Although many people have domestic rats as pets, domestic rats are underestimated when it comes to their intelligence. These animals have proven to scientists and researchers time and time again how smart they can be, but I would like to focus more on their ability to bond with humans, and how well they understand us.
I have my own personal experience with domestic fancy rats and dumbo rats. These animals show such drastic changes in their personality from human interaction. I purchased my first dumbo rat from a local pet store that sold them as feeder rats for snakes and other predatory animals. The rats were housed in enormous tanks, and none of them were over a week old at the most. They were all skittish and almost impossible to hold because they lacked human contact. After about three weeks of constant handling, I was able to hold my male rat, and pick him up out of his cage without any issue. I have raised two different litters of dumbo rats from the time they were born, until they were old enough to be rehomed. When the rats were born, their attitude towards human interaction was anything but accepting. Over time, and with a lot of handling, the baby rats learned how to interact with me. In my experiences with these animals I have seen the difference in the male and female rats attitudes.
The males seem to be more laid back, whereas the females are more eager and less likely to stay still long enough to be held. I had a recent experience with one of my young rats from my most recent litter that made me realize the amount of trust these animals put into us. One of my female white rats knocked over a candle warmer that I was near her cage, and spilled hot wax onto her fur and skin. She was scared and in pain, and would not let me handle her to assess her injuries. After many tries, she allowed me to pick her up. I decided that I would have to shave her fur as close as possible to her skin using hair clippers in order to avoid her ingesting the wax and creating further injury to herself. I knew this would prove to be an extremely difficult task, but it had to be done. To my surprise, instead of running away from me, or trying to wiggle out of my hands when I turned on the clippers, she sat still and allowed me to shave the wax covered hair off of her back. In that moment I realized that in a way these animals do understand when we are trying to help them. In a way, it was an eye opening learning experience for me.
Teaching any animal commands or tricks can be a very demanding process, but at the same time it can be very rewarding. I have been able to train rats to do an array of different tricks, showing how fast they learn and how eager they are to learn. This is something that people don’t get to see every day. Of course just like any animal, if I tried to keep teaching them for too long a period of time, they would start to become distracted and interested in other things. In order to ensure the animals stay attentive, I would limit my time of training per day, and made sure to incorporate time for them to socialize and play. Once my litter of rats started to accept my interaction with them, I started trying to train them to do simple tricks. It proved to be a difficult task, considering I had a full litter of nine babies still with the mother. I started out by teaching them to stand, merely by using a treat to entice them to stand on their own two feet. After many unsuccessful tries, I started to see progress.
They would stand up without a treat. Some of the rats would also copy their siblings, learning how to do the tricks from one another. I then taught them how to retrieve. This is a more challenging trick, because I would not use treats, and the rats were free to move around outside of the cage in order to do so. I would give the rat a plush ball, and let them associate that with the command. Once they learned that the object was not something that would harm them, they began to trust it. After doing this, I would put the ball on the opposite side of the room, and tell them to fetch. By using a clicker, like some trainers use with dogs, they learned to retrieve the ball and bring it back to me. The rats began to understand using the command without the clicker to direct them. “They are the most fastidious cleaners,” says Cassara, noting that the rodents groom themselves like cats. “They can’t stand human germs.” Second, rats are not mean.
On the contrary, Cassara and Ducommun say, socialized rats are gentle as lambs. Finally, rats are not dumb. “I believe that the average rat is as smart as the average dog, and lots of them are smarter,” says Ducommun, who has trained rats to respond to come when they are called, walk tightropes and shoot baskets, among other things. (Hubert, 2007). The rats I have owned have never bitten me unless they felt threatened in their environment. They can be very affectionate animals, and I have trained my own rats to kiss someone’s cheek, or shake hands. These animals also allow me to pet them as if I would a dog or cat. They do become relaxed enough to sit still in my lap, and enjoy the time I spend with them. I challenge my own rats in their cage environments by giving them boxes that have no way in, and letting them play and create their own playground. I also have put treats, such as frozen peas, in the bottom of a shallow pan filled with water. This is both fun and rewarding for these animals. It is important to allow these animals time to play outside of training them.
Domestic versus Wild Rats. Domestic rats are different from rats we would otherwise call sewer rats. There are actually many species of rats and they come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. There are brown rats, black rats, small rats, mice, rats with pouches, rats with brushes on their tails, etc. What kind of rat you might find really depends on where you’re located. Pet rats are Rattus norvegicus or, the Norway rat. They are the same species and breed as their wild counterpart, but much less fearful, much more friendly, and, of course, come in many colors. (“Rathelp.org”, 2006). The litter of rats that I have raised were a product of a male dumbo rat and a female fancy rat. The male dumbo rat is twice the size of the female, and the litter grew to be the same.
The females of the litter stayed the size of the mother, but the males grew to be the same size as their father. The female fancy rat was silky brown in color, while the male dumbo rat was white, with a rough coat. About half a million families own a rat or mouse, based on statistics from the American Pet Products Association–nearly double the number from 2006. That upswing may reflect the low cost of caring for “pocket pets” at a time of tight household finances. But as small critters go, there’s something about rats that generates particular ardor among their owners. “Mice are great, but rats are smarter,” says AFRMA founder and President Karen Robbins. “They know you, and they want to be out with you.” (Miller, 2013). Caring for rats can be very low-budget, and that is something that is yearned for by many animal owners.
By understanding these animals, we can better create an educated opinion on them before judging without knowledge. Domesticated rats are capable of bonding with humans and interacting with us on many different levels we are still trying to completely understand. Rats are interactive, loving animals that can be great companions for someone who is willing to put in the time and effort to care for them. These animals will show their appreciation for their owners through affection and attentiveness.
Baldwin, Nathalie. (2006). Wild vs. Domesticated. Retrieved fromhttp://www.rathelp.org/WildVsDomesticated.html Miller, K. (2013, Apr 07). Oh, rats! Dayton Daily News Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1324322410 Hubert, C. (2007, Jun 22). Rat fanciers hope animated film will help their pets shed bad PR. McClatchy – Tribune Business News Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/462146202?accountid=458