Like puppies and kittens, kits (baby ferrets) are very mouthy. They use their teeth to nip and explore. But since they’re so small and sharp, that can be a painful experience. Fortunately, with patience, most ferrets can be trained not to injure a person or another ferret.
Scruffing in response to a bite is the most common technique for ‘disciplining’ a rowdy ferret. It consists of picking up a ferret by the loose skin of the neck, then holding his mouth closed between thumb and forefinger, while issuing the verbal order ‘No!’ Then, drag the ferret across the floor a short way to establish dominance.
Be sure not to shake, squeeze or press the ferret during the procedure. They may wiggle to get free, and the more aggressive may even hiss. But the whole idea is to establish that you are the dominant one. That will be easier or more difficult, depending on the ferret’s individual personality.
Ferrets who have bonded with their companion will often want company. Isolating a rowdy biter for a few minutes can be a form of behavior modification that reinforces the need to ‘play nice’. Distracting them from a finger or another ferret with a toy or treat can also help reduce biting. Take care not to over treat them, though. You don’t want to alter their diet, nor to make them overweight.
Beyond behavior modification and training, there are chemical aids that will help redirect them. Fooey and different brands of bitter apple spray can make a finger distasteful. They quickly associate the unpleasant taste with the biting behavior and taper off. For those who are especially aggressive, you can spray a little on a small tongue depressor and let them bite it. Then issue the order ‘No!’ at the moment of contact.
Just as with dogs, the spray doesn’t work with all individuals. Some ignore the bad taste, others don’t find it very distasteful. In some cases, it’s preferable to go the positive rather than negative route. A bit of Ferretone can turn biting into licking as they usually enjoy the taste.
But don’t expect the ferret to have a human, or even dog-like, understanding. They’re intelligent and can ‘get the idea’, but it will require many repetitions of any and all techniques. They’re not small, furry humans and can’t be reasoned with.
Still, even though they don’t reason in a human way, there are some things that are definitely similar. They can feel pleasure and pain, and even a form of happiness or sadness. They become emotionally attached to the human they share quarters with. They can be affected by the attitude of that human.
As such, they should never be subject to physical punishment beyond a scruffing or a slight finger tap. The goal is to adjust a natural behavior so that it doesn’t cause injury. Harsh punishment makes for a fearful animal. Fearful animals either become even more aggressive or withdraw. Neither of those is the desired response.
Keep your temper. They don’t know they are ‘doing bad’.
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