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This article was written by Norma James a wonderful lady, long time ferret owner and rescuer, who was happy to share her knowledge with others. (Norma passed away in June 2011)
I have been asked many times "how do you stop a ferret from biting?" I remember the time that I asked that question of someone else, the answer I got was "belt it one!" Even then, with the little knowledge I had, I was horrified and thought that there had got to be a better way then that.
For most of my early married life I had dogs, mostly German Shepherds. I used to take them to training classes and then into the show ring. I got into the obedience side of showing as it was more challenging, also I had knew that training animals should never contain any kind of cruelty, hitting was out, big style.
Although ferret are a different species the basics are very much the same, I was told to teach the dogs to enjoy working with you and then you will get the best from them. So I put this into my training with my ferrets, I can honestly say that in all the years I have had ferrets I have never hit one of them, even when they were hanging at the end of my hand!
Ferrets bite for many reasons, the most common of which is fear. They instinctively learn to take care of themselves so that when a predator comes after them they can defend themselves with their teeth. During our first interactions with a ferret they may believe that we could be that predator. When we go to pick a new ferret up they may behave in this natural, instinctive way and bite. This can also be the reason why a ferret that may be fine with his owner will bite a stranger.
I had a ferret called Sid, he came to me as a young ferret who was going to be put down because he lived wild and was biting the children in the village. As he was an albino it wasn’t a good idea from him to live wild because of his colour so I brought him home. Wow, he was one wild ferret! He certainly wasn’t afraid of me he would lunge at me every time he saw me! I brought him indoors with me so that he could see me all the time, I let him run free in my front room for a few hours a day letting him have his freedom. I would have to wear boots and a thick coat as he would think nothing of sinking those teeth in me anywhere he could! I just got on with my jobs always talking to him but not touching him unless I had to. This went on for a few weeks and over those weeks he became calmer with me, he still didn't want me to pick him up but at least he wasn't lunging at me! He just seemed to put up with me. Then I started sitting on the floor, not near him, but inviting him to come to me. I gave him pieces of meat from my hands, always talking and encouraging him to be my friend. It took a while but I remember the first time he walked up to me without attempting to bite, took his meat and stayed by my side, there was no turning back now, I was winning!
I then started to teach him to play with me, at first with a soft toy, then with my hands. Yes, I got a few bites but none were as hard as when he first came. The journey was a long and painful one for me but well worth it when I had that first ferret kiss and he fell asleep on my knee. He was one ferret that wasn’t going to be re homed, we had come a long way together and I could never have asked him to go on another journey after all we had been through, so he lived out his life with me as his best pal.
That is just one story, there are many ways to nip train and with me they seemed to change from ferret to ferret but the basics are always the same, starting with love, compassion and understanding. I will detail here some of the ways that I have used over the years.
Starting with kits We must always remember that they are babies and, like our human babies, they must never, ever be hurt in any way. They have a memory and will always remember that hurt. They will bite and even a kit can bite really hard.
When your kit first comes, if it hasn’t been handled well, it will nip and even bite and draw blood. The best way to deal with this is to give it as much raw meat as it will eat. A ferret with a full belly doesn’t bite as readily as one that is hungry. When the kit has settled in, after a few days, try feeding them raw meat by hand thus teaching them hands are nice things and lovely things come from them.
If they do nip hold the kit, with your hands around the back and with fingers under the front legs, use eye contact and say NO NO. Do this every time he tries to nip you.You must be consistant. It will take time, just as it take human babies time to walk and talk. Be patient, never loose your temper, play with them using soft toys instead of hands until you can trust them not to bite.
Babies go through stages they will seem to have stopped nipping and then all of a sudden they will start again. I believe is due to hormones as they grow, when they have been neutered and the hormones have settled this should no longer be a problem.