It is a sad fact that there are lots of ferrets out there in pet stores and shelters who have been abused or neglected. These ferrets will frequently have issues stemming from their past and will need different treatment than other ferrets. Socializing them and training them can often take much longer, and it will require lots of patience and perseverance on your part.
Abused ferrets can have serious trust issues, which will cause them to fear their human companions. Ferrets with trust issues are often serious biters, as they associate the hands of humans as hurtful things to be feared. They bite because they expect you to hurt them, so they consider it kind of a preemptive strike.
So what do you do when the ferret does bite you? The answer is different depending on the ferret. Every ferret has its own personality, and every abused ferret has its own set of negative stimuli. In your efforts to win its trust, you have to figure out what is scaring it and causing it to strike out at you. Sometimes it’s a certain gender (maybe the abuser was a male, the ferret will consider all males bad), sometimes it’s a certain object, smell or noise, sometimes it’s an action, such as scruffing. In that case, the usual methods of scruffing, scolding and dragging may not work.
WHY ISN’T IT WORKING?
|Time-outs||The ferret was probably locked in a cage 24/7, and you are putting it back in something it fears and hates.|
|Scruffing, Shaking & Dragging||Someone at its previous home (pet store, private home) physically abused it, and in its mind, you’re just doing what all humans do – trying to hurt it.|
|Saying “No” loudly||Loud noises are frightening because of negative past experiences with screaming humans or other noises that hurt its ears and scared it.|
Once you can identify the things that upset your ferret or trigger bad memories, you can start to understand how to counteract the damage that has been done and what kind of training methods you will have to use. For example, if you realize that your ferret becomes severely distressed when scruffed, find another way to enforce the “no biting” rule. Try holding its head immobile in a position where it cannot bite you and puffing air gently in its face. Lavish praise and treats on it when it is behaving well. The training will have to depend on the ferret itself.
The most important things to do are stay calm, keep your voice low and soothing, and continue to maintain regular contact with the ferret no matter how afraid you might be that you will be bitten. If you feel that you are going to lose your temper, leave the room or just take a time out. Just one outburst can undo all of your hard efforts, or set you back weeks. This is difficult for you too, so don’t push yourself too hard!
While you are working on the bite training, you will also have to teach it that hands are to be associated with good things. Bite training is only part of the process, it will take much longer to eradicate the fearful memories it associates with humans. You may take some nasty bites during this process, but it’s important to keep contact with the ferret (not put on gloves or any other protective covering) so it gets used to being held and loved by actual human hands. Give the ferret treats, such as Ferretone, out of your hand while gently stroking it with the other hand (if it’ll let you). Approach the ferret slowly, and never sneak up on it or startle it. Work with it daily, and be patient – lots of love and interaction are the key to helping your ferret get past its issues.
One of the most rewarding things about working with rescued ferrets is the first time they allow you to cuddle them, or the first time they take a treat out of your hand without fear. If you are able to break through your ferret’s issues, what you will probably end up with is a ferret that is totally attached to you. Abused ferrets can often make the most loving pets if you are willing to put in the time and effort to help them through their fears.