Houdini Learns to Step Up

Houdini is the little white mouse who I’ve had for about a week and a half now. You can read more here about why Houdini is my mouse escape artist.

Houdini’s a pretty friendly little fellow. He seems to like to sit on my hand and is pretty curious and willing to explore. He usually prefers to run all up and down my arms, but occasionally he’ll sit still and let me scratch his ears.

Although Houdini seemed to like to be held, he was very hesitant and shy about being picked up when I first got him. If I stuck my hand in his cage, he’d immediately run and hide in one of his nests.

Since he seemed comfortable being held, I assumed he wasn’t afraid of being held, but just afraid of someone reaching in to grab him. (If he had been afraid of being held, I would have approached this from a completely different perspective, probably using techniques similar to the Constructional Aggression Treatment that I have used for fearful horses.)

I’ve done two main things to get Houdini comfortable with crawling happily onto my hand. The first several days I had him, I would pick him up in his nest (part of an egg carton) and place the egg carton on a chair. He’s a curious guy, so he naturally would come out to explore. I’d keep my hand palm up on the chair, so he could sniff it and check it out. Sometimes he’d even crawl up on it.

The next step I did has really worked for teaching him that my hand is fun. If he was running around his cage, I’d stick my hand in, then feed him a tiny bit of peanut butter from a toothpick near my hand. After doing this only a couple of times, he immediately came over as soon as I stuck my hand in the cage. So, then I changed the requirement–he had to climb onto my hand before he got any peanut butter. It took doing this about half a dozen times until he was completely convinced that my hand was awesome. Now, he usually jumps up as soon as I stick my hand down, whether I have peanut butter or not. Here’s a short video that shows his progress so far.

Watch on Youtube: Training a Mouse to Step onto Your Hand

As I mentioned earlier, if he had been afraid of being held, I would have gone about this training process differently. If he had been afraid of being held, using peanut butter to get him to step onto my hand would have put him in a conflict situation–he would have wanted the peanut butter, but would have still been afraid of being held. However, since he was just afraid of being picked up, a bit of peanut butter helped this training go super fast.

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