© Estelle Sandford published in Pro-Rat-a 151, Jan/Feb 2006.
In the last few years the running of rat agility and other fun events has become more and more common at our rat shows. This shows a completely new kind of skill rat owners can do with their rats and with our rats being very intelligent little beasts; they can sometimes be very easy to train to do agility and obedience tests.
A few of us have worked on some ideas for scoring agility and obedience type events and to create the guidelines we took onboard how the Swedish Rat Society run their agility events and modified their guidelines to suit ourselves. Below are our draft ideas with guidelines as to the kinds of points that should be awarded.
We recently ran a 4 event agility and obedience competition at the Taunton show and it seemed to go down very well with the exhibitors. We created the guidelines for this show and below the agility guidelines are the other suggested events and guidelines. From the experience of running these events, the main things identified were a need to ensure the judge(s) understand what they are looking for in the guidelines, so this may identify a need to have trained agility/obedience judges in the future. I think all the exhibitors went away positive, thinking they need to spend more time with their rats training them for this type of event!
Edited July 2010: Agility is currently judged purely on the time taken to complete the course.
Agility ObstaclesAll of the below were made with my own fair hands and I am by no means a DIY expert - usually far more of a 'get someone else to do it' instead! I used MDF and doweling rods and long planks of wood from a DIY superstore. I used nails for most, although wood glue was sturdy enough (I lacked patience and didn't want to wait for glue to dry!), ensured I filed and sanded down all edges and ends so there can be no injury to rat or handler and I found some wonderful purple paint to make the fences really stand out! Quinn, Sierra and Zephyrus kindly modelled the obstacles for me - the nice thing about bucks, you can put them in one place and they will stay there for photos, but it is rare for a buck to make a good agility rat!
The show jumpVery simple fence to create - I actually used the cut outs I had left over from another fence for the end pieces which made them a bit more original, but basically take two equal sized pieces of MDF for the ends and two equal length bits of doweling for the bars and nail or glue them together. It works best to ensure that the gaps between the bars and the table are not big enough for rats to squeeze through or under.
This makes an ideal starting fence for the course as it is really simple.
The fence with the hole in it!I used a tuna can as the template for the hole and used a small handsaw that has a pointed end for making holes in wood and followed my line on a square of MDF. I filed any sharp edges down and tested it with my largest buck to ensure most rats would get through ok. I then cut two ends and a base from the MDF and tacked them together as well as gluing them to make it easier to hold them together.
This one makes an ideal finishing fence as something nice and simple to end the course.
The TunnelAnother fairly simple obstacle. I cut down two lengths of wood and nailed another square of MDF to make the bridge. This obstacle has actually proved to have quite a few uses aside from being a tunnel. It can be used as a table for the staying competition and turning it over, it can be used as a starting block for the coming when called competition.
The Long JumpVery simple fence to make - take one length of wood and two lumps of wood and nail them securely together. The gap is 6 inches in this case. I used bits of fence post for my blocks.
Obstacle can also be turned over to make a bridge to cross or go under.
Weaving polesI cut the doweling rods into 6 inch lengths and nailed them 5 inches apart to create a weave.
Another version of the Weaving PolesI also created a more complex version of this which could be used in several angles - it was a bit of a prototype and in hindsight I would change the offset of the poles. This can be used either flat as an under/over or as weaving poles.
The Water FenceThis double dog bowl makes a great obstacle, although my rats seem to be more interested in drinking the water than climbing over it. The usual way we use this obstacle is to get them to cross the centre ridge.
The Derby Bank!This is part of a base mesh from a critter cage bent to make a ramp. It is very important to file down any sharp ends on this obstacle.
The SeesawVery simple obstacle to make. Just take a piece of doweling and securely glue it to the middle of a plank - mine is 18 inches long, which seems to balance nicely.
The RampThis obstacle was my greatest challenge and took the longest to create. I cut two planks and then had to angle the ends to join them and also allow the base ends to sit flat on the table. I added side bars to make the fence more solid and using square doweling for the steps on the ramps.
With practice, it would be ideal to have rats touching below both bottom steps as would be expected in dog agility.
The TableSimilarly made to the long jump - nail lump of wood to a square of MDF to make a sturdy little table for use either within the obstacle course to make them stop on it for a few seconds, or just as the table for the staying obedience test.
The Chain WalkThis obstacle was an experiment really, but it has proved to be a real hit with the rats with most completing it quite easily. The gap between the chains is about an inch and they are quite taunt, so the rat doesn't slip off and fall into the middle.
Made fairly simply by using two bits from the planks of wood for the ends and 2inch wide for the side ones. The chain is nailed on with fence staples and is plastic so easy enough to clean down.
This obstacle could also be used as a jump by turning it the other way on the course.
What you tend to find once you have made a few obstacles is that you look at many things around you in a totally different light - kids toys, household stuff and places like DIY stores, garden centres, IKEA, etc. are seen with a whole new light...
Key Guidance For Agility
- Any obstacles and items used for these events must be easy to wipe down with antibacterial spray/cloth between rats.
- The table should be wiped down between rats to discourage rats from stopping to take in other rats' scents or markings on the table and obstacles.
- When making obstacles bear in mind that ropes and material cannot be de-scented or cleaned down.
6-8 varying obstacles arranged as a course for rats to follow a route guided by their handler. When thinking obstacles, the kind of things we are looking at are climb over, climb through, balance, weave, water, ramps, tubes, etc. as above. Number of obstacles and shape of course will depend on facilities available. Time allowed for 6-8 obstacles should be 2 minutes maximum.
- Agility is judged purely on the time taken to complete the course.
- The competition should take place on unfamiliar obstacle course, any practising prior to the event starting should not be done on the entire course and route used for the main event.
- The course to remain the same throughout the competition for all participants.
- A partnership may only compete once on the day of the competition, but a handler can enter as many different rats as they wish.
- The handler may touch the rat, pat, stroke and use gentle encouragement, but may not lift the rat from the competition table or use another rat or handler as assistance. Rats should not be 'driven' around the course like a toy car.
- After describing how the obstacle course is to be completed to all competitors, the judge should not give advice to entrants while they are competing. Any tips and comments should be given after the completion of the competition.