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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello, Forum!

I recently (one week ago) adopted two rats. One of them can't decide if he's a lap rat or a viper.

Let me start from the beginning. I got Bender from Petsmart, as I could find no breeders in my area. I held him before purchase. He was alone in his enclosure, as his pal had been sold recently, and he looks like he's going on six months old. I bought a separate rat, probably three months old, to be his cagemate. His name is Fry, and he's already the sweetest kissiest boy. Bender, on the other hand, is a different story.

I was surprised when I took him home that he cried piteously when he was picked up, when he was petted, when he was held. I don't mean little squeaks, I mean like a keening wail. This was odd, because when I held him in the store he was so snuggly, cuddled on my shoulder, groomed my ear, moved down to my hands and was bruxing and grooming me. I just fell in love with him! I had no idea what was going on.

The integration with his cagemate went fine. Bender, the older and bigger rat, asserted dominance quickly and without much squeaking or tussling. The boys get along. However, when I was reaching in to pet Fry, Bender on day three gave me a vicious nip, drawing blood. I was shocked, bopped him lightly on the nose, and he scurried away. However, it led me here, and to the threads on trust training and integration.

First I tried trust training. He eventually would come out of his cage for treats, but that was all he wanted from me. He stayed in one corner of his cage pretty much constantly. He made a huge nest. And every time I had to put my hand in there, he first warned me by giving me the stink eye, then if I didn't move, he'd go for me.

I tried what I thought was a decent integration. I read the thread, watched some videos. Bought some gloves. Got to work. By God, I was gonna fix this biting rat! The first session went well. We had it out a little (but really not much) and in like three minutes he put his head down and slunk over to me, curling up in my crossed legs, grooming himself, and letting me pet him. I spent a lot of time petting him, and he still cried just occasionally, but mostly he let me. He fell asleep with me petting him. I thought we had a good session, after about two and a half hours, I opened the bathroom door, toted him downstairs, and cuddled with him on my lap for about another two hours. He was sweet as pie--a floppy lap rat! I was so excited. We had bonded!

Riiiight.

Bender is smarter than that.

He went for me again the very next morning when I put my hand into the cage to give him scritches. I put on the gloves, and let him challenge me again, and this time I tussled with him. Mostly again he wanted to run away...but I didn't back down, and petted him and got in his space, and he would just lie down and kinda cower and put up with me, then move away. He wasn't aggressing, but he wasn't liking me much, either. But again--outside the cage, he was nervous but snuggly.

Day three after first integration he was eyeing my hand in the cage. Not quite biting, but you all probably know the look he was giving me--frozen body, wide eyed stare, neck and nose outstretched in my direction. BRING IT, GIANT HAND. MAKE MY DAY. I gently patted his head, and every time he raised it to nip (he didn't open his mouth, but I could tell he was winding up to it), I'd gently push his head down and say, "No, Bender, Be nice." Outside the cage? No problem. He isn't happy outside, but when he resigns himself to lap time, he snuggles in and sleeps or cuddles. Goes in my sweatshirt, on my shoulder, snuffles my ear. Sweetie pie!

And so it goes. Inside cage, viper. In lap, puddlerat.

I should mention that the second time he gave me a serious bite (I have four now) I dragged him back upstairs for a second integration, and he was cuddly again by the end of the couple hours. Each time he shows cage aggression I don't let him get away with it--I follow him, get in his space, and pet him down. I even tried pinning him as gently as I could a couple times for power grooming.

Nothing seems to have worked. Same ol' Bender.

I took him to the nice lady at Petsmart today who used to be a breeder (the sweetie rat came from her store, since she handles the youngsters and it shows) and asked her about him. He immediately put on his show face, got on her shoulder, snuffled around, acted charming. She musta thought I was bonkers, but after talking to her for a while, she saw him nip at me. It wasn't a full-on bite. I had been petting him in his travel box (which is open to the air) and had not noticed he'd started grooming. He put his teeth on me to make me stop. He did it twice more from his box--basically, warning nips to say "remove yourself from my personal space."

So I noticed a difference between his "stop it please" warning nips and his "F--- OFF! MY CAGE!" chomping bites.

The lady at the store recommended that I clean and rearrange the cage, and wear gloves to get him out. No fuss, just quick so he couldn't freak out.

I'd love some advice. He's still cage aggressing (which my browser tells me is not a word) towards me. He is sitting on my lap as I write this, climbing in and out of my sweatshirt. No biting, friendly as you please, if a little nervous.

Thoughts? Where do I go from here? I really like this little guy, and I really want to help him be happy. And you know, not bite me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Update: He used the "warning bite" which was almost calm and polite today when he wanted me to stop petting his head. No major reaction, just kinda put his teeth on me and applied a bit of pressure, then released. When I persisted in petting him a moment later, he did the same thing, again without seeming upset, if that makes sense. When I stopped, he went to sleep for a while, then came up to my shirt and fell asleep on my chest. (letting me pet his head again.)

I kinda feel like this kind of tooth action is just communication and should be tolerated--but maybe this will just encourage him in general?
 

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At the moment it sounds like he has accepted you as boss outside the cage but not inside it and in his efforts to assert himself he over reacts. Your earler progress is very good as he was clearly trying to be boss outside earlier on. You've got a few options on how you go about working with this problem as i see it

1, Accept it as it is, maybe use a tube or gloves to remove him from the cage as suggested (i probably wouldnt do this one but i know of a lot of people (especially with larger numbers of rats) thay have and had a fruitful relationship
2, Convince him you own the cage. This would be a matter of spending lot and lots of time with him in the cage. I would probably wear gloves at least for the early stages of this, but make sure that they smell of you and arent of something irrisistable to rats like rubber. Get yourself comfy by the cage door with good access. Start off not approaching him, just mve your hand around the cage rearranging stuff here, maybe tidying something up there (you can also fuss Fry a little but dont make him your sole focus, its about claiming the cage not fry). Ignore him and make it clear that you are calm and happy in the cage. If he approaches you ignore him until he starts making aggressive motions to you or goes for the bite. If he does a firm no and picking him up firmly works well for me (a light nose bop is an option too, but im not a fan of pinning them). I would do this regularly, as many times as you can fit in a day, maybe 5 or 10 mins at a time. Just get him used to your right to be in the cage and his lack of impact on that. Once he's ignoring you too then i would sneak in a quick stroke on your way passed, only one or two then on your way messing with the cage furniture again. Slowly build this up, confronting bad behaviour but if he approaches you gentley to sniff with no tension then reward him, maybe with a treat he likes, praise, or if you know he likes to be stroked or scratched in a particular place do that. It doesnt need to be big or amazing, just about building up the good and making it clear the bad wont get the response he wants.
3, Try a new cage as almost a neutral terratory, it could be an old spare cage you have, a smaller one may actually be a good starting point (less terratory for him to defend and hide in) and try the above method. It might speed things along a little. Once he understands your terms with that cage you can move back to the main cage.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks, I will give this a try and let you know how it goes!
 
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