Do not take them out unless you have a harness! I learned this the hard way when I lost my Pippa. I normally kept them on a leash but I figured since I was just going on a short walk it would be fine as long as I kept her on my shoulder. I saw a neighbourhood cat, and when I kneeled to say hello to it, Pip got spooked and leapt into the long grass. Trust me, you do not want the guilt of losing a rat outdoors.Store bought small pet harnesses generally don't work on rats. They are made with less flexible things in mind, such as rabbits and guinea pigs. I make my own. They are kind of a double loop, one around the neck and one around the body. I am bad at explanations so I will post pictures when I get the chance.
It does seem like something that could only work with rats you've bonded with really well. It probably wouldn't take much to break through all that conditioning and friendship to tap into the more primal, instinctual side of the animal, which is to get the **** away from predators and burrow for safety.
Rat Daddy has some pictures of a rat being outdoors. He says that Fuzzy Rat was very special, and I believe it. If the bond between you and rat is strong enough, I imagine the rat would come back to you if you stay in the same place. After all, you are a bastion of safety for it. Also, you have food. Speaking of which, packing some treats would likely be a good idea.
And don't stop to say hello to any animals. Rats don't understand the difference between hungry predators and domesticated pets unless they grew up with them (such as your family cat).
The world is a scary place for rats. Unless you have a really strong bond, I wouldn't suggest free-ranging outdoors. I can't imagine a harness being much use for a rat, but it may be enough to keep the rat in place. At the very least, you can let go of the harness and then following it to where the rat is holed up. If the rat squirms its way out of the harness, then it doesn't serve much of a point.
I'm speaking as someone who has never done this, so take it with a grain of salt. I'm not in a place where I can take the rats outdoors anyway, so I'll never experience this.
If you are working with the right rat, and the right rat is rare, and you follow the instructions and advise in this thread, and you're careful, you might wind up with a shoulder rat of your own... There are now several represented here, most went through some variation of the method we developed.
I strongly discourage the use of harnesses, rats are designed to get out of tight spaces and to never get stuck. The harness will give you a false sense of confidence and you may wind up having a very bad day when you thought your rat was safe.
Actually, we once stepped out of the car to find ourselves under a flock of migrating hawks. Looking up constantly is part of working with shoulder rats. And yes, that ended out fun in the sun abruptly. There was no way I was going to put our rat onto the ground with the sky full of predatory birds above. On the other hand, the hawks didn't seem too interested in our fancy colored rat and they didn't make any attempts to pick her off our shoulder. Predatory birds aren't stupid enough to mix it up with adult humans.
Owls on the other hand are a real and present danger. They are silent and invisible in the night sky and they fly and circle close in, waiting for an opportunity to strike. One night Fuzzy Rat refused to get down off me, which was very unusual for her.... the suddenly from right above us we heard the owl screech in frustration. It was right above us... we looked up and didn't see anything... Maybe the owl thought he could spook our rat into running out into the open away from us, or maybe it was just sick of waiting for us to put our rat down, but we learned two lessons... First that our rat had detected the owl that we couldn't see and two that owls are practically invisible and silent to our ears. Still, even an owl isn't likely to pick your rat off your shoulders or arms. If you are out at night, you pretty much have to assume that owls are around.
The biggest lesson when it comes to working with rats outside is that the things you think will get you don't, it's the stuff you never anticipated or the stuff you take for granted that will kill your rats fast.
Basically, you always train your rat and yourself at a safe site. Then you work outward from there as you get more experience and your rat becomes more competent. You carefully expand your explorations as you become more skillful at handling your rat and the situations you encounter and you know your rat won't panic and will respond predictably. This way you control for 90% of the things that can go wrong so you can focus your full attention on the other 10% of things that go out of control when they happen.
Yes, you do get to a point where you get pretty good at handling things and with the right rat some really amazing adventures are possible. But if you mislead yourself into thinking what you are doing is safe, you will come home one rat short eventually. It's all about managed risk, predicting what your rat will do, being super aware of other people and your environment and not pushing situations beyond what you and your rat can handle.
This is Max doing her final true shoulder rat test at the autumn fair under the fireworks... A good true shoulder rat doesn't panic, it has to stay predictable and manageable. If it can handle fireworks, it's pretty safe to go to the corner store....
