There are a few things to always remember when it comes to handling scared rats despite what some very reputable rat care sites suggest. One website in particuar suggests you FORCE the rat to be held. Oh this makes sense doesnt it? Here you are with an animal that is ster
My rat is scared of me! Now what?
Rats should be handled very soon in life! As soon as they are born, you should begin to pick them up and by the time their eyes are open, if they were not socialized, they will be terrified of humans. Its in their DNA. Its harder the older they get and often if you bring home a pet store rat that was not proberly socialized, chances are you will have a scared rat hiding in the corner freaking when you try to pick her up.
Rats dont trust us (and for good reason! We have been trying to eradicate their entire species and have for hundreds of years!!!!!!!) But, they are clever, yes they sure are...and that is why hundreds of years later any decent exterminator company will tell you they are always trying to better their ways of eliminating rats from someones home or business since the rats pick up on traps or poisonious bait and learn to avoid them really fast. Why? Repetition.
Where do I start?
Lets go over briefly, what the rats "problem" is, which its pretty easy to guess...she or he is scared and doesnt trust humans in general. The goal here is to let her know you are there for comfort and your safe. She wants to be allowed to make her own rules and decisions and resents people messing with her cage and her, especially. If you simply put your freshly washed hands in the cage and lay them down flat will she run up and bite them or hide?
One way to tell how aggressive she is, unfortunately, is to try this and see if she bites a hand that is laying flat, palms down, not moving. She will either come and smell your hand, try to nibble your nails or even nibble you, although sometimes they do this and dont mean to hurt but other times CHOMP! Most of the time these aggressive rats do not know your intentions and think your there to hurt them. After all, that is what man originally does to rodents, spend millions a year killing them. They fear humans by natural instinct which is why the breeder should handle the pups from birth. Socialization of these pups are the ONLY way to avoid skittish rats or biters.
A prime example of a rat regressing back to her natural instincts comes to mind now....a lady wrote to me once and she owned a Cafe up north. A petstore adjacent to her cafe was closing down and the last feeder rat they had escaped behind the walls. She was presumed dead. A few days later, Lindas little dog that they bring to the cafe with them, smelled out the rat and heard the rats scratching. Only after an employees horrified screams were heard by the cafe owners did they know they had company. A little white feeder rat was seen roaming the kitchen, running off with an empty ice cream cone. Linda was determined to rescue this rat and finally after several months, they caught her by using a glue trap. They waited for her to come out of the wall where she had lived for many months and once she got stuck to the trap the dumped vegetable oil on her feet to free her and put her in a cage.
This was acted exactly like a wild rat. She was stunned and terrified. Having no conact with humans since she was a baby and having to fend for herself, sneaking out of her safety zone in between the walls to find food and water (Once they knew she lived there, they started leaving her food and water) and on top of it all, this rat was PREGNANT by a wild rat that also probably lived in the wall. She had the babies a few days later. I told her all I could about at least trying to get the pups social since they were part wild rat...and happy ending and long story short, the little white rat learned to trust and love and happily let her owner handle her after a few weeks of trust training and the pups were given to good homes with experienced rat owners and they too were also being trust trained and it was working. The key is simply early interaction with these critters and they bond for life, but it can be done later in life as well, as it was proven with this lucky little feeder rat!!
Setting up a safe zone!
SO, where to start? You need to have a place to play with her and to set up her play area for starters. Depending on her age and size, you can buy a play pen fence made for small animals. Its tall and it extends pretty far (I paid about $40 for mine) and I spread mine around in a huge circle, about 12 feet in diameter. Small rats will fit through the holes, however, so in that case, or just simply to save money, you can construct your own play pen corral out of cardboard. All you need is some large flat cardboard boxes and you can tape them with heavy duty tape or if your creative, cut notches so they fit together like a puzzle. Make sure its high enough, at least 3 feet.
Shy little Scrappy! With plenty of sweet talking, he started to warm up to his owner in no time!
Next, you will need some toys for her to play with and they are reserved ONLY for playtime. Again, homemade toys are fine, from empty boxes turned upside down with holes for doors cut in them are a hit with rats and also a box with old clothes, socks, rags etc...for them to burrow and hide in. A solid ball like a ping pong ball is a big hit too as is paper bags!!!!!! Huge hit!
