I’ve been hearing of many people who are having difficulty socialising their pet rats. By “socialising” I mean that they want their rats to feel more comfortable being handled, spending time out of their cage, and engaging with different members of the family. Not only do they want their rats to feel more comfortable with all this but to actively seek out human company and enjoy “free-ranging” outside their cage.
The degree to which a rat enjoys people or world outside their cage varies enormously from rat to rat. I’ve had the occasional rat that wants to spend all his time with me. A rat I bought at Harrods in London (back when Harrods had a pet store) would spend 10 minutes wandering around the room that housed his cage and then insist that he come sit on my lap. I adored this rat, a total “lap rat” that really was the best buck I’ve ever had in terms of giving kisses and demanding love. However, right now I have a doe named Essie who is almost as cuddly. She enjoys romping around the sofa with her friends, hiding under pillows and darting through tunnels a bit more than my Harrod’s rat, but she always ends up on my lap licking my hands and generally refusing to budge.
However, I’ve had a lot of skittish rats in my day. This is because I used to take in rescues exclusively. When I lived in London, a pet shop near me used to regularly receive small hamster cages stuffed with rats outside its door. I had a few of those. More recently, I’ve had 6 different does over the years from a rescue about an hour from my house. I had a couple of boys that weren’t getting any time outside their cage now that their owner was working a lot of hours. And I’ve had rats that were rehomes for various reasons.
A lot of temperament is due to genetics. Breeders who select for a specific temperament are generally able to achieve it over time, just like any trait. However, handling is critical so a lot of breeders not only handle their babies, but make sure that their adults are regularly handled, too, to ensure that they are comfortable in human company. With patience, most rats become quite friendly.