ALL ABOUT THE DUTCH RABBIT
It is said that the Dutch Rabbit originated in Holland sometime around 1850 or later where it is called the Hollander Rabbit. It found its way to England in 1864 where it has risen in continued popularity and been exported to points around the world. The Dutch is one of the oldest breeds of domestic rabbit known, owing its existence, as do all domestic rabbits, to the much earlier domestication of the European wild rabbit, or (true rabbit). Considered a fancy rabbit due to their distinctive Dutch markings, the Dutch Rabbit, has from its introduction, benefited from the careful attention of breeders over the years who have continue improving the breed and expanding the available varieties while maintaining and perfecting the distinctive markings. Special attention has been paid to perfecting the general body type of the Dutch breed to the standard of perfection we know today. Due to the high expectations demanded for perfection in type and markings, the Dutch is one of the greatest challenges for the prospective and experienced breeder alike.
General Physical Description
The Dutch rabbit is a fairly small compact rabbit, with ears that stand erect and powerful back legs that are longer than the front legs. The Dutch rabbit is always white with the addition of another base color. They are one of the most popular rabbits kept as pets today. The average adult Dutch Rabbit will weigh between 4 to 5 ½ pounds and on average will live 5 to 8 years Longer life spans can be expected if the animals are neutered or spayed. The longest life span that has been reported is 15 years with 10 years not all that uncommon.
Characteristics of the Dutch Rabbit
Without question the most dominant characteristic of the Dutch Rabbit has to be the formal attire of its markings. Very striking in appearance, the Dutch Rabbit always stands out from the crowd. A classy rabbit easily recognized in the best of circles. The chart below is a list of the general characteristics of the Dutch breed.
|Average Life Span||5 to 8 Years|
|Maximum reported life Span||15 Years|
|Average Adult Weight||4 ½ to 5 Pounds|
|Average Gestation Period||30 to 33 Days|
|Average Litter Size||5 to 6 kits|
|Optimal weaning age||4 to 6 weeks|
|Approximate food consumption of adult rabbit||
.8 ounces per pound
|Approximate Water consumption of adult||
50 to 100 ml per pound depending on temperature and humidity
Character, Temperament & Handling
The Dutch rabbit is a suitable pet for both children and adults. They will do best with children over 10 years of age; younger children should be under adult supervision when handling and caring for the rabbit. The Dutch is generally good-natured and quite sociable with a great personality and can be very energetic. They do need a lot of attention and can become bored quite easily. They are intelligent and easily trained. Care should always be taken, as the rabbit can be a bit jumpy and wary by nature. The body of the rabbit is very delicate. Owners that are new to rabbits need to receive instruction on the proper way to pick up and handle their new pet, as it is very easy for the rabbit to be injured if handled carelessly. Unlike cats and small dogs, rabbits have a natural fear of being picked up and handled and will need time and conditioning to adjust. When young bunnies are handled carefully and they learn to trust their people early in life they will become very overt in their display of affection. Rabbits can be trained to recognize their name and to even come when called. They will especially enjoy sitting on its owner’s lab, snuggling, and being attentive.
Rabbits are easily startled and their natural response is to flee. Their powerful hind legs and lumbar muscles are designed for sudden and bounding escapes. These are disproportionately powerful to the delicate structure of their skeleton that makes up only 7 to 8% of the rabbits total body weight. If allowed to kick and thrash about when restrained, their frantic kicking can easily result in lumbar vertebral fractures resulting in paralysis. For this reason it is extremely important to support the rear end of the rabbit when picking them up.
The rabbit should be lifted by grasping the large fold of loose skin over the shoulders with one hand while supporting or grasping the hind feet with the other hand. When carrying a rabbit, it is useful to support the animal’s body between the forearm and abdomen with the rabbit’s face hidden under the elbow. Frightened or so-called nervous rabbits are usually easily carried in this manner.
Rabbits are fully capable of inflicting injury to a person with their claws, particularly the rear claws. Periodic trimming of the nails, proper handling and some common sense will usually prevent most injuries. Some breeders wear arm protectors to prevent scratches to their forearms when handling their rabbits. Occasionally, rabbits will show aggressive behavior in the form of biting although this is normally the exception. When bites are delivered, it is usually more of a pinch then a true bite. A rabbit, however, is fully capable of delivering a serious bite if provoked sufficiently. Such overt aggression is most normally limited to fighting between adult rabbits of the same sex, however female rabbits are known to show aggression toward the male under circumstances where territorial rights are threatened. This is the reason why the female is always taken to the cage of the male for breeding.
Rabbits are most active in the morning and at night and generally sleep during the day. Rabbits enjoy running and jumping. Such behavior is a sign of a happy rabbit.
