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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Jesse and Nibbles are about 8 months old now, and have been living together for the past 6 months. When they were young they play-fought a lot but it seemed all in good fun. Now, however, Jesse wants to be dominant, and he's constantly bullying and harassing Nibbles. When he's in an alpha mood, he will chase Nibbles around, sniffing his balls and then pouncing on him. When Nibbles is very tired, Jesse will take advantage and crawl over him and step on his face. He stares down Nibbles almost every time they come face to face, until Nibbles backs off. Jesse frequently chases Nibbles out of spots in the cage, or chases Nibbles back into the cage when Nibbles is out.

I've tried every method of discipline I've heard of (bopping his nose, pinning him, squirting him with water, putting him in a small cage for time-out), and I've tried rewarding him with treats whenever I set him down next to Nibbles and he doesn't immediately start bullying Nibbles. I thought it was working, but I think all it taught him was to harass Nibbles when we aren't around, because now Nibbles has a bunch of scabs on his back and one on his chin. Today Jess wouldn't let up the whole time they were out for playtime, so I had to lock him up in time out while Nibbles played and let him out after.

The whole thing is really confusing to me because Nibbles is faster and I've never seen him lose a tussle. He is non-confrontational by nature and almost never displays dominance behavior, but Jesse won't let up and Nibbles is getting more and more violent with him as Jesse wears him down. Since Jesse can't seem to win a fair fight, I'm guessing Nibbles' scabs were inflicted while he was trying to sleep.

The only outright aggressive behavior I've seen from Nibbles is that he once lunged into the space pod (which is Jesse's territory) and latched directly onto Jesse's throat. Jesse was screaming bloody murder and I was yelling and squirting Nibbles but he didn't stop until I pulled the entire pod out of the cage. Jesse was completely unharmed; Nibbles could have ripped out his throat but I guess he just grabbed him by the fur. When they do get into fights I usually break them up with my hands, and neither of them has ever even scratched me in the process, which I guess is a good sign they aren't too violent?

Nibbles does power groom the **** out of Jesse daily, which Jesse puts up with (but sometimes doesn't look happy about). That's about the only interaction they have that doesn't involve Jesse harassing, threatening, or attacking him. They used to sleep together, even with all the fighting, but now Jesse sleeps in his space pod throne and won't let Nibbles inside it. Nibbles spends a lot of time hiding.

I feel like they no longer have any positive interaction; is this a situation where they should be kept in separate cages?
 

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It sounds like jesse badly wants to be alpha but doesn't have the attitude to pull it off. He sounds like the kind of rat who isn't confident enough in himself to maintain authority without hurting others. This does happen in lads and ask his hormones are making him want badly to be in charge. The best way to fix it is to have the offender neutered. This is usually very affective abd it will see you calm guy nibbles as the unopposed alpha and he sounds like he could be excellent at it. There is a risk woth surgery but if you can find a good very is minimised and we'll worth it for both nibbles and JessieJessies sake. Rats with the urge but not the disposition find being alpha very traumatic and even with good handling and intervention they tend to be tense a lot of the time.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yeah, that sounds like Jesse all right - sometimes when he starts a fight he's so tense he'll start squealing before they've even made contact. One time when Jesse started a fight he tried to lunge at Nibbles and go on the defensive at the same time, which resulted in him jumping in the air, landing on his butt, and rolling on his back before Nibbles even touched him.

I was hoping it wouldn't come down to a neuter, which probably won't be an option for us for a couple of months, but I already suspected that was the best option. Sigh...
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Do you think moving or removing the space pod - which is hanging from the top of the cage and they both seem to think is the best spot in the cage - would accomplish anything? Jesse treats it as his property, and I'm wondering if taking it out or putting it at the bottom would make him feel less superior.
 

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You could try going back to basics with them. If you read my carrier method intro sticky. i have used this several times to get rats over grumpiness abd tension with each other. taking it back to a small neutral space and giving then time to try abd sort things out. In some cases it's fixed the problems abd in ones with characters like Jessie it had at least improved the situation for a while though both times i ended up neutering in the end.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
Two nights ago I heard terrible screams coming from the cage and sprinted in there to see what was going on. Nibbles had Jesse pinned on his back and was biting him on the belly; Jesse was screaming like I've never heard before (which is saying a lot for Jesse). I broke it up and looked Jesse over and he was very scared but I couldn't find any visible wounds. I was hoping he'd learned his lesson but today he was bullying Nibbles nonstop so I tried the carrier approach. At first I put them in the small cage but after a few scuffles Nibbles settled on the floor and Jesse took the (tiny) shelf; he wouldn't let Nibbles anywhere near him but otherwise they didn't do much. Eventually I started thinking the two-level cage defeated the point of the carrier method so I put them in a small kitty carrier.

They immediately started brawling, and Jesse was being extremely antagonistic but was totally terrified. Eventually they ended up squaring off in a boxing stance. I got a video of a little bit of it:
http://youtu.be/Qzy3pvSkP0E Jesse is the black hooded on the bottom left.

This staredown thing went on for a full ten minutes. As you can see Jesse is squeaking in fear, while Nibbles seems much calmer. At first I was laughing at how silly Jesse looked, but it quickly got pathetic and then frightening as his squeals went hoarse and he started gasping and wheezing between them. Nibbles eventually realized he had the upper hand and slowly backed Jesse into a corner, then ended the ordeal with one punch to Jesse's face. I thought that would settle things but Jesse kept attacking Nibbles and then standing there wheezing and fear-pooping while Nibbles faced him down. He truly has no control over himself.

I couldn't leave them in there. It got so bad I was worried Jesse was going to have major breakdown or respiratory failure from sheer terror. It also became clear from watching them that Jesse's aggression is self-fueling; he starts fights that make him terrified, but when he's scared he gets very defensive and aggressive.

This is my first attempt at the carrier method so I'm not sure if I made the right decision in taking them back out. What do you think? Is this typical or an extreme case?
 

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It does seem like Jessie really had issues here. nibbles seems very calm and controlled. If Jessie is getting so terrified he's getting respy abs unwell then you made the right decision taking them out again for now. i wouldn't give up yet though. Try this again tonight but this time walk around with the carrier and them in it. If you can very someone else to drive or take it to a friends house (even better if they have a dog or cat so the place smells scary). This may help break the tension a little.

i wouldn't say this is the worst case I've seen but it does sound like a tough one. Jessie seems very insecure aggressive which is a bad situation for him and nibbles. Hopefully this will help but it may still need a neuter. He may also be the type of rat that does better living with girls though that isn't always easy to achieve if you don't have multiple groups or nearby friends with girls
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks again for all your input!

I haven't had time to attempt another carrier session yet but I'm actually seeing some positive improvements already. I did end up temporarily removing the space pod and the boys started sleeping together again. When I put it back after nearly a week, Jesse no longer treated it as his property and now they often share it or Jesse lets Nibbles sleep in it and sleeps elsewhere. However, when they are sleeping together and Nibbles is sleepy Jesse still has a tendency to crawl over Nibbles, groom him too hard (pulling out tiny chunks of skin and fur now and then) and flip Nibbles over and pin him.

I think the carrier session helped in two ways - Jesse is more reluctant to start fights, and Nibbles is definitely braver after seeing Jesse break down in the carrier confrontation! Overall, things seem more stable and Nibbles seems to be doing better emotionally.
 
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