User Reviewed

How to Tame a Rat

Four Methods:Well Socialized RatsSemi-Socialized RatsUnsocialized RatsForced Socialization

Imagine you're sitting in your home watching TV, minding your own business. Suddenly, your roof is pulled off, and you see Godzilla reach in and try to grab you. He cups you in his tremendously large hands, and holds you in front of his face. He starts making some strange noises at you, but you have no idea what they mean or what he wants. He looks strange, he smells strange, he sounds strange, and he is gigantic! You are so scared that you release your bowels!

Scary, huh? This is how it probably feels for pet rats. You know you are not going to hurt them, but they don't know that. So you need to prove it to them with your actions. These instructions will show you how to turn a skittish rat into a loving pet.

Method 1
Well Socialized Rats

  1. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 1
    If you were lucky enough to find a good breeder, you will have rats that were well handled since birth. (You can also find well handled rats that have been abandoned at many of your local shelters.) Bonding with these rats is easy and can happen in the first couple days. They should take treats straight from your hand the first day and be very easy to handle (although keep in mind that young rats and female rats are usually somewhat wiggly even when they've been socialized). If your rat isn't well-socialized, go to one of the sections below first, and come back to these steps when appropriate.
  2. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 2
    Give your rats one treat every time you come up to see them in their cage. Cheerios work well for this. However, never feed them through the bars of the cage as this encourages biting. Open their cage door, announce that you are there, and make sure they are aware of you so that you don't startle them, shake the treat container so that they associate that noise with getting a treat, then give them the treat. Doing this will teach them to look forward to your visits, because it means treats for them! Say each of your rats' names as you give each of them their treat, and it will teach them to know their names, (in fact tell your rats their names as often as you can.) Do this for a week. If a rat does nip you, let out a squeak or several squeaks. Keep your squeaks at the tone and pitch to what you imagine an irritated rat to sound like. Don't scream out a squeak, that will cross over the line of rat-rat communications, into human-traumatizing-rat-with-fright. You are not trying to seriously frighten your rat with yelling, just let the rat know s/he needs to be careful. Rats do not want to hurt their humans, so they want to learn, and will learn to be careful.
  3. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 3
    Now start making your rats come to the door in order to get the treat. This will teach your rats to come to the door when you want them to, so you don't have to chase them down in the cage. Shake the treat container to encourage them to come to the door. If they don't come to the door, hold the Cheerio in front of their nose and tempt them to the door with the Cheerio.
  4. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 4
    Play and bond. When the rats come to the door, scoop one or more of them up and take them to a designated, rat-proof play area where they can run around and explore new things.
    • How to Build a Safe Playground for Your Pet Rats
    • To teach your rats to come to you and let you put them away when they are done playing, you want to do the following. Shake the treat container, which they should associate to getting treats, and when they come to you, pick them up, then give them a treat while your holding them, then quickly set them back down. Do this two or three times while they are out. Then the final time when you pick them up and give them a treat, put them back in their cage. If you were to put them away on the first try, the rats would quickly learn that coming for a treat means they get put away in the cage, and they would stop coming. By doing it randomly, multiple times throughout the playtime, they can't predict when they would be put away. And if you didn't pick the rat up before giving him the treat, he would zoom away with the treat before you could grab him.
    • If you wanted to, instead of shaking the treat can as a marker, you could say the rats name and the word "come" or "come here" as a marker to get your rats to come to you. Whatever you choose, be consistent.

