Immersion Training - The Guide
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Thread: Immersion Training - The Guide

  1. #1
    Squishy Laprat Rat Daddy's Avatar
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    Default Immersion Training - The Guide

    The Rat's Mind Set:

    I've only ever seen a single case of human - wild rat introductions, and it may not be typical, but I suppose I should start there...

    It was about 2 years ago and I brought my daughter to the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, NJ. We called ahead and were asked not to bring our shoulder rat with us, for her protection and the protection of the zoo animals. It was the only day that week that the zoo had late hours and closed pretty close to twilight. On the way out, my daughter spotted a small shadowy critter scurrying about in the ornamental shrubs planted between the zoo entrance and the parking lot. Naturally at 5 years old she was curious, moreover as a rat owner she pretty much knew what she was looking at. Moreover she wanted another rat badly, well she always want's more rats so nothing has changed there. So she asked me whether she could keep it if she could catch it and as any good father would say... "Sure, if it wants to come home with us you can certainly keep it."

    Now to be completely honest, our first rat was part-wild and I realized that there was absolutely no foreseeable outcome that would include us taking a new rat home that evening. The chances of a little girl actually (even one that smelled like a girl rat) catching a wild rat in an open area are so insignificant, that I didn't see any risk.

    Then something really strange happened, rather than just bolt off the little rat ran from bush to bush and let itself be pursued. And soon a second rat joined in and then a third, fourth and so on until my little girl was functionally surrounded by a truly bazaar number of small thin lightning fast wild rats all pretty much jumping across her feet. As she would start to chase one, another would cut in front of her to distract her and she was pretty much spinning in circles, swiping at them as they leaped by. Naturally, my original assessment of the situation had clearly changed, with so many rats coming so close the chances of my daughter actually becoming hands on were becoming quite good. So I ended the game.

    Still, this was phase one of immersion as done by wild rats themselves. And it looks very much like immersion as we humans provide it for our rats. My daughter who smelled very much like a female rat entered the territory of an established pack. She behaved very much like a new rat joining a pack, following the first member she met and all of the other rats popped out to meet and greet her. They stayed right in her face and kept her constantly engaged. They got closer and closer and pretty much challenged her. They were neither running away, nor were they attacking. I suppose if my daughter had sat down and acted submissively she might actually might have wound up getting groomed... But given my daughter wanted a new pet rat and not to join a new pack, that's where things would have very likely gone very wrong.

    All of the rats that participated in the experiment appeared to be young or female and I never saw a rat that might be considered an alpha giving direction, but it was getting dark and with the nature of how quickly things were evolving I was mostly focused on my daughter.

    I'm also going to add that I wouldn't recommend sending your own children into a huge wild rat pack intentionally. Wild rats bite fiercely if they feel threatened and they are unimaginably fast and agile.

    So there you have it... immersion is the method used by wild rats to meet. It has evolved over countless generations and it's part of every rat's firmware. When your rat first encounters you this is what he or she expects from you. Within half an hour of meeting the first foraging rat a couple of dozen members of the pack had each introduced themselves to the huge new rat in the territory and they were willing to sacrifice their normal foraging time to stay right on and right with the new potential pack mate. Introductions became the rat packs highest priority. Consider this carefully when reading forward.

    The Human Mind Set:

    In the example above we were dealing with very competent thinking animals. They had a very complex bond and social order. They had ritualized behavior and learned and adapted on the fly. Most importantly rats have colonized most of the world because they are intelligent animals with emotions. And rats communicate with each other and with their humans.

    The number one impediment in having great pet rats is humans not realizing they have them in the first place. Having an unsocialized rat in your house is equivalent of having a human teenager that hasn't been potty trained and hasn't been taught to speak. Imagine finding out your prom date wears a diaper and doesn't recognize his or her name. How many ways can a date like this end? And how many ways are likely to be good? An unsocialized rat is a miserable rat and they have an unhappy human. If you omit teaching your baby their name, how to communicate with you and basic potty training everything else you do with them will fail. They aren't going to school, they won't have friends, they won't drive a car and they will never hold a job or raise a family of their own.

    So before you begin to train your rat or rats, lets screw your head on straight. Your new rat is going to be your friend and a member of your family. He or she will learn the rules of your household, who is in charge and who his or her family is. There are no acceptable lowered expectations.

