Different bonding techniques for different rats?

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Feolthanos
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Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by Feolthanos » Sun Jan 05, 2020 9:12 am

First time rat owner of a pair of 8 week old rats I picked up last week from an established breeder. Unfortunately however the rats hadn't been handled much with it being Christmas and someone else was looking after the rats before I got them. I know that bonding takes time, but I feel this is contributing to my rats initial skittish behaviour.

One was initially fine with being handled, with the other wasn't, so I changed tactics to go for giving treats and trying to get them to come to me and stopped trying to pet or pick up the rats and generally just spending time in the room going about my business. This is showing real improvement; it takes less time for the rats to carry on their business when I enter the room, they're coming up the the cage bars and are fine with sniffing me through them and I've had a couple instances of both rats putting their paws onto my hand and arm when I've had my arm laid out in the cage. Still a bit weirdest out and it can take 15 minutes for them to settle, but they're body language is getting there at not being so low and frightened.

One of them, who was a sweetie pie last week has taken to biting however. They both mouth, but this has gotten quite hard and like he's telling me to go away rather than curiosity. I'm standing ground and Eeping at him, but he'll do it 3 or 4 times before backing off. I'm wondering if he now feels like I'm a push over at not handerling him for a few days, or if he's just accepted the cage as his home and is being a bit territorial? Should I go back to picking him up, as he was fine with hanging out in my hoody before? Is it ok to use different bonding techniques with individual rats?

More looking for validation if I should just trust my instincts and run with forced bonding for one and a more gentle approach with another? Worried about setting them back and scaring them.

And yes, I do know it's only been a week and not to expect miracles. Just surprising that that one has turned out to be the biter! :roll:

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cyber ratty
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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by cyber ratty » Sun Jan 05, 2020 12:10 pm

I'm in favour of forced bonding in nearly all cases, so yes, I'd go back to that. I wouldn't put up with him thinking he can dictate where or when you handle him, I feel it's important to establish how you expect to interact from the start. Some breeders handle their rats (and kittens) in a more dominant way than pet homes do, and it's probably best if you can mimic their style.

Feolthanos
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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by Feolthanos » Sun Jan 05, 2020 3:31 pm

cyber ratty wrote:
Sun Jan 05, 2020 12:10 pm
I'm in favour of forced bonding in nearly all cases, so yes, I'd go back to that. I wouldn't put up with him thinking he can dictate where or when you handle him, I feel it's important to establish how you expect to interact from the start. Some breeders handle their rats (and kittens) in a more dominant way than pet homes do, and it's probably best if you can mimic their style.
Thanks for the advice :)

I picked him up earlier and the other interactions I've had off him since he's only tried to bite me twice (once each time) and then backed off. Considering his behaviour this last couple days I'm calling that a win, so I'll carry on picking him up.

Interestingly, I've noticed today that he's winning play fights and it was ALWAYS his brother winning before and pinning him down, so seems like the bitey rat is feeling a bit more competitive in general.

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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by Feolthanos » Tue Jan 07, 2020 8:47 pm

More advice needed I'm afraid.

I thought things were doing quite well and this morning I was in good spirits. The rats are mostly using both litter trays, bitey rat didn't try to bite me and I picked nervy rat up and he didn't immediately freak out.

This evening however, after a cute moment of one of them rushing up to the cage to greet me, they've been proper little bleeps. Both rats have activity tried to bite me, hard enough to hurt and not just annoying (they seem to understand what's skin and what's hoody!) and ain't having none of it when it comes to handerling. I'm telling myself that they were just hungry and maybe a bit bored as I switched they're schedule around to feed fresh this morning rather then leaving them with a cage bottom full of dried scattered around, but I dunno.
Handerling the rats for long enough is proving problematic as after 30 secs to 2 mins they just want to get away. I wanted to do some confined free range (basically with me and if they get away no big deal as I could easily catch them, my room not do much) in my tiny bathroom, but noticed a hole behind the sink so that's out of the question.
There confidence is really growing and they love sniffing me and climbing over my arms inside the cage and bitey rat will actively seek me out, but everything feels like on their terms and I won't let these tiny creatures rule me :roll: Help.

