“My Rat Isn’t Friendly – Will She Come Around?”

Do you ever hear this question and answer?

Question:“My new rat doesn’t trust me. She doesn’t bite where blood is drawn, but she’s afraid. What do I do?”
Not-So-Helpful Answer:“Just wait, give her time; it takes time. She’ll come around.”

I'm not sure about this answer. The truth is, maybe she will – a little, or some – or maybe not much at all. In fact, she might get worse. Do you want more and better?

Much Better Answer:“Maybe! What you, the human, do to help her is critical. How you interact with your rat can either help her become more friendly, or not do much of anything, or even scare her, scare her more, or even make her aggressive. Learn some ways you can consciously affect your rat’s behavior for the better. Don’t just wait – be pro-active!

So what do you do? There are many galleries on JoinRats devoted to this subject. A couple of themes drive everything.

What’s downright wonderful is that pet rat owners can learn many great options to affect our rats’ trust us more.

Spend some time understanding, and practicing the principles of behavior modification!
Become empowered to help your rat!

Here are two approaches that are central:

The rat volunteers a behavior you want to see more of – to make something happen – that YOU then DO – REWARD

If your rat has a good experience from what happens right after she takes her first step toward you, and then with every new step she takes, she’ll likely do more of coming to the cage door in the future. In this method:

  1. The rat volunteers a behavior …
  2. Something happens right after the behavior – [the human does something deliberate, intentionally, with awareness] …
  3. Results [if done correctly] in the rat doing more of the behavior in the future.

Become skilled at noticing when a behavior you want to see more of, happens; then become skilled at responding immediately after the behavior to give your rat something she wants, likes, or is rewarded by – food.

The rat changes her behavior based on the consequences or outcome of her behavior.

Want a human example? If I go into the cookie jar and the result is finding chocolate chip cooikies with 5 times as many pecans as chocolate chips, then I will go into the kitchen and the cookie jar more often in the future. :)

rat feet prints
rat feet prints
rat feet prints

The rat does not have to do anything in particular – but YOU

Pair something (good) with something (such as something scary) and help change the scary to good. Said another way: Change how the rat reacts to something by pairing it (at the same time) with something else that has a different meaning to the rat. Two examples of this approach:

Example #1: Desensitization:

  1. When the rat is in a normal, non-stressful state …
  2. Pair these at the same time: Edge a scary thing slightly closer to the rat (the rat should not react with new or more fear), and do nothing except wait. Example: Sit next to the cage of your new and shy rat, who watches you as you do nothing except read a book.
  3. Result: When done correctly, you become less scary to the shy rat.

Example #2: Counterconditioning:

  1. Your rat doesn’t enjoy being touched or petted very much.
  2. Pair feeding yummy baby food on your fingers plus gentle touches or petting at the same time.
  3. Result: When done correctly, the rat begins to like being touched or petted.

Affect a rat’s reaction to something by associating it with something else, together at the same time.

Want a human example? If my friend is nervous about meeting rats for the first time, I can ask her to sit in a comfy chair, with the rats in a cage next to her (at a distanc where she isn’t worried about them), and where she can watch them. After awhile, her worry will lessen.


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