Truth be told, ferrets get a bad wrap for a couple of different reasons. Many people hear stories that ferrets smell terribly (more on this here), are mean, or that ferrets bite. In reality, many of these stereotypes are exaggerated or unfair.
However, as any ferret parent knows, ferrets may enjoy a little nibble on your toes or try to chomp on your hand. For this reason, it is important to know how to train your ferret not to bite. This article will discuss why ferrets bite and give you some helpful hints and tips on how to stop a ferret from biting.
Why Do Ferrets Bite?
One of the biggest things to remember about why a ferret bites is the reason behind the biting. Ferrets are generally quiet animals, and beyond an occasional “dook” while playing or hiss of frustration or annoyance, ferrets have very little means of communicating what is going on with them. For ferrets, biting is a way to communicate their feelings, so it is important to try to interpret their actions prior to biting to help avoid a nip or chomp.
Ferret Kits Bite
Young ferrets, like all babies, love to chew everything! Biting comes naturally to ferret kits, so if you buy a baby ferret, be sure to be ready for this aspect of their behavior.
To train a ferret kit to stop biting, the best practice is handle them often. You must be confident in handling them and kind with them, to teach them that you are not to be feared. You also need to be firm with them, so they can learn what is acceptable behavior, and what is not … and ferrets biting is definitely unacceptable!
It can take some time to stop ferret kits from biting, so being consistent in training them is essential.
If you would prefer to buy a ferret that is already trained not to bite, then a more mature ferret is often a better choice for a new ferret owner. Having confidence that your ferret won’t bite you, or that you can stop your ferret biting is essential to your success as a ferret owner.
Biting While Playing
Ferrets are incredibly playful beings, so it shouldn’t be surprising that biting occurs during play for ferrets. Watching ferrets play is great fun, but you will notice that ferrets bite hard when they are playing together. They often play rough and also have incredibly tough skin, so a hard bite that is very painful and damaging to human skin is just a playful bite to a ferret.
Of course, it is important to allow ferrets to continue to act natural and bite during play with their toys, other ferrets, and other hearty, ferret friendly pets. However, when training your ferret to stop biting, it is important to teach them that hands, feet, and other human body parts are not acceptable things to bite.
Fearful Ferrets Bite
Ferrets who have not been treated well may have a greater tendency to bite out of fear. Therefore, when considering how to stop your ferret from biting, particularly if it’s a new ferret, it is important to consider where your ferret came from.
Ferrets that were handled respectfully at a breeder or pet store will be less likely to be aggressive. However, ferrets that were not handled at all or were handled roughly at a breeder, pet store, or before they were rescued are more likely to bite out of fear. It is important to find a ferret that is comfortable with being handled to help mitigate fear biting.
When handling rescue ferrets, part of the carer’s responsibility is to stop ferrets biting before they go to new homes. If a ferret has been very neglected prior to coming into care, this may take some time, but regular handling and kindness will go a long way to stopping a ferret from biting. You can be assured that in most cases, your rescue ferret will be well socialised by the time they come to live with you, and biting generally won’t be a problem.
Of course, when understanding how to train a ferret not to bite, it is important to understand that even the best trained ferrets will bite under circumstances of extreme fear or pain, similar to a cat, dog, or even human child. This is only a natural way for your ferret to express extreme feelings and it is important to respect your furry friend and react to their wishes and needs accordingly, immediately.
Changes In Health
As mentioned earlier, ferrets do not have many ways to communicate with their humans, so it can be hard for them to indicate when they are sick or hurt. Ferrets who are usually well mannered who suddenly begin to bite or have other drastic changes in behavior should be taken to the veterinarian to be evaluated for any illnesses or injuries as soon as possible.
Ferrets who are becoming blind or deaf may also start to bite when they have previously been more mild mannered. Again, it is important to monitor your ferret for any changes in their eyesight or hearing in order to be much more effective at knowing how to stop a ferret from biting.
Tips As To How To Train Your Ferret Not To Bite
Now that you know why your ferret might bite and what those bites may mean, it is important to know how to train your ferret not to bite. The tips below will help guide you on your quest to help to deter your ferret from biting you and other humans.
Start Training Them Young
While the saying technically goes “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, it might as well refer to teaching ferrets new tricks as well. Ferrets can be incredibly stubborn pets, so it is important to start researching how to train your ferret not to bite early on and implement these tips immediately.
As mentioned before, it is also important to set you and your ferret up for success and not adopt or buy a ferret who has been mishandled prior to you bringing them home unless you are up for the challenge of working with a ferret with particular needs.
Don’t Use Aggression or Physical Punishment
Ferrets are incredibly enjoyable and funny animals, but they can also be tiring and demanding from time to time. No matter how irritating your furry friend can be, it is important to realize that ferrets do not respond well to physical punishment, such as nose tapping, spraying with a water bottle, yelling, or of course not hitting or other more severe acts of aggression. Indeed, these acts will probably only serve to make your ferret scared or frustrated, and will lead to even more biting.
When learning how to train your ferret not to bite, it is important to find other ways to communicate with your ferrets.
Tried and True Techniques To Stop Ferrets Biting
Scruffing – One way you can effectively communicate with your furry friends is to treat them as their mother would treat them. Scruffing your ferret by the back of their neck can help to communicate your displeasure without scaring them or harming them physically.
Blowing – Blowing directly in a ferret’s face can be a strong deterrent for biting ferrets. It causes them to pull back and is a good way of gently reminding them that biting is unacceptable.
Timeout – When your ferret is biting you or otherwise behaving inappropriately, put them back in their cage for a short time. Utilizing this timeout will be invaluable when training your ferret not to bite.
“NO!” – Another technique that can be useful in helping your ferret to know that their biting is unacceptable is to say a firm “NO!” when scruffing them or taking them to time out. If you are consistent with this, in future, just the “NO!” when you see that your ferret is planning to bite may be enough to deter them from biting!
Reward Good Behavior and Ignore Bad Behavior
Another method that may be useful in training your ferret not to bite is how you react to both good and bad behavior by your ferret. Praise good play behaviors, such as playing with toys and not biting your hands during play.
Likewise, ignore bad ferret behavior. If your ferret tries to get you to play with them by biting or other bad behaviors, remove yourself from the situation or utilize a time out. Don’t react by yelling or scolding, as this will provide your ferret with the attention they are seeking.
Stop A Ferret From Biting Before It Bites
If you pay attention to your ferret, you will notice certain signs or situations that may encourage your ferret to bite. Avoiding these situations, or being alert to the possibility of a bite and monitoring their behavior so you can take positive action before your ferret bites is a win for everyone!
Some circumstances in which ferrets are more likely to bite are:
- When you allow a ferret to come too close to soft skin – near your face, neck, inner arms and thighs in particular.
- When you play with your ferret. Ferrets like to play hard, and sometimes they forget who they are playing with!
- When your ferret licks intensely on one spot, it can be the lead-up to a small nip or test bite, to see if you are paying attention!
- When a new person handles a ferret. Even if your ferret is not a biter, a new handler may be susceptible to a nip.
Being alert and proactive in these situations, and any others you notice that your ferret bites, will help you to effectively train your ferret to stop biting.
When learning how to train your ferret not to bite, it is important to understand why your ferret bites, and which method of correcting their behavior is most effective for your ferret. Listen to what your ferret is trying to tell you, try some different approaches to training your ferret, be firm and consistent in responding to their nips, and you will eventually be successful and confident in knowing how to stop a ferret from biting. Good luck!