A Good Relationship with Fearful or Aggressive Pet Rats (RAT-C)
Construct a good relationship with an aggressive rat using RAT-C
The RAT-C method in a nutshell:
- Approach the rat but not so far that you trigger a new fear reaction. You might be 10 feet away, or 1 foot away; it all depends on the rat and how she reacts.
- Stop and wait, and watch the rat for any sign of a new calm behavior.
- Right then, retreat, far enough away that you are “fully sent away”. (This might be 3 feet away, or out of the room; it all depends on the rat's behavior.)
- Result? With repetition over time, the rat's calm behaviors will increase, and eventually switch to friendly.
Why does the rat become more calm? Why does this work? When an animal’s behavior is followed by something she desires, she’s likely to repeat that behavior in the future. The easy example we all know, is if I open the cookie jar, and find cookies that I like, my behavior of opening the cookie jar will increase in the future. My "open the jar" behavior, strengthens and sticks.
Here is how the learning takes place in the RAT-C method:
- We are in the rat’s presence, if minimally. Maybe this is 5 feet away, or 1 foot away, or on the other side of the room. Even if we aren't triggering new fear behaviors, the fearful rat knows we are there, does not like it, and wants us to go away.
- So we pause there, wait, and observe any new calm behavior. This would be body language such as looking elsewhere, dropping the head, some muscle relaxation. We take the very first new calm behavior the rat offers.
- The moment we see the new calm behavior, we reward her by giving her what she wants: We go away. So here's the cookie jar logic in action:
Her behavior is a calm behavior. [Mine was opening the cookie jar.]
The reward (or reinforcer) was that the human went away. [Mine was cookies inside the jar.]
The result will be increasing calm behavior. [Mine was opening the cookie jar more often.]
We actually reinforce her calm behaviors to occur more often, by retreating, where retreating is contingent on a calm behavior first.
How is trust built with RAT-C?
- By our careful, deliberate behavior, the rat learns to manage her emotional state. To achieve her goal of sending us away, she learns to initiate more and more calm behavior.
- The rat learns that we can be relied on to go away and not to intrude on her or cause her more fear. We become reliable - or trustworthy.
- As the method is practiced reliably, the human becomes viewed as more and more friendly, and in the end the rat “switches” to intrinsically friendly instead of intrinsically fearful.