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First time rat owner advice/reassurance

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madinaholic

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Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
19
Location
Sheffield, UK
Hi all! I’ve just adopted two 12-week-old dumbo rats and they’re my first ratties so I have a few questions I’m hoping more experienced rat owners can help me with.

First of all, they’re pretty skittish. I’ve had them for just over a week now and they’re definitely starting to trust me more, will climb into my hands and have just started to let me lift them in my cupped hands, but they won’t let me pick them up or touch them. This means I can’t get them out of the cage for play/socialisation and I’m worried they’ll be unhappy cooped up all day. I do spend plenty of time sat next to their cage talking to them, and I open the door and let them sniff/climb over my hands. Is this enough to keep them entertained for now or should I try other methods of enrichment more frequently? I’ve let them go pea fishing twice, but don’t want to let them eat peas too frequently!

Secondly, one is a fair bit bigger than the other and I’m wondering if she actually might be a bit older than I was told. She’s a lot more skittish, although also staring to trust me more. She spends most of her days in her hammock and rarely gets up even for food (I work from home and have them in their cage in the room with me). She does get more active for around half an hour in the evenings, but quickly goes back to bed - maybe she’s just had enough of mr for the day? I don’t know whether she eats more at night. Her sister/cage mate eats frequently throughout the day and seems more active, although does also seem to sleep quite a lot. Could this be because they’re bored in their cage? Could the larger one
just be nervous and staying in a safe place? She has started to come to me more but still doesn’t seem to eat often that I can see. Like I said she does eat sometimes and she doesn’t look skinny or seem lethargic - she has lots of energy when she does come out but soon goes back to her bed. I know rats can go downhill quite quickly and having just adopted them I don’t know if this is out of character for her or normal behaviour for a newly adopted rat in general. Any reassurance/advice would be greatly appreciated!
 

Twilight

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Joined
Aug 25, 2020
Messages
75
Location
Southern USA
It's normal for rats to be skittish during their first few weeks with you- it sounds like you're off to a great start already! Playtime and socialization are very important and it's great that you've been spending time with them every day. However, out-of-cage playtime is also very important- I would suggest coaxing the rats into a little carrier with a treat to get them out until they tolerate being held.
If you're worried the rats will be bored in their cage, you can try giving the rats some foraging toys. Foraging toys really stimulate rats' minds, and can keep them busy for hours! Most bird foraging toys are suitable for rats. You can also give the rats a dig box. To make one, simply fill a deep plastic box with rat-safe soil (I recommend coco coir), and plant some rat-safe plants inside, or scatter some treats in the soil. Dig boxes encourage natural foraging and digging behaviors, and most rats will really enjoy them!

If you send a photo of your rats, maybe someone here will be able to guess their ages for you.
Since you've only had the rats a week, the rats sleeping a lot and acting skittish is normal- they're probably adjusting! I'd bet the rats eat more at night, if they don't seem unwell they probably aren't! Rats are typically active most in the morning and at night- however, they can learn your schedule! I wouldn't worry too much, it sounds like you're doing wonderfully!
 
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madinaholic

Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
19
Location
Sheffield, UK
Thanks so much for your reply, that’s really reassuring! I don’t mind them sleeping a lot if that’s what they’re supposed to do, I was just nervous they might be ill and I wouldn’t notice a behaviour change. It’s hard to get a picture of them properly because they’re so fast/skittish so the quality isn’t great but this is the larger girl
6F082C34-370B-4E09-B31A-94214AD8A2FF.jpeg
40D35701-E26D-40CB-889B-3672BF45C0AE.jpeg

and this is the smaller
19767369-2803-406E-833E-72FEEC4553EB.jpeg


They’re starting to tolerate being lifted in my cupped hands so I think I could easily take them out to put them in a play pen or to free roam the sofa, I’m just worried about being able to pick them up to put them back in the cage - if I try to pick them up and they run away, they could squeeze into any small space and I’d have a hard time getting them back out! I’ll try coaxing them into a little box to transport them in and out of the cage - although I’m very wary to get the more skittish girl out because when she’s nervous she just hides and totally freezes and I’m not sure how well that would fare outside the cage - if she managed to escape I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t come back!

