Knowing how to train a ferret allows you to develop a closer relationship with your pet. Aside from being adorable, ferrets are highly intelligent and can be trained to perform a variety of behaviors. You can also use positive training to work on some of their more undesirable behaviors, such as nipping and biting.
How to Train a Ferret: Tips for Beginners
Before you start training a ferret, it helps to have some general tips to make your training successful.
- Always work on reinforcing the behavior you want using things the ferret enjoys, like treats or play.
- Avoid using punishment as this will only stress your ferret and make him nervous around you.
- Use management to keep him away from things you don't want him to do and provide acceptable alternatives.
- Ferrets are very smart, and you'll quickly see that he can figure out what you want him to do.
How to Reinforce Behaviors
Ferrets enjoy eating, so using small bits of food works well as a training reward. Try to use extra- special food treats that are only given in connection with the training. This could be some plain cooked chicken or pieces of a hard-boiled egg, or commercial ferret treats. Every ferret is different, so yours might find playing with a toy or affection from you as a stronger reward. You can experiment to see what your ferret loves the most.
How to Potty Train a Ferret
You can potty train a ferret to use a litter box, which can make cleaning their cage much easier. Unlike a cat, this isn't an entirely natural behavior for them, so it will take more time and patience to potty train them.
Litter Train a Ferret: Step By Step
This method involves some observation to time it correctly. You'll need to be awake and at the cage before the ferret wakes up, and also to have a good idea of when he usually goes during the day.
- Place the ferret in the litter box first thing in the morning when he wakes up.
- Wait for the ferret to eliminate in the box and then immediately reward him.
- Do this regularly for a few times a day for a few weeks.
- It's important to supervise him to so you can get him to the litter box if you see him starting to go. Look for him seeking out a corner area and backing into it or sniffing the ground.
- Once he uses the litter box in his cage, place boxes around the house. Place him in the boxes first thing in the morning and reward him if he uses them.
- You may notice some backsliding in his litter box use at this last step. Just be patient and continue placing him in the box and rewarding him for using it.
Keep the Cage Clean
Another way you can help him learn where to go is by placing some of his feces in the litter box so he gets the idea that he needs to go there. It's important to keep the rest of his cage very clean to reinforce this idea.
Potty Training Free-Roaming Ferrets
If your ferret has free roam of the house, it's much easier to keep them caged when you are litter box training as it's harder to catch them before they go when they're all over the house. You can still potty train them if they're free roaming but realize it will take a bit longer and requires more supervision on your part.
- Determine what places he normally eliminates and put a litter box there. You should end up with several litter boxes.
- Place the ferret in one of the boxes in the mornings when you both wake up, as well as after any time they eat or have a play session.
- Wait for the ferret to go and reward him when he eliminates in the box.
Don't Punish for Accidents
Never punish the ferret for not using the box. This will only scare the ferret and make him stressed around you. If you see him going outside of the box, say nothing and just pick him up and put him in the box and reward him if he uses it.
How to Stop a Ferret From Biting
Nipping is a very common problem with ferrets, as this is a natural behavior that does not have a negative connotation from the ferret's point of view. You can train a ferret to stop biting you much the same way you'd train a puppy not to nip. Note that nipping is a normal behavior with play and attention-seeking. If a ferret is biting you because they are scared, you need to work on reinforcing them to trust you and avoid picking them up until they are comfortable with your presence.
To start, you will need:
- A small cage or pet carrier that is large enough to fit a litter box; this shouldn't be your ferret's normal cage
- A bowl of water
- Your ferret
- Treats or other rewards
- A small throwing toy like a ball (optional)
Having all of your supplies ready to go helps, as timing is important for the ferret to understand the consequence to his behavior.
Train a Ferret Not to Bite: Step-By-Step
- Begin playing with your ferret and if he puts his teeth on your skin, say ouch in a sharp tone of voice.
- Remove your hands from the ferret's reach and place him in the small carrier or cage.
- Ignore him for about three minutes, but no longer than five. If you wait too long, he may go to sleep and forget why he's in a time-out.
- Take him out and go back to interacting with him.
- Wait for him to nip again and repeat the process.