    It honestly scares me when I get inquiries that read... "I just want my rat to stop biting me", or "I just want my rat to stop being afraid of me." That's the equivalent of saying you want your prom date to be potty trained.

    Another example is the strange fellow that keeps a vicious dog in a cage he can't enter. I've actually seen this twice. In one case at a rural gas station after 10 years someone let the dog out to find out it was actually quite friendly. In the other case, the owner actually constructed a chain link box on a cement slab so the dog couldn't climb or dig out. Both dogs were quite miserable and unhandleable as long as they were caged.

    So what is the right mind set?

    First, respect your rat as a big competent intelligent and emotional being in a small package.

    Second, set your sights high. The object is to make a best furry friend and not a docile exhibit.

    Third, friendship takes time and commitment. Fish make good exhibit animals, rats and dogs do not do well without constant care, love and attention.

    Fourth, your rat is a pack animal, it needs to belong to a family. It needs someone to be it's leader and to protect and love it. It will go completely antisocial if it's emotional needs aren't met. There are no half measures here. If your parents only locked you in the closet on weekdays and let you out on weekends, you would not grow up to be normal. You need to accept the role as family head and alpha to your rat or rats, on a full time basis.

    Fifth, you have to communicate with your rat or rats. Rats don't come knowing English, so you need to learn basic rat. From the moment you first meet your rat it's trying to communicate with you. It might run up the the glass at the pet shop and want a treat or to go home with you, or in might tell you it's afraid and run and hide or it might tell you its the cage boss and take an aggressive stance to tell you to leave it's pack alone. But from the moment you press your nose to the glass in the pet shop you are the focus of your rat's attention and it's talking to you. You need to learn to listen.

    This is worth an example... Fuzzy Rat, our true shoulder rat came home as a pup out of a feeder bin. When the cover was opened she stood right up and climbed right onto my daughter's hand. I really didn't find her quite as attractive as some of the other rats in the bin so I got my daughter to put her back and try to handle some other rats, but whenever my daughter reached in Fuzzy Rat went right over to her and climbed back into her hand. I finally gave in and literally from day one, Fuzzy Rat has never stopped communicating with us. Two days ago, my daughter was playing on her I-pod with Fuzzy Rat in her lap, Fuzzy Rat felt ignored and tried to snip the I-pod cord. She did this to me once when I was listening to headphones and she's cut my phone cables and peed on my phone while I was talking. Simply put, she wanted to tell us she wanted more attention. She points in the direction she wants to be carried and gives kissies when you go the right way. She communicates and she wants to be understood. Amelia was a neglected rat for the first 7 months of her life. She was ignored and didn't even know her name. She was sad and miserable lonely and very much afraid. She's been with us for 6 months and she doesn't expect people to understand her too much, still she tries and she is actually very obedient, comes when called and will follow at heel indoors. When she wants to get out of the cage, she climbs the front of the bars and spreads her feet as widely as possible as in 'see me', or 'notice me'. But after 7 months of no one listening to her, she doesn't expect much understanding from her humans, even though she still hangs on our every movement and every sound. Even though she probably thinks we're too stupid to understand her, she still tried to understand us.

    Communication with your rats is critical, they expect it from you and you need to expect it from them. They will respond to you and you have to let them know you appreciate their effort. And when you do something they want you to do don't be surprised if they reward you.


    Before immersion will work, you need to understand the animal you are dealing with and you need to adjust your mind set. Like potty training in humans, it's only a small part of the process of socializing your rats into your family. Having gone through immersion with several people, it seems to suddenly start working when the humans get it. And it seems to produce amazing rats because the rats have amazing humans.

    Immersion socializes new rats, it fixes problem rats, it often eliminates rat on rat aggression, it builds trust, reduces shyness and cures many of the behavioral problems people have with their rats and it does it fast. Why? Because you are focusing on your rats needs and you are communicating in a way your rat can understand, and you are listening and letting your rat participate rather than just being trained. In short it's the way rats learn from each other. You are going to be speaking rat to your rats and they will be happy and excited to see you every day and they will love you as their dad or mom and their protector.