You will need a treat for rewarding her, which is how you will train her not to bite. Cheerios, rice chex cereal(unsweetened) etc...are good to use. Again, the treat is reserved ONLY for training and should not be given to her any other time until of course training is over and after that she can have them as a snack in her cage.
Click here for ideas for toys: TOY IDEAS
SO, now you have the barricade to keep the rat in for play time, some toys and a treat for rewards, now all you need to to is put the cage with the rat inside the play area and of course, yourself, with freshly washed hands and clothes that are free of animal scent including the family dog or cat or another rat.
Next,what you will do is get inside the play area with the cage door open. Let her see the door is open and she is free to come out. Be sure she has a safe way out of the cage door is high, such as putting a box for her to use as a step to get out. She may not come out at first, but eventually she will poke her head out the door and look around. One wrong sound and she may run back in to her hiding spot. I assume you have some type of hidey house or for her in the cage like an igloo or plastic house etc...since this makes rats feel secure and they need to be able to hide from the outside world.
Safe play area ready! Now what?
Anyhow, whatever you do, DO NOT pick her up to bring her out of the cage or force her out. She may not choose to come out for a few days, or she may come out the same day but it may take an hour, maybe less.
The second she comes out, offer her a cheerio or whatever snack you have for a reward. Make your moves slowly so she is not startled but the entire time she is debating on coming out, you can talk softly to her. If the room is totally quiet and all of a sudden you talk or sneeze she may run for cover!!
Anyhow, once she is out of the cage, let her explore the play area. Talk to her, use her name often, use short words such as "its ok" or "come here" and show her the toys you have for her, you can even lay down and see if she climbs on you. My rats climb on my back and love my HAIR! LOL However, if she run up and bites you, back in the cage she goes with no treat.
She will learn very fast that her beloved playtime and treat will be taken from her by biting you and she WILL catch on eventually. She will stop biting because she will prefer to be out of her cage playing and exploring.
You may need to work with her for a few days, maybe a week, maybe a few weeks....but eventually she will get used to you and trust you, your voice, your scent, the play area and the sounds she hears around her. Its all a matter of trust. Again, no matter what, do not pick her up and take her out of the cage during this time until she stops biting you and YOU learn to trust HER too. It works both ways too. Your fear of being bitten is noticed by her just by the negative energy your giving off which may make her more nervous. This is why she keeps biting you and doesn't trust you yet. Once she sees your hand as the friend and not the enemy and she relates you to treats, play time and all good things, she will stop biting and she will pick up on your positive energy. Just try not to show fear as much as possible during the first few days of training. Also when its time to put her back in the cage, if you can lure her back in to the cage without picking her up this is a good idea. You can put your hands flat on the ground and tap them gently and call her name, and also make a noise with your lips....best I can describe it would be like a soft KISSING sound...rats take to that sound and tend to come to you when you do that.or snapping your fingers..almost like when a cat owner calls their cat by saying hereeeee kitty kitty. Its a universal response. Studies show cats that never have heard that before will respond to that call the first time they hear it. I have several cats and the little dummies all think their names are "kitty kitty"! LOL
Anyhow, when calling your rat, call her name and make the kissing sound with your lips while rubbing your fingers together like you have something to give her (which you do, because when she comes, you will give her the treat)
She will probably let you put her back in the cage without biting before she lets you pick her up and take her out of the cage.
I had a reader tell me her rat freaked out over the kissy kissy sound so if you think your rat is scared of it, of course, your free to come up with any kind of noise you want to make to communicate with your rat.
As I said earlier, rats need repetition. You must be consistent and do this daily or even more than once a day. This usually works with even the most wild rat, but the key here is patience. Without it, you will never accomplish this. The rat will pick up on your frustrations and all will fail.
Never scold them or raise your voice at them. Doing this will erase any trust she started to put in you and you will need to start from the very beginning again.
Before you know it, your rat will be waiting eagerly by the cage door for you to come and get her the same time every day. It becomes very routine for them and this means you did good! :)