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Hi all,
I'm having a recurring problem, and I just feel like I need to change something because this doesn't feel ok how it's been going. I've had four girls for 4-5 weeks and I like to let them roam around my room as often as possible. I think they're pretty happy and have been getting used to me slowly but surely. My real problem is that every single day I have trouble getting them back in their cage. At first it's just like they are so comfortable in all the nooks and crannies of my room that they don't want to leave, even if I offer them treats near their cage, they'll just take it back to their new homebase, ie under my bed or in my dresser. The room is imo pretty rat proofed, there don't seem to be any spots they get stuck in, they don't chew the loose wires around my room and any live wires are kept out of their reach, but sometimes I just need them back in their cage, like after its been 2 hours and I'm exhausted and need to eat or sleep.

The awful thing is it becomes that the only way i can get them is to grab them, and they don't like that! With some of them it quickly gets into a really bad situation where they're running away from me like I want to eat them and it just spirals out of control from there. They definitely get scared, they poop a lot when running from me, and stop accepting treats once I reach for them once. I think they like their cage, they relax pretty good once they're there, but it's just the process of getting all four of them in is so draining physically and emotionally, I don't know what to do. It's like I spend the whole time freeranging them slowly getting them used to touching me, but I feel like that's all out the window once I start chasing them like a predator. One time Ella (who always is the hardest to get back in the cage) actually bit me and broke the skin, which has never happened with any of them otherwise. And I understand why she bit me, it must be terrifying for them, I just need to find some way to stop having this happen.

Honestly, at this point I just feel like I need to change something so that this situation doesn't happen. Like maybe I need to get a good playpen, so that I can freerange them somewhere they won't be so inclined to nest in and get more comfortable than their cage? Or maybe they don't like their cage, and I need to fix it up or get them a bigger one, even though they seem pretty comfortable when they're in there (they don't bite at the cage, they socialize well with eachother and they run in the wheel and play around whenever the lights are off. I really don't think I can just be patient with this, which is my strategy with all other aspects of socializing them (letting them do things when they want), because I try to be patient and they're just so comfy in the room that three hours pass and they show no interest in returning to their cage. Please any advice or questions would be so helpful, thank you!
 

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I've never heard of rats not wanting to go back in but the other way around is extremely common. Hmm, since I'm a new rat owner myself I only have 1 suggestion and I'm not certain that it would work either but have you tried making a little box/room for them that you can put up to the cage door that way you can open and shut the cage as you want and also have them walking in and out as they please. Maybe it would help them to adjust to going in and out since its them making up there own mind about weather they want to stay in or out.
 

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I have a rat that is hard to get back into the cage. She's timid and does not let me grab her. I don't know if this will work for you, but this is what I do:
I hold my hand out to her and let her climb on my arm. She will do this on her own very cautiously, but if I have her cage mate on my arm at the time she'll hop right on which helps when she's being stubborn. If one of your rats is more easily handled try this maybe?
Anyway, moving very calmly and carefully I walk over to the cage and put my arm inside. From there I just wait for her to go in the cage. Sometimes she doesn't want to, so she will jump on the outside of the cage and I start over again. If I have the other rat and she goes in the cage, then the trouble rat will usually follow. It hardly ever goes that easy though lol. Sometimes putting treats or new hammocks/houses in the cage helps because then she wants to check it out.

Sometimes it takes awhile, but I think she's getting better. It sucks because I hardly ever let her out since I have to bring the cage into a smaller room and make sure I have an extra hour to spare if she puts up a fuss. I feel bad for her :(

But yeah. Try not grabbing them and letting them walk into your hands on their own. If they are food motivated giving them treats when they climb on might help encourage that behavior and make your life a little easier.

If you figure out a better way let me know! lol
 

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I've not had this problem, but I'll try to offer advice anyway. Keep in mind that my experience is very different from yours.

What if you feed them only in the cage? My rats are perfectly happy in their cage. It's where they sleep and eat and poop. We give them treats outside, but most of the time they eat in the cage. In fact, shaking the Cheerio box is how we get them running inside the cage (except for my deaf rat).