    Immersion grew out of a philosophy to better relate to rats, to center the focus on their needs and the way they do things and as a way to open a dialogue. If you don't get your mindset right it won't work right. What good is a successful immersion if you are going to throw it all away the next day?

    If you are new to rats, I know this all seems way over the top. But read the many threads by the many happy rat owners here, read the over the rainbow bridge section and see how many human hearts have been deeply touched by their little furry friends. And ask anyone with a rat or rat pack of their own if they feel loved by their rats. Take a close look at Fuzzy Rat meeting a brand new human friend and think about what she's trying to communicate in the photo. Let go of your lowered expectations and prepare for one of the most wonderful friendships of your life.

    So this ends lesson one... Once you drink the Kool-Aid the rest will get so much easier. If you just can't accept your rats as intelligent, communicative emotional beings immersion won't work right for you and you will be locking yourself into a small space with a frustrated and potentially vicious rat and that just won't end well. Immersion requires that you act and react to your rat's needs properly on the fly in a confined space over a long period of time. If you get it, your rats will get it and you will walk out with your new best buddy riding your shoulder. Not to worry, immersion has worked on some very clueless humans with some very screwed up rats. The actual procedure is pretty easy and it's very fast.
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    My rat was smarter than your honor student.

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  3. #2
    Squishy Laprat Rumy91989's Avatar
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    YAY IT'S FINALLY UP! Thank you for posting! I always love reading your stories, and your advice and experience are invaluable.
    *Anya & Tati*
    R.I.P. Nora, Euhpie, Edea, Riku, Totoro, Lulu, and Yuki.




  4. #3
    Zooming Fuzlet Moonferret's Avatar
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    Theres some very interesting information here, I look forward to reading some more!
    ~ Moonferret

  5. #4
    Skritch Lover Hephaestion's Avatar
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    An invaluable contribution!
    The Mischief: Maud, Constance, Peig, Monica & Hillary

  6. #5
    Squishy Laprat Rat Daddy's Avatar
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    Default Immersion: The Practice

    You always start immersion right away!

    Imagine if you were adopting a new child. So you go down to the orphanage and you pick a child running about with it's friend's in the yard and you have someone shove him or her into a big cardboard box and stuff it into the back of your SUV. As soon as you get home you get all of your relatives and friends to carry the big box to your child's new bedroom, you open the door and the lid of the box and you fling your new son or daughter into the bedroom as quickly as possible and lock the door. Now you let your new kid acclimate to their new room for a couple of months, sliding food and treats in through the barred windows and occasionally reaching in to pat his or hear head. This is exactly the experience that many rats face when they leave the pet shop. Sometime people adopt two rats, so complicate the case by tossing two kids that never met before into the same bedroom.

    If a sane relative or the State department of social services doesn't stop you, you are very likely to experience certain behavioral problems with your new kids that aren't going to be easily fixed by a lifetime of therapy.

    In part one of this article, I began with recognizing your rat as a rational thinking and emotional being. Now I'll take it a small step farther. Rats are used in most psychology labs around the world as models for human behavior. Basically rats react much like humans, so the converse is also true. Your new rat is likely to react very much like the child you locked into their room to "acclimate". They are going to get hostile, anxious, frightened and antisocial in every which way imaginable.

    And yes, the damage started at the big box chain pet shop or even at the commercial breeder's rat farm, much like a kid could get screwed up at the orphanage.

    So how do we start?

    At the store, or breeder's start to get to know your rat. Try to take him or her out of the cage and handle him or her... this doesn't always work out as expected, but if the rat attacks you at the store or tries frantically to escape, you are dealing with an animal that's already screwed up. That's not to say you can't salvage this rat, just recognize and understand that it is going to make immersion much harder. The screwed up rat is damaged and you will be undoing damage caused by other people before you can start to make progress. The ideal choice is a rat that's inquisitive and friendly. Try to start here. If possible try to interact with your rat as much as possible in the car ride home. Most of the rat pups and even adult rats we've brought home rode in my daughter's lap. And open air cage might be next best and keep the stress level down as much as possible. If you are using a cage to transport your rat home, keep talking to your new rat and try to reach in and be as reassuring as possible. Immersion has begun.