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cyber ratty
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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by cyber ratty » Wed Jan 08, 2020 9:05 am

They are too young to be hormonal, so I'm sure you'll get there. Have you discussed their behaviour with the breeder? They may have better tips for you.

Forced bonding isn't about trying to hold them for as long as possible, no kitten is going to put up with that, life is far too exciting to stay still.

Are you interacting outside the cage at all now? You say they were okay in your hoody before, so yes, I'd go back to doing that.

Keep them on you for at least 20 minutes, and slip your hand in with them so you can gently stroke and massage them rather than holding them. I wouldn't offer treats to start with though, in case they expect them all the time. Do this in a different room from where their cage is, and sit on a chair, or walk around. Talk to them softly, and sing - rats love human voices! If you do this at least once a day, they should start to focus on you as an interesting place to be rather than an interference in their plans.

Once you've got that bond established with no nipping going on, you can move on to giving them some free range again, but start in a limited area like a sofa, table top, or bed. Pick them up at regular intervals, but only for a short time so that you put them down when you choose to rather than waiting until they wriggle which rewards them for doing so.

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[cub]
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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by [cub] » Wed Jan 08, 2020 9:17 am

A fit and healthy rat, especially a young one, is going to want to go exploring, so trying to escape from you is fairly normal.

It's generally recommended that if you want to do the forced bonding method, you do it in a room that isn't the one their cage is in. The room will smell different to what they're used to, and you'll be the most familiar thing there, so you'll be a bit more of a home base for them. Every rat I've had would still be attempting to clamber over/off me though, even in an unfamiliar space, so I'd be doing it standing up, or sitting in a chair that isn't close to anything else. :P

I wonder if a modified method would work better for your rats. Rather than forcing them to interact with you at length, just do short handling sessions. The idea would be to put them back in the cage while they're still in a comfortable frame of mind, and teach them to associate being comfortable with handling (which is what you want) with being able to go back in the cage and get away from you (which is what they want). This may mean just picking them up and putting them back in the cage if they hate handling that much, but over time that should teach them that nothing terrible happens when they're picked up, and in theory you can then slowly extend the handling time. If they bite you though, you either keep them on you, or give them a time out in a boring carrier, or something like that; if you're putting them back in the cage when they bite, then they're learning that biting gets them what they want.

And remember that you've only had them what, a week? If they're rats that need socialisation, then I wouldn't necessarily expect progress in that much time.
Poo-shoveller to: Calyn (NLA28).
Fondly remembering: Zephyr Mick Jagger (Edgeworth) the big lump, Din (NLA28), Zephyr Donovan (Phoenix), Xeltan, Lita (NLA32), Lia (NLA28), Zephyr Delanynder (NLA28), Falere (NLA36), Mirala (NLA36), Zephyr Opold, and Rila.

Feolthanos
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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by Feolthanos » Wed Jan 08, 2020 12:50 pm

Thanks for the tips guys. I am putting them in the hoody rather then forcefully trying to hold them, and it's only inside the cage when they trying to bite. One was perfectly okay with being in the hoody before and would chill out in there and groom himself but now as there confidence has grown they just won't stay and will actively look to escape me. I know I just need to persist, just doubting myself at the best method to use and want to be consistent from now on.

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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by Feolthanos » Sun Jan 12, 2020 6:54 pm

Just a little update.

From Wednesday afternoon we had no nipping from either and by Friday I'd picked up both. First with nervy rat who managed 5 minutes before he looked too stressed out and then with bitey who we got the full 20 minutes with. Unfortunately however he did freak himself out the day before by curiously jumping off the chair and now the floor is lava apparently and he's not liking coming out the hoody much. He did bite me then the next day but I feel that was likely my fault as I went to move over his head when he wasn't feeling very secure. When he's in the cage he's still attempting to nip occasionally now, but I do feel it's all down to him thinking I'm going to carry him to the aweful floor again. Wish I could communicate to him that actually he put himself there :roll: He was such a curious little rat so I hate seeing him so timid outside the cage and taking a step back.

