Must see video. The Rat Olympics are done by at least two university's psychology departments. Brigham Young University Idaho and Nebraska Wesleyan University. Students learn, usually through trial and error, that training a rat is not easy. Each rat responds to different motivations, and I don't mean just different foods. Although in my YouTube clip above, you see one rat eat a Graham cracker, while another likes Doritos.
The value of learning how to teach a rat to jump four feet in the air, crawl up your leg, and dodge through obstacles and mazes is equivalent of learning how to raise a kid. Your rat may respond better to positive reinforcements, than negative discouragement. But you need both. Getting a rat to cross a high wire means let the rat fall off the wire without aiding it. If you started catching the rat, they would learn to just fall off and not cross it. One of the project assistants explained to me how he put a bucket of water under the wire to teach the rat it will have to cross the wire, not fall off and be safely caught, but rather hit a bucket of water. And if you didn't know, most rats dislike water.
The cheese at the end of a maze is your typical cliche. It works though. I personally love the Lost Episode where a mad scientist sends his rat to the future, and it comes back, and he puts it in a maze. The rat, already trained on how to run the maze, instantly goes to the end and gets the cheese, so to speak. Although that's a tangent, I'd like to point out that rats have really good memory. Once you teach a rat to run a maze, it typically won't make a wrong turn again. In the YouTube clip about halfway through I sped up some video of a rat moving through a maze. You'll notice at the very end, if your eyes are quick, that the rat actually cheats. Rats are really good cheaters. He jumps the wall to get the food at the end.
If you want to train your own rat to enter into the Rat Olympics this is what you need to do.
- Buy a baby rat.
- Take care of it like a mother.
- Gradually teach it with positive reinforcements, or negative discouragement depending on how you want your rat to behave.
- Figure out what your rat is motivated by, every rat is different.
- Build a course, or spread two tables apart to encourage it to jump... whatever it is, do it daily.
- Deprive your rat of its motivation until it completes the task you want it to.
- Add distractions to the environment. If you want it to perform for a crowd, that's a new environment that your rat will fail in without prior training.
Mod wrote some really interesting facts about rats here. Like how to raise your rat, types of rats, etc. An even more interesting node about rats is Rat bars. That writeup explains how rats socialize and drink alcohol just like humans, in similar manners of actually going to the "bar" on a Friday night so to speak.
Rats also have their own fears. One student made a rat jump into his cage by shaking keys behind it. And as previously mentioned, the water bucket under the high wire.
Nebraska's website near the bottom lists some records their rats have obtained. The longest distance is 4 feet. I saw a rat do that myself in my YouTube clip. And I was told a rat at BYU-I last year jumped nearly 6 feet. It's rather incredible to watch. Nebraska also does some weight lifting event, I'm not really sure how, but that would be interesting to see as well. I tried to track down one of their videos, but none are available online.