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Hi everyone! I've been a new rat mom for about 2 weeks now and had some questions about my little boys. All-in-all I've tried to go very slow with having them warm up to me. My rats are named Nimbus and Storm. Nimbus seems to be the more confident one, and he'll climb onto my hand to get liquid treats, I've been trying to pet him when he takes baby food from my hands but he'll stiffen up and stop eating. Storm on the other hand is a nervous ball of energy, he'll greedily take baby food from my fingers but will pretty much scamper off and hide otherwise at any sound. They'll also run up to the cage when I talk to them for solid treats to give them through the bars. I've tried taking them out of the cage to free roam them, but they're way too skittish for that and run away when my hands get near them, and I'm afraid by grabbing them I'll have them regress on all the progress they've made. I've heard that free roaming them is the best way to bond with them but I'm having trouble knowing what steps I should take next. Bear in mind I'm at work from 7am-4pm so I only interact with them at night and on weekends. Side note, I'm going to my parent's house for memorial day weekend and are worried that I'll erase the progress I've made with them if I leave them alone with my roommates to fill their food and water bowls. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
 

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My advice is to find a way to let your rats come out themselves in a small rat proof area. I use a playpen for this, and velco it to my cage. Then I can just pop open one door, and my rats then get to choose when to come out and when to go back. This does a lot to increase their confidence because they know they can always go back to their ultimate safe spot (the cage), and as a result they warm up to free-rang faster. This also prevents free-range time from being poisoned with the fear of handling - in the past I accidentally did that to a few shy rats, pushing handling on them to get them out for free-range, and it would take them a good 15+ minutes to stop hiding and start walking around. Of course this did nothing to endear me or free-range to them and in fact both those girls started to react accordingly when free-range time came around - where they would usually approach the cage door for treats, around free-range times they would actually run away from the cage door if they saw me! It was heartbreaking and at that point I realized I had to take a step back - for those 2 girls I had a different setup and so painstakingly worked for 30+ minutes daily to get them hopping onto my hand for treats, then when they did so without hesitation would take them to free-range.

And this worked, but it took such a long time and put so much stress on us both (because I wanted to make the most of the free-range time I could give them and I had other rats who readily came out, making it a juggle between them). So with my next set of rats I changed it - I added velcro to my free-range playpen, velcro to my cage, and attached them. So I could then open the door and let the rats decide to come out and go back on their own time, and they wouldn't associate handling fears with free-range itself (plus my confident rats could make the most of the entire free-range time).

And this worked great! All of those skittish rats warmed up to free-range in just a day or two, and from the start found it highly rewarding. I was then able to feed them liquid treats when they approached me, and they could climb on me or under my blanket and just start interacting with me on their own terms.



Since then I've used this method of free-range for all my rats and they have all loved it. Its also great for me because they return to the cage automatically to pee/poop (they still mark some of course, but they do anything else in the cage). they also have access to food and water inside, and are much less nervous from the start in general. So I would highly recommend this version of free-range where the rats get to decide - and the benefit of using a playpen like I do is that it contains the rats away from furniture, so its easy to get them back in the cage even if they do get spooked (otherwise I use a noisy jar to hold treats so they learn to associate it with treats from the start - I do also teach a formal come call later on, but shaking my treat jar works as a extremely effective backup that has even my shyest rats running to me right away because its been so highly reinforced).


On top of all that I would recommend LOTS of houses, huts, and other hides in the free-range area - rats are prey animals after all, so they are scared of open space, and prefer to stick to corners and hides when in a new environment. Once they adjust they won't mind the open space, but until then you want to help them adapt quicker by making it as easy as possible with many hides (I also recommend wearing a blanket or hoody because rats are burrowing animals and so feel safe when inside a dark, warm, enclosed environment - so this attracts them to you, and helps to make you out as a safe spot).


As for handling I would keep up what you are doing - some rats will do find if you force handling, and if a rat is medium confident or more I find it can even speed how fast they adjust. But super shy rats simply can't adjust and will shut down if pushed too hard, so for them you want to take it slow, and work to gradually increase their trust levels (and honestly I now favor this for all my rats regardless - even the most confident rat can benefit from being given the choice to choose to be handled, and so I like to teach all my rats to willingly hop onto my hand for treats and later transportation in order to make it both a choice for them to make and also to make it extremely reinforcing to choose to make that choice.)

For now I wouldn't pet them if they are already nervous eating liquid treats on your hand, but once they hop on readily and don't feel tense like they are wanting to back off at the same time then you can add some petting and hand motion - some rats will never love handling, and some of mine (including my current oldest girl Sugar) never learn to like it. But by teaching them to come to you and hop onto your hand when offered you will have a guaranteed way to transport them easily regardless, and as a bonus it will also teach them to be more confident because they are making that choice to approach you instead of the other way around.



(As for your vacation I wouldn't worry - rats don't typically regress with any trust formed through positive interactions, and while they may be a bit wary for the first day when you get back due to the change in schedule throwing them off, they should settle right back soon after that.
 

