I had a wonderful opportunity yesterday to visit a friend who has 4 pet rats and is interested in clicker training them! My friend W has a very special Halflinger pony who is quite familiar with clicker training and so it seemed an obvious choice for her rats!
We brought the first lovely white rat named Grass into W's studio and simply observed Grass' behaviour. She was not at all sure of her new surroundings, so W went back to the house and brought a familiar cage which helped her to feel less anxious.
First lesson: targeting the eraser end of a pencil. Grass tried very hard but really felt she would rather hide than approach a pencil held by a stranger. No problem - she tried and heard the sound of my voice, smelled my new aromas and was allowed to be herself.
We didn't force her to do anything she wasn't comfortable with. Rather, we watched her response and gave her choice to interact with us or not. It will be so interesting to see how she responds next time!
Enter "Earth" - 9 month old sister of Grass. What a different personality! It was so fascinating to witness the difference between the 2 rats. Earth was more "grounded" (pun intended!) - very curious and bold. She caught on to targeting the pencil and was so gentle and delicate about taking a tiny treat from between my fingers.
I had my video camera set up but didn't manage to switch it on this time! You will have to imagine. Earth is a white rat with a lovely brown stripe partway down her back and some other brown markings. She has over-sized ears but being a donkey-person, I'm fond of big ears!
We had 3 different treats for her to choose from - we wanted to find out which one she would find most reinforcing. She didn't feel that the rice crispies were an appropriate reward for her bravery, choosing instead either the hemp hearts or the tiny white chocolate chips.
Earth did really well for her first lesson. It was so tempting to pick her up when she strayed away but we didn't do that. A human hand descending on her would be very much like a scary predator. We simply watched what she did and I held the pencil for her to discover. When she touched the pencil, I immediately clicked, removed the pencil and offered a treat.
Rats are very intelligent! I look forward to more work with them and will try to capture some on video.
If you are interested in rat training, be sure to visit Mary Hunter's excellent blog here: