Posted: April 1, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
© Ferret Gizmo/Courtesy of Cori & Matt Kindred Westgate
If your ferret responds positively to people, including strangers, it can be a good ferret ambassador.
What Is A Good Ferret Ambassador?
A good ferret ambassador is a ferret that is good in public and responds positively to people that it meets. It tolerates being petted and handled by strangers and doesn’t get stressed out in new situations. Some ferrets are naturally well-behaved and others may need some training. You must assess your ferret’s personality before taking it out in public and work with it accordingly.
Why Should I Encourage My Ferret To Be A Good Ferret Ambassador?
Although the popularity of ferrets has increased over the years, many people are still not familiar with them. Many people do not even know that ferrets are a domesticated species, bred and raised like dogs and cats. Making sure that your ferret is a good ambassador for its species is important toward winning over the attitudes, if not the hearts, of nonferret owners you meet.
People fear the unknown. If they have a positive experience with your ferret, they will hopefully be more open-minded to them in the future. If your ferret is nippy or unruly, then people that encounter it may develop a negative feeling toward ferrets in general.
How Can I Turn My Ferret Into A Good Ferret Ambassador?
Not every ferret can become a perfect Ferret Ambassador, but giving your ferret a lot of handling and knowing when your ferret has had enough attention will help.
You and other family members should handle your ferret often -- several times a day, if possible. Start with short periods of time and work your way up as your ferret adjusts. If you live alone, ask other ferret owners or friends to come over and handle your pet to get it used to strangers.
Get your ferret used to being touched on all parts of its body, especially its head. Most people do not realize that a ferret may consider having the back of its head touched to be an aggressive move. Touching this area frequently by people that your ferret is familiar with will help desensitize your ferret to such contact, and many ferrets actually learn to enjoy it.
When you are out in public with your ferret, especially until you learn how your ferret is going to react, always offer people your ferret’s lower back to pet. This keeps teeth and claws facing away from the person petting your ferret. Your ferret may not actually bite or intentionally scratch someone, but this will help keep accidents from happening. Keep your ferret’s nails trimmed, too.
Do not let children hold your pet until you are very sure that your ferret is well-trained and do it only in the presence of the child’s parent. This is for the protection of you and your pet. If a child pulls on your ferret’s tail and your ferret nips the child, Mom or Dad can actually see that their child provoked the nip. Otherwise the child is likely to tell his or her parents, “The ferret bit me” without mentioning that its tail was pulled or that it was actually just a nip. This is a good reason to make sure that your ferret is up-to-date on its rabies shots as well. Proof of vaccination can help prevent a tragic end to your pet should a scratch or nip occur.
Make sure that the child is also old enough to understand how to hold the ferret and big enough to accommodate the size of the ferret. A 7-year-old child can understand that a ferret is a living creature and can be shown how to hold a ferret properly. A 2- or 3-year-old child is not physically capable of holding a ferret well and may squeeze the ferret or drop it if the ferret starts to squirm. Very young children also don’t know how to pet a ferret, or most animals for that matter. They are more likely to hit at an animal than actually pet it. These actions can hurt or upset your pet and make it fearful toward future encounters.
Don’t Push Your Ferret’s Limits
If your ferret isn’t feeling well or if it is in a very hyper mood, then it is not a good time to work on training your pet or taking it out in public. Even when your ferret is well, keep your sessions with the public short and give your ferret a break if it starts getting restless.
Make sure that your ferret has all the comforts of home with you if you are going to be away from your house for a while. People will not be impressed with your pet if it poops on them! If your ferret starts to get squirmy, take it away from the person holding it and explain to them that your ferret probably needs to do its “duty.” A large carrier or play pen with food, water and a litter pan should be handy to give your ferret a break from all the attention.
If you are walking your ferret on a leash (train it at home first!), carry a plastic bag and some tissues with you to clean up its messes, just like you would for a dog. No one likes to step in pet poop, no matter how small it is.
Be A Good Ambassador, Too
Never force your ferret on someone. If someone does not want to hold your ferret, do not try to force them into holding it. They might panic and drop your pet.
Be prepared to tell people all about your pet and ferrets in general, but let them decide if they are ready to interact with your pet. Once they see how you hold your ferret and they hear you tell about this fascinating creature, you are more likely to win them over. They may never become ferret owners, but at least they will have a more positive attitude toward ferrets.
Mary Van Dahm has worked with exotic animals for more than 40 years, and she has specialized in ferrets for 22 of those years. She currently shares her home with three ferrets, three sugar gliders and her husband, Kurt.