Rats are intelligent and curious and can form close bonds with their owners. If you are pet parent to one of these fascinating creatures, you may have wondered whether it is possible to train your rat. Read on for all you need to know!
Rat training basics
Training a rat is easier than you might think. Their inquisitive nature means that they tend to be very receptive to learning, especially if food is involved. However, before you can start training your pet to perform ‘tricks’, it is really important to get some basics in place:
Your rat must be well socialised and happy being handled before you can progress to anything more ambitious. Start by placing your hand in your rat’s cage; curiosity will soon get the better of them and they will come over to investigate, at which point you can offer a small food reward. Gradually you will be able to progress to picking up your pet, using both hands so they feel secure. Handling your rat every day and offering a small treat will soon mean they will be comfortable in your company. If your pet is a shy and retiring type, it may take a little longer but with patience you will get there.
Rats like routine! If you feed and handle them at the same time each day, it will help to make them feel safe and secure. A happy rat will be more receptive to training!
- Food reward
Most rats are motivated by food especially if you pick their favourite treat. You will soon learn your pet’s preferences but if you’re not sure, why not set up a ratty taste test? Offer a selection of tiny treats and see which they go for first.
Once your rat is fully at ease in your company and you have a tasty morsel at the ready, it is time to start training!
Rat training tips
- Rat-proof your training area to make sure your four-legged friend stays safe
- Remove distractions, especially other pets
- Keep training sessions short and regular, 10 minutes is ideal
- Your rat may be more receptive if they are feeling a bit peckish, so training before mealtime can be a good idea
- Don’t punish your rat if they don’t perform!
What are good treats for rats?
Most rats love their food and treats can be a great way of rewarding your pet as part of a balanced diet. For maximum motivation, find out what your pet’s favourite treat is and only offer it during training sessions. You could try:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Unsalted popcorn
Remember to offer small amounts only, to avoid your rat becoming overweight.
What can you train a rat to do?
Believe it or not, you can train a rat to do pretty much anything that you could train a puppy to do and more besides – with their front paws being a little like tiny hands they are able to grip and hold things, a skill which most dogs don’t have!
- Training is based on trust so establish this first
- Use positive reinforcement or rewards
- Repetition is key
- Patience is essential
Follow these basic guidelines and you could try:
Teaching your pet to come when they are called can be really useful. Start with your rat close to you and hold a treat in your hand. Say your rat’s name while offering the food reward. They will soon learn to associate their name with a treat, and you can gradually increase the distance between you and your pet. Before long, your rat will come when you call their name!
How about teaching your rat to offer their paw or ‘shake’? Say ‘paw’ then touch their foot and offer a tasty treat. Soon your rat will start to anticipate the reward and will lift up their paw when they hear you say the magic word! You can progress to only offering a treat when your pet allows you to hold their paw or ‘shake hands’.
- Rat litter box training
Why not litter train your pet? Place the litter box in their usual ‘toilet’ area and to start with, put some soiled litter or droppings in the box. Pop your rat on the litter box and reward them when they ‘go’.
Never push your pet to do something that they may find stressful but once you have the basics in place, the sky’s the limit! Aim high and who knows what you and your rat can achieve? How about:
- Rope walking or climbing
- Maze running
- Obstacle courses
- Harness and lead training
Found this article interesting? Why not take a look at our tips for rabbit training?