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post #1 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-19-2010, 10:18 AM Thread Starter
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Shy Rats

Greetings!
I have two female rats I bought last night.
They're both gorgeous and I have a feeling they can be very sweet.

I understand that rats are shy when brought into a new home but I want to make sure that they don't stay shy.

What can I do to socialize them without over socializing them? I don't want to make them more skittish or upset.

One (Maybe both) of the girls likes to use her teeth on my fingers when I extend my hand to her. Not in a vicious way but rather an "Oh, What is this? *Nibble*" Way. I, myself, am skittish about bites so I pull back rather than seeing if she'll actually bite hard or just graze me with her teeth. Is this normal rattie behavior? How can I stop her from becoming a biter? I have many pets in my home dogs, cats, ferrets, etc. And I don't think you can scold a rat the way you do a nippy puppy or ferret. Can you? I know they're intelligent. Will yelping or making an "in pain" noise get the point across?

Right now they're in my room in their cage in a nice quiet area as to not get stressed. Last night I sat with their cage door open quietly with a strawberry as a treat. We've progressed from a couple nibbles on the strawberry to taking some of their food mix from my hand.

I know slow and steady wins the race but I just want to make sure to head any issues off at the pass.

Thanks all!
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post #2 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-19-2010, 12:31 PM
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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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post #3 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-19-2010, 12:32 PM
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If you have cats and dogs, and they weren't in a home or place with them before, that might just be why they are scared and they need to get used to all the smells!
If you put your fingers and they nibble on them and don't draw blood, they won't do worse than that. If they were scared of you want want to bite you bad, they would do it the second your finger comes in the cage.
Rats are super gentle, it's actually rare that they bite in a mean way.
I think you're doing this the right way.
You can say no to a rat, or do a high pitched sound when they do something bad, they are super smart and will understand pretty fast.
You can also go in the bathtub with your girls and just not move and let them explore and smell you so they get used to you. You can sit on the couch with a big sweater and let them run around in it.
Anything to get them used to your presence really
How old are they?
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post #4 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-19-2010, 01:22 PM
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Also, remember that rats DO nibble groom their people, and it is a sign of affection. Nibble grooming is not a bite, just a gentle nibble on your skin. When they are learning what things are, this can be exploratory, as Storyseeker said, and also a good sign, that they are bonding to you and thinking of you as part of their rat pack, wanting to groom you!
Like the others said, don't jerk back and be assured that rats ARE very gentle and very rarely bite for real. They are not known to be nippy. If one of them nibbles a bit too hard for your liking, you can do the "eek" sound and pull away slightly to teach them that their nibbling is a bit too hard, but most of the time, it will not be uncomfortable at all. Sounds like you are off to a good start with your girls! You will have an incredible experience with them.

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post #5 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-19-2010, 02:15 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you all!!
I can see how intelligent my ratties are already. Like I said my home is full of animals (and animal lovers) and I've seen that look before that they give me with some of my pets. That look that just says "I know more than you think."

When it comes to rodents I've had a gerbil when I was tiny (I'm 18 now so that was 10 years ago), and my black bear hamster who's never bitten me nor nibbled. So I am skittish. My forte is ferrets so I was thinking in terms of how I work with one of mine who has a biting issue. I think I'll go with the "eep" route if they do bite and it hurts.

Thats great to hear its more of a bonding motion rather than a biting one. I'm super careful to wash my hands after handling my ferrets or food so they aren't tempted to truly bite.

I don't think the animals have them skiddish. They were from a pet store. I can only assume they could smell the other animals. But its definately a consideration.

Woo!! I'm so excited to bond.

As to bonding pouches, I've heard females are more squirmy (I didn't go with males because my room has 3 male ferrets, 1 male hammy, and 2 hermit crabs that I consider to be male lol. I needed some woman power) I'm worried if I use my hoodie of my jacket that they might try and leap out. Will they? I'm good with sewing, could i make my own bonding pouch? Any patterns?

I'm gonna go grab a treat for them and try again.

Thanks again guys! If you have any other bonding methods or methods that worked for you, let me know. :3


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post #6 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-19-2010, 02:58 PM
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Sounds like everyone else has given great advice! I highly recommend the hooded sweatshirt method--it works like a charm!!

Also, I know you said you wash your hands between handling the ferrets and the rats, and I just wanted to say to make sure you continue to do so, and to do it quite well. Ferrets are actually natural predators of small rodents like rats, and because of this, rats will be very skittish around them. I'd suggest making sure to keep them in separate areas of your living quarters, and definitely make sure they never come in contact with each other.


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post #7 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-19-2010, 03:33 PM Thread Starter
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Mhm My ferrets are pretty predatorial when it comes to my hamster (Always trying to get on the shelf where his cage is) so I understand completely.

With the hooded sweatshirt how do I do that, turn the sweater around backwards so the hood is in front and have them snuggle into it?


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post #8 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-19-2010, 03:58 PM
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I actually wear the sweatshirt--one with a pouch in front--and let the baby rats crawl on/around/in it as I'm wearing it. (When they are young and bouncy, it's probably best to do this sitting down, until you get used to their energy!!) They will get used to your scent and will bond faster to you this way. Make sure to use the same sweatshirt every time, and I'd recommend not washing it for quite a while. When my boys were babies, I did this about four times a day for 10-15 minutes each time, gradually working up to longer periods of time. They'll be used to you in no time at all!