Thanks for the tips about the dig boxes too. I have tried scatter feeding the past few days and they seem to enjoy rummaging for their food so I’ll definitely give that a try!
 

Twilight

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Joined
Aug 25, 2020
Messages
75
Location
Southern USA
Thanks so much for your reply, that’s really reassuring! I don’t mind them sleeping a lot if that’s what they’re supposed to do, I was just nervous they might be ill and I wouldn’t notice a behaviour change. It’s hard to get a picture of them properly because they’re so fast/skittish so the quality isn’t great but this is the larger girl View attachment 14670View attachment 14671
and this is the smaller
View attachment 14672

They’re starting to tolerate being lifted in my cupped hands so I think I could easily take them out to put them in a play pen or to free roam the sofa, I’m just worried about being able to pick them up to put them back in the cage - if I try to pick them up and they run away, they could squeeze into any small space and I’d have a hard time getting them back out! I’ll try coaxing them into a little box to transport them in and out of the cage - although I’m very wary to get the more skittish girl out because when she’s nervous she just hides and totally freezes and I’m not sure how well that would fare outside the cage - if she managed to escape I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t come back!

Thanks for the tips about the dig boxes too. I have tried scatter feeding the past few days and they seem to enjoy rummaging for their food so I’ll definitely give that a try!
Your girls are beautiful! And they both look healthy to me. If you want an estimate on their age, you'll have to ask around- I'm not very good at that type of thing, LOL!
 

Pepper_rat

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Joined
May 9, 2020
Messages
56
Location
New York
Thanks so much for your reply, that’s really reassuring! I don’t mind them sleeping a lot if that’s what they’re supposed to do, I was just nervous they might be ill and I wouldn’t notice a behaviour change. It’s hard to get a picture of them properly because they’re so fast/skittish so the quality isn’t great but this is the larger girl View attachment 14670View attachment 14671
and this is the smaller
View attachment 14672

They’re starting to tolerate being lifted in my cupped hands so I think I could easily take them out to put them in a play pen or to free roam the sofa, I’m just worried about being able to pick them up to put them back in the cage - if I try to pick them up and they run away, they could squeeze into any small space and I’d have a hard time getting them back out! I’ll try coaxing them into a little box to transport them in and out of the cage - although I’m very wary to get the more skittish girl out because when she’s nervous she just hides and totally freezes and I’m not sure how well that would fare outside the cage - if she managed to escape I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t come back!

Thanks for the tips about the dig boxes too. I have tried scatter feeding the past few days and they seem to enjoy rummaging for their food so I’ll definitely give that a try!
Your girls are beautiful! I love the husky coloring. They look younger to me but I don’t have a whole lot of experience in this area. As my rats have aged they have gotten sort of chubbier bellies and wider heads. That’s how I’ve been able to tell ages before but they could be older. Every rat is different in terms of size so if one is bigger it could just be her different body type not necessarily that she’s older. I have spent a lot of time with skittish rats so I can help with that. For only having them a week you are doing great! It usually takes me at least 2 weeks to get skittish rats to willingly stand on my hands. I have a rat right now that is still scared to be petted and we’ve had her for 2 months. Each of them is unique and you’ll start to get to know them the longer you have them. I have one rat that sleeps most of the day and she sometimes doesn’t even want to come out to play but I have another that is constantly ready to play. So they’re all different. Give them time to get used to their new home and your schedule. They’ll fit in in no time and it sounds like you’re doing great! I agree that the foraging toys are great. It keeps their minds working and I feed all my girls through foraging toys. I have two of the bird foraging wheel from Amazon and those are great. I also have a couple other bird foraging toys that work well. You can also homemake some foraging toys so you could look into that if you don’t want to buy them. I also agree the free roam is important and I personally think the best way is to put a wall around the cage and let them come out to you. So I make a safe play pen right outside their cage and wait for them to come out to play. Sometimes I entice them with treats if they don’t want to. This way it’s hard for them to run away and they have a safe space (the cage) to go back to if they want.
Let us know how it goes!
Here’s the link for the foraging wheel
Bird Creative Foraging Toy Seed Food Ball Rotate Wheel for Small and Medium Parrot Parakeet Cockatiel Conure African Grey Cockatoo Macaw Amazon Budgie Lovebird Canary Cage Feeder Amazon.com
 

