Ferret FAQ: Ferret Training & Behavior

Ferrets are very trainable if you have the right methods at your disposal! Part of the responsibilty of owning a ferret is training them to interact with us and each other. Kits, especially, need to be socialized properly. Below you will find a few of the most popular questions about training ferrets.

You can find articles about training & behavior at the following link: Training & Behavior Articles.

Ferrets bite and nip for many reasons. Kits bite because that’s how they play, and they haven’t been taught the difference between play biting and real biting. Some ferrets bite because they’ve been abused. Others bite because they were neglected, or were never taught not to. The key is patience and persistence.

Here are a few ways to nip-train your ferret:

1) When your ferret bites you, scruff her gently but firmly and drag her on her back across the floor. This will show her that you are the dominant one, and it is the way that a mother reprimands her kits.

2) Try forcing your finger further into her mouth when she bites you. Do not shove your finger down her throat, but if you push back enough it will make her open her mouth. It will also make the ferret associate the unpleasant feeling with biting you. This is not something that should be used as a regular training method, but it works well if your ferret has bitten you and you can't get her to let go.

3) Try a time-out, where you put the ferret in a small time-out cage or carrier for a few minutes. (This should be different than your ferret's regular cage.) This works especially well if you have multiple ferrets, and the biter can see the other ferrets still out having a good time. No more than 5 minutes, however - after that point, the ferret won't know why she is being punished.

4) Cover your hands with a bite deterrent spray like Fooey so biting you tastes bad.

5) Some ferret owners have tried using gloves to teach their ferrets the difference between skin and other things. Allow your ferret to roughhouse with the glove, but when you take it off and the ferret bites your bare skin, use one of the techniques above to discipline her. This teaches ferrets that it’s ok to bite the fabric, but it is NOT okay to bite skin. However, there is a chance that this can actually prolong bite training, as it doesn't allow the ferret to get used to being handled constantly by human hands.

Never EVER flick your ferret on the nose or hurt her in any way. This includes screaming at her and throwing her. This will only make your ferret fear you and might even make her bite you more because she will feel threatened by you. Just be patient and continue to use the above techniques every time your ferret bites.

We have more information on bite training in our article How to Train Your Ferret Not to Bite.

Start your ferret out in a small living area, either a small cage or a restricted space within a larger cage, with just enough room for a litter box, a small sleeping space, and food and water. This will force the ferret to use the litter box because she is not going to go to the bathroom where she sleeps or eats. Expand the space as she becomes better at using the litter box. If she regresses to going in corners, put her in a smaller space again.

Do not let your ferret out of her cage until she goes to the bathroom. Almost all ferrets will go very soon after waking up. Letting your ferret out after it goes to the bathroom will teach it that using a litter box is good behavior that is rewarded by playtime. With that said, look out for fakers! Lots of ferrets think that they can fool their owners by just hopping in the litter box and then hopping out again. Make sure you see the ferret go to the bathroom and look for the telltale "hind end drag" when she gets out of the litter box.

Positive reinforcement is the best way to cement the training. Reward your ferret with a treat and praise after she uses the litter box. On the other side of that, if your ferret doesn’t use the litter box, do NOT rub her face in the mess. This will do absolutely nothing. Try scruffing her and scolding her with a firm “No!”, then putting her in a time-out cage.

If your ferret picks a corner that you don’t want her to use, you can try putting food, water or bedding there so she views the corner as something other than a toilet. You should also thoroughly clean the area to rid it of the smell. If a ferret can still smell her feces and urine in a corner, she will use it again.

For more information, please read our article on How to Litter Train Your Ferret.

When you introduce a new ferret to your fuzzy family, be prepared for some jumping around, dooking, biting, hissing, and more! It is natural for your ferrets to be suspicious of and even hostile toward a new fuzzy. You are introducing a new person into their home, and there is bound to be some friction. The important thing is to be patient. It can take anywhere from a few hours to 6 months or more. It all depends on your current ferret or ferrets. If it has been one or more years since they entered your household, chances are it’s going to take longer to acclimate them to the new addition.

Here are some tips for handling this situation:

1) First and foremost, make sure your new ferret is free of diseases before introducing him or her into the group. You may want to quarantine for a week or more until test results come back.

2) If you’re adopting from a shelter, find out if you can bring your current ferret or ferrets to meet the prospective addition. Giving your ferret a chance to pick out its cagemate will make the transition easier on both of them!

