How do you know, if you have no feedback from other breeders and judges at shows, if you’re choosing the right keepers in your litters? Well – you don’t. Even during shows you don’t, the judges rarely agree with your own prefences! You can only go with your gut, but there are things you can do to help you learn. Look at your rats and look at photos of rats online, see what you like, see what you don’t. You can’t spend too much time looking at rats for comparison points of view.
Remember that the standard mainly describes a very pleasant rat to look at, so if you have eyes and like looking at rats, most people can pick out a rat that is significantly nicer than another with no training. In fact, I don’t think you can train this – you either have an eye for a good rat or not. Judge’s training doesn’t teach you how to recognise good type, it teaches you how to put what you know about rats into words. The actual learning about type is something that you should do before you do judge’s training.
Pick your kittens up with your eyes closed, and see how they feel in your hands. This teaches you about body tone, muscle tone, overall type. Can you feel how some feel more solid, some have more length? Feel around their shoulder with your thumb and forefinger – feel how some have more shoulder than others. Feel the smoothness and length of their fur, run your hand down their back and feel the curve down the spine into the tail. Hold the tail in your hands and brush down it. Repeat this with each rat, feel the differences and work out what you like, and what you don’t. Now compare each aspect to the standard (if you have not memorised the standard you can open your eyes for that bit). None of your rats will meet the standard exactly but can you decide which ones are best in your view? Even if you can’t explain why in words (that’s what judge’s training teaches you), I bet you have an idea what you like by now from a standards point of view.
The one caveat I’d make to this is one mistake that novices (and – well, some people who should know better) often make with regards to heads. The standard calls for a long head, but firm fleshed and clean. This is difficult, and many people end up with long narrow heads (which aren’t attractive), or end up breeding for short heads (which look wider, and are easier to breed). Short heads are hard to breed out so be careful you select against them. Read your standard (then read it again then look at a rat then read it again).
Colour and markings are harder to do in isolation but doable. For colours, sometimes there are several shades and you need to pick what you prefer for breeding, so you may want to refer to the standard here. Can you visualise what the standard is asking for? Can you see how yours differ, or what you’d like to improve? What makes you like that colour or marking? No two judges will ever agree on what is perfect so you as a breeder are in charge of presenting what you think is closest to perfect possible, and persuading the judge that your particular shade of (whatever) should win because it’s just so good.
By the time you’ve had two or three litters in a line, you will have the confidence to pick your own kittens. Opinions from other breeder are great and I always chat rats with other local breeders, and sometimes ask what they think of my keepers, but asking for their opinions on what to keep will just result in you knowing what they value most in a rat, when the aim is to find out what you value most and make your own mark and recognisable line of rats.