- You can also take your toy and toss it when the ferret's starts to get nippy with your hands. Getting to chase the toy becomes the reward for moving away from your hands.
Aversives Are Counterproductive
Do not do things like:
- Brabbing the ferret by the scruff and shouting no
- Hissing at it
- Using products like Bitter Apple on your hands.
These will only make the ferret scared of you, and you run the risk of getting the unpleasant spray in your eyes and mouth.
What Tricks Can You Teach a Ferret?
Ferrets can learn a number of cute tricks, and what you teach them depends on your time and imagination.
- Obstacle courses/agility courses
- Roll over
- Sit up and beg
- Other tricks like shake
- Come when called
Clicker Train Ferrets
The easiest way to train a ferret is to use clicker training, which involves pairing the sound of a small clicking device with treats.
- Start out by pairing the sound of the clicker with treats for a few sessions, so he understands that the sound means something good is coming.
- Keep these initial sessions around three to five minutes until you see him eagerly perking up at the sound of the clicker.
General Ferret Training Tips
When working with a ferret, there are a few general training guidelines to follow:
- Always keep your training sessions short. At the beginning, about five minutes is a good time frame to follow. Over time you can go up to 10 to 15 minutes.
- It is much more effective to train them in many short sessions than one long one, which risks boring, tiring or stressing the ferret.
- Start training behaviors using food rewards, but once they are "getting" the behavior, begin varying the type of rewards.
What to Use to Reward Your Ferret
Rewards a ferret might enjoy include the following:
- Playing with a toy
- Scratching him in a place he loves
- Excited, happy praise
Train Your Ferret to Come When Called
To get ready for this trick, have some treats and your clicker handy. Take your ferret and place him in a room with the doors closed and walk away from him. A small room is ideal, as he will come to you eventually.
- Wait for him to turn and come to you, then click and toss a treat.
- Once he is coming to you reliably, add in a cue word, such as "come" or the ferret's name.
- Once he is performing the behavior about 80% of the time, begin phasing out using the clicker.
- Take him around the house to practice the behavior in different rooms and from longer distances.
- Make sure you never use this verbal cue to call him for something he dislikes. You don't want him to associate "come" with negative consequences for coming to you.
Train Your Ferret to Roll Over
You will need to train the ferret on a flat surface, which could either be on a floor or up on a counter space if it's easier for you to stand. This behavior is more complicated to teach, so it's easiest to split it into three sections and only start the next section after he has reliably learned the previous one.
Turning the Head
- With your ferret laying down in front of you, hold a treat in front of his nose.
- Hold the clicker in your other hand.
- Keeping the treat in front of his nose, move the treat slowly around the back of his head. You want him to turn his head to follow the treat.
- If his head moves back, place the treat back in front of his nose and move slower.
- When his head turns to follow the treat, click and give him a small nibble of the treat.
- Do this a few times until he's consistently turning his head around to follow the treat.
Rolling on His Back
Once you can get your ferret to turn his head to follow the treat reliably, you're ready for the next section of the behavior.
- Place the treat in front of his nose, but this time move the treat all the way around the back of his head to the other side of his head.
- He should begin to move his entire body around so he can follow it. This means he'll need to flop over onto his back.
- Click and give him a nibble of the treat when he does this.
- Repeat this process a few times until he is reliably rolling onto his back.
The Final Roll Over
You're ready for the final section of teaching this behavior!
- Repeat the first two sections of the behavior to get him to roll onto his back.
- Once he's in position, lure his head again with the treat so that he needs to roll his body over completely to get it.
- Click and treat when he rolls over.
- Repeat this process and add in the verbal cue "roll over" when he does the complete motion.
- You can gradually fade out using the clicker and vary the rewards he gets for a full rollover.
Simple Ways to Train Your Ferret
While litter training a ferret can take a bit more time than the same steps with a cat, it's not hard to do and just requires some consistency, a set schedule, and lots of rewards. Ferrets are very intelligent and once you start training them, you'll see how easy and fun it is. You can learn additional tricks like jumping through hoops, sitting and begging, and spinning in a circle. As long as you and your ferret are having fun, you can be creative with the types of tricks you learn together!