If you’ve just bought new rats home, it can be difficult to know what to do if they’re hiding from you. Even a confident rat from a breeder may turn shy in a new environment with strange people trying to handle it. There are a few things you can do to help you tame new rats.
Tame New Rats: The Basics
There are a few methods you can try to help you tame new rats, but regardless of which method you choose, there are a few quick and easy tricks you can use alongside your chosen method.
Think carefully about your first cage set-up. Ideally, until your rats are used to, you don’t want to offer anything too covered where they can choose to hide from you completely. You can’t bond with a rat you can’t see!
Help them to settle in by choosing a good place for the cage. There’s a delicate balance here; you want somewhere where the human members of the household naturally gather so the new rats get used to the family smells and noises, but not somewhere where lots of new noise will frighten them. Keep other pets away, and avoid anywhere where small children are likely to be making a lot of noise. The living room or kitchen can be a good choice even if it’s only temporary until the rats settle in. At Rattie Ratbags, our rats have always lived in the living room, so they got used to us going about our day very quickly.
Start immediately on helping your rats to associate you with safety. Sleep in an old t-shirt for a few days, and then put it into the cage (preferably where they sleep). The rats will use it as bedding and will associate their nice, safe bed with your smell. We’ve done this with every new rat we’ve ever had, and find it makes a real difference.
Tame New Rats: Proper Handling
Handling your rat correctly can go a long way to making taming easier. Confident handling will help your rat to feel confident being held by you.
To pick up your rat, scoop with one hand from under their chest, supporting their bottom with the other. Hold the rat firmly so it feels secure. Never pick a rat up by the tail. This can lead to degloving, which is a horrible accident to have happen to your pet.
Tame New Rats: The Confidence Method
The confidence method boils down to ‘fake it til you make it’. Handle your rat as if they are already a confident rat. The logic is, if you just get on with handling your rat, it will become used to the scary behaviour and learn it isn’t actually scary at all.
Make sure you’re calm and confident and haven’t given your rat somewhere to hide in the cage. Start by teaching your rat that your presence in the cage isn’t anything scary. Keep your arm or hand in the cage. Have a tidy up in there, arrange the hammocks, but behave as you would if you were having a cage tidy with confident rats. If a rat comes to investigate, let them sniff you and give them a quick stroke, then carry on with what you’re doing.
A note of caution, our girls will happily let us fuss around in the cage, but get distressed by things they don’t recognise as ‘us’. The only time anyone at Rattie Ratbags has been bitten with aggression was while wearing a rubber glove to pick up stray poos!
Next, pick up your rat. Do this quickly and hold the rat securely. They may protest but persevere. One of our girls squeaks like she’s being murdered if you pick her up, but she will tolerate it, and it’s important to be able to safely pick up a rat in case of emergency. Hold them for a few moments, then place them back in the cage. Repeat this step, gradually increasing the length of time you hold the rat. Repeat this daily until confidence is built up.
During free-range, encourage your rats to use you as their safe space. Try sitting in an empty bath (or if like Rattie Ratbags, you don’t have one, the bottom of the shower works in a pinch if it has a securely closing door) and let the rats run over you. Others find tucking a rat into a firmly tied dressing gown or the hood of a hoody worn backward works well. The sofa or bed can work well too. Let the rats explore, and watch for signs of loose, relaxed body language.
Tame New Rats: The Patience Method
For a more nervous rat, a more laid back approach may be needed.
Start in a similar way to the Confidence method, by sitting with your hand in the cage. Remain still and calm, and let your rat come to you for a sniff. They may sniff and immediately run away, but that’s fine. Let them lead.
When they’re happy approaching to sniff, begin offering treats. Treats that can be picked up will likely be grabbed and run away with. You can try offering wet foods like yogurt to prevent this. If your new babies are a bit keen with their teeth, offer yogurt on a spoon to help them learn to lick instead of grabbing with their teeth. Talk to the rats when you do this.
Keep offering treats and your hands and eventually, your rat should choose to explore further and come out of the cage to you. If you can, sit with the cage door open and resting on your lap, so they can climb out easily. If not, an offered arm works fine.
Tame New Rats: Which Method Is Best?
The best method differs from rat to rat, but most owners find a combination of both works well. Help your rat get used to your voice, scent, and hands, and they should come on quickly.