Amy and the bucket trick (video)

Amy is getting to be quite an old rat. However, she still enjoys training time and likes learning new tricks. This is Amy’s latest trick, the bucket trick. A small “bucket” (part of a toothpaste box) hangs on a shoelace. Amy must pull up on the shoelace to get to the bucket and the treats inside. It is quite comical to watch her do this, as she puts a lot of effort and enthusiasm into her performance! If you watch closely, you’ll see that the edge of the dresser has a bit of a lip sticking out. Amy always has to give the string a final yank at the end to pull the bucket up the last bit of the way.

I’ve written about this trick in the past, after I saw someone else post an instructional video explaining how they taught this trick to their rat. The common way to teach this trick (and the way I taught it to Amy) is to start out with the rope very, very short, so that the rat can reach down into the bucket to get the treat, and then to gradually make the rope longer and longer, until the rat must pull on the rope to pull up the bucket.

The problem with shaping the behavior in this manner, as I wrote about in that post, is that this is not shaping along a linear dimension, since the rat’s behavior must change significantly at one point, from reaching into the bucket to actually pulling up on the bucket. Amy’s a smart rat with lots of clicker training experience, so she’s willing to experiment and get creative until she figures out the solution to a training puzzle. She learned this trick in about 15-20 minutes.

However, I’ve also started teaching this to another one of my rats, Chloe. Chloe does not have very much training experience and is also a pretty shy and reserved girl. She gives up pretty fast when something does not work. While Amy was able to figure out this trick on her own, I think that I am going to have to actually shape Chloe to touch and pull on the rope.

Watch on YouTube: Amy learns the bucket trick

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  • Bookends Farm

    You’re getting to me Mary- that’s adorable and has me in giggles the way she gives it the old heave ho at the end!

    • Glad you liked it.

      She does put quite a bit on enthusiasm into her performance!



  • Susan Schneider

    This is great, Mary, and it shows that rats with an appropriate history of reinforcement for manipulating things in their environments *don’t* need extra training to learn how to solve the puzzle. Very much like the ravens that Bernd Heinrich showed could do the same thing.

    Author, The Science of Consequences

    • It actually was pretty interesting, Susan, because Amy learned this in 15-20 minutes. (And that included several short breaks.) She was able to figure it out on her own, with very little help or shaping from me.

      Chloe, on the other hand, has not been able to figure it out and gives up incredible fast. She also only has a short history with clicker training (whereas Amy has a very long history) and Chloe tends to be a more nervous / skittish rat, whereas Amy is very bold.


  • Lucy Anne Knight

    I think is so clever and also gave me the giggles