I’m sure you’ve all heard that quote: “trust is earned, not given.” And in my opinion, it’s really pretty true. I don’t give just any ol' person my trust. By spending time, forming a bond and a friendship, getting to know that person… that’s how I begin to trust. The same goes for our rats. Trust training rats is possible. Let's talk about how.
Like humans with other humans, it takes rats time to become comfortable with their people. Trust training a rat isn’t an easy task. I don’t want to mislead anyone here. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of love on the rat owner’s part to encourage that trusting relationship. And to make things more complicated, trust training a rat is not a one-size-fits-all exercise. There’s no magical 100% guarantee on any method. Rats are different. They have their own personalities and grow comfortable with their owners at different paces in different settings.
The process can be long, drawn out, time consuming and, at times, super frustrating, especially if something you’re doing is just failing miserably. But fear not! There are multiple techniques that you can use to get your rat to trust you.
Before we even get started, though, let’s just all agree that you should probably buy your bud a few extra treats or toys. Nothing wrong with a little bribe at the end of the day. Am I right? So, now that that’s settled, let’s dive in to the different ways of trust training rats.
This is, by far, the most popular form of trust training. I mean, it’s pretty simple. You let your rats come to you for treats. Because this can be a vulnerable situation for your pet, make sure you start by letting them come to your hand while they’re still inside of their cage. Hold a treat between your thumb and fore finger and offer it. Keep trying until they accept.
Once they’re comfortable with this, move your hand further away when offering… make them come to you. After they’ve aced this, you can graduate to giving treats in the palm of your hand. Again, patience is key; it may take time for them to feel comfortable climbing on your hand. Continue this for short periods of time until they feel a-okay with being held.
Time for graduation! You’re ready to pick them up and take them out of the cage. Make sure during free-roam time you’re providing a secure, comfortable location. It’s scary to be in such a big, big space at first. Always be present, too, so they can get used to coming to you. Treats don’t hurt, either. Try the below if you're looking for some options.
It can be slow. But over time, food giving is one of the easiest ways to trust train your rat. You need to do this minimum once per day (more than once is preferred). Consistency is key. Plus, you get to spend more time with your rat, and that deserves a #winning.
Bonding is all about confining your rat in a safe space. A safe space outside of their cage, that is. The thought process behind this technique is that the more time they spend around you, the more comfortable they’ll become. Which, in theory, is true. However, if you have a nervous nelly on your hands, it can be a little difficult.
Choose a safe space. A bed, an arm chair, or a safety pen. Transport your rat to the space and start spending time together. Positively reinforce the rat’s experience with some yummy, healthy treats during your bonding exercise; it will help them to associate you with good, positive things.
Time to graduate! Start to introduce your hands by petting and putting them around your pet. If your rat feels uncomfortable, you’ll be able to tell. Regress to step two for a few more days and try again. Remember, treats help.
You’re ready for graduation number two. Start picking them up. Allow them to run around in their secure area. They’re starting to really trust you. Trust training your rat is working. Finally. Doesn’t it feel good!?
The premise here is to allow your rat to freely roam in a safe area while you’re present. I think this technique is harder for the owner than it is for the rat because you shouldn’t really be interacting with them too much in the early stages… you’re really just there for them to get used to you. Neutral space technique is a technique where we let the rats designate when they come to you. They come to you when THEY are ready, not when you are.
Once your rats are climbing on you, it’s time to graduate to holding. Start petting them. Then start picking them up. If they don’t let you, that’s okay. This stage takes time. So be patient. You’ll get there.
This technique is a time taker, but a good option for those difficult cases. You’re introducing your scent to your rat before you’re introducing yourself.
Take a tissue or paper towel and wear it for a few hours. Yeah, I know, kinda weird to you, but not to your rat. After it smells like you (mine would probably smell of cupcakes and unicorns), put the item into their cage. Keep doing this for a few days. After a while, your rat will have become familiar (and hopefully comfortable) with your scent. You guessed it… now it’s graduation time.
Start to introduce your hands slowly. Make sure the rat can see your hands; we don’t want to scare them. Put your hand near them. Don’t touch. Not yet. Repeat this for a few days on a consistent basis.
Once your rats are comfortable with your hands being near them, start offering treats (technique number one: food giving). After they become comfortable taking treats, try petting. Again, hands always should be in the sight before you touch. If they’re scared, back off and try again. Patience!
Scent trust training is good for nervous rats who take more time and taming. Once you’ve mastered scent trust training, move on to a different technique to help you start handling your pet outside of their cage.
Trust training is hard. It takes time, work, and dedication. You’re probably going to find yourself in uncomfortable situations, but it’s all necessary and part of the ever-so-important job of being a good rat owner. Rats are very social, and not putting in the work to trust train wouldn’t at all be fair to them. In time, they’ll love and just adore your company. I promise. And always remember, patience is a virtue.
Oh, and did I mention that treats help?