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Rats Can Do Tricks

Rats have such a bad reputation but really they are wonderful pets that are becoming more popular with many children and adults alike.  They are one of the most intelligent rodents and so thrive on lots of attention and brain stimulation.  Did you know that you can teach old rats new tricks?

Clickers are used to train dogs, cats and birds but are also incredibly useful for rats.  These simple devices use immediate reward and reinforcement to teach animals that the behavior that they just did is exactly what was wanted.  It is simply repeating the process of waiting for the animal to either do the trick or show interest in the apparatus (even just glance at it), and then immediately click and reward.  Each time, just expect just that little bit more until the trick is complete.

Here are some easy tricks to teach rats!  Have some smooth peanut butter or Cheerios ready for rewards and ensure that there are no other noises or distractions in the room.  The best treats for training are the ones that your rat loves but gets only when he is learning new tricks.

Place your rat on a table or chair then say his name and the word “Come”.  Give him a click and a tiny drop of peanut butter when he gets to you as a reward.  Gradually increase the distance the rat needs to go to get to you and his treat.

Put a little drop of peanut butter on your finger, then hold it over the rat’s head.  The rat will naturally stand up on its hind legs to get the treat.  Immediately say “beg” then reward the rat with a click from the clicker and the drop of peanut butter on your finger.  Repeat the process until the peanut butter isn’t needed and the rat responds to the word “beg”.

Choose something small and lightweight such as a small ring or a little rubber ball but ensure that it is not something that he might swallow.  Hold the ring in front of the rat and encourage him to touch it with his mouth.  Once he takes the ring in his mouth, immediately click and give him a treat.  This trick takes a little patience and repetition but is worth persevering with.

Place your rat on one side of the fence or object, say “over” then encourage him over the obstacle with a treat.  When he reaches the other side, click and then give him his treat.  Over time you can teach him in the same way to go through tunnels and almost follow an agility course.

Shoulder Sitting
Place your pet rat on your shoulder for short amounts of time whilst quietly sitting next to his cage.  Provide a few treats whilst he is there so that he begins to relax.  After a few days and when he is comfortable with that, take short walks around the house with him on your shoulder and increase the amount of time as he becomes more comfortable.

There are plenty of toys that your rat will love at Better Pets and Gardens including edible huts and logs, plastic igloos, wooden hide-aways, bird toys and cat toys.  But, for a bit of variety, entertain your rat with paper towel rolls, empty tissue boxes, PVC pipe tunnels and old socks.  Make a homemade piñata by wrapping food in cloth and hanging it from the top of the cage or freeze pieces of fruit and veggies in little dishes of water for popsicles on a hot day.  Rats will also enjoy a digging box with rat-safe plants such as cat grass and fruits & veggies planted in to it and add a wading pool with a few centimetres of water with some smooth rocks and frozen peas.  Like all pets, change the toys every week or so to keep your rat entertained.

Rats are extremely social animals and should always be kept in pairs or groups.  They need their friends for grooming, playing, sharing and sleeping.  Rats that are kept on their own are at risk of becoming aggressive, lonely or even ill but kept with friends, they are warm and loving animals.

Rats have a bad reputation but in fact, like many animals, rats are incredibly clean.  Most rats will choose one corner of their cage to use as a bathroom so watch them for about a week to find out which corner they prefer.  Put a corner litter box in that spot and to discourage your rat from using the other three corners, put the bedding, food and water bowls in them instead.  Place about 5cm of litter in the litterbox and lock it in place so that it won’t move.  Put a little soiled bedding in to the litterbox on a daily basis so that the rat recognizes this as his new toilet.  Keep the rest of the cage extremely clean during this training period.

Once your rat is trained and no longer uses the rest of the cage as a toilet, you will only need to change the litterbox a few times a week.   A quick tip though, avoid odour neutralizing cleaners or strong detergents in the litterbox as the rat must recognize the scent of his toilet.

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