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Performing Mice: Do They Do Tricks?

This is a question that I have been asked a couple of times. It probably stems from the fact that some rats are taught to do tricks, along with a mouse’s intelligent nature and ability to run mazes in science experiments. Mice in general do not really do tricks as such, but they are trainable. For example, my mice respond to their names and understand different tones of my voice. They can also learn ‘no’ – it works wonders when two newly introduced bucks start to fight, or one is trying to bully the other. Strangely, I have found that this seems to work better with bucks than does.

As Pavlov discovered in his scientific experiments, conditioning will often illicit the desired response from an animal. One form that people sometimes use on mice (which I suppose would help them to learn ‘no’ too, if you said it at the same time) is spraying them with water to stop fights. It may sound slightly cruel, but it will do no harm to the mouse as long as it is in a warm room and will prevent a bullying personality from developing in a colony.

Mice are quite happy to sit on your shoulder or in your pocket without training, and will not try to jump off or escape. I have heard that Walt Disney trained a pet mouse to stay within a circle by taping its nose to a pencil, but this is a nasty, cruel thing to do to any animal and I can only hope that no-one would try to train a mouse in a similar way.

In general, mice are intelligent animals that respond to their owner’s smell and voice, so trust is a good place to start. I will never forget returning from holiday to pick up my favourite doe who had given birth while I was away – I am told that she perked up no end and I can certainly attest that she came running to see me straight away. Trust will not only help with your mouse’s learning, but also if they ever have a litter it will be a big advantage. It is no good starting to try and teach an animal things if it is scared or nervous.

A big advantage to training any animal is their fondness for food. This may be why mice are not the best candidates, since they are often not food-motivated. If you do have a mouse that is fond of treats then you should be able to make use of this to teach them a few simple things. When you start, keep it simple and regular, and reward the mouse for doing the right thing. Do not try to scold the mouse for getting the trick wrong because this will not help – just take a break if you are frustrated and try again later.

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