Standards of Perfection
Every 5 years the ARBA standards committee and board of directors publish what is called the Standards Of Perfection for each of the standard breeds recognized in the United States. This guide provides a standardization that is used by judges and breeders alike for evaluating both Rabbits and Cavies to identify quality show animals.
The goal of every responsible rabbit breeder is the challenge of producing animals that best reflect the standards of perfection in type and marking for their breed. The first step for the new breeder is to build a base to start from. That is best done by purchasing the highest quality pedigreed stock the breeder can afford. This is normally accomplished by visiting rabbit shows and buying from reputable and experienced breeders who often bring to the show breeding quality rabbits from their stock that they are willing to sell. With that done, the real work can begin. With every great task undertaken, the devil is always found in the details and this is no less true than when working with the variables of genetics. Once the breeder is armed with a fundamental understanding of genetics plus the skill to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in his or her base breeding stock, that knowledge can be put to work matching prospective breeding pairs. The key to producing quality animals always rests with selective breeding to cultivate and enhance positive characteristics while culling out the less desirable. The design of the breeding program is the search for the elusive perfect rabbit.
In the search for perfection, probably few other rabbit breeds is the bar raised higher than it is for the Dutch. Considered the fancy rabbit, the pursuit of near perfection in its markings is a true test of patience and perseverance on the part of the breeder. In the case of the Dutch, it almost seems that if something can go wrong it will. From a cheek that is too long to stops that are uneven to a slight spot on the end of the nose, all are faults and imperfections that either can be a disqualification or at least points lost at the judging table. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complaint. On the contrary, it is a statement about what makes raising Dutch Rabbits so challenging and interesting. If it were easy to raise the perfect Dutch Rabbits everyone would be doing it. And what personal satisfaction would there be in finding success at something that offers no challenge.
The American Rabbit Breeder Association, (ARBA), recognizes 6 distinctive varieties of Dutch Rabbits, the Black, Blue, Chocolate, Gray, Steel, and Tortoise. Other varieties exist and are popular in European countries and else where around the world where these other varieties are recognized.
*Not Pictured - Steel & Tortoise
When showing the Dutch Rabbit, the general type makes up 50% of the judging points with the marking making up the other 50% for a total of 100 points.
The term “Type” refers to the pleasing coupling of proportion and contour in respect to the shape of the body, in combination with the appearance and proportion of its individual parts and how they all harmonize and give balance to the whole. Special attention is paid to the color of the fur, the eyes and the absence of distracting imperfections in either or to other parts of the body.
To be considered a show rabbit the body should be compact, having a close-coupled appearance with a nicely rounded back. From directly behind the head the rabbit should display an even pleasing curve up over the shoulders it its highest point at the loin and hips, then rounding off into full and smooth hindquarters. Looking from the top, the rabbit’s shoulders should be rounded but slightly narrower than the hips. The hips should be well rounded, smooth and full all the way to the base of the hindquarters with no protrusion of the hips to mar the total effect. The truly proportioned body of the Dutch rabbit is the picture of elegance.
The rabbit’s head should be rounded and full, not pear shaped, with a short neck making the head set close to the shoulders. Ideally not more than one and a half fingertip widths of the index and middle fingers should fit between the base of the head and the beginning of the shoulders on a senior animal, one over 6 months of age.
The ears should be stocky, well furred and carried erect. They should be in proportion to the size of the head and body of the rabbit.
The eyes should be bright and clear, free of spots or discoloration in the iris. The color of the iris must be the same in both eyes and must match the color specified for the variety. For example a Black, Chocolate, Gray, Steel, or Tortoise Dutch must have dark brown eye color. It is permissible for the Chocolate Dutch to have a ruby cast to the eyes. A Blue Dutch must have blue gray eye color. Any other eye color or eyes that are to light in color would be a disqualification.
Feet and Legs
The feet and legs must be straight and of the proper length and size to balance and be in harmony with the body of the rabbit. Toenails must be white in all varieties. Nails of any other color than white are a disqualification.
The fur should be short and dense while course enough in guard hairs to offer resistance when stroked backwards toward the head and when released the hair should fly back to its natural position and lie smooth over the entire body of the rabbit. The coat should have a rich high luster with a dense undercoat.
The qualities of fur color are very important and vary between the different varieties. The varieties of Black, Chocolate, and Blue coats should be very glossy and uniform with the color running deep toward the skin. The black and the blue varieties should blend into a slate blue under color at the base of the skin. The Chocolate varieties should blend into a bluish dove under color next to the skin.
