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This is going to sound weird... but how do you know when a rat is actually paying attention to you? I'm (attempting) to do trick training... but I'm kind of confused as to what signals I should be looking for to indicate that his attention is on me. I've trained other animals before, but it's always been dogs or cats - they have big, expressive eyes (most importantly with pupils) and ears so I could always tell when they were paying attention or not.

With my rats, it seems different. They never seem to look at me, but they're always listening, I feel. They rotate their ears and their ears are always on me, even if their eyes aren't. I've kind of found it similar to horses, though with horses the reason that I couldn't get visual attention is, clearly, that I was on their back :p When doing ground work I knew they could see me, because of how their eyes are set.

With rats... mine always seem aloof. It might be because they're boys, it might be because I haven't been working with them long, but they always seem to be doing their own thing and they do what I ask of them as more of a side note.

Long story short, my boy will perform the tricks (or at least, follow my hand for now :p) that I'm asking of him... but he never seems focused to me. I'm wondering if it's just because I don't know what a focused rat looks like. I know rats fall into a weird grey area of predator and prey... so perhaps I'm just expecting them to act too much like one or the other in terms of how they "answer" me.

(any super long deep behavioral analysis will be much loved and appreciated :p I love that kind of stuff)
 

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When I teach tricks my boys point their ears forward and stand on hind legs to sniff the air and try to clamber all over me. It is quite hard to know if they are paying attention - them doing the trick is usually a good indicator they are listening though!
 

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With rats it is hard because listening doesn't equal doing, they're one of the few animals out there that weigh their decisions - should I listen or should I continue having fun?

When I'm being listened to it's all in body posture and ears. The ears will be alert, the body posture generally is in a paused, attentive way. Occasionally, they'll sniff my way. I don't look for eye contact because they're not seeing like I see and their eyes are mounted like prey so nose to you doesn't mean seeing you.

Generally, I have the feeling they all listen to what I say but find it unimportant lol

Having them respond to you means not only are they listening but they're caring what you have to offer.
 
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