Ferret Training

Ferrets are very intelligent animals, which is why they make excellent pets. They are quick learners and can be trained similar to cats and dogs, although they can only master simpler tricks. Ferrets might be a bit more stubborn than other animals, but they’re a pleasure to train if you have a close bond with them.

Ferret in summer months
Photo by eluxirphoto on Pixabay

In this article, we’ll talk about how you can train your ferret and what tricks they can learn.

Can You Train a Ferret?

Ferrets are quite well-known for their mischievous behavior, which is also why many owners prefer them over other pets. They’re very intelligent and will always get themselves into something no matter how hard you try to keep an eye on them during playtime. It’s not uncommon for a ferret to find a way to open the snack drawer, sneak into closets, or end up with a pack of flour on them.

Their minds are constantly working and getting them to learn tricks is an excellent idea as this can keep them occupied for a while. While they are capable of learning very complex tricks, they won’t be as good as dogs as they simply don’t have the same patience or will to please their owners. They’ll only do the tricks as long as they think it’s fun or get something in return, such as snacks, hugs, toys, etc.

Ferrets are stubborn little creatures. They all have different personalities and some are a lot more docile than others. But overall, you’ll have to constantly “argue” with them as they love to break the rules. There are also ferrets that will try their best to challenge you just to see if you’re really the boss. Owning ferrets means never having a dull day ever again.

Just like dogs and cats, ferrets respond better to different types of training. Some ferrets react better to longer training sessions, while others will actually get destructive if they are forced to stay still for too long and they get bored. The trick is always to find what works for both you and your pet and go from there.

Training Ferrets Not To Bite

Ferrets are very well-known for their nipping habit. This is not in any way malicious to them. They have a much more resistant skin, which means they can play very roughly with one another without any problems. Sometimes playdates can end with a bit of bleeding, which doesn’t seem to bother them much. This is because it’s in their nature to be as rough as possible.

Chocolate Ferret
Source: omlet.co.uk

Sadly, this also means that they think your skin is just as resistant and will nip at you for attention, food, etc. You will have to try and curb this behavior as soon as possible so they won’t cause serious damage to kids or even you. They simply don’t understand that it hurts you so bad. They will stop once you find a reliable way to communicate it to them.

Be very wary about screaming when your ferret nips your hand. This is because some screams can be interpreted as a sign that you’re ready for playtime. Make sure the scream sounds truly painful or just try to hold it in and ignore the ferret so it wouldn’t learn that it can easily get your attention this way.

It’s important to let the ferrets know that your hands are not dangerous or displeasing so they won’t panic when you have to pick them up or want to pet them. Spraying Apple Bitter on your hands might work but the ferrets will run away from your hands altogether. Apple Bitter only works for teaching the ferret not to bite furniture, carpets, etc.

The best way to teach your ferret not to nip is by holding them gently, but firmly, by their scruff, pointing your finger at them, and saying “No!”. And if your ferret keeps persisting, then it’s time to get a separate cage or prepare a time-out area in your home. Every time your ferret oversteps its boundaries, you need to give it a time-out.

One thing you should keep in mind about ferrets is that they tend to forget what they did very easily. This means that the time-out cannot be shorter than 3 minutes and never longer than 5 minutes. Otherwise, they will just go to sleep and forget everything.

You should never use a cage your ferret uses for other things when it comes to time-out. It should have a small cage that fits it, a small corner litter tray, and a bit of water until it cools off. Never use the cage it uses for sleeping, traveling, going to the vet, etc. This will make it hate those cages.

Ferrets and Toilet Training

Despite being very intelligent and capable of learning all kinds of tricks, ferrets need some serious training when it comes to getting them used to do their business in their litter tray. This is because they don’t have the natural instinct of burrowing their business as cats do. In fact, ferrets have a very pungent stench that they use to mark their territory.

Ferreting
Source: Adobe Stock

Toilet training always needs to start in their cage. Keep their entire cage spotless and place a litter tray in a corner. Ferrets are actually quite clean, despite their strong natural smell, and they will never poop or pee where they sleep, eat, or play. There might be a few errors at first, but your pet will quickly learn where it has to go.

To make sure that it goes to the litter box from the start, make sure you’re there when they wake up as they will always do their business within the first 15 minutes of waking up. This allows you to place them in the litter box and give them a treat as soon as they did it. But be careful, ferrets are too sneaky for their own good and will actually go to the bathroom just to get treats from you.

After your ferret got used to the litter tray inside its cage, you can expand the area where your ferret can roam free. But since they won’t go back to the cage to do their business, you will have to have a litter tray in each room your ferret spends in. Pick a corner and place the tray there. If it uses another corner, either move the litter or disinfect the other corners and place their toys there.

