It can be very rewarding to train your pet rats to do tricks and learn obstacle courses. Since they tend to be highly intelligent creatures, rats can actually learn a lot (and get bored if they have nothing to do).
Furthermore, because they’re people-pleasers, rats enjoy the challenge of striving for your reward and praise.
However, before you begin training, you may be interested to know the main pitfalls of pet rat training. That way, you can get started on the right foot and make the most of training time. Here are the top three mistakes that novice rat-trainers will often make:
1. Neglecting to create a stimulating living environment for their rats. Sometimes trainers make the mistake of thinking that their ratties’ living environment doesn’t need to be interesting or fun to be in. They seem to think that an hour of play time or training time is enough to stimulate their little minds. This is untrue. Rats are constantly problem-solving, 24/7. Giving them a stimulating and challenging living environment will ensure that their minds stay sharp for learning tricks.
Buy or build a large caged enclosure complete with shelves, ramps, ladders, cubby holes, bins, hammocks, exercise wheels, tunnels, hidey holes, baskets and ropes strung across.
Occasionally, treat them to a game of “hide n’ seek” with sunflower seeds. Hide them in hard-to-reach places so they really have to think hard about how to get to them.
Be sure to adjust and rearrange the furniture and food locations. Always keep ’em guessing.
Make playtime games challenging as well with swimming pools, sand boxes and tunnel-mazes.
2. Being too “results oriented” about training. One major pitfall a rat owner can fall into is to be too demanding about what is to be accomplished during training. This approach to rat-training will only end in frustration and neglect. Never forget that training is just an extension of play time and that repetition, along with positive reinforcement, is the key to success.
3. Forgetting to reinforce old tricks. As the saying goes “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” The first-time rat trainer will often teach his rats a few basic tricks, move on to other ones for several weeks, only to discover that his rats have forgotten the first tricks! Just because a rat learns a trick, it does not mean that the little guy will remember it later. Reinforcement is everything. This is why, when teaching a rat to run an obstacle course, the trainer must tack a new obstacle onto the one(s) that were previously learned. Otherwise, the rat will fail to remember the first obstacles learned.
So, remember: keep their lives full of challenges at all times; try to be patient and not to get too attached to results and accomplishments; and don’t take it for granted that they will remember those first tricks they learned… because they won’t. Repeat and reinforce their learning at all times!
Knowing about these three major pitfalls will go a long way in helping you to make the most of your rats’ intelligences and abilities; and as long as you are together, you will look forward to training time every single day.