How to Train a Ferret

By PetMD Editorial on Aug. 14, 2009

A Well-Behaved, Potty Trained Ferret in Just a Few Steps

When we talk about how to train your pet ferret, we’re not talking about training it to do acrobatic or magic tricks, and it is doubtful that they will ever replace dogs on sleds or surfboards. But ferrets, like dogs (and even cats), will respond to basic training techniques. Besides, a little training will make life more pleasurable for you and your ferret.

Ferret Boot Camp

Why train a ferret? Well, like any animal they sometimes need a little direction. They also need to learn boundaries, and the younger they are once training begins, the better.

One problem you may face with your ferret is nipping. Ferrets like to bite things, and sometimes that "thing" might be you. This needs to be, ahem, nipped in the bud, and there are a few ways to do this. Teething rusks and hard dog biscuits can help to distract and refocus your ferret's biting impulse, along with some disciplinary measures.

But don’t panic at the word "disciplinary," it does not involve hurting your pet. A few simple things, like making an alarmed, high pitched sound when bitten, holding your ferret by the scruff (the nape of the neck) and saying "no" in a very firm voice, or even hissing at the ferret when it bites will help to teach your ferret that nipping people and other things (like furniture) is wrong. These techniques can work for training your ferret not to do other things too.

One other method that some people swear by is spraying bitter apple scent on things they don’t want the ferret to bite or chew on. This can be bought in spray form at a pet store.

Just don’t forget about positive reinforcement. All animals, including ferrets, respond very well to positive training moves. Cuddles, treats, and praise given whenever your ferret does something good can work wonders on making the training stick.

How to Litter Train A Ferret

When it comes to litter training, some ferrets will be easier to train than others. The litter box should be placed in an easy to reach spot, and close to where the ferret plays and lives. Once a ferret has begun to urinate or defecate you won't be able to stop the action, so you’ll have to keep a close eye on it and learn to read its signs. Soon, you will get an idea of when it is looking to "go." When that happens -- before the ferret begins to go in an undesired location -- quickly place the ferret in the litter box, praising it and rewarding it with treats after it has gone on the litter.

Ferrets are very clever little animals. Some will pretend to use the litter just to get a reward, so make sure it actually went to the bathroom before issuing that precious reward. But if you see that the ferret is about to "go" somewhere that is not its litter box, firmly, and in an elevated voice, say "no!" and quickly place it in the litter box.

Of course, accidents will happen, even with the best of ferrets and especially in the early stage of training. Don’t be too harsh with your ferret over an accident, though. Just keep at the training, be consistent, and it will soon get the hang of it.

Ferret urine can be smelly, and you really don’t want your home to reek of ferret pee. So if your rugs can be rolled up, do that until you are confident that your ferret has aced the litter box. Otherwise, diluted vinegar can be used for cleaning up any messes. However, never use cleaning solutions that include ammonia in the ingredients, as it will react with the ferret urine.


No Escape Artists or Trapeze Swingers, Please

One of things ferrets love to do is dig. They will dig in their water and food bowls, household plants, anything that can be dug into. They are also the Harry Houdinis of the animal world -- able to open closed doors with ease. These instinctive habits are difficult to train them out of, but a firm "no," a hiss, or a high-pitched vocal sound can all be useful. If those don't work, lift it by the scruff and put the ferret in time-out in its cage or designated area.

Of course a little prevention can go a long way. Plastic runners in doorways may keep your ferret from digging into the carpet or scratching it up. Keeping plants higher up and out of reach will save you from cleaning up dirt that has been knocked out of the pot onto the floor, and locking doors you don’t want to have opened will prevent any escape attempts.

Swift and Fair

Just remember, training and rewards need to be immediate and consistent. There is no point in punishing or rewarding your ferret a few minutes after the behavior, when the ferret may have already forgotten what it has done. Do it right every time and you’re on your way to having a happy, healthy, well-behaved ferret.

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