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Question
So I got a little girl two days ago stupidly not knowing much about rats at all. I got her a pretty sweet set up though and will be spending a lot of time with her so She will be happy. Of course though I need to trust train her and I'm pretty sure I already broke her trust by trying to pick her up on the first day so I don't really know what to do. My questions are how long should I expect it to take her to warm up to me, is it best to leave her for a couple days or just continue to try to get her use to me? How long should I expect it to take for me to get her out of her cage without stressing her out so I can clean it out? And if you try to teach your rat her name while you trust train or seperately. Currently I am sticking my hand in her cage from time to time to let her sniff it, leaving treats in her cage for her, and sitting in from of her cage with it open singing to her which seems to calm her down a little. I've read a ton of information about trust training but haven't been able to find any answers for my particular questions so I would really appriciate your help. I'm not planning on getting her a companion since I would like to have as tight of a bond with her as possible but I don't want her to get depressed and lonely if this starts taking to long and no one wants to live in their own poop

Answer
Hi Mckenna, first congrats on your new baby and welcome to the wonderful world of rats.  If you haven't already fallen in love, you will soon find out that they capture your heart and never let go.

Before I address your questions about trust training, I intend to do my best to convince you that a rat should never be kept solo.  Rats are extremely social creatures and need companionship of their own kind.  All reputable rat breeders will never allow an adopter to adopt a single rat.  They always require them to be adopted in pairs at least, unless the adopter shows proof that she has one or more rats at home already.  It is a misnomer that a solo rat will have a stronger bond with her human.  On the contrary, rats kept in pairs or groups are more content and happy and better adjusted, thereby more likely to be friendlier to their humans, thus more willing and capable of forming special bonds with their humans.  Solo rats tend to be lonely and less active and more fearful of humans, generally speaking.  Remember, no matter how much time you have to spend with your solo rat, it can never be 24x7.  You may go to school, work, or have a social life, during which times your rat will be alone and lonely.  Additionally, rats are most active and playful at night, while you are asleep, and she would have no one to play with during those long lonely nights.  And during the day while you are busy, she will have no one to snuggle with and groom.  I hope that you will strongly consider getting your girl at least one friend.

If you are still not fully convinced, I hope that this sweet video will.  It always brings happy tears to my eyes...
http://youtu.be/cDy3bMRuobE

Now on to trust training.  You did not make a mistake in trying to reach out to her right away.  All rats are different.  Some are super friendly and curious and warm up to their humans quickly, while others are shy or skittish and take time to trust.  Singing to her is good if it appears to calm her.  Giving her treats is good too, but you need your goal to be actually getting her to take the treat directly from your fingers so she learns that hands are good and not something to be afraid of.

Since you have already scoured the Internet for trust training info and tips, I won't give you links to any websites.  Instead I will describe a scenario that you can try which I personally have found to be very successful in getting new, fearful or skittish rats used to you.  Keep in mind that the most important thing is your time and patience.  I almost guarantee that you will begin seeing results soon, depending on how much time you are willing to put into this.   Try not to get frustrated if you don't see immediate results...just don't give up and continue to try.  

I suggest you set up a small and cozy play space for your girl (or girls if you hopefully get her a friend).  A small bathroom is ideal.  Keep in mind that rats are instinctively fearful or uncomfortable in wide open spaces.  Therefore, try to make this small area as cozy as possible.  Throw down lots of towels on the floor and make fluffy piles out of them so there are spaces in between for your girl to run into and hide.  Put down lots of boxes close together so your girl can run between the boxes or jump on top of them if she wants.  If you have anything else that you can make tunnels or hiding places out of, put those in the room too.  In other words, make this small room feel full, instead of wide open and empty.  It will give your shy fearful girl a feeling of safety.  Rats do tend to run along the sides of walls,  so the boxes and towels, etc., will give them lots of "walls" to run alongside.  Next, bring her cage into that room and place it on the floor.  Bring a cup full of tiny treats, trying to keep these healthy.  Peas, Cheerios, rice crispies, granola, or bits of bread and crackers are all good choices. Then sit yourself down on the floor across from the cage, perhaps 2 to 3 feet away, then open the cage door, and wait to see what happens.  See if she comes to the cage door on her own, or comes out of her cage altogether.  Dont make sudden moves that may frighten her.  Talk to her gently the entire time.  Don't reach out to try to pick her up.  In other words, let her decide what she wants to do...follow her lead.  After some time, if she doesn't come out at all, try to gently coax her out by slowly reaching out with a treat.  If she doesn't take the treat, wait then try again.  If she does take the treats and eventually comes out of her cage, make a trail of treats around the room, in and between the towels and boxes to see if that may inspire her to follow the trail and explore a bit.   Most importantly, try hard not to  get discouraged if this doesn't work the first time.  If she doesn't come out at all after say 15 to 30 minutes, then pack it up and try again later that day or evening. Keep setting up these short play sessions at least twice a day.

If after a few weeks, your shy girl is still not brave enough to come out and play in the space with you, don't worry.  You can assume this is just her personality and you shouldn't force anything on her that doesn't make her comfortable.  Personally, I feel fairly confident that she will eventually break out of her shell and slowly become more comfortable.  I think she just needs more time than other rats.  

As for cleaning her cage, you should invest in either a small travel cage or playpen that you can put her in while you clean her main cage.  Before you clean her cage for the first time, you should try getting her used to the small cage or playpen so she gets comfortable in it.  A good way to do that is to keep this small cage in the bathroom or other small space where you give playtime and keep the cage door to this cage open so she can explore it if she so desires.  

I hope these suggestions are helpful and that before long, you and your girl....but hopefully 2 girls....will become good friends.  Please let me know if I can help you with anything else.  And please do update me in a week or so.  I would love to hear good news that you two have bonded.

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Irene Murphy

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I can answer a variety of questions regarding adoption and care of pet rats throughout their lifetimes, including questions about their health and well being, temperment, diet, bedding, cages, toys, etc. I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability in a timely manner and I have an abundant amount of resources to help me to help you with your pet rats. I love rattie pictures, so include pics with your question if you can. You may ask me medical questions, but please be advised that I am not a vet. I may use my resources to answer some medical questions, however, I will need to refer you to your local vet with medical questions that I feel I am not qualified to address.

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I have been a huge rat enthusiast for many years. Since becoming a rat owner, I have educated myself in all areas of pet rats from every resource I could find including the internet, books, conversations with local exotic vets, as well as several local rat breeders.

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I have a college degree but not in the area of animals. I have obtained my extensive experience and knowlege of pet rats all on my own because in my eyes, pet rats are the most interesting and fascinating creatures you can ever imagine to have as pets. I also am saddened by how mislabeled and misunderstood these amazing and extremely smart animals are by the majority, and my mission in life has become to educate and change as many people's perceptions of rats as I possibly can.

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