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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I see this term all the time. I know it's possible to rat-proof your home, but ddo you guys really just let the rats out to do their own thing, and then *leave the room*?! Mine are only babies so maybe that's why it seems odd to me! She doesn't try to escape when I have her out but I like to watch her to be careful, as our apartment isn't rat-proof yet!
So... tell me about your ratties' free time--do you leave them unattended, for how long? In some type of pen, or just in a room? The best play area my rats like is the couch covered in a sheet, they never try to leave the couch even if I do pop out of the room for something. When we're done renting we'll probably have a rat room, but in the meantime, I'm interested to hear about your methods for free ranging the rats!
Related: does anyone have a rat who has range of the whole house, maybe only spending the nights in the cage? This intruiges me, I'd love my rats to be able to run around like dogs, choosing when to see me and when to not. If only they were bigger and less good at escapes!
 

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Rat Daddy has full time free range for his rats, I think?


I close off the kitchen for mine every single day, which involves removing a lot of what's in there and sealing the doorway with a plywood board.
It's a hassle, but we live in the tiniest apartment and there's stuff everywhere - it's impossible to permanently rat proof anywhere. :(
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Maybe that was who I saw mention it, hopefully they chime in!
I've had some luck with clearing out the bathroom; unfortunately they think it's a game called "find the hole in the rat-proof defenses." :p
 

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Rats are born very much like little children and if you keep them in a cage they don't develop too much intellectually. But keep in mind their wild relatives, not so distantly removed free range forests, wastelands, subways, factories, dumps and human homes... Go to the most dangerous and forsaken places on earth and you will find rats surviving and thriving there.

Teaching your rat to be free range competent in your home is sometimes a bit tricky, but it's what rats are designed to do and to be.... In fact, even mice can learn to live quite compatibly with humans in a house, it doesn't even take a rat's superior intelligence. That said, rats tend to chew things and they can cause a bit of damage especially to electrical wires. Somehow they are pretty good about not getting shocks, but they can leave a fire hazard behind.

As to how indoor competent a rat gets depends on how young you begin it's education and how you teach it... To some degree it depends on the rat too.... Some rats are more destructive than others, some will destroy things to get attention, others might even do it out of spite... And some steal... Many rats become very indoor competent and are great housemates other's not so much... Overall most rats tend to learn and obey the rules of the house with help from their humans... But lock your valuables up safely, don't leave money and check laying around and check your wires from time to time... stealing and chewing is part of what rats do... some property damage comes with the territory...

Also, don't walk in dark rooms where rats free range to avoid stepping on them and be careful about opening and closing doors... careless footsteps and doors kill rats.

As to how competent a rat can get....

Land lot Road Property Residential area Asphalt

The little white dot next to the black trash can was Fuzzy Rat walking back to the car as we followed at a distance... And yes she could find our car from over a quarter mile away. Think about it, during your travels anywhere, did you ever see a wild rat wandering around looking lost? With patience and training, even pet rats actually have the ability to evolve into pretty amazing animals...


Best luck..
 

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I forgot to add, that Fuzzy Rat was a true shoulder rat, and practically raised outdoors. As competent as she was on the beach or at the park, she was actually pretty destructive indoors as she liked to chew things when she was bored or wanted attention...

Still, true shoulder rats are rare personalities and usually highly trained or experienced animals. Please don't take your rats outdoors without proper testing and training... you will get them lost of killed... Rats aren't born competent even if many of their abilities are innate they have to be taught to become competent.

People shouldn't see their rats as helpless fur balls, they are so much more than that... but just like humans rats develop skills and competence with time and training...

That said, rats can amaze you!
 

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My rats are let out of their cage very often, for about 1-3 hours everyday, depending on whether I have college or not.
I do leave them unattended and they run freely around my room, with the cage open. I will leave them for about 20 minutes while I make and eat lunch (ever tried eating when rats are around? such a pain XD) and then I will go back upstairs and stay with them (i'm your typical teenager, I dont like to leave my room XD)

I fully trust one of my girls; Roxi. I will happily leave her running around my room while I go downstairs. I mean, one time, I forgot she was in my room when I left (luckily I always close my door when I leave!) and when I came back in, 2 hours later, she was happy as can be :p Yes, I had a small hole in one top, but that was it!

I must say, leaving all 5 of my girls unnattended isn't 100% safe. Although my room is 100% safe for them, me coming into the room, means I have to open the door. And when they hear me opening the door... they all come running! and I get swarmed by my ratties all trying to make a break for it XD Very stressful trying to grab 5 rats at once, restrain them and get them all back in the room! haha
 

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Free range is the main time to interact with rats and bond. I always recommend staying with them.

