Lessons from Rats

Hi all! I'm trying to button train my rats, and would love to hear from anyone else who's also actively button training theirs.

Here's what I've learned so far:

- Rats are scared of noise! They are WAY more hesitant to interact with the buttons than the cats/dogs I've seen videos of, just because they know they make noise. I'm trying to keep the button recordings very quiet to compensate. Which is very difficult (for me anyway) with the Learning Resources buttons; I have to nearly whisper while holding the button a couple of feet away, and over-enunciate some sounds, like p's and s's.

- Although the rats CAN sound the buttons, and mine have done so accidentally a couple of times while climbing over them, it's also very easy for them to put half their body weight on a button and still NOT sound it. I think I would have been better off teaching them how to press a button first.

- My starting & current strategy is to have them use the buttons to specify which treat they want, similar to the guinea pigs posted here. However, I made a major error in judgment by not realizing that one of the treat options (pistachios) is much higher value for them than the others (cheerios and plantain chips). They pretty much only want pistachios, which is making this strategy somewhat useless since they don't see a need to keep specifying that over and over.

- Because of this, I'm going to get some more buttons for other concepts -- currently thinking about "couch", "under" (which would signify me crouching / them hanging out underneath, but "crouch" is very similar to "couch"), and "owie" for stray nips. I'm hoping modeling these will help create more of a button language framework. (Although, I like to give each of the recordings a different singsongy tone/cadence, which I think helps the rats to hear the difference in words, but I'm not sure how I will do that with these words.)

- Right now they can only use the buttons during their free range time outside the cage, which is several hours a day, but I still worry that not being able to access them 24/7 limits their conception of the buttons as language.Β 

- And since there's four of them, it's somewhat difficult when two are trying to use the buttons at the same time. Obviously most people aren't going to have just one rat, so I expect this will come up a lot for other rat owners and I'm curious how others deal with this.