Rats are known as incredibly intelligent animals, and are often used in scientific studies as test subjects for this very reason. Rats bred to be pets are often reported to be affectionate and highly trainable.
But do pet rats know their names and owners? Yes, rats can learn to respond to names, and often have strong bonds with their owners. Rats can learn to come when called, and are affectionate with people who spend a lot of time handling and caring for them.
Read on to learn about how best to bond with your pet rat, how to train your rat to respond to their name and more about your rat’s intelligence and senses.
The Best Way to Bond With Your Pet Rat
Most rats are versions of the brown rat, but the biggest decider of temperament and ability to bond with humans comes from the way they are treated and raised.
If a rat is bought from a rat breeder, they are more likely to be handled from birth in order to be as tame and human-oriented as possible. Avoid rats from feeder stores, as these rats are meant to be eaten by reptiles and birds and not meant to be kept as pets.
Rats that are not exposed to humans from a young age are more likely to be violent or skittish.
Just like any other domestic pet, rats can act out from stress or mismanagement, and it’s important to minimize this behavior. The best way to reduce animosity towards you is to handle your pet rat throughout their life. Being gentle and only handling for a few minutes at a time will help your rat develop a sense of security with you.
Another way to bond with your rat is to let them climb on you. Allowing your rat so sit on your shoulder or walk over you will get them used to your scent and manner.
Lastly, make sure to be the one feeding your rat! Rats love to eat, and associating yourself with their mealtimes is never a bad idea.
Your Rats’ Intelligence
Rats are incredibly intelligent as a species. From maze tests done in the 1920s, to cognitive tests on rats today, these animals continue to blow scientist’s minds with their ability to memorize, reason, and use what seems to be logical thinking in order to reap the highest reward from their testers.
For example, it was shown that rats are able to “think about thinking,” also known as metacognition. Previously, it was thought that only humans were able to access this type of thought.
Can Rats Understand Language?
In addition to high-level thinking, it has been shown that rats can respond to spoken language. In study in 2005, Spanish researchers used food to reward rats that responded to words and sentences in either Dutch or Japanese.
The rats that were rewarded for responding to one language (say Dutch) and not for the other (say Japanese), began to only respond to the first language.
Additionally, the rats were more likely to respond when a familiar person was speaking to them, and much less so when an automated voice or recording said the same word or phrase.
This would suggest that a rat would be more likely to respond to its owner calling out a name or command rather than an unfamiliar person.
How to Train a Rat to Recognize its Name
Each rat will be different, and rats can be easier or harder to train based on age, bred, and background. However, with enough time and persistence, steps can be taken to train any rat. Here are 8 quick steps to help you get your rat doing tricks and following commands!
- Choose a name. If your goal is to train your rat to recognize their name, find a name you like (the best are one word and not too many syllables), and use it repeatedly. Reward immediately when the rat looks or walks in your direction
- Reward desirable action with food. Rats that are meant to be trained should be made to work for food, rather than have it given to them in their cage. Each time they respond to their name, give them a treat.
- Change up the food for different tasks. Start by rewarding your rat with foods they really like, such as nuts or sugar cereal (though not too much!) As they start to respond to their names more often, switch to fruit vegetables, rat food, or bread.
- Buy a clicker. Use an object that makes noise right before a reward is given. Gradually stretch out food rewards to every 2 or 3 clicks. They will associate their name with the clicker as well as food. Gradually reduce use of clicker until rat responds to name only.
- Train often, but not long. Typically 2-5 ten minute sessions of training every day will help your rat stay in practice without tiring or boring them.
- Be persistent. Rats can be independent or stubborn, but don’t let this discourage you! Most pet rats can be trained to respond to their name with enough time.
- Never punish. Rats have a hard time understanding discipline, so punishing a rat isn’t going to make them behave. If a rat is acting up or unresponsive, don’t get frustrated. Simply return the rat to their cage.
- Be gentle. Rats can feel pain just as much as any intelligent animal, and should never be mistreated. A bond between rats and humans will not come from abuse, but rather patience and kindness.
How Does a Rat Recognize Their Owner?
Rats have a particularly impressive sense of smell. They can tell if a scent is coming from the left or the right, a skill useful in detecting predators. Rats use their noses to sniff out food sources as well, and are able to distinguish different scents.
This suggests that rats are able to detect their owners by smell, and would be able to tell apart people by scent. Everyone has a distinctive scent, and your rat can sniff it out!
Rrats are not known to rely heavily on eyesight, which has been described as blurry and worse in daytime. Albino rats have worse eyesight than other species of rat. However, studies have shown that rats do have some sense of “transformation-tolerant” eyesight, meaning they can recognize objects even if they have been distorted in some way.
This could mean that your rat would be able to recognize your face, even if your hair, makeup, or facial features change day-to-day, though there has not been much viable research on the subject of rats and human facial recognition.
It has been shown that rats can understand the facial expressions of other rats, and will understand if a fellow rat is in pain. On the contrary, it hasn’t been shown that rats can do the same for their owners, so they most likely cannot discern your facial expressions.
As reviewed above, studies and experts prove rats will respond to sound, whether it be a voice, a clicker, or another noise of positive reinforcement. Rats can hear noises higher than a human can, called ultrasound. Again, albino rats have less acute hearing, but most rats should also be able to respond to noise cues at a normal level.
With the right training and handling, rats can learn to know their names and owners. Rats can be taught tricks and be highly affectionate, and can make great companions.
A rat is able to distinguish by both scent, voice, and possibly sight, a person, and can be conditioned to respond to the voices of people. This would suggest that a rat learning its name is possible, especially if you put in the effort to really bond and talk to your rat.
Remember to buy your rat from a reputable rat breeder, handle the rat early in life, and always treat the rat gently. Good luck!
- Harvard Business Review: Rats Can Be Smarter Than People
- The Washington Post: Why Some People Think Rats are the Perfect Pet
- Science Daily: Rats Capable Of Reflecting On Mental Processes
- The Sydney Morning Herald: Rats Understand Languages
- The New York Times: How to Train a Rat
- New Scientist: Rats’ Fine-Tuned Noses Smell in Stereo
- Science Daily: Accuracy of Rats in Discriminating Visual Objects Is Explained by the Complexity of Their Perceptual Strategy
- Sage Journals: How do rats respond to playing radio in the animal facility?