madinaholic

Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
19
Location
Sheffield, UK
Thanks, the foraging toys sound great, I’ll definitely look into buying/making some.

I had the girls out the cage tonight in a little pen. All was going okay until Branston, the more adventurous one, hopped over the bar and started exploring the room. Luckily I managed to pick her up (but this meant I had to hold her by her tail while I got a hand around her :-() As they won’t let me near them to pick them up, I’m really frightened about them getting loose if I let them out the cage! Any advice for how to get skittish rat back into their cage once they’ve been let out would be greatly appreciated! This fear is majorly holding me back from getting them out enough, which is probably causing them to trust me even less.

Branston did happily hop in and out of the cage herself a few times, so if they do get loose is it usually just a question of standing back and letting them return to the cage in their own time?
 

Big Schpog

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Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
438
Location
British Columbia
Thanks so much for your reply, that’s really reassuring! I don’t mind them sleeping a lot if that’s what they’re supposed to do, I was just nervous they might be ill and I wouldn’t notice a behaviour change. It’s hard to get a picture of them properly because they’re so fast/skittish so the quality isn’t great but this is the larger girl View attachment 14670View attachment 14671
and this is the smaller
View attachment 14672

They’re starting to tolerate being lifted in my cupped hands so I think I could easily take them out to put them in a play pen or to free roam the sofa, I’m just worried about being able to pick them up to put them back in the cage - if I try to pick them up and they run away, they could squeeze into any small space and I’d have a hard time getting them back out! I’ll try coaxing them into a little box to transport them in and out of the cage - although I’m very wary to get the more skittish girl out because when she’s nervous she just hides and totally freezes and I’m not sure how well that would fare outside the cage - if she managed to escape I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t come back!

Thanks for the tips about the dig boxes too. I have tried scatter feeding the past few days and they seem to enjoy rummaging for their food so I’ll definitely give that a try!
The first thing you need to do is SCENT and SAFETY with these two lovelies. The way to accomplish this is to take them to your play pen area and put them under a big blanket with you under it too. Always have lickable treats on hand, and literally put them on your arm so they have to climb into your hand and up your arm to get it. Once they get into your hand to get up your arm you can start lifting them off the ground.

The fact they're climbing in your hand is a good first sign. However, in order for real handling to take place, under the blankets with you is best because this will accomplish a lot of trust.

OH and yes, babies will sleep a lot because they're growing. Don't wake them when they're asleep. Let them have their natural sleep cycles. Over time as they grow they will adjust a bit to your patterns.

It's best to rat proof your room. They will explore and want to get out. It's only a matter of time. Rat proof it now so you don't have to worry about it later.

If a skittish rat gets out, you can always get a trap to catch her but this is why handling and trust is so important now. If she's not afraid of being handled, you can search for her and get her. That curiosity about the rest of the room will always be there though.

Have fun with them!

After you do the blanket technique,
 

madinaholic

Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
19
Location
Sheffield, UK
The first thing you need to do is SCENT and SAFETY with these two lovelies. The way to accomplish this is to take them to your play pen area and put them under a big blanket with you under it too. Always have lickable treats on hand, and literally put them on your arm so they have to climb into your hand and up your arm to get it. Once they get into your hand to get up your arm you can start lifting them off the ground.

