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CAN I TEACH MY FERRET TRICKS?

Absolutely! Ferrets are at least as intelligent as either dogs or cats. Ferrets can learn tricks like responding when being called by their own name, sitting up, rolling over and staying put on your shoulder. Much of training your ferret will be based on your patience and consistency in teaching each trick, and how well you've prepared for the training. Here are the basic guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. Before you start teaching a trick, make the necessary preparations.
    • Make sure your ferret is alert. If your ferret is sleepy or doesn't seem to be feeling well, put the training session off to another time - he will not be a good pupil if he's not up to it.
    • Train your ferret in a familiar room or place where there are no distractions, especially from other ferrets.
    • Break down a trick into small steps or mini-lessons that your ferret can learn easily. For example, teaching your ferret to push a ball with his nose, may be broken down into: first getting to take a few steps on cue; then taking a few steps towards the ball; then nudging the ball with his nose; and finally pushing the ball with his nose.
    • Decide on the reward you are going to give for learning each part of the trick. It's a good idea to pick a reward that your ferret doesn't usually get, so he will value the reward more and strive harder to learn the trick.
    • Decide on what kind of signal you are going to use for a "bridge" meaning something to get your ferret's attention immediately after he has done something correctly, and to keep his attention until the reward can be given. This is important because a ferret's attention span is short. If you can't give the reward quick enough, your ferret will not associate a specific action with the reward.

  2. The first trick you should teach your ferret, since it can actually save his life, is to make him come to you when you make a certain noise like a whistle or a squeak. This is a good way to get your ferret out of trouble, like finding him when he has escaped outside, or for times when he's hiding in a secret place and you need to get to him immediately due to an emergency. You can also teach your ferret to come when you call his name, but some ferrets may learn to respond to a specific sound faster than to a name.


  3. Keep training sessions short, about 5-10 minutes each. Ferrets have a short attention span. Training him beyond this brief length of time will prove futile. When their attention wanes, stop training and start playing so they will connect training and playing


  4. Be very consistent about rewarding correct behavior, and withholding treats for not doing the trick properly. Never use negative reinforcement (punishment) as part of training your ferret.


  5. Understand that it can take weeks or months to teach your ferret to do a trick. Be patient - it can be done, and both you and your ferrets can have a lot of fun.