Scent marking by the male domestic rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is stimulated by an object's novelty and its specific visual or tactile characteristics

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“Chinning” is a stereotyped scent marking behavior of domestic rabbits, in which the animal rubs the underside of its chin against objects in order to deposit scent gland secretions. Although the long-term maintenance of chinning requires circulating gonadal steroids, little is known about the acute regulation of this behavior. To define specific environmental stimuli that engage the chinning motor pattern, male rabbits were placed into an open field arena containing markable objects (“standard” bricks, “tall” bricks, or polished onyx spheres), observed for 30 min, returned to the home cage for 5 min, and then placed in the open field arena for another 30 min. During the 5 min interim: (1) the location of the open field or the spatial orientation of the objects within it were changed, (2) the olfactory or (3) visual characteristics of the objects were changed; or (4) no changes were made. Chinning and ambulation habituated to each type of object across the first 30 min, and bricks elicited more chinning than polished onyx spheres. In the second 30 min test, chinning was re-stimulated only when the original objects were replaced by visually different ones that had preferred characteristics. Ambulatory behavior was increased by changing the location of the open field arena, while modifying the olfactory characteristics of the objects had no effect on chinning or ambulation. These results indicate that scent marking is stimulated by object novelty and by the visual and/or tactile characteristics of the objects being marked.

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