    Once your new child or rat gets home, what does he or she want to do first? (Well after they find the bathroom.) Do they want to get used to their new room or meet their new family? Mostly, they want to meet the family. You start getting to meet your adopted children before you show them their new room and so you start to meet your new rats before you show them their new cage. You guide your rats through the confusing and difficult transition between their former home and their new home. And you take advantage of their disorientation to gain the upper hand and your alpha status while the new rat comes to see you as friend and protector.

    So your new rat doesn't get lost you should pick a nice safe roomy place to get acquainted. If you have chosen wisely and your rat isn't all hostile or terrified or otherwise screwed up this is going to be lots of fun for both you and your new rat. Spread an old blanket or work on a tile floor as accidents might happen, bring a pocket full of treats like cookies or cereal or something sweet and oh so bad for your rats with you and sit down right on the floor with your rat.

    Now remember the example of the rats immersing my daughter... they stayed right in my daughters face and didn't let up for a moment. She got their undivided attention. And you are going to do the same. You poke, skritch scoop, pet, cuddle and most of all talk to your new rattie. Use it's name over and over and over again, exactly the same way. Rats are very precise animals and Chuck, Charlie, Charles and Chuckles are very different words to them. Choose a single name and eventually a single command for each desired action and stick with it, precisely.

    The first thing your new rat might do is look for the shortcut home. Wouldn't you? So if it starts checking the area perimeter that's what it's doing. No disrespect to you, but it may have left family behind at the store or the breeders, so give it a few minutes to recognize it's now somewhere new and things are changing. That should be over pretty quickly and now you are listening for the next thing your rat is going to tell you. In order from best to worst:

    Option one: It going to run up to you looking for attention. Prior human experience tells your rat you aren't all bad. Your rat is terrified and it's alone and it wants protection and you are about the closest thing to a friend it has. Respond to this behavior by sheltering it with your hands, talk softly, bring it in towards yourself and try to hug it as much as possible. Keep it up until your rattie starts to feel more comfortable and resumes exploring the room tagging back to you every few minutes for reassurance. Once you feel comfortable that your rat isn't terrified of you and is comfortable in the area, you can start a little chase game and be a little assertive, even a little aggressive. Stay in your rats face, maintain contact and direct the play. If your rat accepts treats and affection so much the better. But keep it up until you are both pretty much exhausted. It's over when you can skritch your rat's belly or ears and it doesn't object or seems to appreciate the attention. In fact you should get the feeling your new rat really wants to be with you and it's watching you for direction and leadership. Part one is the meet and greet part two is asserting your alpha status. In part three, you reward your new subordinate and your rat appreciates being rewarded and protected. There's no rush, take at least a couple of hours of play to make sure you are the alpha.

    Option two: Your rat won't acknowledge you at all. This rat has already learned that humans don't care and don't listen. It doesn't dislike you, but overall it doesn't expect anything from you either. For this guy or girl you really have to get in it's face and make it realize you are trying to communicate with it. You are not the walk by customer in the pet shop or the drop food and scoot employee, you are the new alpha rat. You keep after your new rat until it notices you and has to respond to you. This is a pretty normal reaction for a pet shop rat. And once it notices you it's going to try and communicate with you. Sometimes like in our best case scenario it's going to try and make friends right away, but just as likely it's going to challenge you.

    In both option one and two, a mock combat is normal, possible and likely. It's the way rats meet and greet each other. It establishes the ground rules and the pack order. If your rat likes you it's very likely going to attack you. Not to worry, normal rats don't draw blood. The fight is for show not to inflict injury. Our first rat was a part-wild rat and it could leap from my desk to my face and it would bite fast and repetitively and make a big show of being the aggressor. It's attacks were so violent and swift it would really take a person off guard. In our case it started when she was about 6 weeks old. But this can happen with older rats right during immersion. After the first or second outright attack I suddenly realized that I had been bitten several times both in my hands and my face... but I wasn't bleeding. In fact, shock value aside I was absolutely unharmed. So I swatted back and a battle ensured that involved my rat leaping from desk to table to floor and at me from all kids of angles, Eventually I grabbed the little monster and gave her hugs and skritches. To which she responded by submitting to my authority and accepting my status as alpha and her role as pack member. My poor 5 year old daughter was more than a little terrified by her new pet, but after she saw me survive the conflict without getting bit she jumped in and established her alpha status too. Our part-wild girl never actually got domesticated, she remained a hazard to small animals and a danger to strangers, but for my daughter and myself she was as loving and manageable as any domestic rat.

