This Q&A comes from Yamisi who writes:
Hello, My husband and I stumbled upon your blog about a week ago. We picked up our first two female ratties from PetSmart on 6/14/12. We have them in the Petco Rat Manor. Their names are Fluffy and Flower. Fluffy took to us right away and Flower is well shy (i.e. nippy). We've been spending time talking to them through the cage and opening it and giving cheerios as treats for coming over to say hello. Flower only seems to bite and run...and we are the fast food. She 's not interested in taking the cheerio just biting and running.
Yesterday something happen that I feel only made things worse. We were giving them a small bowl of yogurt. I had the bowl in my hand and Fluffy was eating when Flower approached and scurried quickly past out of the cage. I know you must be think a totally rat newbie move!!! We then spent the next two hours chasing her down through various parts of our apartment when we finally has her in the kitchen under the dishwasher. We blocked off everything else and unscrewed the dishwasher to pull it out to retrieve her. Flower put up a commendable fight and we returned her to her cage.
All of us are traumatized from the experience but I'm afraid Flower most of all. She is biting Fluffy and tries puts her head through the bars and arms through the bars if We go anyway near the cage. I don't know what to do and I feel just horrible about it.
Do you have any suggestions? Have I ruined this brand new relationship with Flower? I would appreciate any advice at all!!! Thank you in advance!!
It sounds like you are doing great already! From what I gather in this email, it appears that Flower just needs a little more socialization. The good news is that she already has a friendly cage mate, Fluffy that can help set an example. I have found that timid or even aggressive rats tend to become more tame if they have a socialized rat buddy to learn from. As far as the escape incident, I would say that it also has to do with unsocialization- Flower is timid and scared and saw an opportunity to flee from it (meaning Yamisi and her husband).
Time and patience it key here.
I have come up with a trust training program that I think might work. It certainly has worked with mine and I am currently using this same program with my newest addition, Paisley. I stated that time and patience are key here- this program is time consuming and can be a bit frustrating. Everyone wants a big squishy love-bug of a rat right away, but like people, their personalities differ so in order to make everyone happy, please don't try to rush this. Be patient with your rats and take the time to follow these steps exactly.
THE RAT WHISPERER TRUST TRAINING PROGRAM
NOTE: Complete each step for at least a full week (7 days). If you see your rats doing what you are asking of them quicker than a week, you can go to the next step. However if you regress at all, return to the previous step and continue it for another week. This is where the patience and time kicks in. IT WILL PAY OFF IN THE LONG RUN, I PROMISE! Also, it is commonly said that rats cannot hold fear for more than 20 minutes, so aim for at least 20-30 minute of trust training sessions a day.
This might be the most time consuming step but I want to be sure you are being patient and take the time needed to master this step as it could be the most important. This is the step where your rat is learning who you are and that you are no threat to them.
Place your hand in the cage and allow your rat to sniff you several times a day. Do not attempt to pet the ratty just yet, as tempting as it is! And do not attempt if your rat is sleeping. Use a high pitched voice and say "Good Boy/Girl (insert name here)". This will get your rat used to not only your scent but also your voice. Have all members of the family do this if possible. Continue this for a week- longer if needed.
Try adding a little smear of a meat flavored baby food- its smelly enough to get their attention and tasty enough to keep them interested. This will help with the whole 'dine and dash'- they have to stay near you to get their reward. Some people might suggest offering it on a spoon to prevent yourself from being bitten, either intentionally or accidentally, but I am all for using your fingers if possible! Call me crazy! I want them to learn the difference between my fingers and food and sometimes that can only be obtained by trial and error. If you get bitten, try adding a bigger glob of the baby food- enough that they could get a full mouthful without getting down to your fingertip.
Keep in mind that your hand resembles a bird of prey's talons- a rat's natural enemy. Try to reach out to your rat from the front or side; avoid coming in from above which only makes you look even more frightening. You want to see your rat actually stretch out their neck to sniff you, not cower in a cover and just accept you sticking your hand in their face. You want to see some initiative and curiosity. Then you know you are ready for step 2.
Now you should be able to attempt to pet your rat. Even if its just a fingertip. Most rats enjoy having their necks massaged a little. Try that. The rat is to remain in their cage for now. Cage = safety to them. Get to a point where you can stroke your rat with your full palm and put your hand around their abdomen, then you can move to step 3. If they try to bite or run away in fear, continue with step 1 a bit longer.Continue with the soft treats, whether they be the meat baby food, a little yogurt, or even a dab of honey.
By this point you should be able to not only reach into the cage and have your rat show some interest in you, but also be able to stroke them while they are in the cage. You should have gotten them used to the feel of your hands around their bodies by putting your hand around their midsection. Now I want you to attempt to pick them up gently, always being sure to support them with a hand under their chest and another under their rump.
NEVER ATTEMPT TO LIFT THEM BY THEIR TAIL!
You will not be removing them from the cage yet, just letting them sit in your hands and get used to the feeling of being lifted and having your hands confining them. They still have the security of their cage and you also have the protection of the cage, knowing should they squirm free, they won't be running loose. If they thrash their tail around, don't worry, that's just them regaining their balance and is a good indicator that you need to offer some more support of their back end. If they should any major protest, return to step 2, otherwise, if you can lift your rat and they sit even semi-still, then you can move to step 4. Continue with the soft, lickable treats.
Okay so now your rat knows your scent, accepts or even enjoys your petting, and will allow you to lift them off the cage floor. Now I want you to try removing your ratty from the cage and placing them against your chest. Do this is a safe area such as a bathroom if you would like the extra security of having them confined to a small area should they startle and get free from your hands. Only attempt this when its calm and quite in your home- you don't want anything to spook them. Stroke them and talk to them. Do this often. If they ever attempt to jump free from you, return to step 3. You will get to a point where your rat will climb up to your shoulder and sit there.
Congrats! You have earned the trust of your rat and can look forward to a wonderful relationship!