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Now we go on to nervous ferrets as you have to handle them differently. There must be no shouting used at all. When they first arrive, as with all ferrets, you should leave them to settle, give them food and warmth then leave them untill the next day. I let them take their fresh food from my hands whilst talking to them in a soothing voice telling him what a good boy he is.
If he goes to bite you don’t snatch your hand away (I know its hard not to do ) but it will make him worse. I make a fist and leave it there, nine out of ten times they don’t bite or they may just nip to warn you. Push him back gently with your fist, not roughly and not hitting, just enough to show him you are not afraid of him and then bring your hand out. I sit for ages by the cages of those who are nervous just talking to them, no sudden noises or movement just sitting there.
When they are taking food from your hands without trying to nip start to leave the cage door open letting them choose to come out when they are ready. I find that it doesn’t take long, as they are, by nature, nosey and if left they will eventfully go and look around. Don’t rush this part let them choose when to come out. When they are confident enough to walk around the room without scuttling away to the nearest corner then you can begin to teach them to play. I find a cardboard box with a hole cut into it works wonders as it can become a hidey-hole too if they need a place to shelter.
Every day just increase the toys they have access to, a little at a time. Having lots of strange toys can be daunting to a nervous ferret. Be consistent at all times, don’t change the way you are training him as it will only confuse him. Keep at it and I am sure you will be paid back with so much love once he begins to understand that all humans are not to be feared.
Now to move on to a ferret who, no matter how you train him, is still biting you hard.
Being a rescue I have had many of these ferrets, being a rescue and have had many bites but I have found that these ferrets seem to respond better to bribery, so out comes the ferretone! It is daunting to pick a ferret up if he is waiting for you with those big teeth, so I find that it is better to first let him taste the ferretone! I have never found a ferret who doesn’t like it yet! Next put the bottle by his mouth letting a little drip into his mouth. Whilst he is lapping it up pick him up, giving him a little more ferretone, then put it away. Now is the time to start stroking him, I do little circles around his face with my fingers and they seem to like that. As soon as he starts to struggle put him down.
After a few minutes do this again but this time show him the bottle and let him come to you, always talking in a soothing manner. Let him get used to your voice. Do this about three times a day or whenever you need to pick him up holding him longer each time and using less ferretone. This way he will begin to associate your hands and voice with nice things and eventually he will begin to trust you and calm down.
If he does try to nip you it’s a firm 'NO' and take the ferretone away, putting him back in his cage for 10 minutes and then start again.
Patience is needed as he isn’t going to stop biting straight away. Some take longer than others but I have, in all my years handling all sorts of ferrets, only failed with two, which can't be bad considering the hundreds I have had in the 18 years.
Most ferrets respond quickly to handling if you handle them right. Some are more shy, these I leave to come to me in there own time but I interact with all of my ferrets. I sit on the floor with them and play and if there are new ones they then see how my own ferrets love me and that too helps to gain trust.
Ferrets are so full of fun and play, even a shy one will be able to be played with once they are settled. In here I have given you some of my worst experiences as examples, I have many more that are good. Many times a ferret will come to me and just want to be hugged and played with. Those that I feel most sorry for are those who are brought to me having been found wondering and lost.
To be so tame they must have been loved and although we do try and find the owners it doesn’t always happen. However only the best homes are found for them when we rehome.
Remember to enjoy your ferrets, take them out play with them let them run free. Do this and you will have a friend for life! Once nip trained a ferret can be one of the most important 'people' in your life!
Used with permission of Norma.
Note. Ferretone is an American made oil mix made for ferrets, chemical free alternatives such as Ferret Formula are also available in the UK.