The gray varieties are more complicated and should have what is called an agouti pattern, showing distinct bands of color on the hair shaft. Slate blue at the base, followed by medium tan, followed by charcoal brown and finishing with a lighter tan band. The colored portions of the body should have uniformly dispersed black guard hairs. A narrow strip of black hair should band the ears and the eye circles should be a narrow band of tan colored hair. The underbelly should be a white or cream surface color with a slate blue under coat. The top of the tail and bottom of the tail should complement the body colors.
With Steel varieties the colored portions of the body must be black with a uniform disbursement of off-white or cream coloration on a portion of the black hair tips. The undercoat should be slate blue and carried as deep towards the skin as possible. The underside of the tail, underbelly, and inside of the hind legs should be very near the body color.
The Tortoise color should be a bright, clean orange bleeding into smoky-blue shading over the lower rump and down the haunches. The top color runs down the hair shaft into the undercoat and blending into a cream color next to the skin. The shadings on the head is darkest at the whisker bed and blending into lighter shadings on the jaw and darkening again at the ear base and blending up the ears to match the body color. The underbelly is smoky blue shading including the underside of the tail.
It can be said that the Dutch rabbit is a white rabbit dressed in formal attire. It is the classic markings of the Dutch breed that make it the aristocrat of all show rabbits distinguishing it apart from any other breed. The proper placement, shape, colors, and balance of these markings in combination with excellence in General Type are the discriminating features that separate the Dutch Show Rabbit from the general population of its breed.
Anywhere that colored markings meet the white the point of joining is always to be clean, straight and crisp with no ragged or wavy lines and no drags where colored portions are drawn into or laid over what should be white. Drags can also occur at places where the white color runs into or over areas that should be colored.
Anywhere a colored area meets a white area the point of meeting is called a line. Lines must always be straight and even unless naturally curved such as the line of the checks as it follows the jawbone, but even then the line must always be even and smooth and absent of irregularities or drags. When they are not it is called a fault. Straight lines are called biased when they fail to follow the contours of the body at 90 degrees to the centerline of the torso or appendage. In other words a biased line is a line running diagonally across these body parts but is otherwise straight. An offset is a line that fails to maintain straightness in its course from one side of the body or appendage to the other. The offset line creates a jag where the line coming up from one side fails to meet the line coming from around the opposite side of the body or appendage. Curved lines, like those forming the cheeks, must meet different standards of perfection that are usually specified by a specific part of the skeletal or other anatomical part of body they follow. The shape of the curve these lines make is specific to the standards for perfection. When they fail to follow these standards they are considered faults. All faults count against a rabbit's total points score during judging.
The blaze is the wedge shaped white portion of the head covering the nose, whisker bed and tapering up between the eyes to the ears where it joins the hairline.
The cheeks make up the colored portion of the head and must be full, even, well rounded, and balanced on both sides of the blaze with no ragged or angular portions to disrupt the smooth curve of the joining line. The cheeks should come to but not run through the whisker bed and should follow the curve of the jawbone until meeting the line of the neck. At no point should there be drags into the throat, mouth areas, into the whisker bed, or below the jaw line. The line of the cheeks is to maintain an even curve throughout its course. Any portions than become angular are considered faults and will count against the point score. Perfection in the cheeks is one of the most difficult to achieve.
The neck is that portion of the collar behind the ears, it should be white, wide, and wedge shaped, free of any drags from the ear color into the neck or the neck into the ear color. The line should be clean and even with no raggedness.
Saddle and Undercut
The Saddle is the point on the upper body of the rabbit just behind the shoulders where the white fur of the collar meets the colored fur and creates a line that forms a perfect circle around the body. The Undercut refers to the under portion of the body and is a continuation of the Saddle and should run in an unbroken line close behind the forelegs but should not touch them. The Saddle and Undercut should both be straight, and even without being biased, offset, or show any noticeable drags or raggedness. A disqualification exists when the body color extends past the elbow joint onto the foreleg.
Stops are the white spats or stockings on the back feet starting from the toes and reaching up to a point one-third the length of the foot or hock but must never extend above the hock joint. It is important that they be of equal length. Clean cut on both feet, and form perfect circles around the appendage. That is to say the line should not be biased or offset. Nor can there be drags. A split Stop occurs when the body color runs down and between the toes and is a disqualification as is the case when the white stop runs above the hock joint.
The hairline is the thin line of white hair running from the top of the Blaze between the ears, entirely dividing the cheeks and ears and connecting the white Blaze to the white Collar behind the ears. The hairline is a desirable marking but is very difficult to achieve and no points are awarded nor taken away by it presents or absence. Sometimes only a partial hairline exists and fails to fully connect the Blaze to the Collar and may appear only as a spot of white between the ears. In such cases the spot is not considered a blemish or disqualification. A perfect hairline, however, can be the single discriminating mark of perfection that allows a judge to pick a best of show or breed over second best, or best of breed of opposite sex.