If you’re thinking about bringing a new rat home, then you’ll be looking to form a lasting relationship with you rat so that you can both be happy and have fun together. You’ll be happy to hear that we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know to create that bond.
How To Tame And Bond With A New Pet Rat: Complete Guide includes strategies for making a new arrival comfortable in their new home, the basics of bonding with you rat in the early stages of their new life, tips on how to hold your rat, and some advanced games to improve the bond with your rat.
How To Make A New Rat Comfortable In Their New Home
Before you can tame a rat, you need them to be comfortable and receptive to training. So, let’s begin with helping your rat feel at home.
Give Them Time Alone
Your rat doesn’t need a rushed introduction to you, your family, your other pets and your home. While we understand the urge to do these things, it’s best if you just leave it a little while.
For your rat, moving to a new house is a very stressful experience and its little rat brain is going to be switched into overload. So, when you start introducing it to new people and new things – you’re heaping on the stress to an already stressed animal.
That means you want to leave it alone for a day or two so that it can get comfortable with its new home and the world around it. Once the time is up there are two possible reactions to some initial contact from you:
- A properly socialized rat from an experienced and ethical breeder should be happy to bond with its new owner quite quickly. They’ll learn to pick up treats and move into your hands and they’re going to be very easy to deal with. The majority of pet store rats fall into this group and if you’ve taken your time to pick a decent breeder, the rats you buy will too.
- A rat that hasn’t been previously socialized, on the other hand, is going to be a real handful and it’s going to take a lot of time to get them used to interacting with humans. They won’t want to be touched and may even scream when you try. Rats like this are typically sold by “feeder breeders” and if you’re just starting out with rats – you want to avoid this category of rat completely.
Let Them Get Used To The Pace Of Life
Even if you intend to move it later, you don’t want to place your rat’s new home in a quiet part of the house. Ideally, you want it to be near a thoroughfare (such as the base of the stairs) where people will walk past it on a regular basis, and it will get some exposure to activity.
If you don’t have somewhere that people walk past a lot, then in a corner of your living room is also fine, but try to keep the volume on the TV down while your rat is there as it might frighten and stress your rat.
You might also want to have a long telephone or face-to-face conversation near the rat’s cage, so that it can get used to the sound of human voices. However, it’s important that you don’t shout or shriek or make loud noises because that will just stress it out.
Ironically, rats are often scared of the sounds of an electric hum, rustling noises and even the sound of shredding. They probably think it’s other rats. Try to keep these noises to a minimum while the rat settles in.
Be Patient With Your Rat
If you’ve ever taken up a new job or been the new kid in class, you’ll know how overwhelming a big change can be in your life and it’s the same for your rat.
As you begin to socialize with your rat, you need to ensure that your objective is always to build trust and to get the rat to respond to you with willing and happiness.
You may need to try different approaches because not all rats are the same and it can take longer than expected with some rats. Don’t give up and don’t get frustrated – you will bond eventually.
It’s important not to pick up a rat before it’s completely happy in the new environment, it may panic and bite you. This will create a layer of distrust which makes it harder to socialize the animal in the future.
The Basics Of Bonding With Your Rat
Once your rat’s ready – you can start working on building that relationship. Let’s see how you begin:
Wait 1-2 Days After The Rat Arrives
We know, we’ve already said this but it’s so important that we want to stress it again – you want the rat to take a day or two to get used to its home before you try to start interacting with it.
As you begin, don’t throw yourself into the cage and try a full on introduction, start with a little trust exercise, place your hand softly in the cage in full view of your rat and extend it towards the rat but not so far that it feels threatened.
If at any time, the rat starts to puff up or cower, move away and come back and try again later.
However, if you do this right, it will eventually come over to sniff your fingers and it may even let you give it a little stroke.
You should always wash your hands prior to interacting with your rat so that you don’t have any food odors or other odors that might cause distress on you.
You should also wash your hands after playing with your rat for the purposes of good hygiene and to keep any health risks to a minimum.
Use Treats To Make Introductions
Assuming that you passed the initial sniff test (and if you didn’t you should work on this before moving on) then the next step is to try and get your rat keen to see you.
Fortunately, this isn’t the hardest job in the world because rats absolutely love food and if you offer it some food – it will come and chow down happily.
So, get some fresh fruit or veg and cut it up into rat-sized treats or buy special “rat treats” from the pet store and then take a piece and hold it in the palm of your hand.
Put your hand into the cage and just wait for your rat to come over and see what’s what, they will eventually take the treat.
You should do this daily to ensure a strong bond with your rat. Feeding your rat creates a reinforcement cycle that says, “interact with me and life is good”.
However, if the rat doesn’t, yet, have the courage to take the treat – don’t try and make them take it, just come back again later or tomorrow and try again. It will happen eventually; rats can’t ignore their stomachs forever.
