How To Train Pet Mice, Rats, And Hamsters To Do Tricks

Dogs are well-known for the tricks that they can do. Cats have also started to be trained to do tricks as well, but did you know that mice, rats, and hamsters can even do tricks? The small rodents that many people have in their homes as pets have been known for over 150 years for their quick learning abilities, especially rats.

Like many other mammals, mice, rats, and hamsters are trained and learn how to do tricks with operant conditioning, such as positive and negative reinforcements, like giving treats or extra attention.

While tiny and not having as great of a reputation as dogs and cats do as companions, mice, rats, and hamsters are excellent companions and can be trained to do many tricks and learn different abilities.

Training Rodents to do Tricks

Rodents are great pets to have. They are small, delicate, fluffy, and can form strong bonds with their owners, just as larger mammals could. Through bonding and trust, tricks can be taught for amusement, exercise, and a form of communication that is unique to you and your rodent.

Bonding With Your Rodent

Bonding is an essential first step to training your rodent. First, you will have to think of a name for them. Some owners suggest having a name that is two syllables. This will help your rodent differentiate their name from most commands, which are one syllable.

Santa Claus with mouse on shoulder

Another great way to build a bond with your rodent is to spend time with them every day. You can also make sure to feed and care for them on a schedule. Having this predictability in their daily routines will help them build trust with their owners.

When you are spending time with your rodent, allow them to approach you. It helps them understand that you are willing to listen to their terms. Rodents will quickly dislike you if you chase and grab at them if you are trying to hold them. While rats tend to have stronger tails, you should avoid picking rats and mice up by their tails because you can break the tail.

With this bond, you can train your rodent to do various tricks. Some tricks are rodent-specific, but overall, most rodents can do some pretty exciting tricks, depending on the bond they have with their owner.

Treats as Incentives for Tricks

While training any rodent, make sure to have plenty of healthy treats available to use during training. Mice, rats, and hamsters, along with any other animal, trains well with positive reinforcement, which is giving a reward to increase the frequency of a behavior.

Treats for Tricks
Treats for Tricks

When giving treats, remember to only reward your rodent if they complete the requested trick or make progress towards the completed trick.

It is important to remember to make sure the treats are healthy and portioned out for training because your rodent can quickly gain weight if you give too many treats or unhealthy treats to them. Some great ideas for treats that are healthy for rodents are:

Chopped VegetablesCarrots, broccoli, cooked potatoes, peas, squash
Chopped FruitApples with the seeds removed, grapes, strawberries, bananas, cherries
Grains, Nuts, and SeedsSunflower seeds, popcorn, Cheerios, brown rice, unsweetened cereals
DairyYogurt, small amounts of cheese
MeatLean meats, cooked liver, cooked chicken,

Once you have different treats that your rodent loves, make sure that they are cut into small enough pieces for them to eat quickly. If training with fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and dairy, make sure to work quickly to ensure the food doesn’t spoil. Also, make sure that some foods, such as nuts and seeds, are safe for rodents to eat.

When you use food as an incentive for tricks, make sure to train them before their regular meal times or somewhere in between. If your mouse, rat, or hamster has a full stomach, food won’t be much of a motivator for them.

Additionally, only give the treat as a reward if they progress towards or complete the trick. If you provide them with a treat for an incomplete action, the shaping of the behavior will become distorted, and you’ll probably have to re-train your rodent.

Foods to Avoid as Treats and Meals

No sweet treats

As with many animals, there are specific foods to avoid when training and feeding them in general. Some things you should make sure you avoid to use for your rodent are:

  • Candy
  • Salted nuts and seeds
  • Sugary foods
  • Chocolate
  • Cabbage and brussels sprouts
  • Poppy seeds

Here is a more extensive list of what to avoid feeding your pet rodents.

Serving Sizes

When feeding your rodents fruits and vegetables, keep in mind that the serving size of fruit and vegetables for rodents is a teaspoon. Feeding them too much fruit and vegetables can cause your rodent to have diarrhea. Remember to use them sparingly during training.


Hamster in Wheel

Even though training can require a lot of energy and movement, your rodent still needs to exercise regularly. Make sure they have a wheel in their cage or a ball to roam around in. Some rats even enjoy going for walks on leashes outside. Just make sure the ground is safe and clear of any hazards.