Method 2
Semi-Socialized Rats

  1. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 5
    Semi-socialized rats have been somewhat handled in their lives, but are skittish and wary of people. You can still handle and manage to hold these rats, but they are obviously scared of you and need some extra work to bond with. Many pet store rats fall into this category.
  2. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 6
    Teach the rat to take a treat from your hand. A semi-socialized rat will usually not take a treat from your hand right away, so the first thing you need to teach them is this.
    • Pick a tasty treat like Cheerios and put some in the cage for several days, so your rats can become addicted to them. If it's been a couple days and they aren't eating the selected treats, try another type of dry cereal until you find treats they will like.
    • When they start eating them readily, stop putting the treats in their cage and start only offering them by hand. Never feed them through the cage bars as this encourages biting. From now on they can only have a treat if they will take it from your hand. (Be sure to use the same treats you first got them addicted to.) Eventually they will take the treat from your hand and that is a big step in the bonding process.
  3. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 7
    Follow the steps given above for well-socialized rats, but when it comes to play time, spend time with your rats in a way that forces them to be close to you. It will take some time for a semi-socialized rat to bond with you. The more time you spend with them, the faster they will bond with you. A living room chair can be a good place to do this.
    • Throw an old blanket over the chair to protect it from poop/pee. Eventually your rats will learn to "hold it" when they are out with you and will stop pooping and peeing, as long as you take them back to their enclosure for bathroom breaks when needed.
    • Take the rats from their enclosure, and sit with them in the chair. At first the rats will wander around the chair exploring it, and they will probably do so for the first several days. (Don't worry about them jumping off the chair. Rats have poor vision. As long as you don't show them how to get down or let them climb up onto it from the floor, they should not know how to leave the chair.)
    • Show your rats that they can climb under your shirt. They will feel safer there. Rats are more comfortable in dark places. (To keep yourself from getting scratched up, wear two shirts and lead the rats in between the two shirts to protect your skin. If you don't want them in your shirt, try throwing a blanket over yourself and let them crawl under that.)
    • This close contact to you, being exposed to your smells, and forced to be directly on you will greatly help your rats get over their fear of you. Eventually when you take them out they will crawl straight in your shirt and go to sleep. After awhile you can start handling them more by putting your hand under the shirt with them and petting them.
    • The couch can also be a good location for bonding but doesn't have as much intimacy as the chair brings. The important part is that you choose a small space to bond with them so that your rats have no other choice but to interact with you. If you have no other place to use, you could lay in your bathtub with your rats. Lay a blanket down under you and maybe throw a blanket over you, or again, just let your rats get into your shirt. It's not the most comfortable place to be, but it forces that intimacy needed for them to get over their fear of you.

