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As some of you may know I own two AMAZING female rats and they have a DCN. Currently I am living in my fiancée's parents basement but we are getting our first place march 1st! I bring my girls out onto my bed sometimes and they literally climb me reaching for their cage, like they don't want to be out, but when I put them back they both turn around and want to come back out. So I'm wondering for when I move, if their are any tips for starting to free range my girls? They will have their own room so I can close the door but I feel like they will just run back in their cage as soon as I taken them out. Thanks in advance!
 

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The odd bouncing back and forth is kind of common in rats. It's like one voice in their heads says... "run to safety" while the other says "lets explore" and their bodies are trapped in the middle. Think of it as thinking out loud for rats.

With time rats get more confidence and competence and learn to explore more...

Some rats can actually become very intrepid....

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Top tips are;

Start out in a small area at first, particularly if there have been any predator type species in the house before you (they can be scared of the smell). I tend to use a sofar, worksurface etc. You could cover it in a fleece throw which has their / your smell on it and then use it later too.

Once moving to full free range I would pick an area you can rat proof, its a lot less hard work, especially if you have more than a pair (I'm free ranging 10 together at the moment, they are a little swarm lol)

Expect them to be nervous and hesitant once out and about if the place hasn't had rats explore before. Rats lay down "scent trails" which are visible under blue light. In a place that's there territory the area is covered in them and they feel very confident running around. Its a rare and very self confident rats (and one with poor survival instincts lol) who will be completely confident and happy running through the middle of a completely new space.

Add a couple of "bolt holes" which are places that look and smell familiar in case they want to bolt back to them.

Fabric covered surfaces (like carpet) are less off-putting at first (possibly because they smell more natural or deaden sound better) than smooth surfaces like laminate flooring and tiles. You can chuck a fleece throw down if your floors a hard one at first, though my girls now race around the painted concrete floor of my rat room as they have scent trails down.

Don't worry if there jumpy or scared, don't coddle them or panic if they panic. Expect them to be jumpy at first and react calmly and normally when they are. If you panic or worry then they will have it reinforced.

Eventually they will adapt to the new space (how long varies a lot, some of mine will convince themselves an area is safe towards the end of there first hour, others will take a few weeks of skirting around the edges before crossing the floor with impunity) and their will be no stopping them.
 

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I have (right now) three separate groups that free range - 12, 3 and (was 6) 13, with a new group of 10 that I don't trust enough to let free range as a group yet. I've found that - at least with my group of 12 girls - Making a bridge from their cage, to the table, to the bed works well. If they want to come out and explore the table, they can do so, and likewise with the bed. Some of the girls don't like coming out at all, and I will put them on the table to make them explore at least a little bit. They spend some time exploring, and then they're happy to go back to their cage. Other girls I can't make stay IN the cage - they are ALL over the place. Phoebe and Anita especially. They usually want to be where I am, so if I'm at the table,they're hanging out on the table, or running to the bed, then back to me.

Oddly enough, the girls who are very outgoing and friendly, are the girls who were the exact opposite when I brought them home. I have a friend who lives a few minutes from me that has a rat friendly house (relatively speaking anyway). I'll take a couple ratties over there in a carrier, and let them hang out on my shoulder in my hood etc. Once they've gotten that exposure, they seem to do a 180. They get very outgoing and friendly at home and want to explore EVERYTHING.
 

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I have four boys that are semi-freerange (restricted to one room). They let themselves in and out of the cage as they please, and come running to me when I enter the room.

They're very comfortable with me and the room, but they still do the 'I want in, I want out' thing. My big shy baby, Birchal, does this the most, but I've found that if I help him into the cage every time he reaches for it, he's more likely to come out for longer the next time. I think it's a confidence thing, since even though he's the biggest, he's the shyest. By 'listening' to what he wants, he knows that he's the one in charge and that if he feels scared he can go back to the cage, and that he can come out again whenever he likes.

One of the biggest things I would say regarding freeranging is that your rats NEED to be litter-trained. I have the litter tray in the cage, and another set up on the other side of the room and my boys are 100% at using it for poops (though they still pee on everything XD)

Don't just think about the floor, but consider what furniture can be climbed. I thought my boys wouldn't be able to get onto the dresser, but then I saw my littlest one jump a metre straight up to scramble onto it. Also, check furniture for gaps underneath. I didn't realise my bedside table had a gap at the back (the front and sides didn't) until Bertie decided to camp under there to avoid getting medicine.

If your ratties like to stash food, try to find the stash spots otherwise you may end up with mouldy grossness.

I have a huge ant problem in general, and there are lots of spiders, so I have to be very dilligent about checking the room for bugs, because I believe Basil was born without self-preservation instincts. He is completely fearless and always curious; a very dangerous combination. He's already had several spiderbites from disturbing a nest and has not learnt caution. So I have to make sure there are no bugs or spiders or Basil will try to investigate them.

Take into account that the cage itself will become a thing to climb. The top of my boys' cage is 168cm high, and you know they perch at the top and preen. Basil likes to take a flying leap in my direction from the top (he's PE but aims very well), so if yours are jumpers, be wary of flying rodents aiming for your face.

Anything on the floor now belongs to them. Anything in the entire room now belongs to them. My boys grew much bolder after being freerange, having the confidence to steal socks, scarves, receipts, anything. They like trying to pull me into the cage by my sleeves, not sure if they want me or my jacket but it's hilarious.

Confidence isn't always good. One night I was out later than usual and got home after their usual dinner time. They have pellets all day, but twice a day I give them a dry mix and a veggie mix to top it up. I figured it wouldn't matter if they were fed a little later than usual, because they had plenty of pellets to tide them over. I got home about two hours later than usual and went to feed them. The tupperware container their dry mix is kept in is laying on its side with the lid chewed off and pieces of plastic everywhere. Four pairs of eyes are blinking at me, completely free of guilt, as if to say 'well you're the one that didn't give us dinner'. Their food is now kept in a metal tin and well out of reach. =/

They're cheeky and naughty, but I love my boys. It took a while for them to be used to free range, but it is so worth it. At the start I would sit right in front of the cage door and let them run out and in as much as they wanted. Now they are happy to entertain themselves when I'm not in the room (I can tell by the suspicious noises).
 
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