Official Loofah Tester
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: SE United States
Hey LaLuna, congratulations on your new babies.
I'll address your questions to the best of my layman ability.
Nibbling: Rats are like babies, in that they explore new things with their mouth. They are testing to see if you are yummy, or even just to figure out what you are. Since you aren't describing anything that could indicate otherwise, I'd say it's the normal friendly behavior.
What you should do is /not/ pull back. Stay as calm and still as you can and instead give a high pitched short 'EEP' sound, like a squeeking rat. That's rat language for "I'm not food, please don't bite me". If you pull back from them, they'll quickly turn it into a game. As in, lookit! I can make the big giant hand monster jump! What a fun game! So, jerking back can actually teach naughty behavior. Don't scold them. That doesn't work. (In fact, I didn't scold my puppies, instead I yelped like an owie dog, and then got up and walked away. They learned to curb puppy bites because biting hurt, and that it deprived them of a playmate). Something you should be careful of is never feed rats through the cage bars. They learn to associate things thrust through the bars as food, and will become nippy.
Your gentling is off to a good start. Typically, you give them about a full day not messing with them and letting them have quiet time to become acclimated to their new home. I cover my kids for the first day and just let them feel peaceful. This increases their security.
Next step, is keep them in a place where there is a lot of human activity. Like a living room, kitchen, or by your computer desk. Anywhere you are frequently and they can see you and hear you a lot. This way they get used to the normal sounds and silliness in your house. Talk to them often, and offer treats. If they're just a little shy, then simply offer them treats like you're doing for about 20 minutes at a time a few times a day, talking to them often. Let them come to you.
If they're more shy, and just won't warm up to you, then I'd remove hidey holes from their cage so they're forced to look at you, and offer them soft food they lick from a spoon--like soy yogurt, pureed fruit, or pudding, so that they are forced to stay near you if they want to eat the goodies.
If that doesn't work, then I would set up a place where they can come out of their cage safely and keep their cage there and open. Preferably where you will be working or sitting for long periods of time.
Another thing you can try is a bonding pouch, or a hoodie that you wear that smells like them and wear that any time you work with them. Offering them sanctuary in your bonding pouch or hoodie while you carry them around.
Think of working with them in terms of 20 minute sessions. It is long enough for them to get over the worst of their anxiety, but short enough not to stress them too much.
I think I had some links on socializing somewhere, if I find them I'll post them for you.
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Hanging out in the Land of New Feetsies:
Melon, Skinner, Black Pete, Zanna, Custard, Tucker, Jeffrey, Zmei, and Windham.