If you've spent any time around ferrets, you know how lovable, energetic, and affectionate they can be. They're also highly intelligent, which means you can train your ferret to perform all kinds of tricks and respond to your commands. But how do you go about training a ferret if your experience with pets thus far has been limited to dogs and cats? Believe it or not, ferrets respond to the same training techniques as the canine in your family -- including the use of that common training device known as a clicker.
An Introduction to Ferret Training
Ferrets love to run around, play with toys or companions, chew, burrow, dig, and generally explore every corner of their world. Some of these behaviors can prove harmful, either to your furnishings or to your ferret. You can prevent a ferret from chewing on electrical cords or getting into places they shouldn't by hissing at them when they disobey or spraying the off-limits items with a bitter apple spray. At the same time, you can teach and reinforce positive behaviors by rewarding a job well done with ferret treats (which you can find at any pet store). Although ferrets readily respond to treats, cuddles, and other pleasant rewards, they may need some extra help associating the rewards with their actions.
How Clicker Training Works
A clicker is nothing more than a small handheld device that clicks when you press on it. Dog owners routinely use clickers when training their beloved pooches. However, if you don't have a clicker on hand, any household device that makes a distinctive clicking noise will work as a training aid.
Clicker training for ferrets starts by associating the noise of the clicker with something pleasant. Feed your ferret some treats, clicking every time the ferret takes the treat. The ferret now associates the sound of the clicker with a reward. Going forward, you can hit the clicker every time your ferret does what's expected of it before giving it the treat, adding specific gestures or vocal commands until the ferret understands what you're telling it to do -- and what it'll get for a job well done.
Keep in mind that clicker training is entirely about positive reinforcement, not negative reinforcement. If your ferret does the wrong thing on command, don't scold it, tell it "No," or punish it in any way. Simply ignore the errant behavior and reward the correct behavior, and you'll eventually see good results.
The main obstacle in ferret training is not the ferret's intelligence level but its attention span. The average ferret will only focus on a task for about three minutes before it loses interest. This means you need to use short, frequent training sessions instead of lengthy ones. If you notice your ferret yawning, smacking its lips, sneezing, or scratching an itch, take it as a sign that the training session is over for now. Training a ferret takes patience and persistence, but you'll be able to discard the clicker entirely once the ferret has adopted the desired behavior.
Clicker Training for Specific Behaviors
Ferrets love to please their humans once they know what to do and when to do it. Clicker training can help your ferret learn a surprisingly wide range of tricks and tasks. Clicker training also helps to socialize your ferret while providing it with healthy mental stimulation. Let's take a look at some of the most popular and useful examples of clicker training for ferrets.
- Come when called - Your ferret probably won’t respond to being called by its name until you teach it that this signal means, "Come here." You can do this by shaking a favorite toy or box of treats while calling its name. Every time it responds by coming to you, reward it with a treat.
- Potty training - Ferrets are a bit like cats when it comes to bathroom visits, preferring to do their business in a dedicated spot in an isolated corner. Even so, your ferret might need some instruction as to where the litter box is and when they should use it. Learn the telltale signs that your ferret needs to relieve itself and move it to the litter box immediately, rewarding it for going in the right place. Clicking the clicker as soon as they're done will reinforce this behavior pattern.
- Teach your ferret tricks - Clicker training can help you teach your ferret to roll over, lie down, stand up, shake your hand, and any number of other fun tricks. For instance, to teach your ferret to run through a tunnel, try calling it and then clicking when it goes into the tunnel, rewarding it with a treat when it emerges.
Don't Neglect Other Ferret Care Essentials
As you've seen, clicker training can help you turn a hyperactive, distractible ferret into a well-behaved member of your pet family. But as indispensable as clicker training may be, it's only one aspect of proper ferret care. Make sure your veterinarian offers evaluations, treatment, and wellness care for exotic or "pocket" pets such as ferrets -- or search diligently until you locate one who does. Your special friend needs and deserves the same high standard of care as any other pet!
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