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You’re snuggled up on the sofa in the evening, you’ve got a well-deserved glass of wine and a film featuring your one true love, Leonardo DiCaprio. Then you start to hear a horrible scuffing sound at the skirting boards and the unmistakable high pitched squeak of rats. It’s a truly heart-wrenching sound and nothing makes you jump more than glimpsing a rat out of the corner of your eye in your own home! The sound of rats in your garbage is also guaranteed to make for a difficult night’s sleep.
You want to leave rat traps out, but you’re worried your young children will get your hands on them and the rats sneakily manage to get around them anyway. What you really need is a rat hunter who roams and protects your home with his set of nashers!
Training your dog to catch rats isn’t as straightforward as you might hope. Rats are fast, intelligent, and surprisingly intimidating, so familiarizing your dog with rats is hurdle number one. Hopefully, he will have a natural hunter’s instinct and will just need gentle encouragement to start running them down. If your dog is a young puppy, he should be eager to learn and please, plus have the agility to catch them. If he’s approaching old age you may need to be willing to invest a few weeks into training before he’s an efficient rat hunter.
A dog that catches rats will save you from a world of misery. Rats get in your food and leave a mess everywhere. They’re also filthy and carry diseases, so you don’t want your kids picking up an illness from them. A rat-catching dog will help you sleep easy at night and keep your perimeters safe from pesky rodents.
Before you wage war on rats you will need to get a few things together. You will need rat feeder and live rat traps to familiarize your with rats before he starts fully hunting. You will also need a small cage and readily accessible live mice and rats.
On top of that, you will need some treats or his favorite food to reward him for a job well done. Then just bring patience and a proactive attitude and you’re ready to get to work!
The Familiarization Method
Place a rat in a cage and put it in a room with your dog. Stay in the room as well, as you want to observe his behavior. The idea is to slowly familiarize him with the rat to bring out his natural instinct.
Allow him to sniff around the cage for 10 minutes each day for a couple of days. He will probably be naturally curious and sniff around the rat before trying to get to it.
When he does show signs of trying to get to the rat, reward him with a treat and praise. You need to reinforce that displays of aggression towards the rat are a positive thing. If he appears scared around the rat, go over to him and encourage him with words and play. You need to make him feel at ease and in control around the rat.
Move things outside
Take the caged rat and your dog outside. Release the rat in an area where it will struggle to escape and where you’re sure your dog can quickly get to it. Don’t release the rat until you are sure your canine pal is eager to catch it. When he catches the rat, be sure to reward him with a treat and lots of praise.
From now on, him reward him each time he catches a rat. Now you know he has a taste of rat you don’t need to train him around them anymore, instead positive reinforcement and treats when he catches one will keep him on the hunt for more.
The Follow the Scent Method
Make a scent trail
Wipe rat bedding or droppings in a trail outside the house, leading to a caged rat, hidden under some wood or in a bush. Before he starts catching rats he needs to know how to sniff them out and follow them.
Follow the trail together
Place him on a leash and take him to the beginning of the scent trail. Then working together, encourage him to follow the trail. Dogs respond best when they think they are working with their owners as a team, so be sure to lead and praise him.
Reward the find
When he finds the cage, give him a treat and shower him with praise. It is important he is well rewarded as this will act as an incentive to sniff them out in future. Practice this each day, making different scent trails and honing his nose for rats.
Let him spend 5 minutes each day sniffing around the cage when you reach the caged rat. It is important he gets comfortable around them and develops an aggressive instinct towards them. So encourage him to be nosey and reward him for any signs of aggression toward the rat.
Set up a catch
Release the rat in a situation where your dog can easily catch it. Be sure to reward him with a treat and give him lots of praise when he succeeds. You need to really hammer home that this is the behavior you want to see. Now he will have a taste for rat he will actively seek them out, just be sure to reward him whenever he catches one.
The From Mouse to Rat Method
Trap or buy individual mice
Keep them in a wired cage which your dog will be able to sniff and try to bite at, but one that he won’t be able to break. Before he hunts rat, have him start with a less intimidating and formidable prey. This is particularly useful if he’s a puppy as he may not have the killer confidence yet.
Let him sniff around the mice each day. Encourage him to try and get to them. Repeat this for 15 minutes each day until he actively tries to bite and grab them. When you see these signs that he really wants to get them then you know he is ready.
Set up a hunt
Release the mouse in the yard while your canine hunter is close enough to get to it. As soon as he gets it praise him, also let him play with it if he wants. This will be stimulating and will encourage him to do it again.
Step up to a rat
Now repeat the process with a rat. Rats are bigger and quicker, but with enough time spent familiarizing himself around a rat he will quickly grow confident. He may have the killer instinct for it straight away after killing the mice. Be sure you let him sniff around it for at least a couple of days before he gets a chance to catch it, you want him to recognize and get used to the smell.
Whenever you see rat droppings or signs of a rat, bring him over to them and encourage sniffing around. You want to make sure he actively seeks out and responds to the smell of rats. If he chases after one or catches one always give him a treat and verbal praise, this will keep him on the constant look out.
Written by Amy Caldwell
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 10/16/2017, edited: 01/08/2021