Train Your Pet Rat to Do More Tricks Than Your Dog

Learn the basics and lay the foundation to get started teaching your rat commands and tricks.

Published April 26, 2023
Girl smiling and holding pet rat at her desk

Rats are intelligent, social, and adaptable. They make wonderful pets for children and adults alike. Rats can learn tricks, much like dogs or cats, but they need to be trained with the same patience and consistency, just like any other animal. The methods are similar, although rats have their own unique characteristics that make them a little more challenging to train than other animals.

What Rats Need to Learn

Before you start training your rat to perform commands or tricks, it's essential to establish a foundation of trust and basic skills. To earn your rat's trust and allow them to get to know you better, take the following steps:

  • Taming and handling: This really is the first step to training. Teach your rat to be comfortable being held and touched. Start by offering your hand for them to sniff and explore. Gradually progress to gentle petting, and eventually, carefully lift and hold your rat. Always be gentle, patient, and supportive, as sudden or rough handling can create fear or anxiety.
  • Bonding and trust-building: Spend time with your rat daily, allowing them to explore and become familiar with you. Talk to them gently, offer treats, and play with your pet rat. This will help your rat associate you with positive experiences and build trust.
  • Basic cues: Familiarize your rat with simple cues, such as their name or a specific sound, to get their attention before introducing commands and tricks.
  • Clicker training: This is a more advanced technique, but it can work very well during the training process. Teach your rat to associate the sound of the clicker with a treat, which will help them understand when they've performed a desired action correctly.

Once you have established trust, a strong bond, and basic skills, you can begin teaching your rat commands and tricks. Remember that patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement are key to a successful training experience. Keep training sessions short and enjoyable, and always reward your rat's efforts with treats, praise, or gentle petting.

Quick Tip

Just like with your dog, your rat may take some time to get the hang of basic training, but it's important not to skip this step. Continue trust-building, cues, taming, and clicker training until your rat gets it.

Person holding white pet rat

Commands to Teach a Rat

Rats are intelligent and can learn a variety of commands with proper training and positive reinforcement. Here are some basic commands to teach your rat:

  • Come or Here: Train your rat to come to you when called by their name or by a specific sound. Start by rewarding them with a treat when they approach you, and gradually associate the command with the action. Clicker training can help with this.
  • Sit or Stay: Teach your rat to stay in one place by rewarding them when they remain still for a short period. Gradually increase the duration and add the verbal command.
  • Climb: Encourage your rat to climb a ladder or rope by placing treats at different levels and giving the "Climb" command, and rewarding it with a click and a treat.
  • Stand: Train your rat to stand on their hind legs by holding a treat above their head and giving the "Stand" command. Push the clicker when they stand and treat them.
Quick Tip

Start with short training sessions and gradually increase the difficulty of the commands as your rat becomes more confident and skilled.

Tricks Rats Can Learn to Do

Once your rat has learned basic commands, you can move onto tricks. The trick is to stay positive, treat them and give them praise when they do the right thing, and be super patient. Your rat will learn with time.

Run a maze

This is a classic game you can play with your rat. Build a small maze using cardboard, and put a treat at the end of it (you can even incorporate obstacles). Let your rat run the maze, and time them. Keep at it, and your rat will learn to run the maze faster and more accurately each time.

Shake Paws

Just like dogs, rats can learn to give their paw for a light shake. Give your "Shake" command, gently touch your rat's paw, and treat them. Eventually, they will lift their paw when they anticipate a treat. Build from there by giving the command, and let your rat lift their paw to touch your hand. Next, don't treat them until your rat lets you take their paw (very gently) between your fingers.

Spin Around

Train your rat to spin around in a circle by using a treat as a lure and guiding them in the desired direction. Once they've mastered this step, give your "Spin" command, and wait for them to respond, then treat them. Build up to more spins over time, and your rat will be able to spin like a top on command.

Jump Between Platforms

Encourage your rat to jump from one platform to another, gradually increasing the distance between the platforms. Make sure the jump is reasonable, and it's not too far off the ground - start with a very small jump over a soft surface, like your bed. Treat them when they complete the jump on command. It's OK to increase the difficulty once your rat masters the small jump, but always keep their safety in mind.

Fetch It

Teach your rat to fetch a small object, such as a lightweight ball or a paper roll, and bring it back to you. Say "Fetch," throw the object, and guide them to it with a treat. Next, only treat them when they touch the object, and then when they pick it up. Finally, say your command and wait until they pick up the object. Then, give your "Recall" command. Treat them when they come back to you.

