Tricks Are For Ferrets

Ferrets are made for fun. I like to think of them as “land otters.” But don’t let their playful demeanor make you think that they are not highly intelligent. If you use problem solving as your measure of intelligence, ferrets rank above cats and dogs. If memory is the measure, they rank somewhere between dogs and cats. Their habit of moving on to the next interesting thing in their environment makes training your ferret somewhat of a challenge.

A key component in training your ferret is understanding his short attention span. His training sessions need to be brief and fun. Due to your ferret’s natural curiosity, the best training environment is familiar ground. A new environment will invite him to explore, a known environment is old news and not as distracting.

Begin your ferret’s training with teaching him to stay on your shoulders. Start by sitting on the bed to minimize the results of an accidental fall. Utilize a combination of positive and negative reinforcement. Invite him to climb on your shoulder with a treat as the motivation. Praise him for staying still and gently stroke him as you reward him with the treat. If he starts to get down, get his attention with a loud “No!” It won’t take long for him to realize that it is more enjoyable to stay on your shoulders.

Ferrets are self-centered creatures. They require some sort of reward to motivate them to obey. The more highly valued the treat, the more likely you will experience cooperation and learning. The trick is to teach the ferret to relate performance of the trick with the reward.

Some of the tricks your ferret can learn include “sit”, “come”, roll over” and “beg.” Your pet can be taught to recognize his/her name. Find a way to persuade your ferret to do the action, identify the action with a command, and give the appropriate reward for the action. Stay at it until he makes the connection between the command, the action and the reward.

For example, to teach your ferret to recognize his name, call his name over and over until he looks up at you. When he does praise him and give him a treat. This works the same way with other tricks. Hold a treat above his head where he has to sit up to get it. Clearly say “sit” when he reaches for it. Let him have the treat and praise him for his behavior.

Experts agree that there is a difference between training a dog and a ferret. Any trick you can teach a dog, you can teach a ferret. Although a ferret can match the dog’s intelligence, the motivation is different. A dog will learn a trick out of the sheer joy of performing it or wanting to please his master. Your ferret expects to be rewarded in some way for his obedience.

Your ferret is a fun-loving animal. Make your training times fun for him. Remember to keep them short and be patient. He will enjoy the special attention you give him during your training sessions and reward you with learning the tricks you are teaching him.

By Laura