A Treat Every Time
In fact, offering a treat is so important that we’d say for the first few weeks of keeping a rat that it’s important to offer them a little treat every time you open the cage.
However, we’d keep the treats in a little container and give them a gentle but audible shake so that your rat can hear it before you do. This will help the rat form another association between you, the shake and the treat.
It will help the rat anticipate your visit with excitement because “Hey! Treats!”
You probably don’t want this to go on forever, but it is a good way of really reinforcing the bond in the early part of the rat’s time with you.
Hand Sniffing Is Helpful
There’s a lot of repetition when it comes to training rats and so, there will be a bit of repetition here too. Hand sniffing is a really good way to strengthen the bond with your rat.
This is, just as when you started, when you offer an empty hand to the rat and just let it sniff at it. This is quite important because if your hand only turns up bearing food – well, then your rat might think your hand is food and start chewing on it.
That’s no fun at all.
So, as much as treats help the bond, you want them to get used to your scent and realize that you’re a part of their life rather than just the hand of the food dispenser in the sky.
Gentle Petting Is Good
It’s not unusual for rats to resist being petted in the first instance and that’s because they don’t get petted in the wild. So, they’re not pre-programmed to understand what it means.
So, umm… you kind of need to force the issue but without stressing your rat out. So, the idea is simple, every now and again you should pet the rat and then give it a treat for putting up with you.
You should start petting with just a single stroke prior to offering treats and after a week or so of this you can gradually up the ante.
You may find that your rat resists a little during this part of training, that’s OK and expected, keep going – he/she will get used to it.
However, if the rat starts screaming and crying. Back off and come back another time for this.
Despite the forceful nature of this training – rats come to love being petted and you’ll find that if you do it often enough, they start to seek it out.
Let Them Sit In Your Cupped Hand
Once your rat has started to come around to the idea of your presence it’s time to help them get used to being in your hands.
Cup your rat in your palm while keeping your hands very close to the bottom of the cage (maybe an inch or two above it). This allows the rat to get down if it feels it’s had enough.
You shouldn’t start this until your rat seems to be comfortable with your presence and takes food/treats from your hand.
Start with just a minute or two of this and try to work up to about 5 minutes. This way they get happier about being handled.
5-20 Minutes A Day Of Exposure
Once they hit that 5 minute barrier. It’s time to pick them up out of the cage and see if they can handle that. Start with 5 minutes and gradually work your way up to 20 minutes.
This way, your rat is going to get used to the idea of being out of its home in your protective company.
You should give your rat gentle words of praise and encouragement at this phase. You can also give them a treat every now and again during the “ride”.
The Sweatshirt Ride
You will need a sweatshirt for this but if you have one with a front pouch, once your rat is happy to be carried for 20 minutes at a time – you can pop it into the pouch (do it while you’re sitting down, just in case your rat falls out).
They like the warmth of the pocket, the darkness of it and the fact that it smells of you and they may be happy to stay in there for even longer than they sit in your hands. This means your rat can keep you company while you sit on the couch and watch TV, for example.
When To Say “No”
You must never, ever punish a rat physically for bad behavior. That’s because your rat is tiny, and you are huge (comparatively speaking). Even the gentlest of remonstrations could badly hurt or injure your rat.
However, that doesn’t mean that your rat shouldn’t learn when it’s being naughty. You just have to do it the right way.
If your rat bites you or misbehaves you can clap your hands together and then give it a quick “No!” in a stern tone (but not in a raised voice). The objective is to let them know that this isn’t OK, and they shouldn’t do it in future. They will learn.
Keep In Touch
Rats are very smart, but they don’t always have the longest of memories. When you want to effectively build up some rapport in the early days of owning a rat – you should visit it regularly throughout the day.
Stop for a little chat – talk to the rat in a low, pleasant voice and then maybe let it sniff your hand. You might even give it a quick pet.
One word of caution here: it’s important to make sure your rat is awake before you touch it. If you surprise awaken your rat – expect a bite for your trouble and don’t scold the rat when it does bite, this one’s on you.
Consider Clicker Training
If a rat is very shy and you’re having real problems to get it to interact with you. You might try clicker training. That is when you use a clicker to create a positive reinforcement when paired with treats (or toys).
When the rat does something good, click the clicker and then give it a treat. This is best done as soon as the desired behavior manifests itself.
Clickers are available from Amazon or in a pet store. There are some decent videos on YouTube that demonstrate this technique including this one:
How To Hold A Rat Properly
Once you’ve got your rat fully socialized the next step in the process is for you to learn the best way to hold a rat. This ensures that your rat will be happy and comfortable with you whenever you are together.
The good news is that this bit is very easy and won’t require very much effort compared to the last part.