Accidents can always happen and scolding them for it is not a good or useful idea. But if they keep pooping where they shouldn’t then you need to start back from cage toilet training again. Redo each step until they’re ready to be left around the house again. Some ferrets might need this to be repeated a few times before they learn their lesson.

If your ferrets suddenly wakes up from sleep and bolts for a corner, it means that it has to go. This is the perfect time to take them to their litter box and not let them get out until they did their business. They will also stop in the middle of playing and run towards a corner as well. It might take some time, but you will eventually learn what the signs are.

Training Them To Do Tricks (Sitting, Rolling, Shaking Paws, Come)

Teaching your ferret to sit is not very complicated. You need to start by holding a treat right above your pet’s head. When they notice it, start lowering it a bit until it’s almost with its reach. The moment you see them lower their bottom you need to say “Sit!” clearly and slowly. Then you need to repeat again and again until your pet learns what “Sit!” means.

Champagne Ferret
Source: Champagne the Ferret

You can also teach your ferrets how to keep rolling. But you have to make sure they’re on their backs before starting this. Stay on the floor with the ferret right in front of you and pet it until it lays down. Let it turn on their backs of their own accord or do it yourself if you’re close with your ferret.

Then show your pet the treat you have in your hand and slowly move it from one side the their head to the other. After it successfully moved their head to follow the treat, bring it back to their head. It may take a bit of time but they will eventually move their head in time to get the treat. And this will make them roll their entire body to get to it. Once it rolled, praise the ferret and give it the treat. Repeat until it does it on command.

Another easy trick is getting your pet to shake paws. You need to start by placing a treat on the ground and your hand just one inch behind it. Ferrets are naturally very curious and will immediately try to investigate the treat. Once it places one paw into your hand to get to the treat it’s time to slightly shake it, praise the ferret, and give it the treat. It will quickly learn what you want and do it every time it wants a treat.

If you’re a bit of an expert or you have a very close bond with your ferret, you will also be able to teach them to come to you. But you should always teach them to stay first. This is relatively easy to do but it might take some time before your ferret will get it, especially if you screamed at him using his name before.

You’ll need to hold a treat around 1m away from him, say “Come [name]” very clearly, and give them the treat once they start coming towards the treat right after you told them to come. It’s important to take your time and not rush the training. Practice this for 3-4 days. Then move the treat to 2m and practice for two more days. Then move it again to 3m and repeat the process.

It may take about 3 weeks and you’ll need to move from room to room and move the treat to different distances. Try it from the other side of the house or the other room as well.

If your ferret just doesn’t seem to be interested in a treat and you’re struggling with getting it to come to you, maybe you should think about replacing the treat with a squeaky toy. The sound these toys make will always get a reaction from ferrets unless they are in a deep sleep.

Call your ferret’s name and squeak the toy. Once they make it to the toy, praise them and give them a treat. Keep repeating this every time you want the ferret to come to you, but don’t overdo it as they will simply lose interest after a while.

After the ferret gets used to the squeaky toy, reduce the times you use it and try getting them to you only by calling their name. Try calling them, wait a bit, and if they don’t come, call them again and squeak the toy. It’s even better if you can give much better treats when they come only when they hear their name.

The last step is very important and should not be skipped if you don’t want to shout all day before your ferret bothers to come over. This step includes reducing how often you call their name before they come. It’s important to get them to come after calling them just once. This time, reward them only if they come the first time.

How To Train a Ferret – A Few Tips For Beginners

It’s NEVER OK to hit a ferret no matter what it did. This solves nothing and it only makes the pet fear you. All hitting does is destroying the bond between you two. Ferrets don’t bond as closely to humans as they do with other ferrets. And getting them scared of you only makes things worse for everyone involved. If you cannot handle how mischievous your ferret is, it’s a better idea to rehome it.

You’ll always want to work on reinforcing the behavior you want by offering your ferrets things they like as rewards. This doesn’t always mean treats. In fact, some ferrets respond better to playtime as a reward than to treats. It might take a minute to realize what your ferret really wants, but you’ll get there eventually if you have the patience.

If you want your ferret to stop doing something, such as chewing the furniture, you need to offer acceptable alternatives. This includes a resistant toy it can chew on or the occasional raw bone. Once you find an alternative that works, you can start spraying Apple Bitter in the furniture and watch as the ferret will soon forget about it.

As mentioned before, ferrets are very smart. This means that you won’t have to struggle too much when it comes to the pet understanding what you want from it. And while this is an excellent thing, you should be careful as this can be easily a problem as well. For example, the ferret might go to the litter tray every time it sees you to try and get a treat from you. This makes them forget the actual purpose of the training.

Patience is pretty much the key to everything. It’s important to stay calm no matter how challenging the ferret can be. This is very important as it will show them as their tantrums have no effect on you. And if you’re too new at this and you don’t have the necessary confidence, you can always get a professional trainer to help you out.