburn. Heather is one of the top youth holland lop

breeders in the country. I remember sitting at one of our first rabbit shows.

We had no clue what we were doing. I looked past my family and saw a young lady

grooming one of the most incredible holland lops I had ever seen. The rabbit to

me was perfect in appearance and in temperament. That rabbit won best of breed

that day. The Washburns were great to talk to as we were newbies, and they were

very friendly. Heather is a member of the OHLRF and the HLRSC. Most recently

Heather's rabbit took BOB at the 2005 ARBA convention in youth. Her website can

be seen at http://www.geocities.com/washrabbit/.

Rob Usakowski is owner of Three Little Ladies Rabbitry which

is run by his wife Cathie and their three daughters. Visit their site www.threelittleladiesrabbitry.com

for lots of rabbit raising information for both pet owners and breeders alike.

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