When using a wheel, you should make sure the wheel is the correct size for your rodent and that it isn’t too small. If it is too small, they can become cramped and uncomfortable. You should also avoid wire wheels because your rodent can get their paw stuck in the wheel.

Making sure your rodent is exercising is another great way to help build the bond with them that is necessary for training them to do tricks.

Space for Training

The space you choose to train your mouse, rat, or hamster is very important. Ensure that you are in a quiet place so you can eliminate any loud stimuli that could scare or deter your rodent from learning.

Even though rodents are tiny, you’ll also want enough space to be able to train different types of tricks. Some tricks like “spin” and “paw” don’t require a lot of space. However, tricks such as “come” and “fetch” will require more space.

When training your rodent, also make sure to have a space that has familiar smells to them. Don’t try to train them in a room that they aren’t familiar with. They will easily become distracted and focus more on exploring the new space than training. They may also become submissive and not be interested in learning new tricks.

You should also make sure that their cage is regularly cleaned and that their bedding is fresh. This will help keep your rodent healthy and able to learn new tricks free of distractions and possible respiratory infections.

Materials for Training

While training your rodent, make sure you have the appropriate tools for training them. If you’re training your rodent to jump, make sure you have different sized platforms for them to jump or climb on. You should also make sure that they are size appropriate for your rodent. Hamsters will not be able to jump as high as rats.

When teaching your mouse, rat, or hamster to fetch, make sure you have objects small and light enough for them to be able to grab in their mouths, but not small enough to cause a choking hazard. Pet stores have plenty of options for toys, but using a small bottle cap will also work just fine.

Eventually, once your rodent is trained, you will be able to use different obstacles for them, such as box barriers, small gates for them to jump over, or hoops for them to jump through. Building an obstacle course is a fun way to engage your rodent in training and exercise.

Time for Training

Another thing to make sure to have during training is time. Many tricks taught to any animal, especially rodents, need to be done repeatedly. Through the repetitive conditioning with positive reinforcement, rodents will learn how to do tricks over time with specific queues. Some tricks may take longer than others to teach a rodent.

Person looking at the time

Many tricks not only require a bond and trust between the rodent and their owner, but they also need to be built up, especially more complex tricks. Start with small tricks as a foundation like “come” and gradually build them up to having your rodent come from another room!

When training your rodent, be mindful of the amount of time you are training them at a time. Rodents tend to get fatigued, stressed, and distracted like humans when learning new things for an extended period. Try to keep training sessions to about 15 minutes and notice when your rodent starts getting distracted.

The most successful training is done several times per week. It is good to space out the training sessions because your rodents will be consuming a lot of treats during the training sessions.

Getting to know your rodent and how much training they can tolerate is important. Observe your rodent’s behavior while training. Be mindful of your temperament during training as well. You could also get fatigued and frustrated with overtraining and not having the results you want.

Patience and Consistency

You will also need to be patient and consistent because while almost any rodent can learn how to do tricks, as the trainer, you need to be able to repeat the same queues many times for the rodent to learn how to do their tricks. You can even have trick-specific treats as rewards for your rodent.

More complex tricks, such as fetch, require more time and patience because you have to get your rodent interested in an object and increase the distance the object is from you each time they retrieve the object for you.

Consistency is also important because your rodent may start doing tricks without a stimulus to try and earn a reward. Make sure to give plenty of attention to your mice, rats, and hamsters and see if they are trying to communicate with you by doing the tricks you have trained them to do.

Other ways to stay consistent with your rodent while training them are making sure you use the same command and ensuring that you are the only one training your rodent. They may become confused if someone else starts training them while you are making progress towards a trick.

You should also make sure that your voice is relaxing and enthusiastic while training your rodent. Having a pleasant sound to hear will also act as a reward for your mouse, rat, or hamster. If you have a loud, stern voice, it may deter your rodent from performing the trick or behavior that you want.

Tricks That Rats Can Do

Rat standing on back legs

Rats are starting to gain popularity for being companion pets. They are the bigger of the other two rodents and have long tails. Rats are excellent companions and also do well with other rats. Rats are naturally more social and love spending time with their owners and other rats.

