Can You Teach Rats Tricks?

Tom Matteo

I've always been an admirer of rats. Have you noticed that rats are often chosen for intelligence-related experiments? Ever wonder why? It's because rats are very smart animals that, unfortunately, have gotten a bad rap. Rats possess an impressive amount of brain power, and they're capable of learning everything you can teach a dog...and more! The fact of the matter is, if you take your time to teach them, rats can learn a variety of tricks with ease.

Start Young

Rats thrive on brain stimulation, so create an environment for them with stimulating activities by offering maze puzzles and a variety of toys from a young age.

Keep Your Rat Occupied

Make sure that you keep your rats in pairs or small groups so they don’t get lonely and bored. A happy rat will be more receptive to training and play. The more time you spend interacting and bonding with your rat, the more likely you are to earn his trust—an essential first step towards training.

Reward-Based Animals

Training your rat begins with reinforcement. Whatever trick you want it to do, first get the rat in the right position to do the trick. Address the rat by its name, then say and repeat the name of the command. If you want the rat to sit, say "sit." After you say the command, gently put the rat in a sitting position and give the rat a treat. This is called reinforcing the action. When your rat becomes comfortable with the trick, stop giving the treats. Some people simply prefer giving their rat love and affection and forget the treats altogether.

Think Outside The Cage

Your rat should be trained every day, no exception, except for sickness. Rodents need their run around time outside of their cage. Keeping your rats in pairs so they aren't bored is a good idea but you shouldn't train more than one rat while focusing your attention on a certain rat. If you want to teach two rats different tricks, then train each rat individually. Also, training should take place in an area where you'll have little or no distractions or interruptions. It's easier to train your rat in a quiet place.

Some Tricks to Try
• Stand - Use a treat to coax your rat up. When he stands on his haunches for the treat quickly say "stand", then give your rat the treat.
• Jump - An obstacle placed between your rat and you (while holding a treat) will coax him to jump. When he does, say "jump", then give him the treat! • Handshake - Put a treat in your hand near your rats paws. Gently place your rats paw on the treat in your hand and say, "handshake." Then give your rat the treat with a little reinforcing pat.
•Lie Down - Place a treat on the floor and snap your fingers and point to the treat. When your rat in on the floor say, "lie down."
• Rat Recall - Hold a treat until your rat notices it and comes to you. Say your rat's name as it comes and gets the treat.
• Give a Kiss - Your rat will learn to kiss you if you dab some peanut butter on your hand while repeating the command, "kiss."

Advanced Tricks

Other more difficult tricks like hoop jumping and shoulder riding can come later, but practicing the basic tricks each day (with lots of patience on your part and rest for your rat in between sessions) will ensure success when you move on to more advanced stuff. Don't overwhelm your pet; instead, teach your rat complicated tricks in steps. All those steps will add up to a fully complicated trick!

Clicker Training

You can even teach your rat using the clicker method, like you would for a dog. Using a bell will also work, but if you use one, make sure it has a soft tone because rats have very sensitive hearing! Condition your rat to the clicker or the bell first by associating the sound to a reward, then give your rat a treat. Work your way up to clicking and treating simultaneously to a specific action like the above mentioned tricks.

Repetition

Repetition is the key to success when training your rat, but don't overfeed or overwork the animal. Use affection instead of treats when the rat learns how to respond to the commands. Talking to your rat aids in stress relief and helps the rat to become accustomed to your voice. And don't yell or scold them if they do something wrong. This action could definitely stifle your success! Younger rats (under two years) will learn tricks better than older rats (which typically have shorter attention spans). However, interactivity can keep older rats interested, and interactive play will keep them spry. So, yes, an old rat can learn new tricks. Just avoid over-stimulating activity and he'll be fine. Keep training interesting and any rat at any age will achieve amazing results and I'll bet you'll further strengthen the bond between you and your beloved pet. Have fun!

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About the Author
Tom Matteo has been a freelance writer since 1992. He specializes in hardware and software reviews for computers and gaming systems, and occasionally writes about such topics as animal behavior and care. Tom resides in Bethlehem, PA with his wife Tina and his beloved cockapoo, Angel.