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Sudden biting

980 Views 10 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  coltostallion
My boy Ratsputin is normally very sweet though very energetic. I've only had him about 3 weeks but he's had no issues taking things from my hands, letting me pick him up, etc. Earlier today we were working on him being okay with being handled on his back and "come" with no issues.

This evening he came over to sniff around while he was free roaming and seemed playful so I tried tickling him a bit. He ran off a short way, turned around and came back. I tickled him again and this time he grabbed my finger. I tried eeping loud and long at him and he eventually let go, but drew blood. I told him "no" very firmly. He tried to nip at my hand again and I drew it back and said no. Then he started lunging for any skin he could find, usually not breaking the skin but I eeped and told him "NO!" each time but he kept biting harder, almost biting through my thumbnail at one point. I picked him up (wiggling and still probably trying to bite) and put him back in his cage with a firm no but I'm confused as to his sudden aggression. I have no idea how old he is so just assume older than one but younger than two. He was abandoned previously so it is possible he was aggressive and that's why, but he was fine the first few weeks.

I'm assuming it was dominance-based considering the lunging. He had plenty of room to get away at all times but not sure how best to handle this... I assume it's likely to occur again in the future at some point.
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If you tried hand playing with a rat who has never done it, they can see it as aggression from you. They get confused and think you are trying to dominate them. I had that happen to me. When Fettucine turned and lunged at my hand, he sunk is sharp teeth so deep that it bled for most of the day. And they can hold a grudge too.

I would recommend not trying to interact with him for a while, let him come to you at his own pace. Give him some space and time as he is clearly telling you he's not ready for tickles and playing. Adult rats don't always want to play with humans.
Thanks for the advice!
How long would be good?

I used some gloves and flipped him over a few times (in the bathroom so not a space he's normally in) and I know it stressed him out and feel bad but I would much rather go through bonding and gaining his trust again than have him think he can get away with biting. I'll admit I have much more experience with dogs than rats so I'm not sure if the same kind of thing works but I know they both pin for dominance and I needed to do something right away. He was tired at the end (obviously) but he climbed up on my shoulder and was very nuzzly afterwards so I just hope that means he isn't too stressed. He did take some treats from me after I put him back in his play area before returning him to his cage.

I feel awful about stressing him but he's also got a blood stain on his stomach from biting through the glove so I felt like I had to do something that would let him know that was not okay and that if anyone is dominant it is me in no uncertain terms. Again, that's from dog training though so I just really worry that there's something significant I fucked up...

He's sleeping in his hammock now and I'm just hoping things are more normal tomorrow. It's the length of time he spent attacking that worries me most. If it was one bite I would think nothing of it, but he kept trying for a solid couple of minutes, going for my arm or leg when my hand wasn't there. I assume he wasn't using full bite strength at least since he never broke the skin anywhere but fingers or knuckles which I know he could have, and nothing seems too deep, just enough to bleed a lot and hurt.
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Dogs do not "pin for dominance". Any interaction that involves a dog flipping another one on its back is the dog telling the other it does not like the flipped dog's behavior, not to establish "dominance". Pack Theory (the idea of "dominance" and "alpha" status) has been debunked for decades. So please don't apply that logic to dogs. One should not apply dog training logic to rats or any other animal, as they are not the same in terms of how they think or rationalize their behavior.
I am well aware the concept of alpha and such in wolves is untrue, but pinning as a way to establish pecking order /dominance is very common in both wolves and dogs. Showing the belly as submission has nothing to do with outdated concepts of alpha in wolves.
You really upset him, that's why he kept attacking you. It's the "I'll get you before you get me" kind of biting, and that means he doesn't trust you. @Enne has the right advice. Don't flip him over, that is very stressful. Forcing him to 'play' is stressful and not necessary too. Give the little guy some space and let him get over this stressful situation. Trust is what you want, and that is a precious thing to gain and hold onto.
I was definitely not forcing him to play, as I said he had plenty of space and I kept my hand in one location. I tried it the first time out of curiosity of course, but only tried it the second time because he came back to where my hand was after running off a small way. He could have gone anywhere at any point in the interaction. He has full run of the apartment and had just come over to where I was sitting so he wasn't trapped in any way.

