Intelligent, curious, athletic. These qualities help rats excel at something pretty unexpected – agility trials! This type of agility refers to jumping or maneuvering through obstacles. Dog agility began in the 1970s and 1980s in the United Kingdom, Canada, and United States, and it was likely inspired by horse jumping competitions. Rat agility is newer. It seems to have begun in Sweden in the 1990s, and it has popped up at rat shows and clubs in various countries on and off ever since.
The Temperament Question
Before you begin a journey to agility with your furry pal, take time to assess both your rat(s) and yourself. Most rats are eager to learn, but there will be the occasional rebel rat who just wants to do his or her own thing. Perhaps too many other things interest your rat and prevent concentration. Or, maybe your rat is more interested in snoozing than running obstacles. If your rat fails to show any interest in training, don’t stress. Agility doesn’t make rats great pets; it’s just a fun bonus. Enjoy your rat for who he or she is.
Another factor in the training equation is you. Do you have the time and the temperament to train your rat? Some keys to success for training include keeping a regular schedule, behaving consistently, encouraging through praise/reward, rarely getting frustrated, and always being patient.
Rat Training Tips
Training a rat for agility is a topic in itself, but here are the basics. Once you commit to training, give it a real chance by training every day in brief sessions a few times a day for at least a month.
Choose a positive training method that rewards your rat for doing what you want. Rewards can be treats, praise, or petting. Treats should be tiny because you don’t want your rat to fill up on treats and not eat his regular food for the day. Treats should also be healthy, because you never want to give your rat junk food. You could even use some of your rat’s regular food in training.
To learn about training rats, check some of the great books available (by authors Ducommun or Bucsis/Somerville, to name two) or search YouTube. A video by Shadow The Rat is just one that might help. Once you learn the basics of training, you can apply that to training an agility task.
Always praise the behavior you want. Never punish your pet rat. If your rat doesn’t do what you want, just skip the reward and move on with training. Agility should be a fun, bonding experience for you both. Keep training sessions short, about 10 to 15 minutes. Your rat will let you know when interest is waning. Try to end on a positive note when your rat has successfully done something you reward.
Equipment For Rat Agility
The obstacles used in agility courses typically include some or all of the following: tunnel, seesaw, fence, pole-weave, A-frame fence, hoop, and bridge. These must all be rat-size, sturdy, and easy to clean. Because of the small size of everything, rat agility can usually be run on a tabletop or small floor area. You can make your own equipment, such as the ones shown by Shadow The Rat’s video, or purchase online at places like The Agile Rat. You could also use items you have around your home, as long as they’re safe for your rat and washable. Test whether your rat is interested in doing agility before making any purchases.
Learning agility should be a fun. Enjoy the process! As your rat learns, you’ll delight in each tiny success. Once your pal is proficient, you might choose to share his or her ability with family, friends, or even a local rat club. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a local rat club that runs agility events, or perhaps you’ll want to start one of your own!