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Deaf Ferret Bites To Get Attention

What are some tips to stop an attention-getting ferret from biting?

By Ailigh Vanderbush
Posted: June 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT

Q: What can be done about ferrets that bite for attention when the normal scruff-and-drag methods don’t work? My ferret Ellie is deaf, so making the distressed ferret sounds don’t work either. She’s not a fear-biter and doesn’t bite out of spite, just for attention. She bites when we don’t give her our undivided attention quickly enough to suit her needs. She’ll paw our legs the way we train all of our ferrets to do when they want up, but with her if up doesn’t come quickly enough you can expect to be wearing an Ellie anklet. We’ve come to accept that Ellie will be Ellie, and we love our fluffy, white demon-ferret regardless of our fang-marked ankles and wrists. Is there any way to reduce the biting?

A: Most animals repeat a behavior because it works for them. Your ferret Ellie has learned that when she bites, she gets you to do what she wants.

You don’t say what you do when she bites, by my guess is that you pick her up. I know it is difficult to ignore a ferret attached to your leg, but the only way to get her to stop is to ignore her. Only pick her up when she is pawing even if this happens after she bites.

I suggest jeans, boots, thick socks, etc. in order to help ignore her.

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Reader Comments
I adopted a ferret last August, and by September I realized that something wasn't quite right with the way she reacted to people, as if she was always surprised/startled to see us. It turns out that she is deaf, and like your ferret, she is a deaf biter. My Stout used to bite when she wanted attention or to instigate play. I have been able to get her to stop biting by teaching her hand signals. When she would chomp down on my ankle, I would do nothing other than to slowly bend down, pick her up and set her on the floor a foot or two away from me. Then I would place my hand in front of her face, fingers spread, as a "STOP" signal. Sometimes I even say "Stop," even though she can't hear me.

Give this a try with your Ellie. It has worked wonders with my ferret, but it takes a couple of weeks of constant, patient repetition. Stout now knows hand signals for stop, come here, and roll over. We're also working on a "calm down" signal for when she gets a bit too worked up. Good luck! Deaf ferrets are a challenge, but they are a worthwhile one.
Erin, Tonawanda, NY
Posted: 6/3/2011 10:37:16 AM
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