Mine have a corrogated cardboard pen and get at least an hour out with me though sometimes I'll leave them for as many as eight hours.
 

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I have one older rat who I trust enough to be allowed pretty much in the whole flat, I rent so I'm a bit apprehensive about letting them all out as any damage is going to cost me! However Benny is amazing he doesn't chew anything and he always checks in with me. I used to just close off all the rooms and let my three little ones have the corridor and bathroom with toys etc and I'd sit with them for about 2 hours and play. Now I'm starting to let them play in the bedroom and trusting them a bit! It depends on the rat, but they are capable of being good :D
 

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Wilder was free range full time. All day all night. He was free to run around the house. He didn't leave my room much though. Sometimes if I was in another room he would come find me. Rocco is free range part time. I only put him away if I leave the house for long periods of time. He would probably be fine if I left him out 24/7. Both Rocco and wilder went to the cage to eat and drink, but go to the bathroom under the cage. So weird. Neither of them chew on anything unless they are trapped in the cage.
 

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I try to rat proof but I'm lazy and probably don't do a very good job. I don't trust my rats for long periods of time because they like to touch what isn't theirs and they like to break things. I just let them out to run around my room, mostly they follow me around and drive me nuts. I fall asleep a lot while they're free ranging and always wake up to at least one rat staring at me from my pillow
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks for all these fascinating replies!
Rat Daddy, I've read stuff by you about your Fuzzy Rat; honestly she sounds like she was pretty wonderful to know.
My current rat Dagny is pretty undestructive; the closest I've come to "leaving her alone" would be having her on a surface she already is used to, like the couch, and briefly stepping out of the room to get or do something. I've never had her chew any wires, but she's never been left alone by any either! The only thing she ever chewed she wasn't supposed to was a hole in a sweater, and i'm the type not to care at all about little holes.
When I'm done renting and have my own place the serious rat-proofing will likely start. Dunno if I'll ever get to full "free range" status, but i love the idea of giving them the freedom my dogs or cats have. I'm glad to have learned of this early in my ratting career, she's still young and pliable to training.
I should work on building them some type of pen... cardboard sounds cheap and pretty unclimbable.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I should mention though--she HATES being on the floor! If I let her out and absolutely never restrict where she goes, all she does is crawl all over me!
 

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This is actually quite normal for a bonded animal. Children, monkeys and rats will naturally stay near their mom's for safety. Then they will explore further and further away. At first it may only be a few steps and then they will jump back up on you, then just a little bit farther and then they will run to a dark, safe place which is where lots of first time rat trainers panic and start taking their houses apart... If you rat is bonded to you, she will come back out to you on her own in a little while, once she feels safe enough to step out into the open again. If your rat is actually not bonded to you or is afraid of you, you might as well start taking the house apart... But by picking the first dark place your rat runs to, you can test your bond without removing any sheet rock. When Max was a little girl she had a fetish for bulldozers and backhoes, knowing she was bonded to us meant we had to wait for her to get tired of exploring and recovering a pretty greasy rat, but there was no reason to panic, given time she would pop back out looking for us. Normal rat owners might substitute a dresser or bed for the bulldozer when they run this test indoors... but it's the same thing... If your rat comes out to you from under the bed, it will most likely come back out from inside a bulldozer... eventually.

Fuzzy Rat was actually a very remarkable animal, she had an extreme tolerance to stress, she wasn't fearless, foxes and owls would really freak her out, but most things like wide open spaces didn't bother her in the least. And like most rats, she loved to explore... your rat might climb onto your bed, she would climb to the top of a tree, your rats might explore your bedroom, she would slip off into a hedge or shrub planting, your rats might find their way to the cage, she would lead us back to the front door from the playground half a mile away... Your rats might tell you they want food or ask to be picked up, she would ask to go outside and lead us around the park or walk at heel... And she wanted an amazing bond with her humans, and kept reaching out to us until we understood her needs which became the basis of immersion theory. She was very much like every other rat, just on a grand scale. Every rat owner wonders if their rat is trying to tell them something, with Fuzzy Rat we didn't have to wonder, she would keep it up until she was sure we understood.

The strange lesson we learned wasn't so much that we were dealing with a Frankenrat, but that all rats have certain core emotional needs and amazing abilities they just don't know how to express.

