L. Vanessa Gruden
Posted: April 4, 2014, 5:35 p.m. EDT
Ferret Gabriel/© Courtesy Kelly Discher
Ferrets play rough with each other and must learn to play more gently with people.
Q: How can I stop my ferret from biting too hard?
A: Ferrets can’t bark or meow — using teeth is their way to communicate. They play rough with each other and need to learn human skin is more tender than a ferret’s.
If they draw blood it’s certainly inappropriate, but otherwise it’s what you define as "too hard.” Play-biting or mouthing fingers is one thing, a sharp nip quite another. So, how to get them to stop?
These training tips are for garden-variety nippers — untaught youngsters or those that determinedly chomp certain places. (Note: Abused animals may need an experienced handler.)
Ankles: A nip here usually means "Pay attention to me!” Someone came up with a great idea — smearing really smelly hand lotion on her bare ankles. Ferrets didn’t want to go near them! Make sure you don’t accidently reward bad behavior — picking up a nipper can teach them nip=attention. Reward good behavior — paws on your leg should get attention and a treat.
Toes: Nips on toes are usually from curiosity, perhaps the equivalent of a ferret wondering "Is that a mouse?” The smell of feet is irresistible and wiggly toes enticing. You may never completely stop ferrets from toe-nipping. I tell shelter visitors "no sandals!”
Wrists: "I know you!” There are scent glands in your hands and wrists. Many ferrets will lick, lick, nip these soft areas. Another friend suggests scruffing, shaking slightly, and saying a firm "no” to deter wrist nips.
Personally, my best trick to combat bites and nips is to allow the ferret to bite. When he or she does, I pinch his ear gently with my fingertips (no nails involved). If he bites harder, I pinch harder. If he lets up, I let up. Ear-pinching does no serious harm, but it is uncomfortable. It’s a very immediate cause/effect action, which is vital when training animals. They’re not stupid; you just need to communicate to them in a way they can understand.
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