Bombail, V., Brown, S. M., Hammond, T. J. et al. 2021. Crying with laughter: Adapting the tickling protocol to address individual differences among rats in their response to playful handling. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 8, 677872.
In this Opinion paper, we consider whether current methods of tickling overemphasize the use of pinning (Figure 1) to which there may be a wider response variation than commonly acknowledged. We do not dispute that tickling can be a positive way to handle juvenile rats, but tickling may not always be perceived as a positive interaction by the rat, and we raise the possibility that tickling methods need to be revised. In particular, we suggest incorporating more aspects of play during tickling (increased diversity) and adapting the method to individual rats' responses (increased flexibility) to achieve positive emotions and increased welfare across a wider cohort of rats. More diversity and flexibility in the tickle paradigm is called for, allowing the experimenter to respond sensitively to the rat's behavior with the aim to achieve equitable affective experiences for all rats. Taking individual variation into account is increasingly being promoted in the scientific literature, and by being more inclusive of individual differences, playful handling can improve the welfare of all rats in our care by actively promoting positive affective states.