And this is Max doing a meet and greet. There were hundreds of people around so little risk of owls... even at night.
This was Fuzzy Rat up in a tree enjoying the breeze... and no there were no hawks in the sky that day...
And here she was at the beach meeting a little girl. Although she was a good swimmer and jumped into the lake on her own, both the water and the sand made it a pretty safe place to work with a rat. People to keep predators at bay and few places to lose your rat into...
Actually that's not entirely true, she once swam away from us, and made it into the neighbors bushes on the other side of a fence... but she came back after only a few minutes... That's when it becomes important to be working with a predictable rat.
We actually lost Fuzzy Rat so many times there was a running joke at our local park, if someone saw us without Fuzzy Rat, they would ask..."lose your rat, again?" It was too easy to get lazy with a true shoulder rat as good as she was... Most of the time she was back in 45 minutes, otherwise she was on top of the driver's side front wheel of our car. When she got tired of being outside, she would just go back to the car, sit on the tire and wait for us. And yes, always the same tire.
Max also went back to the house or the car on her own, she had great skills, but for the most part didn't enjoy the outdoors or meeting people much... And our current true shoulder rat, Cloud is a little bit shy and prefers to stay close to us. Each rat you work with has it's own personality.
Again, all of our true shoulder rats are highly trained and tested, we've been working with rats outdoors for a long time... I've had rats that were a nightmare to handle outdoors and no amount of training could fix them... Don't try this at home unless you are seriously willing to put in the time to train and test your rat. Your very first mistake can get your rat killed, that's what I mean about a steep learning curve.
True shoulder rats are the greatest fun you can have with your rats. They are amazing and they draw large crowds. They become competent and alert and surprisingly personable, but there's a very good reason you may never see one in person, most rats can't handle the stress and most people get their rats killed long before they learn how to properly manage the risks.
I wrote the thread on the topic for a select group of people who have the right rats to give them a fair chance of success, as I know they are going to take their rats outside anyway. Most people should keep their rats safe and indoors. Fuzzy Rat was absolutely amazing, she was the rat co-founder of immersion, she deserved a brilliant life and she earned respect. She was the only animal of any kind that was allowed to sit on her own chair, no leash or cage at her vet's office... It would have been a crime to have kept her in a cage. But she earned our trust day in and day out until she became who she was... we didn't just send her up a tall tree one day or toss her into the woods. Most rats and human can survive a visit to a carefully chosen safe site, but very few will survive beyond it....
If you are going to try, learn, train and test... be careful and take baby steps... and for all goodness sake when things start to go wrong, stop! There's no adventure worth getting your rat killed.
Lastly, consider who is giving you this warning... I'm certainly not against shoulder rats in principle, we've trained 3 true shoulder rats... If I'm telling you it's dangerous, please trust me... I've been there and brought most of our rats home.
Yeah, I should have mentioned that. Shoulder training is essential, and a harness is just a little extra safety. If made right, your rats should not be able to get out quickly, but it is always possible.
We have many hawks where I live. A few years back, I was sitting outside on my front porch. I looked over, and there was a fancy rat, probably five feet from me. It looked lost and bored and was just futzing about with some grass. Likely, somebody had let it go to get rid of it after a failed feeding attempt. It was a smallish black hooded rat. I ignored it and went back to reading (this is before I knew anything about rats so I didn't much care either way). About twenty minutes later, a hawk swooped down and the rat was gone. The hawks where I live don't give a **** if there is a human around, there are humans everywhere. Hawks (here) have no fear of humans. We don't hunt them (they are actually illegal to harm in my state), so they have no reason to avoid us. I disagree that a hawk won't gladly take a "fancy" rat, they feed on them here all the time. People are constantly dumping them after failed feedings or their kids lose interest.
I understand the point that it's a risk that one has to assess before taking. However, I don't believe that it is a risk that a) I would ever be willing to take or b) that is honestly my choice to make. Being picked apart live by a hawk or crushed between a dog's jaws is a horrendous death, and I am not ever going to say that I have the right to choose to put my pet in a situation that could end that way.
For better or worse, every day humans have to make choices for their animal charges. I strongly discourage people from walking untrained rats in harnesses and people in general from taking their rats outside.
But for those few special people with those rare special rats, my aim is to put the odds in their favor.