Sunday, July 14, 2013

Anyone with a House Rabbit Knows - Bunnies Communicate

I just read an article about a study in the UK to better understand the significance of people talking to their pets. They are developing a questionnaire for rabbit owners.  Although, the study may only be in the UK, I am sure the house rabbit fans in the USA and around the world would also have something to say about it.
Of course, rabbits communicate with their humans and vice versa.  The web page The Language of Lagomorphs has been online forever (at least 17 years) and Hopperhome has a web page devoted to  rabbit communication.  The House Rabbit Society, has many articles on their website about rabbit behavior and communication between the rabbits themselves and also with people. Domesticated rabbits are descendants of European rabbits who live in warrens and they are good communicators even if they don't bark or meow. The social structure in a rabbit warren would be chaos if it were not for some fairly sophisticated communication between the rabbits.

When rabbits started to be brought into the house as companions like cats and dogs,  the concept of a "dumb" bunny was on its way out. People talk to their rabbits. I have received many emails about how rabbits are "bilingual" if two languages are spoken in the home. All of my house rabbits over the years have learned at least 7 human words and Mr. Hops knew ten or so.  It is also interesting to see my rabbits seem to have a fairly good understanding of "cat" and "dog," too. I have learned rabbit body language and know when they are stressed, ill, happy, bored, disgusted, etc. I try not to give rabbits human traits (anthropomorphize), but rabbits respond to different words or perhaps it may be my tone of voice. I talk to them all the time if for no other reason than to let them know I am paying attention and to help them feel less stress if something new is going on in the home.
A few years ago, my rabbit, Rosemary, warned me about a very large raccoon about to enter an open window.  I have no doubt she understood when I thanked her.  She received a treat and I talked to her quite a bit afterwards.  For the first time, she came over and stretched out next to me on the floor while I watched a movie on TV that evening. We understood each other and words were not necessary.