Nervy rats come on leaps and bounds however. I've had him out for 35 minutes now (last Wednesday it was a miracle to even pick him up!) both on me and in a play pen and he's so confident outside the cage compared to in it. He'll allow me to pick him up and move him, stroke him and he's figured out how to jump the playpen and will confidently scoot around the room (I don't think this one's a lap rat lol). Due to his confidence I took the decision to have both rats out at the same time and it has helped bitety be a bit more confident with his brother there, but the floor itself is still lava and I and the hoody the safest place to be.

Working on nervys in cage behaviour now as he's like a different rat inside the cage and bitey to get his confidence back but to also stop being a little bleep. I had 3 days with no bites until he jumped on the floor. Both need more hand taming in general. Any ideas how to do this without food as nervy is getting a bit snatchy?

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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by [cub] » Mon Jan 13, 2020 1:06 pm

You don't often get lap rats until they're old and grey (and frequently male and neutered as well :lol: ) so leaping around is expected in rats this young.

In-cage biting from an otherwise handleable rat is territorial aggression, and not uncommon. I have heard reports of some rats being trained out of it, but I think whether or not it's something that can be trained out depends on how bad it is and also the motivation behind it. My one cage territorial girl appeared to be pretty firmly wired that way, so in the end I just learned to work around her, and that was fine.

General nervousness combined with occasional aggression suggests fear to me. I'd definitely suggest improving playpen security so that they can't get out (you may need walls up to 1m high), and only handling them in enclosed spaces close to the floor (perhaps with a blanket or rug down as a barrier against the 'lava'). If they're still generally scared and prone to having big drops in confidence every time something unexpected happens, then you need to make sure that their handling doesn't involve anything unexpected until they're feeling more comfortable in their new environment. That means removing any opportunity they have to have unexpected encounters with e.g. loose items in the un-rat-proofed part of the room, or the floor at high speed, or whatever.

Snatchiness with food can be trained out. Unfortunately I don't really have any particularly useful tips; the one rat I had to train out of this wasn't aggressive, just prone to exciement and bad at aiming. :lol: All I really had to do with him was keep the treat out of his reach until he was calmer; he eventually realised that staying calm was the way to get treats and that was that. This probably won't work so well if the snatchiness is out of something like anxiety.

Staying calm and confident yourself is pretty key to all of this.
Poo-shoveller to: Calyn (NLA28).
Fondly remembering: Zephyr Mick Jagger (Edgeworth) the big lump, Din (NLA28), Zephyr Donovan (Phoenix), Xeltan, Lita (NLA32), Lia (NLA28), Zephyr Delanynder (NLA28), Falere (NLA36), Mirala (NLA36), Zephyr Opold, and Rila.

Feolthanos
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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by Feolthanos » Mon Jan 13, 2020 1:44 pm

Thanks Cub.

I brought the playpen due to Bitey scaring himself on the floor. He doesn't try and jump the playpen and has wandered around it with his brother there, but lacks confidence on his own. I did try and cancel the order as I realised I'd got the wrong size, but was too late (Don't Amazon sleepy kids :rollred: ). May be able to tape some cardboard to it.

He's biting outside the cage now too, so I don't think it's in cage aggression with him, more his confidence was knocked. It's odd cos in the cage I have him whose a confident little thing, will come up to the cage bars, try and get to me if I'm moving stuff around and in generally only freaking out at unexpected noises. Now he's not keen at all outside the cage and just burrows himself down into the hoody. I can't stroke him without getting the teeth out at me. I feel like I need to take a step back and do the pick up put down thing again so he learns nothing bad happens with hands. Last time I stepped back with him was when he started biting though :/ It's pretty easy to keep him near me at the moment as he doesn't attempt to get away when out the cage.

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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by Feolthanos » Fri Jan 17, 2020 8:12 am

Right so Bitey bit me this morning, hard enough to draw blood. He got a firm pick up and no.

Although he's been nipping before, this is of only a couple of times where he's activily lunged for me. Again we had a couple good days of no and very little nipping, and then he's just reverted back to being a little bleep, but this one scared me as it was very forceful and he didn't let go right away.

