Nip Training Your Ferret

Ferrets nip. They don’t mean to be mean. Kits nip in play, and some ferrets bite out of aggression or fear because they have only ever encountered humans in a painful or frightening manner.

As long as the trainer is patient and willing to make the commitment to help the ferret become a better pet, most ferrets can be nip trained.

Nip training ferrets can be done in many ways, but patience and consistency are key.

Their ability to learn depends on their temperament, how much time they spend with you, and how familiar they are with humans. 

Don’t despair during this process. It’s going to take several attempts to get them to understand. It takes a while to train a nip, particularly in cases deemed to be harder.

Your ferret will come to associate you with good things if you reward him with extra attention and treats.

You must identify the cause of the biting before you can begin training your ferret. Getting an accurate history of the biter as well as observing his behaviors will provide you with clues to his motivations and will help you determine how to best deal with him.

Play Biting

Taking part in playing “roughhousing” with you. Usually occurs in young animals.

Their skin is tougher than ours, and they attack each other by nipping and running away, dodging, hiding, and then circling back for more – essentially, they are trying to treat you as if you were another ferret without realizing it. 

Usually, by the time they’re about a year old, they outgrow this.

As with any young animal, it’s best to set limits & establish guidelines before it becomes an ingrained behavior that is much more difficult to break when they’re older.

Fear/Aggression Biting

When a predator (you) attempts to contact the ferret, he or she hisses, draws away, or attacks you. He may be averse to certain objects (such as hands) or smells used as a means of punishment.

Sometimes fear/aggression biter will not let go, they bite hard and often draw blood.

Poor socialization

Here are some points explaining if your ferret is poorly socialized:

  • People and new things tend to make him feel uneasy and “wild.”
  • He may flail around if cornered, but generally avoids interacting with them. Nips at the perceived threat (you) and runs away.
  • Deafness or another “invisible handicap” – deaf ferrets don’t respond the same way as hearing ferrets.
  • It is common for owners (especially inexperienced ones) to become frustrated with their pet’s inability to work with them.
  • The risk of abuse of these animals is therefore high. It may behave in either or both of the above ways.

Methods to Stop Nipping

Gagging

Put your index finger (sideways) to the back of his mouth and clearly state “NO.” Don’t push back too hard or too far or the ferret may become injured.

Thumping

Just enough to startle him, lightly “flick” the ferret on the nose and say “NO!”. Do not go overboard. Do not use this with fear biters or ferrets you suspect have been abused, as it could increase their fear of humans.

Time-out

 Set the ferret in the cage and ignore him for a few minutes after telling him “NO.” This works best when he can see other ferrets “outside” having fun and he  can’t!

Tip: Whenever a ferret is overstimulated and repeatedly bites, we combine gagging, thumping, and time out. 

On the “first offense,” we usually just gag/thump him, but if he persists, then we add “time out” until he calms down. You can play with him again as soon as he is ready to be nice.

Scruffing & Dragging

While firmly repeating “NO” to him several times, grip him by his neck and pull him back and forth on a flat surface several times. release him. 

From a ferret’s perspective, this is what mama ferret would do, and many other ferrets trying to establish dominance will do the same thing.

Using this method with playbiters won’t work as well because they will run off and turn your “discipline” into a game of tag!

With aggression or fear biters, this is the ONLY technique we use.

Working With Fear/Aggression Biters

Please do not consider this to be the “final authority” or the only way to train. We learn about every new ferret we get, and they all have their own personalities!

Be patient! It is important to remember that this animal may be scared of you, and he may perceive you as a monster who is out to harm him.

If possible, keep him in a quiet and calm place. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises and speak calmly and softly at all times. 

Speak softly to the ferret, or lightly tap the bars of his cage if he’s deaf, to alert him of your approach. When you startle a ferret, he will likely react defensively, since ferrets can’t see well.

You should wear a pair of snug-fitting thin leather garden gloves or driving gloves until the ferret is able to be handled barehanded. 

The advantages of goatskin or calfskin include their flexibility and better grip. He will bite your gloves, scruff, and drag him, telling him “NO” in a firm voice. 

Pet him & give him a treat after disciplining him. Put the treat on your bare hand (if you feel comfortable doing so) so that he can’t hold it, and he’ll come to associate the smell of your gloves with discipline, and you with “good stuff.” Repeat as often as necessary.

You should not antagonize the ferret so you can “teach him a lesson.” That’s abuse, and anyone who does it is a bully!

Affirm regularly that everything is fine with the ferret. & he’s in good hands. Spend as much time as possible working with him and be firm and consistent with your discipline.

Otherwise, treat the ferret as you would other ferrets. If he sees that his friends are interacting with you without harm, he may become more receptive to you. 

You may have to continue to train a “hardcore” fear biter for months.

Stay calm if you are bitten. The ferret may cling to your hand by its teeth, but it’s better than screaming & throwing it across the room, agitating it further and possibly injuring it!

You can scruff and drag him as usual when he lets go, then put him in time out so that he can calm down and clean himself up.

Put a bandage on your wound after washing it with antiseptic soap and warm water. Although bites are painful, they aren’t life-threatening!

What if the Ferret won’t let go?

  • Ferrets have strong jaws and can be injured by prying them apart. It should only be done if you have no other choice. Here are some options:
  • Place your fingers on either side of the ferret’s mouth at the base (jaw hinge) & apply steady, but firm pressure,
  • Cover his nostrils with the finger of your free hand. He must let go of the finger he’s biting to breathe because his mouth is occupied with it.
  • Scruff firmly with your free hand. Some of them yawn when you scruff at them, allowing you to escape.
  • You should bite him back. You’re right! Pinch the back of his neck with your teeth (don’t break the skin, but let him feel it). If all else fails, this may be your only option.

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