Learn how to bond with your new rat after adoption.
Bonding with your rat is a very important step after adopting. Bonding with our rats can bring so much joy, happiness, and quality of life not only to the rat, but us as well. Well bred, social rats usually take to people right away, but even the best bred rats still have the capacity to be afraid. This is seen especially when entering into a new home environment for the first time. If your rat was from a line known for a good temperament and well socialized early on, a lot of issues that can occur will tend to be avoided. Nevertheless, it's a good idea to know how to properly bond with your rat, social or otherwise, so here are some bonding tips that should work for any temperament type.
The first step in the bonding process is to build a trusting relationship between you and your new friend. Some rats may not want to come to you at first, and that's okay. The key to the bonding process is patience, especially if your rat it skittish. So the first piece of advice is this: if your rat does not want to be held, don't hold them. When we force a rat to be in a position they are not comfortable with, this can actually cause them to be even more distrustful of us. So, if your rat runs every time you try to pick them up, or your older rat squirms and wriggles every time you hold them, this is a sign that they are not comfortable or trusting enough to be held yet and we need to back pedal.
Before we go over what we can do to help gain our rat's trust, here is a quick list of some signs to watch for that indicate that our rat does not trust us or may not have been well socialized early on.
So what can we do to earn our rat's trust? Well, the first thing we can do is find a treat they really, really love. Open the cage door, and place your hand inside, palm up, with the treat laying on your palm. Allow your rat to come to you and smell your hand. Be very still while your rat is investigating, so as not to scare them. Eventually, the rat will begin taking treats off of your palm. Once they can consistently do this without hesitation, you can move the treat further, and further back up your hand, and eventually up your arm, to allow the rat to climb onto your hand and out of the cage freely. Do not try and pet or grab them during this stage. We want the rat to know that if they want to get away from us, they can without fear of being grabbed. Again, this step alone may take some time depending on how skittish your rat is, so be patient and don't give up.
Note: It is never advised to feed food or treats through the bars of your cage, as this can cause rats to assume that any contact through their cage will be from offering food and may lead to accidental finger grabbing, nips, etc. Instead, provide treats from inside the cage, by opening the door and placing your hand inside with the treats either on the palm of your upturned hand, or between your fingers.
Eventually, your rat may begin to climb up your arm to perch on your chest or shoulder. This is a very good sign. You can pet and stroke them at this stage, but it is still not a good idea to try and pick them up just yet. We want them to know that they can be near us and spend time with us without being afraid of being put in a position they do not want to be in.
After a while, when you feel your rat is comfortable enough with you, you can begin picking them up and holding them inside the cage. Do not take them out of the cage just yet, just in case they become frightened and try to squirm away. Keep doing this, keep giving them treats, and keep being patient. After a while, they will no longer show signs of fear or hesitation when you go to pick them up, and you can now begin taking them out of the cage.
Sitting in a chair or on the floor in a safe, secure area and allowing them to sit on your shoulder, in your arms, and on your lap are the next things you want to focus on. Set aside about 30 minutes every day to just relax with your rat. You will see over time, that your rat will become more and more comfortable with you while outside the cage. Always provide lots of treats and reassurance for them and avoid sudden movements and loud noises so as not to scare them.
Another method that I find useful as well is called the "hoodie" method. Wear a hoodie backwards with the hood facing in front of you. Allow the rats to sit in your hood, kind of like a bonding pouch, and go about your daily activities such as cleaning cages, watching TV, folding laundry, etc. Commercial bonding pouches are another option and can be purchased from most pet and online stores.
Another great way to build trust is to sit on the floor, either in an rat-safe room or a secure playpen, and allow your rats to come to you on their own terms. Regardless of the progress you have made, they may still show hesitation when out of their cage, especially while free roaming, and that is also okay. Keep trying, keep being patient, and keep giving them plenty of treats. After a while, they will begin coming up to you, climbing up onto you, running around, playing with your hands, and will show a general sense of ease while outside of the cage.
Eventually, your rats will allow you to hold them, pick them up, and pet them without any hesitations, or signs of fear. Some of the signs to watch for that a rat trusts you are as follows!
These are the easiest methods I have found when it comes to bonding with rats. I would like to point out that - generally - well bred, socialized rats should take to you from day 1 with no issues or signs of fear or mistrust, but if this is not the case, it is possible that they may not want anything to do with you whatsoever. It all depends on their personality, how they were raised, and your dedication to them. Yes, genetics do play a part in your rats willingness to socialize with you to a degree, but in my experience, it's all about how they were raised and how they have been treated. Like any other living being, if they weren't shown kindness, they will not be trusting and will often be fearful of us. So always remember to be kind and, I cannot say this enough, patient.
Note: If at any point your rat draws blood on you, or another rat, while attempting to bond, this may be an indicator that your rat is aggressive. For aggressive rats, it is not advised to attempt to bond with them if they are already to the point where they are drawing blood.
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