Teaching tricks to your pet mouse
You can do more with your pet mouse than just watch and care for him. But can you teach a pet mouse tricks? Yes, if you're willing to put in the time and energy to train your little friend. The more you work with him, the more likely he is to remember the tricks he's taught. You can even teach your mouse to complete an agility course.
Before starting to teach your mouse tricks, you must form a bond with him. If he trusts you, he's likely to cooperate with training. An initial trick that also serves as a bonding exercise involves teaching him to come to you and stay in your hand when called. Put treats in your hand, then place your hand in your pet's cage. Be patient; it can take some time before your mouse feels a treat is worth negotiating your hand. When he does take a treat, make a nonthreatening noise, such a click with your tongue. That's the beginning of clicker training, and your mouse associates the noise with a positive result: treats. Eventually -- although this could take a while -- he'll come when you click even if you don't have treats.
With clicker training, you can teach your mouse far more tricks than simply coming to your hand. You don't need an actual clicker; making the same noise consistently works. For best results, start by placing your pet in a high-sided box. You can teach a mouse target training -- touching a small object placed in the box -- by clicking and giving a treat reward every time he touches the item. Eventually, he'll touch the item without a treat. You can place various objects in the box, teaching target training for each one. You can move the objects, training him to come to the items and target each one.
Mice can respond to verbal cues, so use simple words for each separate action during training. Examples include "come" when you want him going into your hand or "through" for encouraging him to go in and out of a cardboard tube. Choose words that sound different, so your mouse can make the distinction. Make sure your pet has mastered a trick and knows all cues before you teach him another one.
You're probably familiar with dog agility, where canines run obstacle courses, jump hurdles and go through tunnels. Pet mice can learn to perform similar tasks, albeit on a mouse-size scale. It's not hard for them, because mouse agility takes advantage of a mouse's instinctual behavior -- that of running along walls and always taking the same route. You can make mouse "jumps," teeter-totters and A-frames out of popsicle sticks. The top from a used spray can makes a good platform. Set the course along a wall, or make a wall out of books or boxes. Use a sheet of paper to help guide your mouse. You can gently show your mouse what you expect -- such as climbing up and down the A-frame or going over the jump. Click and reward when the mouse performs a task. Work with your mouse every day, and he'll soon get the hang of mouse agility.