Machan Q/A: “How did you train your ferrets not to bite?”

How I Stopped Ferret Biting

I received a question quite recently but couldn’t reply until now, so apologies in advance for my late answer. “Hi, I want to know how you got your male to stop biting?”

Please note this is an article originally from my old blog Hakibe Ferret. I am the author and blog owner for that blog and also write for The Natural Ferret.

When I first got Haru & Yuki, they both landed a couple of nasty bites on me and for a beginner to ferrent-hood It ended up being a HUGE shock to me despite the fact I had it in mind that nips and such were to be expected especially since I brought home some kits.

I’ve lost some of my photos of the outcome of the bites, so I cannot exactly show you how nasty the bruising was on them.

Bite1
A hard nip.

The first bite was a probably around the first day I brought them home. Yuuki, who we had thought was a cuddly lazy boy at the time we picked him up, turned out to be a very energetic young boy who was filled with excitement.

Unfortunately at the time we were still waiting on the cage to be delivered so Haru & Yuu had to put up with a small temporary cage for the time being. I let them relax for most of the day and it was great fun watching them sleep and letting their musky scent drift into my nose.

Come play time that night, Yuu got little too excited being only 6 months old and landed a nice big CHOMP to my left index finger. He latched on and it was very painful. I think the main problem was the fact that it was the shock. I felt my heart begin to race at the time and my heart was crazily pounding against my chest. Yuuki obviously felt my fear and latched on even harder and began to rapidly move his head in a side to side ripping motion. If he bit down any harder he probably would have gone through my finger bones.

biteferret-300x169
Haru play nipping. She still plays rough, but only when I allow it. She’s generally pretty good. ^_^

I tried doing multiple things that I picked up on my ferret research many nights in advance but nothing really seemed to work for me. Finally he released and he was put to bed immediately. Which was a big no no, but I was in shock and didn’t know what else to do at the time since my head went blank and was too focused on the fact I was bitten. After that happened, I fixed up my finger and stopped the bleeding.

For a week, I was unable to face Yuuki and rehoming even came into conversation due to stress of the moment. I cooled off and even sulked for a bit before settling down. I did more research during that week and came to the decision that my thoughts were uncalled for. I started beginning to resent myself for even thinking I could rehome him when it was me who promised to love him and look after him for the rest of his life. It was at that moment where I became 100% committed to my ferrets. I was committed 100% before, or so I thought, but the bite was a big eye opener to me and drove me to do more and more research so I could learn to understand the reason WHY he did it in the first place.

The reason which I now understand was due to multiple reasons. One reason was that he was in a new environment and was quite excited to the point where he would test me and everyone else in the house hold to see what his boundaries were. Two would be the fact that he wasn’t very pleased with the small temporary home, which I can completely understand and Three would be boredom.

bite 2
Yuuki bite after a few days. Still swollen here at least 5x. My first official latch bite. Looked worse the day it happened.

Boredom… That started me on a new way of thinking. If you want to make a ferret a happy ferret, you need to get down to their view and understand  a ferret’s needs. From then on, I began to train Yuuki and it was frustrating. Very. Very frustrating. He wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t do anything he was told. Typical child he was. I then decided that I would need to become just as stubborn as him.

I forgot to mention that I did try ‘certain ways’ to stop his nipping and biting. Leather gloves, bitter apple, you name it and it never worked. I scrubbed a few times to begin with since I needed to practice to scruff correctly.After a while I became more stronger and more confident with handling him. As soon as he began to pick up on my confidence, he then began to dull down with the nipping.

The problem with being not confident with animals, especially ferrets is the fact that they will take any opportunity to take advantage of that. If you aren’t confident, then DON’T handle them until you know you can be or can become confident.

TimeOut-225x300
Yuuki in time out as a kit.

To start out with, Haru & Yuu had 1 hour play sessions and every time I received a nip, I would tell him to be gentle. Second warning would result in an ignore and no play and third warning was a 5 minute time out. After a couple of days I started changing the time to 2 minutes. I also started putting him in time out more often and he HATED it.

Oh boy, He was very upset with me. I received a few retaliation bites from him, but those too ended with time out. There were days when he would be int he carrier every 2 minutes. After a few weeks, the time became less and I started hand playing with him. Typical, rub his belly and when he play bites little too hard I would say “Be gentle” and he would listen to me otherwise I would take my hand away and simply ignore his existence during play time.

I noticed that the more I played with him using my hands and the more he nipped, the more he began to figure out what was acceptable during play. I encouraged nipping, only gummy nipping. Any nip that became too hard would get a warning. Any nip that was so hard it left marks on my skin would get 2 warnings and a time out for 2 minutes. Any bite that broke the skin would result in an instant time out.

After time outs finish, I always resumed play time like normal. We would continue to play for a bit and if he would bite again, another time out. The key to training is persistence. Its not just training to the ferret, but its training even to the owner. We need to be accepting of this behaviour and let them know what is okay. You cannot stop nipping. Thats clear since they do it during play. But you can work out an agreement, where both you and your ferret can learn form each other what is an acceptable nip. Soft nips are no issue, infant I like those a lot and consider them to be like little kisses hehe.

Bite 2.jpg
Bite mark from Haru. She got stuck under the skin and freaked out. Swelled up for a few days and bruised alot.

It took me around 3 weeks give or take before Yuu stopped biting. He no longer breaks my skin or causes blood to be spilt. He hardly gets time out. Actually now that I think about it, he hasn’t had time out for quite a while… He did have a habit of getting just little too rough sometimes, but every time I tell him to be soft or to be gentle he listens and softens his grip like a good boy he is. He’s now the most cuddly little ferret and looking at him now, I cannot believe he even bit to begin with. The main issue was myself and that I figured out in the end of training.

That is basically it. No use of gloves or bitter apple. They were hopeless. Just lots of handling and lots of hand play. He also picks up on my energy I noticed. So if I tell him calmly to be soft, he will be soft for me. 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Machan.

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