Here is an excerpt from our book on ferret care titled Getting Started with Pet Ferrets.
Playtime is fun, of course, but it can also be educational. You can use playtime to teach your ferret many useful skills. Start by teaching it to come when called. It’s really easy, especially if you make the effort to say the ferret’s name often when you’re playing together: (“Hi Fuzzball!” “You like that, Fuzzball?” “What are you doing there, Fuzzball?”)
Soon, you’ll be able to call its name while offering a treat. (“Hey Fuzzball! Look what I have for you!”) Of course, give the treat when it comes promptly. Keep repeating this game until it has learned to associate its name with a treat. Start to withhold the treat if it seems to ignore you. Your ferret will soon get the idea that it’s better to come quickly.
Teaching your ferret to come when called makes it easier to stop bad behavior. Say its name and a firm “No!” when it nips or bites or starts to dig somewhere it shouldn’t.
Once your pet responds its name, you can start teaching it to walk on a leash. (See below.)
These are just some of the basic skills ferrets can learn. You’re sure to develop your own games and ferret skills over time so you’ll enjoy your pet even more.
For the more important behaviors (using the litter box, bite prevention, leash training), it’s best to start as soon as possible. Habits (both bad and good ones) start at a young age and are more easily learned or broken early.
No matter what you are trying to train your ferret to do, remember to be patient. You had to learn to crawl before you could walk. Your ferret will likewise have to learn step by step.
You also need to be consistent. Remember Pavlov’s dogs from your high-school psychology class (the ones who eventually learned to salivate at the ringing of a bell)? Your ferrets can also be conditioned to do certain things at specific times of the day. They can also be conditioned away from bad behaviors (for example, associating biting with an inevitable firm slap on the backside and a loud “NO!”), as long as they receive the same consequences EVERY time the bad behavior happens.
Consistency also helps in understanding your ferret’s personality. For instance, litter training works best when you know your ferret’s toileting pattern. Likewise, if your ferret tends to nip when you are playing a certain way, you’ll know to be watchful for it and take steps to prevent it.
Be kind also. In your rush to make your ferret the most talented animal on the block, it’s easy to be impatient. Unfortunately, your ferret will sense that impatience by your harsh tones and behavior, which will make it less willing to learn. As the saying goes, you’ll collect more flies with honey than with vinegar.
It’s also kinder to ease up on training if your ferret seems tired or sick. If it seems to be acting unusually, check to see if it has been injured or is ill. If not, then consider whether there has been any major changes in your ferret’s life lately (new member of the family, new home, missing family member).There’s no sense in putting a ferret through its paces if it is not up to it. Tomorrow is another day, after all.
Make it fun – for both of you. Remember when you were in school? Which teachers did you like best? They were probably the ones who made learning a game. Your ferret is no different. Make the learning process fun for your ferret by offering treats and by taking time out for play time together. You’re likely to find you are having more fun teaching your ferret.
If you are having trouble with any aspect of training, don’t go it alone. Look for expert help wherever you can find it. There are plenty of ferret websites that offer great tips. Your veterinarian will also have many resources, as will ferret organizations, pet stores, and animal-rescue groups. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
We hope it’s obvious that you should never resort to abusing your ferret when you are training it. It’s never right to give more than a firm-but-very-gentle swat on the behind. It’s never right to withhold food, water, or medicines or to confine your ferret to a cage for lengthy periods as punishment.
Taking your ferret for a walk is fun. Your ferret will have fun exploring the great outdoors, and you’ll get a chance to meet new people who are curious about your fuzzy. First, though, you’ll need to get your ferret used to wearing a harness.
To do so, have your ferret come to you and sit on your lap while you get the harness on. Harnesses and leashes are available at most pet-supply stores. You may need to try several styles to find the right one for your ferret, but generally leather collars and H-style harnesses work the best for ferrets. Plastic ones can be chewed through too easily, and stretchy ones can quickly become misshapen and useless.
At first, the ferret may balk at wearing such an ungainly contraption, but if you offer a favorite toy or treat when it’s wearing the harness, it will soon become second nature.
Once the ferret seems accustomed to the harness, you can attach the leash. Hold on to the leash and walk a few steps forward. Offer the treat and let the ferret come to you. Walk a few more steps and offer another treat. Keep this up, and your ferret will soon be very eager for a daily walk (or run).
Never leave your ferret harnessed, leashed, or tied to a pole untended. It will try to escape and could be an easy mark for predators.
Don’t let the leash get tangled in tall grass, shrubs, or other obstacles.
If your ferret gets away from you, do your best to find it quickly. Ferrets have been domesticated for so long they could not survive long in the wild on their own.
Getting Started with Pet Ferrets is a book designed to aid new ferret owners with the basics of ferret care and ferret training.