    Option Three: The hostile and aggressive rat...

    Well you are here because you chose poorly at the pet shop or you neglected your rat once you brought him or her home. This rat doesn't like you, it doesn't respect you and perhaps it good reason to hate you. If it has a roommate, it's likely being aggressive towards him or her and you don't dare put your fingers into it's cage... it's actually defending itself, it's territory and it's pack from you. This is not a pet rat, and it's not an option. Biting rats are not pets, never or ever. And you better clear your calendar if you intend to fix this mess.

    So we start out with thick pants a jacket or sweat shirt leather work or winter gloves a bath towel or towels and maybe a hat for protection. You are preparing for combat with an enemy that's agile mobile and hostile and smart to boot. You can bring treats, but don't expect them to help much up front and don't waste your time offering them or hugs or skritches to begin with. You are not going into immersion to make peace or surrender. You are going in to have a fight and to win and earn respect. You are going to be the alpha rat and alpha rats don't take crap from their pack members. Get yourself into a defensive position up a stair or against the wall, rats are fast and smart and they can circle around you and if you jump around you might step on your rat. If you have multiple rats, start with the worst most aggressive one first. Fix him or her and the others will be easier. Then bring your little monster into the confined area. It's best that it's not too confined so both you and your adversary have some maneuvering room and turn him or her loose. Most likely the rat will be a little disoriented, which is good, get right in the rats face, take the offensive. Swat and bop (lovingly) as necessary, use the gloves and the towel to manage any attacks your rat launches. You win every exchange and don't back off or back down or get interrupted or distracted. Maintain eye contact. You can slow down the hostile rat by tossing a towel on him. But don't try to handle the rat until it starts to calm down and stops attacking you and don't try to give treats or hugs or skritches to a rat that is being hostile... You are not bribing it you are defeating it.

    Yes, this sounds pretty harsh, and it sounds pretty unpleasant, but this is what a rat expects from an alpha rat. If you were a real alpha rat and your subordinate attacked you, it would be bleeding and possibly dead. You have to maintain your presence of mind and not cause undue harm to your rat, but you have little to lose; a vicious rat is not a pet and should not be kept in your household. You are fighting for your rats very life so take this deadly seriously.

    And you don't stop and you don't break up this session... it takes however long as it takes.... one hour, maybe three hours even eight hours; it doesn't matter. If you quit the rat feels it's won and your next session will be that much harder and longer.

    Suddenly something strange will happen... Your rat will stop attacking you, it might even roll over onto it's back. It may let you scoop it up. You notice you're talking and using it's correct name in a calm voice rather than shouting and swatting. It should feel like someone somewhere threw a switch. Your rat may have actually been getting more hostile before the switch throws rather than calming down. But this is the kind of experience commonly reported by humans going though immersion with their aggressive rats.

    Your rat is communicating with you, it's acknowledging respect and submitting to your alpha authority. Sorry, it's not over!!!! As the alpha rat it's now your job to welcome your new pack member into your pack. Scratch his or her ears, and belly if possible, pick your rattie up and handle it assertively offer treats and hugs and skritches and again don't stop, stay in it's face. There's no giving up or backing down now, and both you and your new little friend are going to be tired but you are now at phase one of option one above, meeting your new best furry friend. Alpha rats have a long ritualistic welcoming process that involves grooming the new submissive rat and playing with them, so don't screw everything up by stopping once the battle phase is over. That's just half the process, you win the war with affection and treats after you win the battle for respect.

    Summary so far:

    If your mindset is correct going in, you are going to recognize, aggression, inquisitiveness, fear, submission, respect and finally affection from your rat and you are going to respond very much as you would to an adopted child and you are going to try to communicate back the correct responses that your new rat is expecting, in the way and order it expects to hear, feel and see them. This is a bonding process not a training process it instills mutual respect as the basis for affection.

    Again, this is a one shot, strait through, many hour process, just like rats do it in the real world. Yes, it takes a while but you shortcut weeks, if not months of trust training or forced socialization.

