Rabbit harnesses

To Harness, or not to Harness, that is the question…

We’re often asked about harness training, and about taking companion rabbits out for walks. At WRR, our policy is not to do it and in fact, we have a blanket ban against using harnesses on our foster rabbits. However, we understand that for many bunnies living in urban centres there is the matter of providing enrichment and fresh air safely when other options aren’t available.

If you do not have a fenced garden, then harness training may be something you’re considering. Before you do, it’s important that you know the risks and can make an informed decision on whether harness training is right for your bunny.

The risks are clear: emotional distress, injury to a muscle, tissue, and/or limb, and of course the danger of having very little control of the situation when you come across a cat or a dog while out in public.

As prey animals, rabbits will often view a harness as akin to being grabbed and held by a predator; this in itself is extremely stressful and requires you to be aware of rabbit body-language so you can interpret their needs.

If you do decide to go ahead with harness and leash training, below are some tips for doing so safely.


* Ensure you use the correct type of harness: many companies will market accessories and toys that are not safe for rabbits, so it pays to do your research before spending money.

Only use a soft-vest type harness with the leash attached further down the back of the bunny, such as the one pictured above. These vest-type harnesses hug a larger portion of the body meaning they are more comfortable, and the placement of the leash means that there is less risk of neck or throat damage in the event of whiplash, entanglement, or the rabbit sprints unexpectedly.

It is important to get the correct size for your bunny, so if you have a larger breed you will likely need to invest in a custom-made one.

Don’t resort to a strap-based harness, as these are uncomfortable and have a higher record of injuries, and rabbits have a higher chance of slipping out of them.

Please note: Never put a collar on a rabbit!!

* Keep your expectations real: the rabbit will walk you, you will not walk the rabbit. Harness and leash training should be viewed as a last resort to providing extra space and enrichment for your rabbits’ sake. Do not drag or pull on the leash to make the rabbit go where you want them to. Instead let the rabbit enjoy the surroundings at their own leisure, while you keep a look-out for approaching dangers.

* Trust and patience is crucial: It’s important to spend time learning about each other and building a strong, reciprocal relationship before attempting any form of training. This way they know you’re a safe person and you will know their cues to back off if they’ve had enough. Training doesn’t happen overnight, you will need to have short, frequent sessions until they’re ready to go outside on the leash.

* Positive reinforcement, and a clear understanding of rabbit language:
Make sure you are rewarding the rabbit with a treat and using soft, reassuring voice commands during training sessions. Always start harness training inside your home where your rabbit feels comfortable, and make sure they do not appear fearful of you during or after these sessions.

If your rabbit stops eating at any point during this process DO NOT PROCEED.

Training Steps:
* Step One: Let your rabbit get used to the harness while it’s off; let them sniff, and play with it if they want to.

* Step Two: Detach the leash from the harness, and lay the harness on top of the rabbit so they become accustomed to the weight and feel. Do this several times a day until they are relaxed and stop moving away automatically.

* Step Three: Carefully put the harness onto the rabbit while keeping it unbuckled, and assess their reaction.

If the rabbit is okay, give them a small treat and leave the harness on for no more than two minutes, then remove it. Repeat this step frequently over the next few days.

If they are unhappy, remove the harness immediately and go back to steps one and two.

* Step four: once they are comfortable with the harness itself you can attach the leash again to let the rabbit make sense of the new sensation. Let them drag the leash around uninhibited but under supervision; be careful they don’t get tangled up on anything.

Your rabbit is not ready to wear the harness outside until they are comfortable enough to eat, drink, and toilet while wearing the harness inside their home.

* Step five: If your rabbit is confident wearing the harness and leash then you can proceed outside with caution.

Make sure your rabbit is up-to-date with their vaccinations, and always be mindful of safety.

Stay away from areas that are:
– Sprayed with pesticides
– Experience heavy-foot traffic of people
– Are frequented by dogs
– Are likely to have wild rabbits

Please note: only the vaccine “filavac” protects all three strains of  Rabbit Calicivirus (RCD currently detected in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Brer Rabbit reluctantly models a soft-vest harness with appropriate leash attachment.
Please note the disapproving glare!