Rats also have a better temperament than hamsters and mice and are more likely to run away if they feel intimidated, unlike hamsters and mice, who are more likely to bite.

Some great tricks you can teach rats to do are:

  • Spin is when a rat is moving in a circle around itself, chasing its tail.
  • Paw is a rat placing its paw on you; it can also be known as “high five.” It can even be developed into a full “finger-hug.”
  • Come is summoning a rat to come to you. You can start with short distances and expand to larger distances and even have some small obstacles such as walls to climb over or mazes to go through.
  • “Target” is when a rat focuses on and follows a specific object; it can later be used in training. This can work well when teaching your rat to spin, jump through a hoop, and stand on its hind-legs.
  • Jumping through a hoop is a fun obstacle and trick to train your rat to do. You can vary the size and height of the hoop.
  • Jumping into your hand or onto another surface is a great way for rats to exercise. Make sure your rat is consistently successful with a certain height before increasing the height. When using your hand for your rat to jump into, make sure you do not pull away at all, either.
  • Back up is moving backward on command. This one specifically uses negative reinforcement compared to the others that use positive reinforcement.
  • Pulling a string with a weighted object is adorable and can be done with the object and string being pulled horizontally and then built up to vertical pulling
  • Fetch, just like dogs, rats can retrieve an object for you
  • Playing basketball is placing an object through a hoop, and according to Shadow The Rat, it is a great game to play with multiple rats.

These are all from Shadow The Rat. They have a great video showing how to teach each of these tricks to a rat or a mouse. You can notice how she takes time to do the training and does training over multiple sessions. She also does some cute group tricks, such as “come” and playing basketball with multiple rats.

Some other tricks that you can also teach your rat are:

  • Standing on its hind legs and eventually walking and twirling on their hind legs
  • Climbing up your clothes onto your shoulder

Teeth Cleaning

Many rat owners have started to train and allow their rats to clean their teeth for them. “Rodentistry” shows that some rat owners have formed such a strong bond with their rats that they trust them to go into their mouths and nibble at some of the built-up plaque and leftover food to clean their teeth.

While this may show a strong bond between a rat and their owner and excellent training and control of the rat, the doctors and dentists highly recommend that you avoid this due to the bacteria that rats can carry and spread and transfer to humans.

It is also important to note that if you do practice rodentistry, you should only eat safe foods for your rat to eat.

Tricks That Mice Can Do

While mice are smaller than rats, they are fairly similar. Training them tends to follow the same steps and methods as rats; however, mice probably won’t be able to do certain tricks to rats’ ability.

Mouse looking for cheese in a maze

Mice may take longer than rats to train to do different tricks, but it isn’t impossible. Mice are also more active in the evening, and it is a good idea to train them at night. Some tricks that you can teach your mouse are:

  • Come: similar prompt and training to the rat
  • Up: which is standing on its hind legs
  • Jump: you should note that mice cannot jump as high as rats can

Keep in mind that mice will need more time to warm up and bond to a human than a rat would. Mice, being the smallest of the rodent family, are naturally more timid and don’t like being handled by humans as much as rats do.

Mice also tend to be more aggressive than rats, so it might be best to keep your mice separate from each other if you plan on having more than one pet mouse. It isn’t impossible to have multiple mice living together, but you should monitor their behavior closely. According to Emiology, male mice are more aggressive; however, you can keep female mice in small groups.

Tricks That Hamsters Can Do

More popular as pets than the other rodents, hamsters are wonderful, fluffy companions. Hamsters have a short tail, so any tricks you can train a rat to do that utilizes their tails cannot work with a hamster.

Hamsters with shopping cart

Hamsters are also a poor choice if you want to train them to do group tricks because many breeds of hamsters do not get along well while cohabitating. Several breeds of hamsters are known for fighting and eating each other.

Hamsters also tend to be more aggressive than rats. They are more likely to act out and bite their owner if they feel intimidated than a rat would.

