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Gaining the Trust of Your Rat

Recently gotten a new rat, or own a rat who is scared or aggressive towards you? A lot of times this is caused by lack of proper handling as a baby, and although it may seem difficult, it is not at all impossible to tame even the most fearful or aggressive rescue rat. It's all about trust training.

It is often said that the way to a rat's heart is through their stomach, and I personally vouch for that. Treat and food reinforcement is the most simple and best way to go towards socializing and taming a rat.

The first step for all routes of socialization is to let your new rat adjust to their surroundings. Keep them in a minimally decorated cage, with one place to hide, such as a nesting box or tissue box, and their food and water. Don't start loading in the toys yet. Let them adjust for a couple days, perhaps two or three, and try to keep the room quiet and free from major traffic. You can sit near their cage and speak to them calmly, but don't attempt handling or giving them treats until they've settled down.

Once they are settled, you must decide your route of socialization. There is gradual, with treat reinforcement and letting the rat move at its own pace, or there is forced, which gives them no choice but to learn to trust you. The decision is yours, and the results are identical in the end, whichever way you choose. It all comes down to what you are comfortable doing and what you feel is best for the rat. If one method seems to not be working, try the other. It may take a combination of both. You'll soon find out what is working and what isn't.

If your rat should ever nip you, make a high pitched eeping sound to let them know in ratty language that it hurts - but the goal is to avoid this by being rspectful of their body language and behavior.

Gradual Socialization

This works best for timid babies and newly acquired rats. It lets them learn trust at their own pace, and it is rewarding to see their progress using this method.

Make sure the room is quiet and there are no possible interruptions such as the television or other pets/people in the room. Sit down and get comfy near the cage. This works best if the cage is on the ground, or the rat can get onto the ground from the door. You may want to block off around the cage with cardboard or something else just in case they take off running and hide. Leave the cage open so they can run back and hide in it if they get spooked. Through the entire process, be sure to coax and gently talk to them.

Respect your rat's body language cues! - if they seem scared, back off whatever you are doing and revert to the previous step.

Pre-Step:

Any time you pass by the cage, drop a small but high reward treat in your rat's dish. Some good healthy treats are cereals such as Total or Cheerios, yogurt drops, dry pasta, or fresh fruit. Start with the small irresistible treats, but make sure they are solid at first so the rat can take the treat and eat it where they are comfortable. Don't linger afterwards - just leave and let them enjoy it. They'll soon associate you coming around with good things! You can also offer treats through the bars, but do it at your own risk, as it may result in your rat unintentionally biting inquisitive fingers!

Step One:

Place your hand in the cage near the rat, and lay it flat on the bottom, with your chosen treat in the center of your palm. If the rat seems uninterested in the the treat, just be patient. Making a repetitive noise when giving treats, such as shaking the treat container, will make them associate the sound with yummy food. If the rat is not terrified and just timid it should slowly come over and take the treat from your hand, but you may have to hold it between your fingers and move it towards the rat if they seem uninterested or don't notice. Be calm and be patient.

Step Two:

When the rat is comfortable taking the treat from your hand, begin gradually moving it closer to the door of the cage, and eventually, they should get confident enough to come out of the door and even on to your lap to get the treat. Always let them run back into the cage and eat it where they are comfortable. If they seem to be full or uninterested, take a break and try again in a little while.

Do this as often as possible until the rat is completely comfortable coming out of the cage on their own and taking food from you. Don't try to pick them up as you might frighten them back to step 1.

There are some cases where the rat may be so timid and unwilling to take the treat from your hand, and in this case you may want to withhold their morning food so they are a little more hungry when training time comes around. This is better for adults, as withholding food from babies could be harmful to their growth.

Step Three:

When the rat is completely comfortable coming out of the cage on their own and eating from your hands, you can now switch to soft food. Soft food is great for trust training because instead of solid foods where they can take the treat and run, soft foods they must sit and eat from your hand. Yogurt and baby foods work well.

Coax them out of the cage and into your lap with a little bit of the soft food on your fingertip or a spoon if they nip. Make sure there's enough that it takes them a bit to lick it off before returning back into the cage. While they are distracted with eating, very slowly reach towards them with your free hand and begin to rub behind their neck and ears. If they tense up or run back to the cage, don't be alarmed. Give them a break and try again later.

Eventually the rat will let you rub their neck and face and actually start to enjoy it. They might even stop running back to the cage between feedings. Eventually you can begin placing your entire hand around the body of the rat, squeezing gently and lifting them up a little while still letting them eat, to let them get accustomed to being picked up.

Step Four:

When your rat is comfortable being picked up, you can begin holding them for extended periods of time. Place them in your hood, in your pocket, in a blanket or towel, and let them ride around with you while you go about your business. Start with a few minutes, and build up from there. If they get a little scared, don't worry. Give them treats when returning them to their cage. They might not take it at first, but be persistent. They'll quickly learn that whenever you pick them up, there's a good reward in the end for them, and it's really not all that bad.