The fact they're climbing in your hand is a good first sign. However, in order for real handling to take place, under the blankets with you is best because this will accomplish a lot of trust.

OH and yes, babies will sleep a lot because they're growing. Don't wake them when they're asleep. Let them have their natural sleep cycles. Over time as they grow they will adjust a bit to your patterns.

It's best to rat proof your room. They will explore and want to get out. It's only a matter of time. Rat proof it now so you don't have to worry about it later.

If a skittish rat gets out, you can always get a trap to catch her but this is why handling and trust is so important now. If she's not afraid of being handled, you can search for her and get her. That curiosity about the rest of the room will always be there though.

Have fun with them!

After you do the blanket technique,
Thank you!

I’ve read your replies on a few other similar posts and tried the lickable treat thing today with soy milk - they LOVED it. I’ll definitely be using that more! They don’t seem interested in coming near me at all when out the cage at the moment but that’s understandable since there’s so much more for them to explore.

I have left an old t shirt of mine in there with them to help familiarise them with my scent - this really seemed to help the more skittish one as she was much happier with me the next day. I’d like to try the blanket technique too. The playpen isn’t really big enough for me to get into with them and I don’t think there’s much point buying a bigger one since I ultimately want to let them free roam anyway, so I’ll have a look into rat proofing the room so I can try the blanket ASAP :)
 

Big Schpog

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Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
438
Location
British Columbia
Thank you!

I’ve read your replies on a few other similar posts and tried the lickable treat thing today with soy milk - they LOVED it. I’ll definitely be using that more! They don’t seem interested in coming near me at all when out the cage at the moment but that’s understandable since there’s so much more for them to explore.

I have left an old t shirt of mine in there with them to help familiarise them with my scent - this really seemed to help the more skittish one as she was much happier with me the next day. I’d like to try the blanket technique too. The playpen isn’t really big enough for me to get into with them and I don’t think there’s much point buying a bigger one since I ultimately want to let them free roam anyway, so I’ll have a look into rat proofing the room so I can try the blanket ASAP :)
See, you know what you're doing! The T shirt was a brilliant idea. It really does matter to them, the scent. That's how they see the world and you've just done a major milestone with the skittish one. Yeah, screw the playpen. It's just gonna get in the way. The fact you're gonna let them free roam is AWESOME.
 

madinaholic

Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
19
Location
Sheffield, UK
See, you know what you're doing! The T shirt was a brilliant idea. It really does matter to them, the scent. That's how they see the world and you've just done a major milestone with the skittish one. Yeah, screw the playpen. It's just gonna get in the way. The fact you're gonna let them free roam is AWESOME.
I want to have them out of the cage as much as possible - it’s what’s best for them and great company for me since I live alone and work from home. I’m so excited to let them ride around on my shoulder/in my hoodie all day long!

I’m confident with the progress we’re making, just nervous to fully let them roam, but it sounds like rat proofing the room and taking the plunge is the best way to go! Thanks for your advice :)
 

Beccabooscott

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Joined
Nov 21, 2020
Messages
8
Location
Brookfield, Wisconsin
Hi all! I’ve just adopted two 12-week-old dumbo rats and they’re my first ratties so I have a few questions I’m hoping more experienced rat owners can help me with.

First of all, they’re pretty skittish. I’ve had them for just over a week now and they’re definitely starting to trust me more, will climb into my hands and have just started to let me lift them in my cupped hands, but they won’t let me pick them up or touch them. This means I can’t get them out of the cage for play/socialisation and I’m worried they’ll be unhappy cooped up all day. I do spend plenty of time sat next to their cage talking to them, and I open the door and let them sniff/climb over my hands. Is this enough to keep them entertained for now or should I try other methods of enrichment more frequently? I’ve let them go pea fishing twice, but don’t want to let them eat peas too frequently!