Nervy rat also showed some signs of opening his mouth like he wanted to bite too, so I'm also worried that I'm fundamentally doing something wrong to cause this behaviour. He'd come on wonderfully and we were making great progress, so to take a step back with him too is really disheartening.

I hate to be on here again asking for help. I knew when I got rats that it'd take time to bond with them and for them to trust me, but I didn't expect them to be this aggressive (at least not at this age).

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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by [cub] » Fri Jan 17, 2020 10:37 am

Have you spoken to the breeder at all about these issues? I have to say, this kind of nervousness and/or aggression in well-bred rats is quite unusual. This is all sounding more like the sort of behaviour I might expect to see from pet shop or poorly socialised rescue rats. If I were their breeder I'd definitely want to know.
Poo-shoveller to: Calyn (NLA28).
Fondly remembering: Zephyr Mick Jagger (Edgeworth) the big lump, Din (NLA28), Zephyr Donovan (Phoenix), Xeltan, Lita (NLA32), Lia (NLA28), Zephyr Delanynder (NLA28), Falere (NLA36), Mirala (NLA36), Zephyr Opold, and Rila.

Feolthanos
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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by Feolthanos » Fri Jan 17, 2020 1:27 pm

[cub] wrote:
Fri Jan 17, 2020 10:37 am
Have you spoken to the breeder at all about these issues? I have to say, this kind of nervousness and/or aggression in well-bred rats is quite unusual. This is all sounding more like the sort of behaviour I might expect to see from pet shop or poorly socialised rescue rats. If I were their breeder I'd definitely want to know.
I have yes. She says there wasn't any biting whilst they were with her and was quite surprised.

I can only assume that it's because they weren't handled whilst she was away over Xmas (I didn't realise they were having limited interactions by the person looking after them during this time until I picked them up), and I agree that it's surprising considering they are bred rats rather than pet shop.

A friend of mine (former rat owner) has suggested everything you guys have told me but also soft food so they can lick near me without direct contact and associate me with good stuff.

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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by Feolthanos » Thu Jan 23, 2020 8:34 am

Little update.

Had an aweful weekend with the rats, so much so I want back to the breeder who suggested they're may be an environmental concern and suggested music throughout the day as I live in a super quiet area and they may be getting too freaked out when I come in and there's sudden noise, as well as general advice. Fyi, the breeder has been fantastic in all this, so no ill will here.

Monday however they suddenly turned a corner with both rats actively seeking me out, coming out of the cage onto me voluntarily and just generally being more confident throughout the week.

Bitey hasn't tried to bite me at all. Nervy is still opening his mouth and trying to nip me though, which he has done a couple times. It's different to Bitey though, difficult to explain. I'm not sure if it's malicious, if he thinks I'm giving food or if he's just a nibbler (he does chew things in the cage, pull on my clothing etc way more than Bitey does).

Still a way to go at hand taming them, but feel like good progress is being made. Horray for perservace!

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Re: Different bonding techniques for different rats?

Post by [cub] » Thu Jan 23, 2020 11:51 am

Hopefully this trend will continue!

Rats use their teeth in lots of ways. Sometimes it's exploratory, sometimes it's actually part of grooming, sometimes it's a warning. I've had rats who never bit me but did give me little nips when they got annoyed with what I was doing. For the most part I try to respect when a rat is telling me they've had enough of something. Sometimes you have to do something they don't like for their wellbeing (e.g. hauling them out of somewhere they shouldn't be), and you do need to acclimatise them to handling to some extent just so that you can do basic things like health checks. But once you have that basic level of handleability down, I feel that it's fine for a rat to want some personal space and have that respected.

If they're using their teeth to explore you a lot and really don't seem to understand what they're interacting with, though, you might want to try and check if they're sensory impaired in some way.
Poo-shoveller to: Calyn (NLA28).
Fondly remembering: Zephyr Mick Jagger (Edgeworth) the big lump, Din (NLA28), Zephyr Donovan (Phoenix), Xeltan, Lita (NLA32), Lia (NLA28), Zephyr Delanynder (NLA28), Falere (NLA36), Mirala (NLA36), Zephyr Opold, and Rila.

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