While hamsters may not be able to do as many tricks as rats and mice, there are some fun tricks you can teach your hamster such as:

  • Standing up on its hind legs
  • Rollover, which is great for puffy hamsters. You can place a treat on their side and allow them to take it if they successfully rollover
  • Come: similar prompt and training to the rat and mouse
  • Jump: be mindful that hamsters won’t jump as high as rats and mice. It might look like a little hop

The Science of Training Mice, Rats, and Hamsters

Scientists have used mice and rats in experiments for over 150 years due to their:

  • Availability
  • Life-span
  • Temperament
  • Price
  • Genetics

Mice and rats have very similar behaviors and temperaments to humans, which is why they can be trained and learn tricks in ways that work well for humans, such as positive reinforcement.

Many scientists have done variations of the maze experiment with a mouse or rat trying to go through a maze, whether baited or not. Tyron concluded that genetics could play a strong role in the intellect of a rodent. Spatial learning has also been experimented on with mice, concluding that they have better short-term working memory if there is a reward.

Operant Conditioning for Teaching Rodents to do Tricks

Through many studies, behavioral scientists, specifically B.F. Skinner discovered and have been working with operant conditioning to teach or change animals and people’s behavior. There are four parts to operant conditioning:

  • Positive reinforcement: when you give an animal something to promote the behavior
  • Negative reinforcement: when you take away something from an animal to promote the behavior
  • Positive Punishment: when you give an animal something to lessen the frequency of a behavior
  • Negative Punishment: when you take something away from an animal to lessen the frequency of a behavior

While looking at the types of reinforcement and Punishment, know that “positive” and “negative” do not mean “good” and “bad” respectively. Positive refers to the addition of a stimulus, such as a reward during reinforcement. Negative is the taking away of something during reinforcement or Punishment.

Shaping is done when you reinforce or punish an action. You will do this for each of the little steps of the training process. Continue until the desired behavior is performed with the stimuli.

An excellent example of positive reinforcement for training your rodent to do the trick would be to hold a sunflower seed above their head to train them to stand up.

An example of negative reinforcement while training your rodent to do the trick would be to start with an unpleasant stimulus, such as a bit of pressure, like straddling, and they will remove themselves from the negative stimulus by backing up. This method is used by Shadow The Rat’s trainer in teaching their rats to back up.

It is never a good idea to use punishment while training your rodent on how to do tricks. Punishment is more often used with training for behaviors to stop, such as chewing through the bars of the cage or running on the wheel at night. Fair punishment for this would be to sternly say “no” to them to stop the behavior.

Positive reinforcement is the most successful method to train a mouse, rat, or hamster to do tricks. Consider the types of reinforcement you would like to do for different tricks.

Dangers of Negative and Positive Punishments

Positive and Negative

Negative and positive punishments, in general, can lead towards the desired result of lessening the frequency of a behavior.

An example of negative punishment for a rodent would be if they are constantly running on their wheel at night and making noise, you would remove the wheel at night, so they would stop running at night. This may not work that well and could cause your rodent to feel irritated, make noise, and harm the bond you have built up with them.

An example of positive punishment for rodents was conducted in a study, which also showed that rats have empathy. The rats were positively reinforced with a treat if they pressed a button. However, once they learned that when they pressed the button, another rat was shocked, the rat would stop pressing the button.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Rodents

Abraham Maslow coined the theory that for any human to feel motivated to learn, they will be driven to satisfy specific needs, such as physiological (food and water), safety, and social needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs should be applied when training mice, rats, and hamsters to do tricks. You need to make sure that they trust you, are healthy and well-fed, and are also well-rested before attempting to do tricks.


Mice, rats, and hamsters are amazing pets and companions. They are small, fluffy, and with the proper amount of patience and training, they can do various amazing tricks. Once you have formed a strong bond with your pet mouse, rat, or hamster, training will be extremely easy for you.

Through extensive trial and error of many rodent owners and scientists, there is strong evidence that positive reinforcement, a strong bond, and a healthy environment are just as important to training a rodent and the patience and tone of the trainer.

Lee Cameron

When I was younger, I had guinea pigs and hamsters as pets. There was limited information back then as to how to take care of rodents, and indeed information on the various types of rodents that could be kept as pets. In this website, I hope to make it an easy, one-stop information portal on raising rodents!

Recent Posts