Push a Play Cart

Teach your rat to push a lightweight toy cart or vehicle across a flat surface. First, treat them when they touch the toy or cart. Then, wait until they hold position on the object. Next, say "Push" and guide them by leading them with a treat as they stay on the cart. Treat them when they push the toy to follow the treat. Finally, give your push command, and only treat them when they move the cart for some distance.

Shoulder Ride!

This is a fun one, and it's easy to teach. Train your rat to comfortably sit on your shoulder and accompany you as you move around. Give a "Climb" command, and wait for your rat to make their way up to your shoulder. Treat them when they arrive. Now, being careful to make sure they don't lose their balance, begin moving around and treating them when they stay put. Over time, they'll learn to stay in place on your shoulder.

Hoop Jumping

Make a few small, simple hoops out of cardboard or even rolled-up paper. You can get creative here. Hold the hoop up, and give your rat a "Hoop" command (but make sure this command is different from the one you use to teach your rat to jump between platforms), and guide your rat through the hoop with a treat. Give them their treat as soon as they go through the hoop. Next, give your "Hoop" command and move your hand away from the hoop, and only treat them when they go through on their own. Increase the difficulty by lifting the hoop off the (soft) surface, and treat them when they jump through.

Cute grey and white rat

Teaching Your Rat to Use the Litterbox

Rats can learn to use the litter box, resulting in easier cleanup for you when you clean their cage.

  • Choose a litter box: Select a small, shallow container that your rat can easily access. Make sure it's large enough for your rat to comfortably fit inside, but not so big it's overtaking their cage.
  • Select a safe litter material: Choose a rat-safe, dust-free, and absorbent litter material, such as paper-based pellets, aspen shavings, or hemp bedding. Avoid using pine or cedar shavings, as they can be harmful to your rat's respiratory system.
  • Find the right spot: Place the litter box in a corner of your rat's cage where they already tend to use the bathroom. Rats usually prefer to use one or two areas for their waste, so identifying these spots can help with training.
  • Add some waste: To help your rat understand the purpose of the litter box, place a few of their droppings or some soiled bedding into the box. This will help them associate the scent with the appropriate place to eliminate.
  • Monitor and reinforce: Keep an eye on your rat's progress and reward them with treats, praise, or gentle petting when you see them using the litter box. Be patient, as it may take some time for your rat to learn the new routine.
  • Clean the cage regularly: Maintain a clean environment by removing soiled bedding and droppings outside the litter box daily. This will help reinforce the idea that the litter box is the designated area for waste. If it gets too dirty, your rat may not want to use it, but you should keep a few droppings in it while your rat is learning.
  • Be consistent: Consistency is key when litter training your rat. Make sure the litter box is always in the same spot and follow the same cleaning routine. This will help your rat develop a habit of using the litter box and understand the routine you have put in place.
Quick Tip

It's important to remember that rats may not be 100% consistent with using the litter box, but with patience and persistence, they can learn to use it for the majority of their waste.

Enrichment Ideas for Rats

Providing enrichment for pet rats is essential to keep them mentally stimulated, engaged, and happy. If you're teaching them tricks, the training provides mental and physical stimulation, but here are some other ideas to help keep them entertained when you're busy:

  • Climbing opportunities: Install ropes, ladders, branches, or hammocks for your rats to climb on and explore.

  • Hideouts: Provide plenty of hiding spots like cardboard boxes, plastic igloos, or hammocks to create safe and cozy spaces.

  • Tunnels and tubes: Rats love to burrow and explore; provide PVC pipes, large cardboard tubes, or fabric tunnels for them to navigate.

  • Foraging toys: Hide treats or food inside puzzle toys or scatter them around the cage to encourage foraging behavior.

  • Interactive toys: Provide toys like wheels, balls, or small stuffed animals that your rats can manipulate and play with.

  • Sensory enrichment: Offer different textures, scents, and materials for your rats to investigate, such as fabric scraps, hay, or herbs like dried mint or lavender.

  • Time outside their cage: Make sure your rat spends part of their day outside their enclosure, under supervision.

Quick Tip

Rotating your pet rat's toys helps keep them interested and entertained. Give them new toys, and swap these out for old toys periodically.

Rat eating treat in tube

Continuous Learning

Once your rat has learned cues and commands, they will become accustomed to continuous learning. As you're training, you may notice your rat becoming healthier and happier. Another benefit is that physically and mentally active rats have a higher likelihood of living longer, healthier lives. Keep at it, and try making each trick or command more challenging when your rat masters each behavior.

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Train Your Pet Rat to Do More Tricks Than Your Dog