I spent a lot of time last week hanging out with my new mice in the bathtub. All three mice were very shy when I first got them and did not want anything to do with me! In fact, two of them (the two you’ll see in the video at the end of this post) would run and hide whenever I came into the room.
So, the mice and I have been hanging out in the bathtub. The bathtub is a great place to work with mice or rats because it is a small, contained area and would be very difficult for the animal to escape. Mice are fast and remarkably agile, especially when they’re scared. I had to pick up one of my little guys shortly after I got the mice. I was feeding them and he crawled up the side of the cage and started to escape. I picked him up gently and held him for a moment, but he was pretty frightened. In an effort to get away, he leapt out of my hands. He landed on the ground a good several feet away from me, completely unfazed by his huge jump, and began to scamper away. Luckily, I was able to grab him.
Having to grab a mouse to pick it up is stressful for the mouse. So is picking up a mouse by the tail. Both of these methods are commonly used by people with mice who are unconfident or unsure about people. But, this is no fun for the mouse if you are forcing him to be picked up against his will. It also ends up being no fun for the person, if the mouse is continually trying to jump down or get away. In addition, a scared or stressed mouse is much more likely to bite you or poop on you.
Instead, I want my mice to jump willingly into my hands (like my last mouse Houdini did) and enjoy being picked up. My mice have several nests in their cage. They often like to hang out in a Kleenex box. To transport them to the bathtub, I wait until one or two of them are in the Kleenex box, then pick it up and carry it to the bathtub. Transporting mice in a small box is a good method for several reasons. By picking the mouse up in a box, I don’t have to grab him or chase him around the cage to pick him up. This is a whole lot less stressful! Also, while I’m working with the mice, they have a familiar spot that they can run and hide in if at any time they feel worried or scared.
So, the mice, Kleenex box, and I all hangout in the bathtub. When I work with the mice, I never force them to come out of the box or force them to interact with me. It’s completely their choice. Mice are skittish by nature, but they are also pretty curious little creatures. The first time we played in the bathtub, it wasn’t long before they were running all around and climbing all over me.
They were still somewhat skeptical of my hand, especially when it moved. One way I’ve been working on this is by feeding them out of my hand. Pretty soon they got comfortable with this and even started sitting on my hand. The next step was moving my hand slightly so they could get use to a bit of motion. Sometimes I feed them seed on a spoon, while other times I just put it in the palm of my hand. I’ve been using a bird seed mix that is mostly composed of millet because mice really like millet. In addition, the seeds are small, which means they eat them quickly and are constantly coming back for more.
Watch on YouTube: Pet Mouse Socialization and Taming
The two mice you see in this video are getting pretty tame. The white mouse is a little bit shyer, but he is wiling to sit on my hand and is getting comfortable with me moving my hand a bit. The black and white fellow has gotten super friendly since this video was taken. I can now pick him up out of the cage very easily. If he’s out running around, I just stick my hand in and he jumps right up! He seems to enjoy being held and is even letting me pet him. I have another video of him that I’ll share once I get it edited.
The key to working with mice (or any other shy animal) is patience. Going slowly at the beginning and letting the animal choose to interact with you will help the animal develop a tremendous amount of trust in you. Sometimes it can be difficult to go slowly at the beginning—it can seem like you aren’t making any progress. However, you’ll have a much happier animal later on once the animal learns that it is fun to interact with you.