Rat Behaviour & Training Tips
The more you get to know your rats, the better. Understanding what makes your rats tick can help build a great relationship.
Understanding rat behaviours
The more you get to know your rats and get to know about them, the better. There’s more fun to be had, and more reward, every single day.
Rats make excellent pets, especially for older children and adults. They’re clean, friendly, inquisitive and highly intelligent. They love a bit of problem-solving – and you can even teach them tricks. They bond well with people and rarely bite.
One of the great joys of keeping rats is that they love to play. It’s great to watch, and great to join in. They don’t know it, but plenty of fun and exercise keeps them in good physical condition. It’s important for mental stimulation too. So put plenty of toys, tunnels and ropes in their cage. Do you have something that looks like a cross between a crèche and an army assault course? Perfect.
Although rats are sleepy-heads all day long, they’re usually up in the late afternoon and evening. Bright-eyed, long-tailed and ready for action – absolutely ideal for when you get in.
Training your rats
Rats learn quickly. Using positive reinforcements such as treats and praise will ensure that your pet rat is eager to learn.
When teaching your rat a trick, for instance coming to his name, repeat the word while holding a treat. When he comes to you release the treat to him, praise him verbally, and/or reward by giving physical contact such as scratching or by holding him. One of the most useful things you can train your rat to do is to use a litter box.
Things to remember when training your rat is that their personality may determine what tricks it will be best at. Active females often do better at tricks that require agility and speed. Some rats are smarter than others are. Gearing the training to the rat’s activity level and intelligence will save both you and your rat from becoming frustrated.
Be sure that there are not a lot of distractions during training time. Keeping the training area consistent will help to keep the rat’s natural instinct to explore new things at bay. Do not try to train male rats where female rats have recently been, or vice versa. The scent will distract them and the training session will be useless.
Keep your training sessions short- between 10 and 15 minutes. Never punish your rat if it doesn’t perform.
Litter box training rats is fairly simple, and really depends on the individual rats whether they’ll pick it up or not. Females tend to pick it up better than males, and the younger the rats the better. It’s important to know that rats probably won’t use the box 100% of the time, and they will still urinate around the cage to mark their territory.
Step 1: The box
High corner litter pans that can attach to the cage are generally best since the rats cannot move the box around.
Step 2: Location, Location, Location
Deciding where to put the litter pan is very important. It should go on the bottom level of the cage, away from the food, water, and shelter box and preferably in one of the corners away from the door. If you are starting with an existing group of rats and cage, put the box in the corner that the rats are tending to toilet at the most.
Step 3: What litter to use in the box
This is perhaps the most important step, and it will make or break the litter box training. A different litter must be used in the litter box than is used in the rest of the cage. The rats need to be able to differentiate the toilet area from the rest of the cage.
Step 4: Make the litter box dirty
When filling the litter box for the first time, fill it with the dirty bedding/litter from the cage. Clean the rest of the cage, and put the new, different bedding in the rest of the cage. By doing this your rats will start to realise that the litter tray is the area to go to the toilet.
Step 5: If they don’t get it yet
If they still can’t find the toilet area place and continue to go to the toilet all over the cage, place all the droppings that are outside the litter box into the litter box, and keep the rest of the cage super clean.
Step 6: Maintaining
So now the rats are using the toilet area fairly reliably. They still need help finding the potty. At least for the first few cage cleanings, only change about half of the litter in the litter box, or put a layer of dirty litter on top of the clean litter. Also continue to place any rogue litter droppings in the litter box. Over time they should continue to use the box more and more.
Can rats be aggressive?
Rats rarely bite and if one does it’s normally for a reason. For example, they could mistake your hand for food or feel scared if the rat isn’t well socialised yet. If a rat bites and it is out of character, seek veterinary advice.
Did you know?
Domesticated rats are very clean, intelligent animals. They are very different to their wild cousins!
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