That being said, it's only been 3 weeks so I have no doubt at all he doesn't totally trust me. The response seemed extreme but I do need to remember he was abandoned and trust issues are completely reasonable no matter how friendly he is. One bite and run away was what I would have expected from fear, but I'm not totally familiar with rat fear aggression as I've never dealt with it before.

I gave him the night in his cage and will continue to work on bonding and just hope it doesn't happen again. I'm still learning what he likes and dislikes so I'm sure I'll make mistakes again but hopefully not anything as scary for him.
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My apologies, I know you weren't trying to upset him. You said 'flipped' on his back and I thought that sounded kind of forceful, but it's what I was told they do with lab rats to encourage them to play. You would think a fearful bite is one and done, but oh no, they can hunt for you to let you know how they feel. Doesn't make sense, but rats are so different from other pets I've had, dogs, cats, birds, farm animals, etc. I was very surprised at how intelligent, how emotional, how defensive and how grumpy and moody they can be lol.

Give him a week. Time for everyone to regroup and come back and try again is very important. You won't lose anything by leaving him to his own thoughts. He'll come to understand you are the good guy ;)
Maybe he still needs more time... The day after the incident I tried some basic bonding as well as the day after that, just letting him run around giving him treats etc. No training or such and I only picked him up when I needed him to go back in his cage, no issues.

Then today he bit again. We had a bit of an earthquake last night which scared him and he got out of his cage, but he was perfectly fine with some cuddles before being let back into his cage. Then when I got back from work today and was letting him out I offered him my hand. He put his front half on (not room for all of him) and sort of nibbled my finger I told him No but didn't move my hand or anything since it was just nibbles. Then he stuck his head under my hand, so I turned it a bit. I had a bandaid on the other side from his previous bite so I wanted to keep him away from that, but he grabbed the skin between two knuckles and bit down. I told him NO firmly and he let go and backed off. I left him alone and went off to clean and bandage that wound. A few minutes later he came over to where I was sitting on the ground, first just sniffing around but then he started to climb into my lap (which he does for treats normally so I thought nothing of it), stopped and grabbed part of my lower leg. I told him NO! more forcefully. He let go, but then just grabbed onto a different section. I picked up him (he tried to bite then but that's understandable) and put him back in his cage.

I'm just confused as to why he came over to me in a totally different room to bite my leg. If it was fear he didn't have to be anywhere near me. I left him right near his open cage door so he could have gone in his cage, gone under the bed, anywhere. Instead he came around to where I was.

Should I just leave him in his cage for a week?? Normally I let him out for free roam time but if he's going to initiate bites I can't trust him out... but if I leave him in his cage I worry he'll get angry about not having free roam time or be more likely to bite me when I clean his cage or such.
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Your situation is very unique. I agree with you now, this is not fear-based biting. Sound like he just wants to bite, and you may never know what is prompting him to bite. And it will be hard to determine if he's coming to play or say hello, or wants to bite you. I really don't know how to proceed with his training. Gaining trust from an untrustworthy rat is totally new to me. Someone else chime in please?
The weirdest part is that he didn't do it at all the first 3 weeks. It's like he just discovered it. I found someone with some rat babies who's going to help me test him out with young ones (6 weeks) and see if he deals with them well. Since I don't know how things were done before I got him I'm hoping that baby intros won't trigger any aggression and maybe that will help him with stress or some such? Neutering is still on the table depending how that works out. If he's just developed a taste for blood and decided to be a vampire that's a hurdle we'll have to cross later. It's just so weird how he can go from super curious and sweet for three weeks to biting at most chances... He was perfectly willing to take food from my hand and crawl all over me right away so he obviously didn't fear humans and he's not acting skittish... I can't find anything online to give me an idea of what on earth could be the issue.
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