Three Little Ladies Rabbitry, Jersey Wooly
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Rabbit Temperament

Rabbit Temperament Introduction

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 tendencies.
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 time.

5. When breeding rabbits, do you consider temperament?
Pam: We do take temperament into account and avoid using vicious animals.
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 temperament?
Pam: Type is the first consideration, but temperament must certainly be considered.
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 with.

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

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 Rabbits, 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 Washburn Wabbits.