Ferrets make delightful pets, and are a fun addition to the family. However, just like any other pet, whether it’s a cat, a dog, or a bird; ferrets do have their bad habits too. One of the biggest and most common annoyances associated with ferrets is that they like to bite and nip. If your household has small children, ferret training should start as soon as possible. Ferrets are sometimes accused of being troublesome biters, and more of a nuisance than a family pet, unfortunately giving them a bad reputation. The good news is, this behavior can be trained out of the animal with perseverance and a good deal of patience.
Why ferrets bite:
Ferrets are extremely docile and friendly creatures, which generally only become aggressive or bite only when scared or defending themselves. Biting should not be confused with gentle nipping while playing, as this is similar to when puppies or kittens do this unknowingly when they get caught up in the playful game. Ferret training should begin as soon as possible in young ferrets, before the biting becomes a bad habit and a problem. The longer your ferret is allowed to bite, the harder it will be to reverse this behavior.
If your properly trained adult ferret bites, it could be for one of the following reasons:
• Most often, it’s a defensive response because he has been startled or become frightened.
• In the case of rescued or adopted adult ferrets, they may not have been handled enough or socialized properly when they were young and do not understand that biting is bad behavior.
• Illness – a visit to the veterinarian will identify any health concerns, which may be causing this unwanted behavior.
• Injury – could be visible or internal. If you cannot identify the problem, you may need to visit your veterinarian.
• Heard a sudden loud noise. Reducing unwanted noises from the living area will help prevent such occurrences. It is important to teach young children who slam doors and bang toys that this will frighten your pet ferret. When training your ferret, it will help if your children become part of this activity; not only to nurture respect for the animal, but also to help grow a healthy understanding of your pet’s personality and needs.
Note: young ferrets may also bite for two reasons:
1) They are still learning how hard they need to bite in order to eat different kinds of food.
2) They are experimenting with their teeth to see how much damage they can cause.
One of the best ways to train your ferret is by using a reward system, and never a punishment system. Positive reinforcement is always more effective than using a negative response method of training. If you shout at your ferret or hit him, you will not train him not to bite, but may actually encourage biting behavior as he becomes angry or frustrated and tries to defend himself. Positive reinforcement training will also help build a strong bond of trust between you and your pet. Ferrets are intelligent creatures and it won’t take long for him to realize what behaviors are rewarding and which behaviors you do not like.
Various methods for training:
Bad Taste Training – cover your fingertips with a bitter taste such as onion, or a bitter root or melon. Slowly, gently position your hands near your ferret’s mouth. Your ferret will move his mouth away from your fingertips in an effort to avoid the bitter taste. After several encounters with the bitter taste, he will remember not to bite your fingers.
Food Reward Training – If he attempts to bite you, but refrains when you signal or tell him not to, you must reward his good behavior with a food treat in a very small quantity. Rewarding your ferret in this way will not only encourage him to avoid negative behaviors, but will also motivate him to please you in order to get more rewards. Once your ferret has learned not to bite, you need only reward him occasionally, as you do not want your ferret to be overweight.
Time Out Training – when your trained ferret nips or bite at you during play, and continues to do so when you have indicated that is not acceptable behavior, withdrawing attention from him immediately coupled with a firm “ouch” or “no” command as you pull your hand away should convey your message. If your ferret continues this behavior, you should place him in his cage for a short period of time to give him a chance to settle down and make it clear you will not tolerate the biting. Because ferrets love to interact and play, this temporary confinement along with ending playtime will be considered one of the worst punishments by your ferret, and should get your message across very quickly.
Scruffing – which is gently grabbing the fur fold behind the back of the ferret’s head and neck and firmly pulling him away from you while he is biting. This method is how a mother ferret stops her kits (baby ferrets) from doing something she doesn’t want them to do.
Squirt Bottle – a quick spray of mist from a water bottle while firmly saying “No” or “Ouch” will instantly make it clear to your ferret to stop biting. A tap on the snout after a squirt of water may also help to get your message across a bit faster and firmer for the more stubborn ferret.
Positive Reversal – when the “bad taste” method does not work, the alternative “good taste” method may work instead. Rather than coating your finger with a bitter or bad tasting flavor, you can use a product called “Ferretone” which is actually pleasant tasting that some ferrets enjoy so much, they actually learn to lick your finger rather than bite it.
Things to Remember:
1. No matter what method you use, always use the verbal commands “No” and “Ouch” to help convey your displeasure at the unacceptable behavior.
2. Never shake, squeeze or pin your ferret to the ground when biting, as this may only make him more difficult to control and may create aggressive behavior you will then have to deal with.
3. Harsh physical punishments are not only cruel, but will increase the risk of creating a fearful animal, rather than a submissive and respectful one.
Remember to be patient and watch your temper, as the ferret does not know he is being bad, but is simply acting naturally.
Did your ferret bite? How did you train it to stop?