It blew my mind when I realized that many rat owners still saw their rats as incompetent and helpless. Or worse yet they saw their rats as only being able to respond to basic stimuli, smart in the sense of a lab rat that can push a bar for a reward or learn to run a maze and perhaps learn to associate a human with food... which isn't very smart at all. Some folks were still teaching their rats to spin for treats while our rat was swinging in the treetops munching on tiny leaves and catching the breeze while watching the world go by underneath her or leading a mob of teenagers on a foraging mission around the park. I can't describe the look of satisfaction she had when she would stop and wait for the mob of kids to catch up and she knew they were following her... or how happily she would preen up on those thin branches, or how smug she would look after she came back from some daring adventure when she escaped from us and came back out of the woods... or how angry she would get when we wouldn't let her go into a poison bait station or rat trap... (there are limits to what you can let even a brilliant rat do). But she not only became competent, she became a real diva and she would do meet and greets with dozens of children and adults, giving each their own ratty kiss and rather than just spinning for treats we would get a group of people to hold hands and form a big circle, and she would walk the circle from shoulder to shoulder, person to person until she got back to us while all of the humans laughed and giggled... Now that was a trick involving a dozen humans and a rat... sometimes she would stop and plant a little kiss on the girl's cheeks as she went by. And when we took her to see her first fireworks show we picked the worst likely spot, I backed up to a large brick wall, where I felt it was safest to work with her, but we got every blast in stereo as it echoed off the wall behind us, and she hunkered down into my arms... then suddenly she quieted down and I saw the fireworks reflected in her beady black eyes and like the rest of us she was watching in awe and amazement at the colors painting the sky... I took a rat to a stress test to see how she would deal with extreme fear and came back with a rat that had shown me she could be amazed and awed too.

I suppose I might as well get to my point... most folks will never be blessed to meet a rat exactly like Fuzzy Rat, but they won't see just how truly amazing their rats really are if they don't look for it and give them the opportunity to amaze them. There's so much a rat can learn and experience and even teach you, but it's easy to miss if you aren't looking for or expecting it. Even indoor rats have emotions, and skills and complex thoughts. Indoor free range time is a great place to work with your rat. Rats can really emotionally bond with you and learn to rely on you and they expect you to respond to them likewise... I'm not suggesting that people should take their own rats outdoors, but they should challenge their best furry friends to be more and do more... it's important to get them out of their cages and mostly to build lasting bonds of their own. Rats are wonderful animals, be inspired and let them amaze you.


Fuzzy Rat swinging in the breeze... "look dad no hands!"
(I think the picture is in focus because my heart stopped and hands weren't shaking)
Tree Jungle Plant Branch Wildlife

And walking at heal at the beach

Sand Beach Vacation Fun Shore


And Max passing her final true shoulder rat test

Sky Tree Wilderness Cloud Sunlight

And afterwards... Max was so proud of herself she entertained the folks at the fair by going from hand to hand through the crowd... Notice how relaxed she is all stretched out and sniffing and kissing everyone as she went along...

Long hair

No, most rats should never try these experiences... but imagine what a waste of a life it would be if Fuzzy Rat or Max spent their lives trapped in a cage... or spun around begging for occasional Cheerios.

Fuzzy Rat is gone and Max is aging pretty badly, both were feeder bin refugees, but Max is still smug and self confident and every bit the result of a life of experience and adventure... She's big and bold and brash, she knows what she wants and she insists on respect. Even without Fuzzy Rat's overwhelming charm she's become a friend, not a pet. And in this holiday season this kind of relationship is a gift I would wish everyone both rat and human. Get your rats out of their cages and have some real fun!

Happy Holidays
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
That was a great read :) She is getting more and more exploratory just as you have said. She always returns if I pat my thigh or the ground/surface beside me though, which is very cool to watch. She's so squirrelly, fast, and strong, it shocks me pretty often. I'm still learning to see the line between playfulness and aggression and respond accordingly. She has yet to nip me painfully though.
Today I introduced her to her new sister (her cagemate died a few months ago). So far, so good. Lots of forceful grooming as the new one is quite young but no squeaking. I'm going to watch them carefully all night (I'm a night owl) but they seem to be getting to know each other okay.
 

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It sounds like you are really making the most out of play time and building a great relationship. There's a find line between encouraging aggressive play and setting limits, but it's great that she comes to you when called.

Congrats and best luck on your new family member. Its important to stay involved with your rats introductions as you are of course part of the family too, but if things do get out of hand, keep a towel or gloves handy, it's easy to catch a stray unintentional bite, especially from your new rat if things go crazy.
 
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