Method 3
Unsocialized Rats

  1. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 8
    Unsocialized rats are absolutely terrified of people and are usually very difficult to hold or even touch. They might scream in fear as you try to touch them. These rats are not for beginners and take a ton of patience and experience to socialize. Feeder bin rats are frequently unsocialized along with some pet store rats.
  2. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 9
    Get your rats hooked on a treat, and teach them to take it from your hand, as directed above for semi-socialized rats. Here are some additional considerations for unsocialized rats:
    • If you have tried for a long time and the rats still won't take the treat from your hand, you can try delaying a regular meal and waiting until the rat is somewhat hungry. [Needs reference to standard laboratory research method for ideal time period to withhold food]. Don't withhold food for a long period as you can stress rats to an extreme. Rats may also become irritable which will work against you in your effort to encourage them to trust you. (Absolutely never withhold food from youngsters/babies, as their systems are too fragile.) With this, hopefully the rats will be guided to take the treat from your hand.
    • Also frequently offer up your empty hand for them to sniff and explore, so that they don't assume you have a treat every time you put your hand in the cage, as they might start biting at your hand assuming it's food.
    • Hopefully you will eventually get your rats to take a treat from your hand, and when that happens celebrate big time as it's a huge step forward in the bonding process. Visit their cage often and every time you visit, give them a treat or two, talking softly to them, letting them know that when you visit, it's a good thing.
  3. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 10
    Start making them come to the door of the cage in order to get a treat. Again, this might take awhile. Only give them the treat if they come to the door. They get no other treats. Use a marker to signal them, such as saying "come" or shake the treat container. This will teach them to come to you when you call them. Say each of your rats' names as you give each of them their treat, and it will teach them to know their names.
  4. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 11
    Lure them out of the cage. Unsocialized rats need to learn that the world outside their cage is not the dangerous, scary place they think it is.
    • When your rats start coming to the door for a treat readily, switch from treats to baby food. Use the lid of a milk cap or other container and fill it with yummy squash or something similar. Get them hooked on it like you did with the treats. First offer it to them where ever they are in the cage, then start making them come to the door for it. The baby food forces the rats to sit next to your hand in order to eat it, as they can't take it and run off and hide.
    • Rat proof your chosen bonding location, a safe place where you can start teaching your rats to come out of their cage. The bathroom is good because it is small and enclosed, leaving it safe for a rat if they panic because they can't go anywhere and hurt themselves or get lost. You will want to bring your rats, in their enclosure (or in a travel cage), to this location for at least a half hour to an hour everyday, if not more. There is no such thing as spending too much time with your rats.
    • Throw one or two old blankets on the floor. A blanket is an excellent tool when used in the bonding process. Rats feel more comfortable and are more confident when they are concealed. They will love to be able to burrow into the blanket when they start exploring the room. Your rats will also be more willing to crawl on you, hidden under the blanket, so drape the blanket over your legs and lap to help encourage your rats to explore you.
    • Bring your rats, still in their enclosure (or in a travel cage), into the bathroom and shut the door. Try to have only a night light illuminating the room. Rats are more comfortable in the dark. By putting your rats in a calm, quiet, dark small room with you, and being calm and non-intrusive to them, you are showing your rats that you are not a threat, and that being with you can be a happy experience. Your eventual goal is for the rats to come out and explore the room and eventually you, however let everything be on your rats terms at first. Let them feel that they have total control of the situation. Do not force them out of the cage. The following steps could all happen in one day, or it might take many, many months. Be patient. Only move your rats to the next step when they are ready.
    • Set your rats' cage on one side of the room, open the cage door, and place some treats on the floor of their cage, making sure your rats see you do this, and then go sit at the opposite side of the room. You've moved them to a new place so for the first several days they might be too scared to eat the treats. Give them time.
    • Once your rats will eat the treats with you in the room, try it again, only this time sit halfway between the cage and the other side of the room.
    • Once your rats are willing to eat the treats with you halfway away, try it again, only this time sit right next to the cage.
    • Once your rats will comfortably eat treats with you sitting right next to the cage, open the cage door, put your hand in the cage, and offer your rats some treats from your hand. Try to get them to eat the treats just outside their cage if you can. Hopefully by now they have grown comfortable with the new room.
    • Once your rats will steal treats from your hand and eat them, trade the treats for some squash baby food to force your rats to stay by your hand and eat the food there.
    • Once your rats will eat the squash from your hand freely, make it so that they have to come to the entrance of the cage to get the squash.
    • Once your rats will come to the entrance of the cage for squash, make it so that they have to take a step outside the cage for squash.
    • Keep doing this, moving the squash further and further away from the cage until you can sit on the opposite side of the room from the cage and get your rats to come from the cage onto your lap to eat the squash.
    • If at any time the rats just decide to come out and explore the room during this process, let them do so freely. Do not make movements towards them, or try to stop them. Just sit there calmly with the squash in hand and let them explore. If they come to you and eat the treat, let them. If they start crawling on you, let them do so freely without making any motions towards them. You want to make yourself completely non-threatening.
    • Let your rats return to their cage as often as they like. Remember that the cage is their safety zone. You want your rats to feel safe and in control. Eventually your rats will become brave enough to come and explore just what and who you are. Don't interfere, even if they crawl all over you. Just stay still and let them get use to your smell.
    • Remember to visit your rats in their home throughout the day as well. Talk to them and open the door and put your hand in the cage for them to sniff, maybe even giving them a quick pat on the head. You want them to be exposed to you as much as possible. Make sure they are awake and know you are there before touching them. Only offer your rats treats now when they are in the bonding area though.
  5. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 12
    Once your rats have reached a certain comfort level with you (skittish yet exploring you freely and willing to eat out of your lap), you should start interacting with them.
    • Start with brief pets, then move to briefly picking them up and putting them down, then finally to holding them and petting them.
    • At first, your rats probably won't like being picked up or petted. This is natural as they are not use to it. You will need to gently force this "love" on them in short frequent intervals to show them that this can be a safe and wonderful experience. Offer them a treat every time you pick them up or pet them as a reward.
    • If your rats won't let you pick them up, you will have to pick your moment and corner them to do so. However corner them as calmly and as gently as you can. You don't want to show them that being picked up is a scary experience. Again, once you have them in your hand, offer them a quick treat and put them right back down again.
    • Start forcing them to endure being picked up and petted for longer and longer intervals as time goes by. They will not like it but you have to put them through it so they can get use to it. Some struggling is okay and expected, however if the rat is just freaking out and crying, move back a step to quicker interactions.

Method 4
Forced Socialization

  1. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 13
    The methods above involve forcing the rats to be close to you, in hopes that they will eventually feel safe and curious. Another method is to force the rats to be on you until they are no longer scared. You can do this in addition to or instead of the bonding methods described previously.
  2. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 14
    Set up your rat's cage so that you can easily grab him. He should still have a sleeping den of some kind, just make sure that there is nowhere in the cage where you can't grab him. You want the rat to think that no matter what he does, he can't get away from you.
  3. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 15
    Once your rat's cage is set up, pick a time each day and take your rat out. The best time to take him out is during the middle of the day when he is most tired. Take your rat out and hold him for 20 minutes. Be sure to time it, because it's important that you do it for at least 20 minutes. You don't have to squeeze your rat, not letting him move. Feel free to let him run through your hands or even go up to your shoulder. The only rule is, is that the rat must stay on you, your body, and be touched and handled by you for 20 minutes. This could be on your shoulder, in your lap, in your shirt, as long as the rat remains on your body. In the beginning your rat will probably squeak and struggle to get away from you. Don't let him. If you're afraid that your rat might bite you, you could use a towel to pick him up.
  4. Image titled Tame a Rat Step 16
    Do this 20 minute ritual everyday for a couple weeks. The theory is that a rat can only stay scared of you for so long and by dominating him like this, but not hurting him, he will come to accept you.


