This is one of the first questions people ask me: “Do you recommend bucks or does as pets?” It comes up often on forums, FB groups and other online communities too. The answers usually go something like this:
“I heard bucks are better.”
“Well, it really depends on the individual. My buck doesn’t like me, but my doe looooooves me!”
“Yeah, it depends on the individual. My doe is friendly.”
While it does depend on the individual, everything in life is individual.
One individual black bear may decide not to rummage through a campsite, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to leave food on the table. One individual alligator may not eat your arm, but I’m not going to taunt it.
I understand that we all just want every bunny to have the same chance at a good home, but generalizations help new owners choose a pet that is most likely to fit the dynamic of their own household. Rabbits do have inherent differences between genders.
In my experience, bucks have a tendency to seek attention. The first babies popping out of the box and running to the door tend to be bucks. Without much prompting, they seem to be the babies that enjoy handling and bump into my hand as I’m feeding, cleaning, etc. They’re naturally curious. More often than not, I know who the bucks are in the litter based solely on their behavior, before officially “sexing” the kits.
Does tend to be more hands-off. They may run to greet me, but scamper to the back of the cage if I raise a hand to pet them. They’re timid around new people and may become mildly territorial or aggressive about their space as they reach maturity.
I often use the analogy of dogs and cats. Bucks naturally have a more puppy-like temperament. It doesn’t matter who you are, they’ll plod right over to check you out. Does have a more cat-like personality. They’re cautious and careful, but warm up to those who make the time and effort to prove their trust.
Spaying and neutering does tend to even out these tendencies since the does’ issues are largely hormonal. A doe who is spayed is more likely lose that naturally protective temperament.
Of course, there is truth in what people say about “individuals.” I find that this is dependent on two things: genetics and environment.
At one time, I had a doe who was very skittish. She was not aggressive or territorial, but was very frightened by human contact. I spent many, many evenings with her, hand-feeding her treats and gently coaxing her to the front of the cage. She went from not even approaching my hand (actually, running from it), to nibbling a treat if I extended my hand all the way back in the cage to meet her. In time, I moved it closer and closer to the door. Within weeks, she would approach me for her treat. So I went ahead and bred her, assuming that her issue was surely environmental.
Her babies were the same way. I spent weeks coaxing them to approach me. I put more time into that litter than any I can remember before. Finally, it did work. Several of the kits were sold for breeding/show purposes, as well as mom, and I kept a kit here to replace her within the herd.
As he, yes HE, approached maturity, all hell broke loose. He approached me alright…baring teeth and claws!
After all the time I had spent with mom, after all the time spent with this litter, both genetics and environment clearly failed me.
Now, I’m very selective about the does I breed. While environment does matter, genetics clearly has a strong, strong tie to the way rabbits respond to their environment. You could argue that it’s still “nurture” from a skittish dam, more than “nature.” But the experience I described, on top of some other less pronounced examples over the years, have shown me otherwise.
I’ve selected for more even temperaments in my does and am now seeing the result of that work. More of the babies, of both genders, are displaying that naturally curious and open temperament – even in larger litters with less individual attention. I’m comfortable with selling does, as well as bucks, as pets or as 4-H rabbits.
For pet owners, I still generally recommend bucks and encourage you to visit the rabbit in person before committing to a sale. Outside of the breeding program, it’s difficult to know what combination of nature and nurture the kits experienced, but nature wins more often than not in my barn.