Secondly, one is a fair bit bigger than the other and I’m wondering if she actually might be a bit older than I was told. She’s a lot more skittish, although also staring to trust me more. She spends most of her days in her hammock and rarely gets up even for food (I work from home and have them in their cage in the room with me). She does get more active for around half an hour in the evenings, but quickly goes back to bed - maybe she’s just had enough of mr for the day? I don’t know whether she eats more at night. Her sister/cage mate eats frequently throughout the day and seems more active, although does also seem to sleep quite a lot. Could this be because they’re bored in their cage? Could the larger one
just be nervous and staying in a safe place? She has started to come to me more but still doesn’t seem to eat often that I can see. Like I said she does eat sometimes and she doesn’t look skinny or seem lethargic - she has lots of energy when she does come out but soon goes back to her bed. I know rats can go downhill quite quickly and having just adopted them I don’t know if this is out of character for her or normal behaviour for a newly adopted rat in general. Any reassurance/advice would be greatly appreciated!
Every rat is different. But most of my rats took 2-4 months to get use to me with all skittishness gone. I found baby food on your finger and having them lick it off helps a lot with bonding. They seem to LOVE the meat baby foods! I taught my rats to go in a carrier for playtime, they feel more safe being transported to a different area. Starting playtime in a bathroom is perfect or even on your bed. They love borrowing in blankets! They then have a chance to climb on you and over you. They may be scared when you stand up, that may take a few months to go away. Differently try the baby food on fingers it differently helps! For boredom in the cage toilet rolls filled with treats and shredded paper. Apple sticks and they seem to love bamboo sticks which you can find on amazon. I have gotten a few dog chew toys and they seem to like that too, food chew toys no plastic. I found chicken feet in the dog aisle and they love those. Also they LOVE shelled almonds and other nuts. I just tried that, I found on the internet it said it helps with boredom and is good exercise getting them open.
 

madinaholic

Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
19
Location
Sheffield, UK
Every rat is different. But most of my rats took 2-4 months to get use to me with all skittishness gone. I found baby food on your finger and having them lick it off helps a lot with bonding. They seem to LOVE the meat baby foods! I taught my rats to go in a carrier for playtime, they feel more safe being transported to a different area. Starting playtime in a bathroom is perfect or even on your bed. They love borrowing in blankets! They then have a chance to climb on you and over you. They may be scared when you stand up, that may take a few months to go away. Differently try the baby food on fingers it differently helps! For boredom in the cage toilet rolls filled with treats and shredded paper. Apple sticks and they seem to love bamboo sticks which you can find on amazon. I have gotten a few dog chew toys and they seem to like that too, food chew toys no plastic. I found chicken feet in the dog aisle and they love those. Also they LOVE shelled almonds and other nuts. I just tried that, I found on the internet it said it helps with boredom and is good exercise getting them open.
Thank you! I’ll look into shelled nuts and making some foraging toys for them. They’re certainly warming up to me while inside the cage, but outside they’re understandably a bit more fearful and don’t have much interest! I’ve been letting them lick soy milk off my fingers and they just love it, they grab my fingers with their paws and go crazy licking all over, it’s so cute!
 

madinaholic

Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
19
Location
Sheffield, UK
The first thing you need to do is SCENT and SAFETY with these two lovelies. The way to accomplish this is to take them to your play pen area and put them under a big blanket with you under it too. Always have lickable treats on hand, and literally put them on your arm so they have to climb into your hand and up your arm to get it. Once they get into your hand to get up your arm you can start lifting them off the ground.

The fact they're climbing in your hand is a good first sign. However, in order for real handling to take place, under the blankets with you is best because this will accomplish a lot of trust.

OH and yes, babies will sleep a lot because they're growing. Don't wake them when they're asleep. Let them have their natural sleep cycles. Over time as they grow they will adjust a bit to your patterns.

It's best to rat proof your room. They will explore and want to get out. It's only a matter of time. Rat proof it now so you don't have to worry about it later.

If a skittish rat gets out, you can always get a trap to catch her but this is why handling and trust is so important now. If she's not afraid of being handled, you can search for her and get her. That curiosity about the rest of the room will always be there though.