    Remember, you never work in the rat's cage, that's it's turf an you are starting out as an invader and there is no benefit to waiting between sessions or postponing immersion, it only makes the rat more anxious. There is nothing to be gained by short sessions, they do more harm than good as your rat learns it can drive you off or escape your authority.

    So before I move on to immersion as it applies to pack building and introductions, let me conclude by saying that everything you accomplished in immersion can easily be undone through neglect or mistreatment. Day one of immersion is no more critical than every day that follows it. If you go away for a couple of weeks after completing immersion you are likely to return with a worse problem than you originally faced. Immersion is followed by building a permanent, durable and consistent relationship in which you as the alpha human manage your rat pack hands on every day.

    IMG_0316.JPG

    Before I forget: special credit goes to the truly amazing Fuzzy Rat who never gave up on trying to communicate with us and to teach us and my daughter Emily who just had a gift for understanding even when I couldn't.
    Last edited by Rat Daddy; 04-17-2013 at 03:48 PM.
    My rat was smarter than your honor student.

  7. #6
    Squishy Laprat Rat Daddy's Avatar
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    Default Immersion: The miracle cure?

    OK so we all know there isn't really a miracle cure for anything... or do we?

    When the normal socialization process breaks down all kinds of bad things happen. Some rats become terrified and introverted, others become territorial and aggressive, some become neurotic or depressed and even physically sick.

    Some rats try and establish their own pack order and dominate their cagemates, and things get even more messed up when some of your rats belong to your pack while other cagemates don't respect your authority.

    So we see a broad spectrum of problems, none of which make much sense out of context. Once you've consumed the Kool-Aid and you see your rats through the right eyes it all starts to make sense. Think about it, some people have large and well behaved rat packs while other folks are working on their fourth behavioral neuter and are still having issues. Can one person really be so good at choosing better rats and someone else so unfortunate?

    The answer is no.

    One person has established a proper social pack order in their home and has great two way communication with their rats, while the other person still sees and treats their rats as small unintelligent animals.

    I'm throwing no stones... but you know the folks with amazing rats, they are the amazing rat owners. Read their comments carefully and really listen to their mindset... they know something you don't, they understand their rats and they have actual individual relationships with them. Watch someone really good handle their rats, they are always talking to and watching their rats behavior, look closely and you will see an actual dialogue going on. This is the result of proper immersion. Even before immersion had a name or was a technique, the best rat trainers understood all of it's principles intuitively. Likely there are some people reading this right now thinking about how much cyberspace I'm wasting in explaining what has been obvious to them all along.

    So lets talk about a few ways immersion is going to improve your life with your existing rat problems.

    Introductions 101.. the immersion way. Before you even think of getting a new rat, you need to have order in the pack you already have. All of your rats should be responding and communicating with you and they should be playing well together. All rats squabble a little, especially over food but there should be no injuries, overgrooming or bloodletting. If you have an aggressive rat start by taking him through immersion. In my experience a rat that's aggressive towards it's roomies is also hostile towards it's humans. The rat absolutely needs to respect you as it's alpha before you can even begin to fix it. Once you fix the worst rat, you do immersion with the other pack members too. Every rat in your mischief needs to be on the same page or the battle goes on. This should go pretty quickly and you run the individual immersion sessions back to back or day after day depending on the severity of the problem... Then you bring everybody out and manage the play sessions. If you see aggression or hostility communicate your displeasure in no uncertain terms. Every rat needs to know you are their protector as well as every other rat's personal body guard and there is only one alpha in charge and that's you. If my girls get into a tiff, I can shout "Girls stop fighting" from three rooms away and the action stops instantly.

    Now that you have order in your pack you can introduce a new pack member. First take you new rat through immersion as you would any new rat. Once your new rat has accepted you as it's alpha, you introduce everyone else to the neutral play area and you manage the madness. Your old rats know you and they know you are in charge and by accepting the new rat in front of them you are setting the example you expect them to follow. Yes, there are going to be skirmishes during the immersion introduction and you have to play it by ear, when to intervene and when to let nature take it course, so you have to stay right in the middle of the action. And you will see some rats submitting and others doing the grooming but overall it will end with everybody roaming about happily like they were all life long friends. For a time there's likely to be lots of butt sniffing going on as everybody confirms everyone else's identity. Then put everybody into their freshly cleaned cage and stay close by to watch for signs of aggression. Continue the process until everybody is asleep in one big furball.

