Author: Patricia Larson, LVT
People often ask me if ferrets can be trained. The answer is a resounding “yes!” Ferrets are incredibly smart and inquisitive creatures that can be trained to do all sorts of incredible things. In this article, we will cover key ferret training topics, including:
- Essential Ferret Training Supplies
- Ferret Training First Steps
- Ferret Potty Training
- How To Train Your Ferret Not To Bite
- Other Ferret Training Activities
What Supplies Do You Need For Ferret Training?
There is a lot of information out there about essential training supplies, but it just comes down to what works best for your feisty friend. Learning the best way to train your ferret involves getting to know them.
Your Ferret’s Favorite Treats
The most important item that you need for ferret training is a good quality treat that they adore. Ferrets respond well to positive reinforcement training so you need a treat that will make it worthwhile for them to do what you want them to. After all, they will do whatever you ask them if they love that reward. This might be a bit of a jerky treat, a little piece of chicken, a bit of fish oil, or a tasty paste. When getting started, I recommend getting a variety so you can learn what drives your mischievous friend crazy. Just keep it protein-based, good quality, and keep the amount small. Remember, this is a reward, not a meal.
Are Clickers Essential For Ferret Training?
Clickers are small round pieces of plastic or metal that have a button, when you press that button, it makes a clicking noise. These are popular among dog trainers and while it is not essential to ferret training success, I recommend considering them. Clickers cut down the amount of time between your ferret doing the behavior and getting their reward. Think of the clink as being a resounding “YES!” It allows you to mark the exact moment your ferret does the desired behavior without any lag time and it can cut down on how long it takes your ferret to learn the trick.
How Do You Start Training Your Ferret?
- Make A Plan
First and foremost, make a plan for your trick. What do you want your ferret to do? What will the trick look like? Have this all set up and decided beforehand to avoid confusing your ferret during training.
- Start Small
The first step is to familiarize your ferret with the idea of being trained. If you choose to use a clicker, acclimate your ferret to the click equaling a treat. If you’re training without a clicker, start by having them come when called. Starting with an easy task gets your ferret used to the training process and will get them invested in hanging in there for longer tasks later on.
- Keep It Short, But Keep It Up
Anyone who has spent any time with ferrets will know that they do not have a long attention span. Do not expect an hour-long training period from them; this will just leave you frustrated and your ferret confused. Instead, engage in short training periods of just a few minutes but do them several times a day. The key to ferret training is positive reinforcement and consistency.
- Be Patient
Some tasks will be easy to train, while others will take longer. Some ferrets may need a bit more coaxing than others to get into the training spirit. Just remember to be patient with them. It’s far better to take a break and do something else than get frustrated. A negative experience with training could remove your ferret’s willingness to try again.
What Type Of Ferret Training Should You Start With?
1. Training Your Kit To Not Bite
Getting started by training your kit to not bite is a wonderful way to get your ferret used to the training process and see you as an authority figure (not to mention the benefit to your fingers). The best way to start this process is simply by spending time with your little one. Socialization is key to this process.
Start out by spending as much time as possible with your ferret. Share your day-to-day life with them, let them play on the floor while you get ready for work or make dinner. Invite them to movie night. Let them help you with the cleaning, they’ll be great for dusting under the furniture!
Ferrets hiss at one another to redirect bad behavior, so they associate this noise with saying “no” or “stop.” This is a great thing to add to your interactions with them. Hiss at them if they jump on something they shouldn’t be on, if they are stealing something you don’t want to lose, if they bite you, and tons of other redirections. If your ferret is being particularly naughty and a simple hiss won’t dissuade them. Then put your hand over the front of their body and press them to the floor gently while hissing. This is what mother ferrets do to their young, it’s similar to having your mom yell your first and middle names together, you know that it’s serious and you better listen up.
2. Training Your Ferret To Come When Called
This can be a tricky one. Ferrets are similar to cats, they might look at you when you call their name but they aren’t as willing to come when called. Particularly, when there are other, more enticing distractions. You need to make it worth their while. A box of treats or toys that you can shake and make a noise is a great way to get them interested. Call their name when you make the noise and reward them with a treat and praise if they come running.
3. How To Litterbox Train Your Ferret
Ferrets are actually fairly easy to litterbox train. They naturally find a few specific places they little to go to the bathroom and generally they prefer a corner that they can back into. This makes it really nice because unlike other animals they are not prone to marking territories and you can anticipate where they might go potty.
Corner litter boxes with low entries and high backs are generally the standard choice for ferrets. It’s a good idea to have at least one in the cage and a couple of other ones in around the area they are playing, this way they don’t have to hustle back to their cage to use the restroom. This will help prevent accidents when they are playing.
If you would rather not have litter boxes around, putting down pee pads will also work. There are a few key times to remember as well. Ferrets will go to the bathroom around 15 minutes after they wake up, so it’s a good idea to let them go to the restroom before you let them out in the morning. They also have really short digestive tracts; food passes through around 3 hours after eating. Keeping these times in mind offers a good time to look for them doing their business, if you catch them using the litterbox properly, then reward them with a treat!
If your ferret does have an accident outside their box, place some stool inside it to let them know that this is where they should go. If you catch them scooting backward into a corner, pick them up and place them into their litterbox. Always make sure to give them a treat as a reward if they do what they are supposed to. Make sure to be patient and avoid punishing your ferret for accidents, simply redirect them and try to catch them the next time.
4. Ferret Training Next Steps – Rolling Over, Standing Up, And More!
Having these under your belt can open you up to other tricks, like rolling over, standing up on their hind legs, giving a paw, or spinning in a circle on command. Teaching your ferret is a wonderful way to bond with them. Just make sure you make a plan for your trick, keep it short but consistent and have patience.