Step Five:

Once they're comfortable being around you, grab a chair or block off an empty area in a quiet room. Sit on the floor and place the rat in your lap with a towel or blanket and let them run about and explore. If they get scared, wrap them up in the blanket and return them to their cage. Return to the previous step and try again later.

Eventually, if you are patient and persistent and routine with rewards and treats, your rat will be practically begging you to pick them up every time you pass by the cage. It is a rewarding experience for both the rat and the owner doing trust training this way, and it works well almost every time.

But in some cases, especially with rescues, the rat will be so timid or aggressive that they will refuse to take the treat from you, run and hide, or nip your hands when placed in the cage. In this case, it is best to use forced socialization.

Forced Socialization

I (Jaguar) personally no longer recommend using this method of socialization. It is quite outdated. I personally won't be offering advice to anyone looking to use this method.

Forced socialization is good to use when the gradual method isn't working, or when the rat is too timid or aggressive, usually in the case of rescues. This method gives the rat no other choice but to accept and trust you, and it offers quick results but requires more dedication and time from the owner.

Step One:

Start by taking the hidey box out of the rat's cage so they do not have anywhere to run away from you. Get an old towel or blanket you don't mind getting dirtied on or chewed. Don't use gloves. Corner the rat in the cage and cover them with the blanket. Wrap them up in it and remove them from the cage. Sit on the floor talking to them while keeping them secured in the blanket until they calm down and stop frantically trying to escape. They may dirty in the blanket but ignore it, don't place them back in the cage if they do. Make sure to keep them comfortable and bundled as it will make them feel more secure and calm down quicker.

Step Two:

You can either keep the rat in the blanket pushed up against your chest or stomach and carry them around that way, or use a designated pouch or piece of clothing. I prefer to use a baggy old hoodie I've been wearing for a couple of days so that they can get closer to my body and get used to my smell. Place them in the pocket, hood, or between the hoodie and your shirt and leave them there. Go about your daily business - chat on the internet, phone, do your bills and paperwork... Something that makes minimal noise and requires little movement but passes the time. Talk to them, scratch them with your fingers, and place your hands on them consistently. It is commonly said that rats cannot hold fear for more than 20 minutes, so having them out for 20-30 minutes a couple times a day is the best way to go.

Step Three:

When returning your rat to the cage, offer them a treat. They probably won't take it for the first few times, but once they start realizing that being taken out isn't as terrible as it seems, they will start to take it from you more quickly and actually begin looking forward to being taken out for a ride. They will eventually get comfortable enough to take treats from you while they are riding around with you as well, and you can give them little treats while they are in your pouch. Eventually, you can stop using the towel to pick them up and they will look forward to being picked up and taken places.


Conclusion

Whichever method you choose, whether it be gradual, forced, or a combination of both, persistence, patience, and yummy food is the key to gaining your rat's trust. There are very few cases in which a rat does not gain total trust. If they were severely abused or are extremely timid they may never become fully cuddly lap rats you wish them to be, but drastic improvement can be made for the better of both the rat and the owner. Remember that with a little bit of effort, in the end you will have an affectionate and inquisitive partner that will always look forward to spending time with you.

I wish everyone the best of luck in gaining the trust and friendship of your rat, and if you have any questions or have any tips or suggestions feel free to send me a message!

Helpful links:
http://www.members.shaw.ca/ratanist/Socializing_Rats.htm
http://www.ratfanclub.org/trust.html
http://ratguide.com/care/behavior/training_playtime.php
http://ratplanet.0catch.com/biteandtrust.htm
 

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In an effort to keep things a little more clean around the forum, this thread is now open to replies. Please post here if you have any questions/concerns/issues with the training methods outlined in this thread, and hopefully one of our members will be able to give you some help. Thanks!

I've also made some edits to the guide, as this training method was mostly devised from older sources that don't align with my training views now.
 

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This post has been immensely helpful to me. I adopted two boys - one more timid than the other. They were handled very well at their shelter, and really liked their caretaker. They have been slow getting to know me, which at times can be frustrating, because they're so darn cute and I just want to love them!

I'm currently working on Step 3 with both of them. One brother is more timid, and so is uncertain about letting me touch him, but he doesn't seem outright fearful. Sometimes he'll dart away, then come right back when he realizes I'm not trying to pick him up. The braver one lets me rub his head and neck a bit, but becomes spooked when I rub his belly or back. I can't tell if he genuinely likes me rubbing his head/neck, or if it's just the yogurt he likes (and is thus willing to suffer through it).
 

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I have three girls - very shy. thought it would be a piece of cake because they were well socialised. i am a first time rat owner. it is taking way longer than it did with my hamsters but i am making progress with a couple of the three.
 

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My boy mouse is very timid and I've done basically everything I can to try and get him to trust me but nothing's working.
One day he'll be fine with me but then the next he won't come out of under my bed or my wardrobe. He's 8 months old and runs at the slightst move I make.

I'm honestly out of idea and need help cause it makes me so sad seeing him so scared :(
 

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Please help:

Trust Training is NOT working with my boys. I adopted them at eight months and I don't think they were socialized well with their last owners. They will eat from my hand if I don't give them any veggies/fruit in the morning and just rat food then offer them something in the evening, but even then they take it and run. They also hide every time I walk by or speak to them and there has been no progress at all. I don't really want to attempt Forced Socialization, but I feel it may be my only option at this point. With that being said, I have two rats. Should I try this Forced Socialization with both at the same time, or with just one?

