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Ferret Training: Teaching Your Ferret The Basics

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Ferrets are inquisitive animals and, as pets, they have an amazing capacity for learning. We share the basics of how to train your ferret to sit, shake paws and more.

Contrary to popular belief Ferrets are actually quite intelligent animals and can in fact be trained to do quite a few tricks and tasks. Persistence, affection, praise and treats are required from your end and in no time you will have your little friend performing all kinds of neat tricks!

DO YOU HAVE A BITER?

It is well known that Ferrets do have a nasty habit of ‘nipping’ people. They do this with their own kind as well as humans and it is their way of being playful, however, it can hurt!

Punishing with a tap on the nose, water spray, hitting or throwing him will not teach your ferret an appropriate alternative behaviour and will exacerbate fear biting. In many ferret owners experiences, using these methods very VERY rarely helps to stop nipping, rather it makes the situation a lot worse and the ferret bites harder. So no matter what people say, avoid this at all costs!

Time out is a gentle form of punishment, when nip training its advisable to have a seperate time-out cage (so not their own cage for sleeping and when you’re not at home, and not their travel enclosure). A time out cage doesnt have to be big, 60cm by 30cm is fine, and all it needs is a water bowl and a small corner litter tray. When your ferret nips too hard imply put them in their time out cage for 3-5 minutes. But not any longer and they will forget why the fun stopped!.

Other useful tips for kits and younger ferrets is to make sure they have a nice full tummy before getting them out to handle them. Young hungry ferrets get what we humans often call “hangry” and their play nips are A LOT harder!! If you have nerves of steel, when a ferret nips too hard try not to react at all, pretend it didn’t happen and do time out. Some ferrets thing your big “no” or your squeal is a sign that it’s a game and may encourage more nipping.

Remember, punishment tends to escalate behaviour in the long-term and teaches your ferret that aggression is appropriate.

CAN YOU TOILET TRAIN YOUR FERRET?

You certainly can! It will take patience and persistence, but it can be done. Here are a couple of tips:

  1. As we now know, our little friends don’t like the smell of Apple Bitter, so if Ferret takes a tinkle somewhere other than in his designated spot or litter box, spray some on the spot and watch him avoid the area. You can always plan ahead if you know where your Ferret tends to do his business where he shouldn’t! Lemon juice also has the same effect if you don’t have or can’t find Apple Bitter. Otherwise, when changing their bedding, put their old smelly bedding where they were pooping, they dont like to toilet where they sleep!
  2. Always make sure that your Ferret has clean bedding (his business should be removed daily and the litter box itself completely changed and cleaned once or twice weekly. Also make sure that you place one of his droppings into his designated spot or litter box. This teaches your Ferret that this is his place to use the bathroom. Important tip – avoid clumping cat litter, go for recycled newspaper litter!
  3. If you want your ferret to roam the house, litter train them in their cage first. Once they reliably use the litter tray in their cage trial giving them more free range time outside, if they go to toilet put them in their cage. When they are reliably returning to litter trays in new areas you can extend their area again! Just keep an eye out for lapses in training, if they do a random toilet it the wrong spot, restrict their space until they prove to you they know where their loo really is!
  4. Shower your Ferret with lots of praise and affection when they do the right thing. You might also want to invest in some treats when you see them use their litter box!

This process may take a week or two. Remember, persistence is key!

SHAKE PAWS

A relatively easy trick to begin with – just make sure you have some treats on hand:

  1. Put your hand out in front of your Ferret and make sure you have their attention;
  2. Place a treat an inch further than your hand on a flat surface. This should intrigue him. (Ferrets are very curious animals you see and yours is no exception)
  3. When your Ferret steps onto your hand with one paw, give him a treat and shake his paw!

SIT

This one is a little trickier and may take a couple of weeks to perfect. Just remember to train your Ferret in short blocks and reward them for their persistence:

  1. Hold a treat directly above your Ferrets head;
  2. When you have their attention, lower the treat slightly, but out of their reach;
  3. When they lower their bottom, say ‘sit’ slowly and clearly. Keep repeating until they begin to understand the word ‘sit’;
  4. Give your Ferret a cuddle and a treat and keep practicing!

KEEP ROLLING

Make sure your Ferret is on their back for this trick before you begin:

  1. Show your Ferret the treat that you have in your hand and then slowly move it to one side of their head (your Ferret will get curious and will naturally move their head to try and get the treat from you);
  2. Bring the treat around the back of their head. If you keep moving the treat, they will eventually not be able to move their head in time to get the treat, which will mean that he will have to roll over to get the treat;
  3. Praise your Ferret and give him a treat

COME TO ME

This trick is a little harder than the other tricks and will take time:

  1. Tell your Ferret to stay (Ensure they are able to do this trick well before teaching them how to come to you!);
  2. Hold a treat one metre away from them. When they go to walk to you, say ‘Come [name]’ slowly and clearly (it is good idea to use your Ferrets name as they will understand that you are talking to them). Keep practicing these two steps for the next couple of days;
  3. Once your Ferret has mastered steps one and two, hold a treat 2 metres away from them and repeat steps one and two. Once they have mastered this, move the treat 3 metres away and again repeat steps one and two;
  4. The entire process may take 1-2 weeks. Make sure to reward your Ferret’s hard work with lots of affection and treats for when they complete each task!

COME TO ME – VERSION 2

This one is pretty useful if you have let your ferret go for a wander around the house and you’ve lost sight of them.

  1. Buy a squeaky toy
  2. Call their name and squeak the toy – many ferrets come running to the sound of the squeaker (unless they’re in a dead sleep) – give them a treat when they come
  3. Gradually reduce the amount of squeaking until they are coming to their name – keep rewarding
  4. Reduce how often you call their name so they come when their name is only said once – reward this

THE GRAND FINALE

The last trick is a fun one and will really show off your Ferret’s skills and intelligence once they have mastered it:

  1. Take a hoop and place it down on the ground;
  2. Hold a treat on the other side of the hoop. By this stage your Ferret knows how to come to you, so call their name slowly and loudly and show them that you have a treat for them. When they are close to the hoop, say ‘Jump!’
  3. Once they have jumped through the hoop give them lots of praise and a treat for their efforts. This will take a few days for your Ferret to master, so keep at it;
  4. Once they are able to complete steps one through three, it’s time for the last step. Place the hoop on top of a book or a piece of wood (or anything flat and with a little bit of height for that matter!) and repeat steps one through three again. Your pet will eventually realize that they need to jump to get the treat!

IS A FERRET RIGHT FOR YOU?

Hopefully we’ve shown you how intelligent this adorable, furry creature can be. Despite popular belief, Ferrets are not dirty (it is up to their owners to keep them along with their litter boxes clean) and although they may have a slightly distinct smell, they really don’t smell all that bad! They are low maintenance, family pets and require the same amount of attention that you would give to a cat. Shower them with affection (and tasty treats!) and you will win over their little hearts.

Ferrets make fun and clever pets and will have your family falling in love with them and their neat tricks in no time! (Just remember not to leave anything valuable around in case your furry bandits feel like picking your pocket!)