Establishing the Social Hierarchy — Normal Rat Behaviors


Agonistic behaviors and aggressive behaviors between pet rats are completely different - they mean entirely different things. Humans often mistake agonistic behaviors for aggression.

When rats establish the social hierarchy in an environment and pace that matches their normal (wild) behavior, they display a variety of behaviors that appear aggressive, but are not. They are agonistic behaviors.

Unfortunately, when humans don't respect the rats' needs for the proper environment and timing, normal agonistic behavior can shift rapidly and dangerously into aggression.

Just letting new and current rats "have at it", or "do whatever", isn't a safe way to proceed. One rat can kill another rat with one swipe across the throat or abdomen.

Do you know how to tell the difference between aggressive behaviors and agonistic behaviors? Do you know how to insure that your rats are introduced properly, so that the introduction process does not collapse into aggression?

Below is a special video demonstrating agonistic behaviors between rats. It is special because the behaviors are seen in a most natural, almost wild environment, yet the rats are domesticated Norways - laboratory research rats who were released and given the opportunity to return to their more instinctual wild ways.

This means the rats were not forced into a too-small cage, where aggression between them could escalate. If you cannot offer your rats full-sized field where they can learn to live together, it's best to protect them from each other and provide more gradual introduction steps.

The researchers point out that the 50 released laboratory rats established a social hierarchy smoothly, and that there was no aggression or injury to the rats in the process.

What stands out to me is how each clip in this video ends with one of the two rats - the submissive rat - leaving the scene. We don't give our pet rats much opportunity for that when we put them through introductions, but we should try. Clip is 44 seconds. is the ultimate source for all things normal Norway Rat behavior and biology.

First here is the Table of Contents for Aggression in the Norway Rat - click any of them and go to to read.

Then a bit of the important page on Social Agonistic Behavior follows. Click any image and go directly to the page, or, here is the direct link:


Table of Contents for Aggression

in the Norway Rat, on

(Click any link!)

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