3) Try to introduce the ferrets in a neutral area – if your ferrets always run around in one room, use a different room. If your ferrets are free to roam, try to use a friend’s house. The point of this is that all the ferrets will be in a new place, and the potential for aggressive territoriality will be less.

4) Keep them in separate cages near each other before putting them together in one cage. Switch their bedding back and forth so they can get used to each other’s scent. Have supervised playtimes and playtimes where only one ferret is let out.

5) During supervised playtimes, watch how they are interacting. If it seems rough and you separate them, but the ferret being attacked goes back for more, it’s probably just typical ferret playing – a little rough and tumble! If the attacking ferret bites with a darting motion (striking like a snake) and shakes his or her head back and forth roughly, separate them. This is more than regular ferret play, and it can result in the less dominant ferret being covered with scabs, which can become infected.

6) When ferrets play and one is scared, he or she may scream. Some ferrets are very vocal normally though, so don’t assume that the ferret screaming is the one losing!

7) Try applying a bite deterrent training spray such as Fooey to their necks to discourage biting.

8) When play does become too rough and they need to be separated because one ferret is being too rough, scruff the rough one firmly but gently, and put her in a cage for a time out. Then seek out the other ferret and assure him that he is still loved and safe. Don’t ever hit, scream at, throw, or otherwise be aggressive toward your ferrets. It will make them fear you and worsen an already tough situation. If the two ferrets are both being rough, just separate them and distract them with a treatFuroTone works really well. This will give them a chance to calm down.

9) If one ferret is so scared that she defecates on the floor, separate them immediately. It is not necessarily the other ferret’s fault, so don’t discipline her as a knee-jerk reaction. Cuddle both ferrets and show them that they are loved and are not in any danger. Don’t put them back together right away, but don’t let this deter you either. Some ferrets are just more nervous or easily upset than others. You have to be sensitive to their needs and their feelings.

There are some cases in which integration is just not possible. Some ferrets don’t like other ferrets, or sometimes they’ve been alone too long to welcome a new ferret into their home. If this is the case and you’ve tried a variety of methods, don’t force the issue. Find a new forever home for the new ferret. It may be hard to give the new one up, but both ferrets will thank you for it.

For more information, check out our articles on How to Add a New Ferret to Your Home and How to Introduce Ferrets to Strangers.

Clicker training is a training method that revolves around the idea of positive reinforcement. Good behavior is rewarded with a click and a treat, while bad behavior is ignored.

Ferrets are very intelligent, curious animals, and therefore are very well suited to clicker training. Clicker training is also a form of enrichment for your ferret.

For more detailed information, please read our article on How to Clicker Train Your Ferret.

Hissing means different things to different ferrets. In many cases, it's the ferret's way of saying "back off!" It's a signal that he or she is annoyed or mad. But there are other ferrets who like to hiss all the time - during play, as their way of talking, and at other times. What your ferret is trying to tell you when she hisses depends on what you're doing at the time and the other body language the ferret is giving you.

Ferrets are natural diggers, so the first thing you will want to do is give him another outlet for his digging so he doesn't get frustrated. Dig boxes give your ferret a place to dig that isn't your couch, your carpet, or his litter box.

Next, you want your ferret to realize that the litter box is a toilet. Even after you scoop it, always put two feces back in it and a few pieces of urine-soaked litter. This will make the litter box smell like a litter box.

You can also try switching litters and be sure to always use a ferret-safe litter.

That really depends on the ferret and the other animal. Personalities have a lot to do with it, and some ferrets love playing with dogs or cats, and others are afraid of them or aggressive towards them. You won't know for sure what's going to happen until you bring the animal home.

You will want to make sure that if the ferret doesn't get along with the dog or cat, it still has a safe place to play in. This could be a playpen or a bedroom, or the other animal could be locked in a separate room while the ferret is out (minimum 4 hours a day).

Never put your ferret together with a hamster, rat, gerbil, guinea pig, or another small animal like that. Ferrets hunt rodents, and they will most likely kill or maim the other animal. It's natural instinct, so you couldn't blame the ferret.

You will also want to keep your ferret away from birds for the same reason.

If the ferrets are fixed (spayed or neutered), aggression has more to do with personality than gender. Both females and males can be active, hyper, aggressive, bouncy, or have any other number of personality traits. On the flip side of that, both females and males can be laid back, cuddly and sweet.

In intact males, you will see aggression when he is in rut during mating season, and it's best to separate him from ferrets, both male and female. He will fight with the males and attempt to mate with the females.

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