    Be warned, immersion might not work with rat pups that can't properly respond to older rats and can't defend themselves, especially when females are involved. But it usually works with rats of the same age or at least rats that are reasonably mature. Female rat pups might not be good candidates for introductions to certain older females rats, and the aggression involved in rejecting the new rat pup can really come back later on to screw up the pup for life. In nature no three or four week old rat pup is likely to go out and try to join a new pack so I imagine no rat pack has a hard and fast rule as to what it should do when a pup wanders in. In fact by accepting the pup, it might face an angry mom that might not be too far behind. This is an unnatural situation that can have unexpected consequences and should be best left avoided.

    As to conventional wisdom... It doesn't hurt to give everybody a bath or spray a similar scent on every rat, but in reality rats sniff each other's butts, they aren't stupid and they know if they've never met a certain rat before. Really, it's like dressing all of your kids alike and sneaking a new child into your home, do you really think your other kids aren't going to notice? And when it comes to putting cages side by side, what are your rats really learning? There are strangers in the house, their home is being invaded and they can't reach out and communicate with them. Worse yet the new rat won't come and meet them and for the new rat he's got to be wondering why this new pack won't come and meet him. Rats do immersion when they meet, ugly or pretty, it happens when their noses touch. Or rather when they sniff each other's butts. It's exciting and fast paced but it's over as fast as any other phase of immersion. I can't see any benefit to prolonging the agony.

    As to the host of other strange behaviors you are facing always start out by analyzing your rat's relationship with you. Are you the alpha, does your rat love and respect you? If no, always fix that first. Then make sure everybody is on the same page and then start using your communication channels to change the deviant behaviors your rats are displaying.

    Learn basic rat language and listen, get your rats out of their cages, immerse them or re-immerse them, be the alpha, invest the time and manage your pack and work with your rats to resolve them. You can't fix a rat until it respects, trusts and loves you. After you have gained their respect, and trust and your rats love you, anything is possible.

    As to hormonal aggression, science tends to indicate that rats that think they are alphas get higher hormone levels, which in turn ratchets up their aggressive behavior which in turn pushes up their hormone levels again. If you never let your rats get confused in the first place about their pack status or you immerse them out of it before it gets too far along, chances are that surgery can be avoided. But if it's lack of proper socialization that caused the hormonal aggression, it's an aggressive anti-social rat juiced on hormones that isn't going to make immersion any easier.

    Although everything has limits, once you do the immersion and your rats are on the right page and you are communicating, there are very few things you can't fix... from housebreaking to fighting to shyness or aggression. And there are very few things you can't teach your rats once you can communicate with them.

    Some things aren't easily fixable like Amelia stealing cookies by the box or Fuzzy Rat disconnecting electronic appliances by snipping the wires to get attention. And sometimes you have just got to love them for who they are and not try to make them something they aren't. Your very best trained rat that understand every command is sometimes going to do the exact opposite because it just doesn't agree with you. Rats will be rats, and they will always be quirky.

    Footnote to the limits of immersion:

    Immersion can't solve the worst problem facing rats today on a long term basis. Too many humans simply don't have the time to be the alpha's their rats need. Most rats that get screwed up by neglect can be fixed by immersion, but if immersion isn't followed by a proper family or pack living arrangement with a human alpha omnipresent and in charge it's all time wasted.

    A rats life is short, their time is precious. Once they are immersed into your pack and they feel safe and happy, they will make you happy. If they feel loved and respected they will return the feeling to you. If you set high goals for your rats they will never cease to amaze you. As your bond grows and your trust grows your rats will evolve right before your eyes. Don't let your rats waste their lives trapped alone in their cages.

    Beware, you might see your rats in photos like these if you drink the Kool-Aid. (Although few rats can be true shoulder rats, and you shouldn't try this at home without reading my much more advanced course on shoulder rats and the pages of warnings that come with it, immersion is where everything starts and the sky is the limit... literally.)


    at heel on beach.jpg
    Just taking Fuzzy Rat for a swim at the beach.