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Oh my gosh, thank you so much for responding, I'm so honored! I love your videos and they're actually what inspired me to get my little boys. I've been trying to allow my boys to venture out on their own instead of trying to bring them to free-range, the only problem is the set-up of my room right now. I live in an apartment with roommates, so my cage is located on a platform fixed inside my closet, as my room is literally the size of a postage stamp and doesn't fit anywhere else. Since the cage is elevated off the ground, I don't really have a space where they could just walk out and play. The end of my bed is right in front of the cage, with there being a little tiny space in between where I sit and open the cage doors to interact with them. I've tried using a ladder to connect the cage with the end of my bed but my boys seem too nervous to try and climb it. I was possibly thinking of rearranging the set-up of my room so that I would be able to put the cage on the floor, it would just require a lot of maneuvering. I've attached a picture of where my cage is and a layout of my room for a better idea of what's going on.
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Did your closet just already happen to have a perfect platform for your CN or did you build that yourself?

I start bringing new rats out of their cage basically right away. I find that they get over their fears much more quickly that way. I confidently/gently/swiftly scoop them up, bring them close to my chest, carry them to where I need them to be, then set them down.

For very new rats who may be afraid of running around outside of their cage, I'll wear a robe or a baggy sweat shirt for them to hide in. I confidently/gently/swiftly scoop them up and tuck them inside my robe/sweatshirt. I'll sit in their play area and read or watch a movie. New skittish rats may just want to hide inside my robe/sweatshirt but that's okay because they're bonding with me. They'll soon start to poke their noses out and explore a bit but they'll return to me (my robe/sweatshirt) for safety. With new rats, I make sure that my robe/sweatshirt is the only available hiding place because I want them to associate me with safety and I don't want them cowering in fear away from me.

Once they start running around and feeling a little more comfortable, I'll randomly pick them up, set them right back down again, and give them a treat so they learn that getting picked up isn't a scary thing. I've had rats go from freakin' terrified when getting picked up to being completely docile and going limp when being picked up in a matter of a few weeks.

When you pick your rats up, avoid surprising, cornering, or chasing them around their cage as this will make the experience more stressful than it's worth for them. Confidence is really the biggest key in picking up your rats and that's something you will learn with experience!

There are a couple methods for removing your rats from their cage without actually picking them up. You can continue to try the ladder to your bed. It may take a few hours, or even a few days, for them to gain the confidence to try it out but it could work quite well. Another method is to usher them into a small box in their cage and then remove the box from the cage, with them inside. Personally, though, I find that picking them up is easier and it helps more with bonding.
 

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Gordon (2 yrs) Kim and Kellie (8 months)
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Hello,
Congrats on your new friends. When building a relationship with new rats, I find it easiest to use a snuggle sack. You can put the rat or rats in there and they can feel secure but hold it on your lap or to your chest. They will begin to get curious and poke their heads out- or just run out and explore and come back (or you put them back). After that, it is just taking them out of their cage a certain amount of time depending on their personality, every day. I like to start giving my boys an organic blueberry dog treat that their breeder advised- I use this as a way to "call to them" as well. As soon as they hear the bag rustle, they come running. Would definitely be able to find them if they got out. At first the rats may not take it from your hand, but it isn't personal. They will soon enough. I highly recommend not feeding rats anything through the bars of the cage. It's depersonalizing the treat experience between both of you and also can cause nipping further down the line- thinking anything that comes close to the bars is a treat. I personally don't let my rats free roam- The respiratory sensitivity has me concerned about even finite dust being close to hardwood floors. Also, I'd like to keep my chords from being chewed on. : ). My rats love to run around on my bed, couch and a play pen/baby setup play areas. I hope this helps!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Did your closet just already happen to have a perfect platform for your CN or did you build that yourself?

I start bringing new rats out of their cage basically right away. I find that they get over their fears much more quickly that way. I confidently/gently/swiftly scoop them up, bring them close to my chest, carry them to where I need them to be, then set them down.

For very new rats who may be afraid of running around outside of their cage, I'll wear a robe or a baggy sweat shirt for them to hide in. I confidently/gently/swiftly scoop them up and tuck them inside my robe/sweatshirt. I'll sit in their play area and read or watch a movie. New skittish rats may just want to hide inside my robe/sweatshirt but that's okay because they're bonding with me. They'll soon start to poke their noses out and explore a bit but they'll return to me (my robe/sweatshirt) for safety. With new rats, I make sure that my robe/sweatshirt is the only available hiding place because I want them to associate me with safety and I don't want them cowering in fear away from me.

Once they start running around and feeling a little more comfortable, I'll randomly pick them up, set them right back down again, and give them a treat so they learn that getting picked up isn't a scary thing. I've had rats go from freakin' terrified when getting picked up to being completely docile and going limp when being picked up in a matter of a few weeks.

When you pick your rats up, avoid surprising, cornering, or chasing them around their cage as this will make the experience more stressful than it's worth for them. Confidence is really the biggest key in picking up your rats and that's something you will learn with experience!

There are a couple methods for removing your rats from their cage without actually picking them up. You can continue to try the ladder to your bed. It may take a few hours, or even a few days, for them to gain the confidence to try it out but it could work quite well. Another method is to usher them into a small box in their cage and then remove the box from the cage, with them inside. Personally, though, I find that picking them up is easier and it helps more with bonding.
I actually did not build that, the ledge came like that in my closet. I got the short end of the stick because I joined a group of 3 girls for the summer and took the room that wasn't occupied, which also happened to be the smallest. I'm guessing the box in my closet houses the cooling and heating units. Also thank you for all of the advice! I definitely want to try the hoodie bonding method, I think I'll end up having to rearrange my room in order to make it easier to play with the rats, because the space between my bed and the cage is TINY and I can only fit and still interact comfortably with them when I sit on my knees. I'll try out your methods and let you know what happens! :)
 
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