I'm just stuck and I wish that they were well socialized as babies. I still love them though and don't regret adopting them at all <3
 

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Territorial?

I have two girls that were born around June/July 2018 that I took home in mid/late July. I did much of what was suggested regarding the trust training....gave them 3 days to get acclimated to a semi-sparse house, then used food to lure them to say hello. They always (and to this day) take their food and run with it, so I started feeding them a bit to get them to be social, and then gently picked them up. I pet them in their house a lot. Tango was always easier than Foxtrot. They would both often run away when I went to pick them up, so I showed them they can go from their door to my hoodie pocket and it worked great. We would spend a little time each night playing on the couch. I had a few instances early on where Foxtrot decided to make a break for it and had to chase her down out from under the furniture, which was traumatic for all of us. We've not had this happen since late August though. When they are out they are super hyper, and never stop moving. Foxtrot will not ride in a hood or pocket, but Tango will in my pocket. We can take Tango to our bedroom and let her run around on the bed without too much worry of her trying to escape, and I think if she did, she would come back to me. I don't have the same trust in Foxtrot. They rarely take food when not in their cage, regardless of how appealing it is. This tells me they are nervous. As soon as they are home, I will offer the same food and they take it greedily. About a month ago I reached into their house to pet them and Foxtrot bit me. I decided that it was acceptable to consider their home off limits to me reaching in and stopped doing so ever. about 2 weeks ago, I was reaching in to pet Tango while Foxtrot was in a hammock. Foxtrot lunged from her slumber to bite my hand as I was bringing it back out of the cage. I yelled OUCH! in a high pitch and kept my hand in the cage to let her know that was not OK and that was not an agreed upon boundary, though I didn't reach for her. When they are coming over for food and attention I put my hand in front of them both and pet their heads and chins to keep them used to my hands being accessible to them. Yesterday I was picking up some stray poops on the bottom of their cage when Foxtrot shot out of a little box I didn't realize she was in and chomped my finger hard enough to bleed from 2 incisions. She didn't let go for a second while I jerked my hand away and (involuntarily) screamed OUCH! When she did let go she scampered back into the box while I said a few more profanities. I continued to pet the freaked out Tango and stayed near, trying to let Foxtrot know that I did not respect the behavior, but I also didn't put my hand in front of the box again. It tricking HURTS! Later that day I opened the door and Foxtrot rushed out of a little basket I gave them in a semi aggressive fashion. I didn't take me hand out and didn't yell and she seemed to have second thoughts and backed down. Foxtrot is bigger than Tango and they have skirmishes over food. Like I said, they always take their food and run to either a hiding house to eat it or store it. If they both run to the same house, I hear a lot of commotion and Tango comes out empty handed. Foxtrot is bigger than her and seems to win every skirmish. So I need advice. I feel like it's me. Maybe by respecting their house I have given Foxtrot too much power? Or I should continue to respect their house, but not provide the other hiding houses? I've done so because 1. they seem to like it, 2. Tango often times needs her own space (but Foxtrot usually follows her), and 3. our house is really cold at night and I think they stay warmer cuddled in the little box at night. But if Foxtrot thinks all those spaces plus the hammock are no hand zones, that makes it quite treacherous for my phalanges. My big fear is that Foxtrot will bite me while she is out with us playing. She is a fan of getting into my hoodie, which I allow if I have another layer on in between. I don't want her to get into my hoodie and decide she can bite if I take her out. Last night she was demanding access in and I didn't let her and I got worried. I ended up putting her back in the cage to avoid an altercation. I really want to be more relaxed with these buggers.
 

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Even though I have had my boys for 6-7 months now, I'm still stuck on the step 3. Willow and Whiskers look forward to coming out of the cage, and wait for me at the door whenever I go near the cage, but when I open the door, they run on to my lap and on to the floor. I can't fence the area around the cage since they would still have somewhere to run. (My cage has a big gap underneath) Also, they don't enjoy being petted or picked up. I guess you could call them skittish, but they do seem willing to come out into my lap. Any ideas? Thanks a lot! I really love my rats, but I just want them to socialize with me more. (Yes, I do play with them every day)
 

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Advice with trust training!

I have had several rats, but had 9 months without any after my others died. I got 3 more babies from a well known breeder and was expecting to not have to do much work temerament wise. I got them at 5 weeks and my method was just to let them out on bed with me and let them warm up to me and feed them cheerios and such. I feel like it was going well but now they are 14 weeks and i am disappointed in their timidness. 2 of them anyways are very shy and a little skittish. I feel like weve almost made backwarfs progress at this point...how should i go about going back to basics for trust training now? I tried 2 days so far of putting cage right by bed and coaxing them out with cheerios. The thing is yesterday went better than today and i feel like since im not forcing handling as the method says at this step they arent really getting much time with me. Should i be doing multiple sessions a day?
 
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