The Two-Handed Scoop
When you pick a rat up without trying to call it into your hands, first. You can do it by placing a hand on either side of it in the cage. Then you simply bring your palms together, you want them to form a cup with the rat held securely between your palms and fully supported beneath it.
This position ensures that the rat doesn’t start immediately wriggling out of your grip and it allows you to hold the rat tightly without squeezing it.
All told, this is the easiest grip to learn when you first start handling rats.
One-Hand Under The Chest, One Under The Legs
To ensure that your two handed hold is comfortable for moving the rat around a room or from one location to another – you might want to place your hand under the rat’s chest and then move the other behind the rat’s legs.
The beauty of this position is that it offers your rat a large amount of physical support and it will feel more relaxed and secure than in other positions.
The Arm Climb
As your rat becomes more and more used to the idea of spending time in your hands, it’s going to start seeking them out to be held and it will want to explore you to get a better feel for who you are.
Place your hand with the back of the hand flat on the floor and turn your arm into a bit of a ramp. Let the rat crawl up and down your arm. It may be a little nervous at first, but it will soon be scampering up and down you with real glee.
Eventually, this will be the easiest way to take your rat out of its cage. It will run forward and climb you when your hand is offered.
As your rat gets used to running up and down your arm, it will eventually end up sitting on your shoulder. You won’t have to teach it to do this – there’s something about sitting on shoulders that seems to be naturally programmed into rats.
You can sit and watch the TV or wander about your home with your rat perched on your shoulder, it will stay there happily for long periods of time without getting bored or becoming irritable. So, enjoy the companionship – this is a real sign of a strong bond between a rat and its human.
Let’s Talk Tails
There are not that many rules when it comes to picking up rats but there is one hard and fast rule. You must never, ever pick a rat up their tail. It might be tempting but it’s a very cruel thing to do and is only going to cause distress to your rat.
In fact, picking a rat up by its tail can even seriously injure the animal and it will take you a long time to rebuild the bond of trust that you’ve been working on.
Why You Don’t Squeeze Rats
The other important rule when it comes to you rat’s safety is that you never ever squeeze a rat. Again, you’re just too much bigger than the rat to be certain that you’re not going to injure it.
If you hurt the rat or cause it stress through squeezing – you’re going to find that it stops trusting you and you may never be able to rebuild the bond.
Always Supervise Children Under 10
Young children can learn to be awesome friends with a rat, but it takes time and you need to ensure that whenever a child under 10 plays with your rats that you are there to provide supervision for them both.
There are two reasons for this. The first is to protect your rat. Kids don’t mean to be rough, but they often are by accident and this is going to harm the rat and that’s not what you want.
The other reason is to protect the child. Rats when they’re hurt or afraid are very likely to bite and that might provoke an angry reaction from the child. It’s best to avoid this.
Three Simple Extra Bonding Games
OK, now you’ve mastered all the basics of taming and training a rat to form a bond with you. However, that doesn’t mean that your relationship with your rat is complete. You can keep playing with your rats and extend your relationship to become even better.
Think of it like making friends with a person. Over time you will build stronger and deeper friendships that become truly memorable. It’s the same with rats.
This is a fantastic little game and it’s very easy to play. Make a rope (use yarn and braid it) and then tie something shiny to the end of the rope. We’ve found that a zipper can be really good as rats can easily grip it.
Then open up the cage and wave the shiny zipper end at the rat. When they’re in the mood for play, they will grab that zipper in their teeth and start to pull. Gently pull back against them and make sure that you give the rats the opportunity to win (it’s for fun – you already know you’re stronger than them).
When you’ve finished – make sure to remove the rope and zipper from their cage. You don’t want them to choke on it.
Hand wrestling is another easy game to play. You don’t need any props for this one, either, just your hand.
Drag your hand around the base of the cage and make sure to give their bedding a bit of a stir so that it rustles. The rats will come quickly to check out the noise. Then use your hand to pounce on the rat!
Then they’ll start to run about playing with your hand and sort of gumming at your hand. Make sure that this play doesn’t end up being too rough though.
Fill your sink with just a little water so that your rats can stand on the bottom and still have their heads above the water. Then put some diced fruit and veg into the water and gently place the rat in the water – if they like it, they’ll chase after the food. If they don’t be ready to rescue them quickly.
The Final Tip: Be Consistent And Repeat Often
The number one rule for training rats is a simple one. Rats can learn and are happy to do so but it takes time and patience. They learn best when you are consistent with taming/training them and when you repeat your actions regularly.
So, we hope that How To Tame And Bond With A New Pet Rat: Complete Guide has helped you understand how easy it can be to bring a rat into your life and form a lasting bond with your new pet. The real key is patience if you combine this with genuine care – you and your rat will form a rewarding relationship that will last forever.
We have also recently written an article all about how to tame a pet bearded dragon, if you are interested why not have a read.