Since they're scared when you try to pick them up, don't try to tempt them with food. I've learned that rats will ignore food if they feel uncomfortable. It's all about priorities, and rats don't drop everything just for a tasty treat. If they feel vulnerable, then eating is not high on their list. So they're associating food with Bad Things (tm). So give them treats only when they're in the cage. After you wrangle them and put them in the cage, give them a reward. I suspect that the stress of being wrangled may make them disinterested in food shortly after being deposited in the cage, but that will probably pass.

Also, you need to let them feel comfortable about being in your hands. I've had success with immersion. I sat in the room with them and let them crawl on me. I would keep treats handy and feed them when they would do that. I got them to associate climbing on big, goofy dude with treats. Of course, they're going to eat it where they feel safe, so expect them to run off after they get their food. I believe Rat Daddy warns against being viewed as a vending machine. I agree with that, but if it helps get a rat feeling confident about approaching you, then that should make wrangling them a little easier. Although, if you don't mind getting a little sticky, you could rub yogurt on your hand/arm so that they can't take the treat back with them. They have to stay on you and lick it off, which means more skin contact. Happy association.

Like I said, I haven't had your problem so I don't know how well this will work.
 

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I'm new to owning rats so feel free to ignore this, but it seems to me that the dynamics are a little wrong here... All of my rats spend most of their free range time within a close distance to me. They all go off to explore and play, but they continually come back to check I'm still where they left me, and if I get up to try and leave the room then they all swarm around my and try to climb up my legs. They're not scared or timid, but their favourite thing about being out is (imo) spending time with me.

It seems to me that the best way to solve your problem would be to have a go at immersion training, to build a stronger bond with your rats.

Sorry if I'm reading this situation wrong, and I'm certainly not trying to say that you have a poor relationship with your rats, but I think that building on a foundation of love and trust can only be a good thing, and it seems to me that your rats should *want* to come onto your hands, not need chasing to achieve this.

There's a really good stickie on immersion at the top of the forum which is definitely worth a look. Good luck xx
 

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I agree with Guzzi. It doesn't sound like your rats are bonded enough with you for free range to work. Get them used to you, to being handled and picked up by you, to coming to you for treats. Then let them free range and things should go better for you. A playpen, or bathroom or other small space where reaching them is easier will help til you get the fear sorted out. When they trust you better and know that you aren't going to hurt them, then the free range should go better for everyone. I am also a believer in Immersion, just be sure you recognize the two types: Extreme and Regular, and don't use Extreme for any but aggressive, biting rats.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thank you guys for the advice. I'm amazed to hear this is a rare problem, it's sort of been this way since after the first couple times they all went out. They don't act like super afraid of me, but they definitely hardly ever see me as a base when they're roaming.

@Guzzi I could try to feed them only in the cage, that's a good idea. It may be hard to get them interested in hanging out with me if I don't have food for them though. Funny story though about how much they like hanging out in my room. One time I left the doors to their cage open while they were out, hoping they would get thirsty or hungry and come back. I looked and saw Parker going back to the cage, and then going back to my desk drawers, and then back to the cage. It turned out she was building a stash from her food bowl outside the cage! She literally stacked up like 10 lab blocks on top of my copy of the apartment lease.

@MinorRobot I like how that sounds a lot just putting your arm in the cage and letting her decide to go in on her own from there. Unfortunately none of my rats are comfortable enough with me to climb on me. For treats they'll go as far as bringing their front paws to the heel of my hand, but they're still very cautious when that far. But yeah, I really feel you with how much it sucks that I can't let them out as much as I want to because I have to prepare for the extra hour of trying to coax them back into the cage

@Moo-Michonne I like this idea. It's sort of like the idea of a smaller play pen right? I'd like to also be able to interact with them while they're playing in it, so the issue then becomes how to construct a box open enough for me to say hi without letting them get out and roam into my room again.

To everyone who suggested immersion: I appreciate that but I read the first couple pages of sticky before, and I don't know how what I'm doing is different than immersion. Treating animals as thinking caring intelligent beings is just how I've always learned to treat animals. I do my best to respond to their communication. It's just that a lot of the time they (or at least Ella) seem to be communicating "I don't want to hang out right now human, I'm comfy under your bed and your big hand scares me". It's why I think I may need to find a more contained place to hang out with them. They've learned how to climb up and down my bed, but maybe if I tuck all my blankets in tightly I can bring their cage up there and give try to do a more involved immersion session like that tonight. I fear however they'll just find a way down and roam my room like always -__-
 

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You can still have food during immersion. I would immerse in the bathroom and keep Cheerios on the counter while I sat on the floor. They were out of reach, and more importantly they weren't with me all the time. You want the rats to eventually come to you out of friendship, not just food. So if you can keep food handy but out of reach of the rats, you should be good. I can only imagine what would happen if you store treats in your pocket. A Tupperware dish may work too. It may still smell like food, but when it's sealed, the rats can't easily get to it, letting you dispense treats as you see fit.

