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What to consider when setting up a training session?

You may not feel that the actual "training session" deserves a whole page for discussion….surely you just plonk your rat down on said bed/table/chair/cage top and away you go! This however is not entirely the case and the environment in which you choose to train your rat, the requirements you place on the session in terms of length, treat used etc and most importantly the subject i.e. the rat you choose to train will all have a great impact on the success or failure of your overall training.

Where do you plan to carry out your training? (Environment)

The ideal area for training would be somewhere that is free from distractions and attractions, your rat isn't going to want to work for you if people keep walking past with plates of food! Equally they aren't going to be that keen if there are distractions such as hoovers, washing machines, other people, pets and other rats near by. Your rat may well just ignore you and go leap on the next passer by!

In addition to this, your chosen training environment should be both physically safe and the rat must also feel safe there. With this in mind it may take a couple of short sessions to get your rat used to their new environment before training can begin. This will also allow them to get the investigating over and done with and help them to start paying attention to you. If you decide to use a familiar area e.g. their normal play area for your training then you may find that this could cause some additional problems. It is likely this area has long been associated with play time and this often doesn’t involve much concentration on your rats part, so they may not be willing to concentrate on any training here. However saying this Bramble was trained on a covered double bed that was occasionally used for cuddles and she seemed to cope well with this. Bramble did seem to be able to distinguish between play times and training.

It may be necessary to try several different areas until you find one that is suitable but do bear in mind that constant moving from one place to another may have an effect on your rats initial training. Although finding the right place will be beneficial in the long run.

Session specifics...

If your session is too short then you are unlikely to achieve much in it, but if your session is too long then your rat is likely to loose concentration become frustrated and bored. Above all you want these training sessions to be fun for you and your rat so try not to train for longer then 15-20mins at a time. Breaks are important during training, as they allow the animal time to do there own thing which could otherwise interfere with the training. They also keep the animals motivation higher as they prevent the boredom of doing the same thing over and over for 20 minutes straight!. With Bramble's training we would carry out 10-20 repetitions (depending on her state/mood) ending on a positive note she would then be returned to her cage, so she could get a drink etc and take in what she had just learned before being asked to do more.

 The treat you use in your training is another important consideration. The treat must be small as you don't want your rat getting full up and thus not willing to work for your reward. Making the treat small should also help stop your rat from putting on extra weight. The treat must be highly motivating as well, that is your rat must really desire it! (See photo) For example I would rather do something for a friend if they offered me a pizza after, compared to a dry crust of bread! When we carried out the training with Bramble we used various small pieces of cereal including coco pops and commercially brought rat treats such as chocolate drops which we broke into eights.

Choosing a rat to train ...

When choosing a rat to train you must consider several aspects of the individual first. Probably the most important is health! The rat you choose must be physically fit and able to perform the tasks you are asking of it. It shouldn't be suffering from any underlying health problems such as respiratory problems as this could make the rat too lethargic for training and also cause them extra stress.

The age of the rat you choose is also important. Bramble was twelve weeks old when we started training her. The main advantage of using a younger rat is that they are likely to be more active and receptive to training however as with all younger animals (see photo) they can have short attention spans and training session initially may need to be brief.

The sex of the rat you choose could be another issue to consider. The differences between bucks (being generally larger and more laid back) and does (being lighter and more energetic) are likely to work with or against us during training. I would probably suggest that choosing a doe for more active tasks such as agility type tasks may be the best idea although it would also have to depend on the individual rat as well.

The character of the individual rat... They must want to work for you! and they must be food motivated! If you have kept many rats you will be aware that they all have different personalities and as with many species including humans some are just more suited to certain jobs then others. For example in our training we initially played with both Fizz and Bramble to see which would be more suitable and eventually decided on Bramble because she was less easily distracted and more food orientated. If you are not sure whether your rat would really like training or not? then why not have a go anyway and see how he/she goes, you may be surprised! Or you may be able to tailor tasks to better suit that individual. However if they really aren't interested then don't force them as training is supposed to be fun!

A Final consideration is that the variety of the rat may play some part in its suitability for training. For example red eyed rats tend not to see as well as their dark eyed counter parts, so you may want to bear this in mind while your training and again tailor tasks, to better suit the individual e.g. making the contrast of colours on jumps more obvious.

Once you have considered all these aspects you can then go onto introducing your rat to the clicker and some basic training.





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