  • For the first day, always leave your new rats alone, so that they can become comfortable with their new home.
  • Keep the cage in a medium-traffic area of the house, away from noisy appliances but where they will see people on a fairly regular basis.
  • Patience. You will need to give your rats the time they need in order to trust you. The taming period and methods that work will differ between individual rats.
  • Brief encounters are better than long ones. A rat that is just tickled ten times a day will tame up more quickly than a rat that is grabbed from the cage and taken to another place for an hour a day.
  • Rats can sense your mood. Try to be happy, calm and speak to them in a soft voice.
  • In general, all rats are scared of sudden movements.
  • If a rat shrieks when you attempt to lift it, let it get away and recover. Never force a shrieking rat. A quiet squeak is sometimes okay.
  • Never punish a rat or any pet. Punishment only teaches them that you are unpredictable.
  • If a rat is wiggling its tail like a worm, do not handle it. It will bite you. This is a sign of extreme stress or aggressiveness.
  • Female rats and young rats will be more wiggly when you try to hold them, especially in the beginning. Young rats are brimming with energy and just love to play and run around, often not wanting to sit still to be held and petted, and females stay kittenish most of their life. Males, on the other hand, tend to mellow out as they grow older and learn to love to be petted. (This is the norm, although there are some girls that become mellow and some boys that can stay kittenish.)
  • Petting is a good thing, and you should try to do it often, even if the rat isn't interested. Most rats come to love petting.
  • This can be hard to do depending on the rat, but try to never set your rat down when he/she is struggling to get away. If you do, it teaches them that struggling is a good thing because it gets them their freedom. Instead, try to wait until your rat is calm, if only for a second, and put them down then. Timing is critical. Be sure to do it right as they are calm. As you bond more with your rats and as time goes by, you can require them to be calm for longer and longer periods of time before you will put them down.
  • Rats that have a very large cage are less likely to become territorial with other rats and with people. "Always" provide two or more sources of food & water if you have multiple rats! This prevents resource-guarding
  • Two or more rats will bond with you more quickly than a single lone rat would. Rats feel braver in numbers. And an unsocialized rat can learn a lot from watching a socialized rat interact with you.
  • Some dominant bucks will never, ever want to be handled but will roam if let out to play in a safe area.
  • Male rats that can smell female rats (even in a separate cage) can become very hyper and aggressive, fighting each other and biting.
  • If your rat has a hiding castle, don't lift it up because that will scare him/her. Wait for your rat to come out of his/her castle.
  • Having a long phone conversation while in the same room as your rat is a great way to get them comfortable with your voice. Speak normally, do not yell or shout as this will scare your rat.
  • Most rats are very easily frightened by rustling noises, shredding noises and electronic hum, so try to keep them in a quiet environment during taming.


  • Don't handle rats with dirty hands. Dirty hands can taste salty and delicious to the friendliest rat, and if they are accustomed to being handed treats they may well mistake your salty finger for food!
  • NEVER pick up a rat by the tail. This can cause the tail to become degloved and it may need to be amputated.
  • When it comes to treats, be sure to use low fat, low calorie treats such as Cheerios or plain puffed rice to prevent your rats from becoming obese.
  • This probably won't work with wild rats. Wild rats should never be pets, because they were not bred for temperament. Even pups that are hybrid, who were raised entirely in captivity, are more likely to be nasty biters.
  • Keep all other animals away from your rats during the bonding process as they can cause your rats to be more fearful.
  • Some rats, males especially, may never learn to "hold it". If you do not like this, consider adopting a female instead, or continue to use a towel.
  • Some rats will bite a hand that is wearing gloves. Rubber gloves tempt many rats that are already friendly, and they can bite clean through them. Some rats will also chomp a finger that has a band-aid on it, but never bite a bare hand.
  • Before getting close to your rat, make absolutely certain that they are disease free - especially wild rats can often carry a multitude of diseases. A visit to the vet isn't that expensive, and can save you a trip to the hospital.

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Mice and Rats