    IMAG0064.jpg

    Look Dad, I'm 30 feet up and No Hands!
    (You trust me don't you?)
    Last edited by Rat Daddy; 04-17-2013 at 05:58 PM.
    My rat was smarter than your honor student.

  8. #7
    Super Moderator cagedbirdsinging's Avatar
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    Moved thread to the behavior forum and stickied. Thank you, Rat Daddy, for sharing your invaluable training experiences!

    Ivan, Isaak, Henrik, Ulrik, and Asa's mama!
    "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings? And yet not one of them is forgotten by God." - Luke 12:6
    Rest well, sweet girls. Penelope, Paisley, Willow, and Ivy.

  9. #8
    Squishy Laprat Rat Daddy's Avatar
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    I might want to add a tiny footnote before I forget... Rats preen when they think deep rat thoughts. If your rat begins preening during immersion, it's really thinking and possibly changing the way it's thinking about you or how to interact with you. This is a very good thing... don't disturb your rats thinking process. (He or she might be having a light bulb moment.) Let it preen and think when it needs to, it's often the precursor to a change in your rats behavior, then when the preening is over you go right back to the immersion process watching closely for any changes in your rat's behavior.

    This is a photo of Fuzzy Rat thinking about getting rained on and what she should be doing about it. Your rats should look about the same.
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    My rat was smarter than your honor student.

  10. #9
    Skritch Lover BlackBirdSeesYou's Avatar
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    how would you go about immersion training if you got two or more new rats at the same time?

    do you begin with just one or do you bond with them both at the same time?
    ~Kurt and Eddie ,partners in crime~

  11. #10
    Squishy Laprat Rat Daddy's Avatar
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    This is a very fine question and it depends on the severity of the condition you find your new rats in and your experience level. With normal, friendly non-aggressive rats, immersion can be done as a group romp with lots of one on one time with each and time with both as the format allows, but you should be prepared for it to take longer, think ultra-marathon. However if one of your new rats is aggressive and/or bites, you take him or her on first. Then once you have immersed him bring in the second less or non-aggressive rat and take him through the process next, the first immersed rat can participate after you get the immersion done with the second. This immersion and introduction process can be done in one extended marathon and it ends with everybody playing nicely together as long as you can maintain control of the action.

    This isn't a matter of better science or theory, its simply a matter of personal safety. Rats can be fast and agile and can maneuver around you and take a nasty bite out of something important to your physical well being. So you want to challenge the nastiest most aggressive one first while you are at your sharpest and fastest and you don't want to get distracted by a second anything in the room with you. Towels, gloves and thick clothes and boots help, but quick reflexes, focused concentration and nerves of steel are going to make much quicker work of immersing a vicious rat.

    I've owned a part-wild rat and her normal pack order play fighting consisted of her lunging at my face from four feet away. Gladly the first time it happened and I missed the catch I discovered that the 10 or so bites she took out of my face didn't actually draw any blood and she was only pretending to tear me to pieces. She was barely 6 weeks old. Several months later I blocked her from killing a small animal I was holding in my hand, her strike missed that animal and I found out just what a real rat bite feels an looks like. It's something you seriously should try to avoid! If you are working with a dangerous rat, it's one on one and you stay on the attack and I mean attack until it backs down and acknowledges your authority, one second of distraction can take you to the hospital with an unfortunate piercing. If you somehow find yourself starting out with multiple vicious rats at once you do one at a time keeping the immersed rats isolated until everybody respects your authority and then you do the immersion rat introductions bringing one rat in after another until everyone plays as a group.

    So while theoretically you should be able to lock yourself into a room with a pack of wild rats and assert your alpha status and do a single immersion/introduction ultra-marathon session... theory must give way to safety or you will be spending quality time explaining immersion on your insurance claim forms.

    You form your plan of attack based on the rats and your confidence and experience level. Group, or one on one and then group both will work well and quickly... but one on one and then group is always safer and easier. It may not be the way I might go personally, but it's the way I would recommend it to anyone less experienced than myself.
    Last edited by Rat Daddy; 04-21-2013 at 03:04 AM.
    My rat was smarter than your honor student.

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