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post #9 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-19-2010, 04:08 PM Thread Starter
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Ah alright. I got a few sweatshirts- one with the "pouch" to place your hands. All of them have hoods to them though. I'm looking up how to make a pouch and perhaps keep it in my purse or pocket when I'm not with them. That way it always has my sent.

I'm really worried about them being squirmy or too energetic for me to walk around with them in. Maybe I've got ferret mind. If you've ever had ferrets, they're squirmy little buggers and I've got three males who are said to be more laid back. I couldn't see holding my males for longer than a few minutes as they just want to go see everything. Are rats more mellow? And are females really all that uncuddly or is it just until they're settled?


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post #10 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-20-2010, 08:57 AM
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I have ever had rats before, but i am sure its fine. I have 2 degus and they were the shyest of the shy when we brought them home, but now you cant walk past without them running to the front of their cage as for nibbling, rodents are v. social and grooming eachother is a sign of trust and it sounds like they are trying to groom you they trust you alot i think !

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post #11 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-20-2010, 09:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LaLuna View Post
Ah alright. I got a few sweatshirts- one with the "pouch" to place your hands. All of them have hoods to them though. I'm looking up how to make a pouch and perhaps keep it in my purse or pocket when I'm not with them. That way it always has my sent.

I'm really worried about them being squirmy or too energetic for me to walk around with them in. Maybe I've got ferret mind. If you've ever had ferrets, they're squirmy little buggers and I've got three males who are said to be more laid back. I couldn't see holding my males for longer than a few minutes as they just want to go see everything. Are rats more mellow? And are females really all that uncuddly or is it just until they're settled?
Baby rats are quite bouncy--it's called "popcorning", and they do it when they get excited. That's why you'll want to hold them while sitting--preferably on a couch or near the ground--until you get used to them.

Adult rats do mellow out, though females tend to be rather active their entire lives. If you watch the videos of my boys, who are now almost 17 months old, you'll see that they are pretty relaxed. Russell gets a little hyper every once in a while, though, but not crazy active like some females.


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post #12 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-20-2010, 11:17 AM Thread Starter
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So I'm giving an update
Last night was fairly bittersweet.
I spent about an hour to an hour and a half inside the playpen with the door open.
I have two named Momento and Mori after the phrase Momento Mori. And I started to tell them apart and learn personalities:
Momento is extremely outgoing. First one out of the cage and she's a funny girl. At some point she'd run out, grab the crackers I was feeding them, and take it back into the cage.
After a while Mori got the idea and went out with her but Mori is extremely shy and much less active.

Both are nippy. I'm trying the "Squeaking" bit but I'm still afraid to extend my hand (Palm side up, fingers forward). I'm comfortable with the back of my hand though. I've watched both slowly reach out, mouth open.

Mori tends to huddle in a corner when I pay attention to her. It does make me sad. I see the "head weaving" people talk about when they explain rats' poor eyesight.

The sweetest part of it all was when I got a bit brave and began gently rubbing between Mori's shoulders and her cheek. She began bruxing to the point where at times, her eyes would vibrate.

Still neither have gotten truly up close and personal. I'm working on it though.


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post #13 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-21-2010, 03:37 AM
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Same with mojo. He now lovees his treats and ambushes you by jumping onto the door as soon as you open the cage door! Im sure Mori will get the idea aswell

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post #14 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-21-2010, 09:42 AM
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i'm actually going through a similar process with my boys, they get baby food daily, and i wear the same hoody to play with them. Although we are making slow progress, we are making progress , it just takes time and dedication... i can even take D'artagnan out of the cage now without scaring him. i swear by treat training~!

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post #15 of 24 (permalink) Old 12-21-2010, 12:58 PM Thread Starter
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Ah. Can you use meat based baby food or fruit only? I have meat based for my ferrets when they need to be on a bland diet.
So last night I got up the strength to pick up one. (Momento) and she was so/so about it. At times she'd calm down and snuggle in between my arm and side and at others she just wanted to skitter back into the cage. Mori, on the other hand is extremely skittish. No ammount of soothing could keep her in my hands she wanted back into the cage.

I was reading up on training methods and found the whole 20 minute socialization where you hold your rat for 20 minutes at all costs (Minus squealing and squeaking) so that was my motivation. I didn't get near 20 minutes but now I feel like I can reach in to hold them without worry.

They're not biters at all. I was afraid they'd lash out the way I've seen other rodents do but they seem to although not be too keen on being held of picked up they seem to not have that air of "Don't come any closer" Being able to reach in to touch them without fear makes me feel so happy!

I bought last night some tinkle ball toys (The plastic ones with the bell in them) and Momento is really ape over it. I shook it and she was instantly out of the cage wanting it. I have lots of plastic eggs that I use for the ferrets (Put the eggs in a container and they love to crawl around them like kids do in a ball pool) so I took one of the smaller ones and filled it with cheerios. Momento was all over it trying to get it open so I stuck another one in there as well.

I'm curious what anyones thoughts on forced socialization are. Is it something that has great success or something that's to be used as a last stitch effort? I've got a feeling that Mori may be a case for it.


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