BONDING & TRUST TRAINING
Every rat is different! Each one has a unique personality and because of this, each rat will bond to their owner in different ways and at different times. Be patient and never give up on your rats!
It can take months before a rat is 100% comfortable with you. Even rats that come from breeders that promise well socialized babies will need to trust you at their own pace. Keep in mind that these rats have never met you before, and as prey animals, they need to keep their guard up to feel safe.
It's important to maintain a routine with your rats!
Stick to a routine during trust training as it makes the process go much quicker. Your rats will know what to expect and won't be taken by surprise, which may lead to nervous or aggressive behavior. A routine makes it easier for everyone - you and your rats!
How long will bonding and trust training take?
It truly depends on the personality of the rat. I've had rats trust me the moment I picked them up but others took 3 months. Some rats, especially rats that have been mistreated in the past, may take longer.
Do I have to trust train every single day?
The answer is yes although that may not be realistically possible for you. Try to dedicate some time for trust training - even if that means giving your rat 10 minutes of your time. Your rat will learn what to expect from you if you maintain a routine. If you break the routine, your rat may get confused.
What if my rat bites out of fear?
It's uncommon for rats to bite, but they will bite out of pain or fear. If a rat has been abused or neglected in its previous home, they will be weary and fearful of new humans. You can wear a glove to avoid injury. My trust training guide is mostly for new rats, not neglected rats - although much of the steps remain the same.
What are realistic trust goals?
Decide what you expect from your rat. Then decide if those goals are realistic. It is not realistic to expect a docile rat that will lay in your hands and cuddle UNLESS that is the rat's personality. Good goals are to have a rat that comes to you willingly, isn't fearful of being picked up, and will take treats from your hands. Other goals include the ability to flip your rat on their back for short periods of time, and to play chase with your hand and have your rat interact back.
1. Choose a bonding pouch!
The pouch should be comfortable for your rat, provide a warm & safe place to hide, and allow your rat to breathe. You can choose your sweatshirt pocket, make a sack out of fleece, use a bonding pouch, or a bonding scarf.
Take a peek at some options below
2. Get comfy!
Allow your rat to get comfy in their new bonding pouch. This may involve leaving it in their cage so that they can check it out when they want! The goal is to have a pouch that symbolizes comfort for your rat. You'll want something that you don't wash often & something that won't get ruined with poop or pee. The goal is to have a pouch that smells like both your rat and yourself!
3. Bonding time!
Place your rat inside of the pouch or sweatshirt pocket. Wear it on yourself. That's it! You can talk to your rat, lightly stroke them inside or outside of the pouch, or sit there quietly. Do what feels right. Your rat will get used to your voice, smell, and other sounds around the house.
1. Finger Foods!
Entice your rat with their favorite treats. When your rat comes to you, give them a snack as a reward. They will begin to associate you with all things yummy and good! Good foods to try are peas, hard boiled egg, and baby puff cereal. Check out the Food & Treats page for a list of good foods and a list of bad foods for rats.
2. Spoon Feed!
If your rats won't come to you for treats, it may be good to try spoon feeding. While your rat is in their cage, hold a spoon of baby food for them to lick. This will allow them to get close to you without getting too close.
Clear your bed of everything that rats could use to hide in or under (pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, etc). Place your rats on the bed and lay down with them. You can get on your hands and knees to create an archway with your body. By creating shapes and open spaces with your body, you are giving your rats safe place to hide. They will naturally escape the open space of the bed and will seek you for security and comfort!
2. Young, and Wild, and Free!
Free roam time is important as it encourages independence and builds confidence! Take your rats out every single day (for at least an hour). Let them out in a rat safe room, on a bed, or on a couch. The bathtub works too! Use boxes and tubes to create a fun playground for them! Once your rats are confident to explore new areas by themselves, they'll be more confident and more likely to trust you!
Don't chase your rats after free roam
If your rats are skittish or nervous, they probably won't be comfortable coming to your hands. When it's time to put your rats away, do NOT chase them. Try offering a treat inside of their bonding pouch, and allow them to crawl inside.
Use the bonding pouch to capture your rats
In case you didn't read the first tip, I'm going to put it here again because it's important!
After free roam time, instead of chasing and trapping your rats to put them away, use their bonding pouch! They already feel comfortable and safe in the bonding pouch, so chances are they'll willingly climb inside. Toss a favorite treat in the pouch as more incentive.
Use the bonding pouch or a box for transportation
This tip is especially important for rats that fear humans.
If your rat won't come to you, place their bonding pouch or a box with a hole, into their cage and allow them to climb inside naturally. Let them out for free roam. Use the same box or bonding pouch when you put them away. They will soon associate the pouch or box as a method of transportation.
Use a word or treats to call your rats after play time
I quickly taught my rats to come to me after free roam by calling out "Peas!". They all race over and climb up my legs, eager to go back into their cage to eat some peas. Since I give them some peas in the morning and at night, this makes it very easy for me to collect all 7 of them. I also shake a baby puff cereal can (their favorite treat), and they all come running. This is very convenient when it comes time to putting them away.
Don't force your rat to do anything
This is very important! Don't force your rat to cuddle and don't trap your rat in your hands. By forcing your rats to do things that make them nervous, your trust training may be erased.
Don't trap your rat in your hands
This isn't a good way to transport your rats. Instead, let them crawl onto your arms, shoulders, and chest. They will feel much more comfortable. If you need to control them better, use the bonding pouch.
Never give up on your rats!
Some rats will trust you immediately, while others will take months. Continue trust training until your rat trusts you. Don't allow your rat to live in fear of you. It will be rewarding for both of you!