Have fun with them!

After you do the blanket technique,
So I tried the blanket technique and she sniffed me for about 3 minutes and then quickly came out to explore the rest of the room! 🤦‍♀️ She did come near me and give me a sniff a few times but ran away if I moved to hold out a treat. I’ll have to try a bigger blanket next time to hopefully keep them under for a bit longer!
 

Big Schpog

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Joined
Jul 8, 2020
Messages
438
Location
British Columbia
Their sense of smell is their gateway to the world. Good job my dear! I know this technique well as I've used on ALL my rats. My skittish rat Simone LOVED being under the blanket and she felt safe. Now she's not the shy rat she was. She comes to me to be picked up and taken out for walks.
 

madinaholic

Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
19
Location
Sheffield, UK
Well... they’re out. Holed up under the sofa and won’t come out to get back into their cage. I’ve left the cage open with some food inside and just hoping I’ll find them inside the cage in the morning...
 

rmn34

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Mar 7, 2020
Messages
89
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At first glance your profile pic looks like possums! lol

So did they emerge from under the couch?
 

madinaholic

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Joined
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Messages
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Location
Sheffield, UK
At first glance your profile pic looks like possums! lol

So did they emerge from under the couch?
Haha, I see what you mean!

One of them was in her hammock in the cage this morning, the other had chewed her way into the sofa and is now hiding under it :-(
 

Big Schpog

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Messages
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LOL. I'm sorry for laughing but they are little shits when they want to be. The urge to explore and map their territory is just pure instinct. You can try a lickable treat but the only way to get them to listen to you is to bond with them in the territory and that's just time, lots of time bonding with them. They've got to see you as Momma that they love and trust. Don't stress too much. This is all part of having rats. I wouldn't put any food out for her. Let her go back to the cage for that. If her sister has already been found in the cage in her hammock, it's only a matter of time before she goes back in too. You can coax her and speak gentle to her and let her know you love her. Don't make this a stressful experience for her because she's probably nervous about it too. Another thing you could try, if you feel up to it is allowing her sister back out again to show her the way to the cage and the food source. They learn from each other. Since her sister has already mapped her way back to the cage, she will teach other as well.
 

madinaholic

Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2020
Messages
19
Location
Sheffield, UK
LOL. I'm sorry for laughing but they are little shits when they want to be. The urge to explore and map their territory is just pure instinct. You can try a lickable treat but the only way to get them to listen to you is to bond with them in the territory and that's just time, lots of time bonding with them. They've got to see you as Momma that they love and trust. Don't stress too much. This is all part of having rats. I wouldn't put any food out for her. Let her go back to the cage for that. If her sister has already been found in the cage in her hammock, it's only a matter of time before she goes back in too. You can coax her and speak gentle to her and let her know you love her. Don't make this a stressful experience for her because she's probably nervous about it too. Another thing you could try, if you feel up to it is allowing her sister back out again to show her the way to the cage and the food source. They learn from each other. Since her sister has already mapped her way back to the cage, she will teach other as well.
Little shits is right lol. She came back in later that morning, probably in search of food. Found her in the hammock with her sister grooming herself without a care in the world!

They both seem pretty terrified of me when outside the cage so I can see this happening again. They did sniff me some under the blanket, but other than that they run away to hide if I lift a hand so treats aren’t really working outside the cage. They’re tolerating being handled and touched inside the cage more and more though, so definitely making progress.
 

Big Schpog

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Messages
438
Location
British Columbia
When you're all under the blanket you can't put your hand near the entrance to the box so they come out and sniff it and explore? They need more handling. Youngsters should have no issue with handling and petting unless they were in another place where hands meant danger. 12 weeks is still pretty young. I don't know why your youngsters are so afraid of hands. All I know is, the more time you put in with them, the better. The more fun exploring they have with you the better. The bed and blanket is usually the very first thing people do with their youngsters.
 

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