In my situation, I give them very little place to hide. I have a towel on the floor that they can play in, but mostly I keep it Spartan so that the rats are forced to interact with me and each other. The towel offers a place to hide, but it's not much. And if a rat doesn't want to play with me just yet, I wait. I've read about immersion sessions lasting hours. I suspect those are rare, though maybe I've just been lucky. Rats are curious creatures, so eventually they're going to check you out.

I wear sweatpants, and they like to burrow up the legs when I'm sitting on the floor with them. I have to hold the fabric tight to keep them from going all the way up, but they loved the pants leg. And, well, they still get skin contact even though I'm technically not holding them. Not sure if that contributed, but it couldn't have hurt.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Ok, I'm definitely getting the feeling now from what you two have said that I need to provide them with a smaller space to play in. Thanks for that link Raindear, I'm checking it out right now and it could be very helpful, because the bathroom will take some work too to rat proof it. Now I just need to figure out whether I'll be able to make a play pen or if I should clear out our bathroom xD
 

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As a lot of others have said above, I think immersion would be really helpful. And immersion as in, in an area like a bathroom, where there isnt many proper places to hide (such as under the bed). Since you want the rat to be approaching you for companionship, I think one on one immersion might be a good way to go, as Ive read that immersion with multiple rats at once is likely to take longer than one on one session.

Also, I give my boys their daily bowl of fresh food (veges, like peas, leafy greens, veges with pasta) etc. I put the food on the very top level of the cage at the end of the free range session. They now know that when I get up, pick up the bowl from the drawer in my room (which they're not allowed on), and walk towards the cage, then put the bowl in the top level (ceramic bowl makes a certain grating noise when in contact with cage wire), they do ANYTHING to get themselves inside the cage and they literally race to the top for the tasty wet food.
So once your girls are used to being touched and picked up by you through immersion, you could teach them every free ranging session that they get wet food in the cage at the end of the free range time. Do this through either letting them smell the bowl of food and lead them towards the cage (maybe let them have a quick taste to show them what it is) or picking them up and setting them down by the fresh food that was already put inside the cage.
 

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I also do the giving fresh food at the end of free range session, because I free range them just before I go to bed. And going to bed when they are happily munching on food makes me feel much happier and comfortable compared to having to force them into the cage and leaving when they are giving me the puppy eyes with their hands clutching the cage wires (like some kind of innocent prisoners hahah) wanting more free range time.
 

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Guzzi has had the same experience I have had. I am three months into being a new Rat Dad and I found that when we free range, they come and check with me constantly. They crawl all over me and in my shirt. I've taken to wearing layers as I am very ticklish. I never thought about giving treats outside of the cage because, to me, that's their reward for going back. When I first had trouble picking them up, I used a paper towel tube. They love crawling in them and once they were in I'd pick it up and the end they came out of was the cage. Now, when it's time to put them up, I set the tote I carry them in on the floor and they both jump in. Sometimes I feel like I tricked them, but I think they know there are some yummies in their future. I tried a playpen from the pet store and it was not a success. I think a lot of people have made some really cool ones that work.
 

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We let our rats have run of our whole room, and we usually don't have issues with them because they're strongly bonded to us. I would suggest immersion and then, once they are bonded to you they will not mind being picked up/will climb willingly on to your hand. My girl Clover has no issues with being picked up. Katniss and Rue both are a little sketchy with being picked up but they willingly climb onto our hands and arms. All 3 girls went through immersion. I think you should provide them with a smaller space during immersion and once they are bonded to you, they can have a larger space. I would say no-no to playpens. We tried that with Sprite and Claire and Claire jumped out of the (very tall) playpen, ran off, and was extremely terrorized after having spent an hour and a half underneath a dusty cabinet being lured out. Took about 3 months of trust training to get her back to how she was before she jumped the playpen.
 
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