Affect Behavior When the Rat Is Just Present - JoinRats
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Affect Behavior When the Rat Is Just Present

Pair a Thing the Rat Likes …
With a Tiny Bit of a Thing the Rat Is Scared Of …
Together at the Same Time …
To Help Change the Scary Thing Towards Neutral or Friendly

  1. This is not about the rat learning to do a new behavior; it’s about changing how the rat feels about something.
  2. Use food, which rats LOVE and have a good association to.
  3. Give the rat yummy food, during which you introduce the other scary thing in small amounts (aim is to not trigger fear in the rat during this whole thing).
  4. Over time, done correctly, the slightly scary thing will take on a more neutral or even positive meaning, thus losing the original meaning of scary.

First introduce something a little scary, followed quickly by a good thing. The rat does not react fearfully all the way through:

Pair these two (the rat does not react fearfully): What the rat does:
Slightly scary thing comes slightly first: Human sets dish in cage, stands still. Ignores the human standing still, and easily laps up the baby food in the dish.
Followed quickly in time by good thing: Baby food, dish in cage.

Impact on the rat:

The Scary thing becomes a little less scary. From scary, headed towards neutral.


Pair these two (the rat does not react fearfully): What the rat does:
Slightly scary thing comes slightly first: Human lays arm in cage, doing nothing. Ignores the human arm laying in the cage, and easily laps up the baby food in the dish.
Good thing: Baby food, dish in cage.

Impact on the rat:

The Scary thing becomes a little less scary. From scary headed towards neutral.


Pair these two (the rat does not react fearfully): What the rat does:
Slightly scary thing comes slightly first: Baby food dish closer to human arm laying still in cage. Ignores the human arm laying in the cage, and easily laps up the baby food in the dish
Good thing: Baby food, dish in cage.

Impact on the rat:

The Scary thing becomes a little less scary. From scary headed towards neutral.


Pair these two (the rat does not react fearfully): What the rat does:
Slightly scary thing comes slightly first: Baby food Baby food dabbed on human arm
Good thing: Ignores the human arm while licking food off the arm

Impact on the rat:

Arm is now neutral. From neutral headed towards good.


More examples of things that might be paired. Start with the scary thing first followed quickly in time by the good thing:


Human arrives, followed by food
(rat does not react fearfully):
What the rat does: Effect on the rat:
Slightly scary human arrives at the cage. Hear their human approach and begin to show interest, such as coming out of their hammock. The human arriving means GOOD.
Good thing: Yummy treats.

Pair Food and new transport box
(Rat never reacts fearfully):
What the rat does: Effect on the rat:
Good thing: Yummy treats. The rat is able to approach and enter the new and slightly scary box, to get the treats. The slightly scary box begins to take on a neutral or comfortable meaning to the rat
Slightly scary thing: Kleenex box the rat has never seen before has treats inside.

Pair food and exploring human body
(Rat never reacts fearfully):
What the rat does: Effect on the rat:
Good thing: Yummy treats. The rats venture into the fleece and onto their human’ shoulders to find the treats. The rats become more comfortable exploring their human. Human becomes more neutral and then friendly
Slightly scary human lays her shoulders down on the table where the rats are playing, with the treats sprinkled on her neck and shoulders. She lays there doing nothing.

We pair things together all the time with our rats.

If you tune in to the logic, you become empowered to help your shy rat

(For Fearful or Aggressive Rats, start with A Good Relationship with Fearful or Aggressive Rats)
When Your Rat Is Just Passively Present Environment & Management When Your Rat Does a Good Thing and You Make Sure a Good Thing Happens Back

Classical Conditioning, including desensitization & counterconditioning

Physical Setting, Nutrition, Health, How Things Are Arranged In Advance (Antecedent Arrangements)

Operant Conditioning - Positive Reinforcement Specifically, and Clicker Training as an extension of R+

Notice how two things get paired together, something a little scary, and something wonderful, loved, valued by the rat.

The goal is not to just ‘Pair Any Old Scary Thing and Any Good Thing Together’. watch the body language of the rat and think about making sure that the rat does not react fearfully to what you do, at any time.

For all examples below, the rat does not become more fearful with any of these. The starting point is Calm, or Alert, but not Over-Threshold

The rat does not become more fearful with any of these.
First and foremost, the recently-rescued pet rat who is malnourished, needs to stabilize health-wise. The shy rat who’s new in your home: Sit next to her in her cage and read a book, watch television, check your email, fold laundry, or talk to a friend on the phone. Sitting next to the cage, with the cage door open, because you've determined this rat is not a flight risk, and the cage is on a play table, the shy but not-too-scared rat begins to approach the cage door. In the moment of the approach: Long handled spoon arrives at rat's mouth with yummy treat. Lots of repetitions each time she takes a step forward in the right direction.
The shy rat who has started making strange squeak noises, and has porphryin around her nose and eyes, needs to visit a vet as soon as possible. (Read more about this on JoinRats - Healthy Squeaks or Sick Squeaks As long as the rat is not over-threshold, set the cage where you are doing things such as making dinner, walking back and forth through the hall, or having lunch. You arrive at the cage door and hope your new but not really friendly rat wants to come out and play. When she pops her head out in your direction, REINFORCE with appearance of long-handled spoon with baby food for a quick like. Spoon retreats and you wait for the rat to offer another movement forward. Reinforce for "coming out" behaviors several times, as you can, and retreat. Come back in 5 minutes and repeat.
When it’s time to sit down next to the new rat’s cage and offer her yogurt on a long-handled spoon, ask the children to stop playing and leave. This creates the atmosphere for concentration, calm, and focus. Remove distractions. With yogurt on a long-handled spoon, open the cage door and bring the spoon to the rat. This is only for the rat who won’t react fearfully at your doing this, and assumes she will like the baby food or yogurt. Offer her lots of licks. Repeat many times eee
On sitting with your rat at a play table, remove the house cat’s toys from the table. Nothing gets in the way of trust more than the predator who might eat one. The shy rat doesn’t seem interested in checking out her human, so the human lays her arm down inside the cage and smears baby food along it. Resting there, doing nothing. ;eee
eee At the play table, the shy rat is able to roam around and check out toys and boxes. You lay your head and shoulders down, but the rat prefers to kind of avoid you. Offer her finges with baby food. Smear baby food on parts of your arm or neck, and allow her to find these at her own pace. eee
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