If your rat resembles a porcupine, he is angry!
Let me just begin by saying that if your rat resembles a porcupine, it's not a great time to play with him. Actually, the best thing to do is take any and all surrounding rats that don't look like porcupines and move them elsewhere for a few minutes while the aggressive one calms down.
We've only had a handful of truly dominant male rats who subscribe to the art of porcupine aggression rituals. George and George (see "Just because they are brothers does not mean they have to be friends.") were our first encounters with the porcupine phenomenon. We then had another George who was puffy most of his life (see "Some rats have psychological problems.") Lastly, there was ButtNutt who was undoubtedly one of the wimpiest rats but who, upon smelling other males, would instinctively puff up. We're convinced he didn't really know why.
Generally male rats will not puff up unless there is a serious fight going on, generally due to a major territorial threat (for example, a new roommate who disagrees with the existing social order because he thinks he should be in charge). Generally, after one huge lash on the back from the puffy rat, you won't see puffiness for a long long time to come, that is, unless the "new guy" just doesn't get it. Of course sometimes the new guy isn't really intent on being at the top of the rat totem pole. Sometimes he's just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes he'll just accidentally touch the dominant rat's butt, for example, and the dominant rat will lash out at the offender, chasing him around until the offender gets the point (and forgets, and does it again).
In George the Psychotic's case, he would puff up any time he heard a noise. Thanks to this particular George, we also learned a handful of new traits associated with this whole territorial dominance thing. Rats can, for example, "wag" their tails. Rats will also try to "dig." And lastly, rats will get from point A to point B by roughly rubbing themselves along the wall on the way from point A to point B. All of these behaviors are undoubtedly (in our minds anyway) instinctive behaviors (ie, not learned behaviors). As a matter of fact, some rats will take on the wagging thing without puffing up. And some of those rats are as submissive as they get. Slinky, for example, our most "human" of rats, was quite fond of the tail-wagging and digging habits, particularly when Wolfman Jack was threatening our territory (see "Sometimes you're part of the territorial dispute.").
Digging: A rat will scoot, stop, and use his front paws to dig a virtual hole, much as a dog or cat would out in the garden. Often the rat will be scooting backwards when doing this. It never seemed like these rats would dig in the same spot. It was more like a bull stomping on the ground before a stampede run. The rat's belly is usually touching the ground, and when the rat moves between digs, all four paws are usually grounded as well.
Wagging: This isn't really a happy-dog wag, but more of a side-to-side lift, flop, lift, flop type of action. I've only seen this when a more dominant rat is nearby a less aggressive, but not entirely submissive rat. Never have I seen this amongst rats who lived with each other. I have never witnessed a fight come of this tail flapping behavior. The rat is usually on all fours in a ready-to-run looking position.
Porcupining: I've never seen a porcupined rat who didn't fly at, or whip around at a nearby annoyance, whether than annoyance be rat or human or inanimate object. This, I think, is their most aggressive of behaviors and often you will see the rat's teeth barred and separated (see "There are different kinds of rat bites."). If you see this happen, you'll be really happy if you have skin glue nearby. Generally when rats get in a fight with a supremely porcupiny rat, the attacked member(s) will have one to two inch gashes somewhere. I do not doubt that if there were two porcupiny rats in a fight, that that particular fight would end in the death of one of the aggressors. Do keep an open eye out for this behavior. If you do attempt to separate such a rat, however, make sure you are wearing thick work gloves or leather gloves as that rat will most likely bite the first thing that touches it, his friendly human included. Again, if possible, remove the stimulants of the attack rather than the attacker to avoid any possible damage to yourself and your little furry friends.
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Disclaimer: There are many non-sarcastic accounts and tips on the web regarding rat care. This is not
one of them. These are merely accounts of our experiences with rats, our perceptions of these experiences, where we've failed
and where we've succeeded. These accounts are here for two purposes: