How to Train a Ferret to Come
Can you really train a ferret to come?
You may not have thought it possible, but you can train your ferret to come when called!
This “trick” is actually very handy and could help get your ferret out of harm’s way. What if your ferret got behind the stove, crawled into an opening in the back of a cabinet you didn’t know was there or got outside? What would you do?
If you could train him to come when called it would save a lot of time and anxiety.
However, as you know, ferrets are not like dogs. You can’t expect a ferret to just come to you when you call his name just because you want him to. He has to have a really good reason. Unlike dogs, ferrets are not motivated by praise, attention and the desire to please you. A ferret is only interested in one thing–a tasty treat.
This treat has two purposes. First, it serves as an enticement to get your ferret to do something–such as come when called. Second, it is used as a reward EVERY TIME he successfully does what you want him to do.
This treat must be something your ferret loves. Finding the perfect treat may not be easy. You may need to try different things if your ferret is picky. You want to make sure the treat is good for your ferret. He may love fruit, but that is not something you want to give your ferret. For more information on foods to avoid see What Not to Feed a Ferret.
High protein foods such as eggs, fish, poultry and beef are the best treats for ferrets. If you don’t want to cut up pieces of meat, freeze-dried treats are healthy protein-packed options. Another convenient and healthy treat is salmon oil. Every ferret I have ever had loved these vitamin treats! I put a tiny bit on my finger and they eagerly lick it off.
Whatever treat you and your ferret choose, be sure to pay attention to portion sizes. Each treat has a recommended daily portion size–whether it is chicken or a vitamin supplement. Divide the daily portion into lots of small rewards.
How to Train a Ferret to Come
When you have found the perfect treat to use to train your ferret to come, the next step is to prepare the training target stick. This target stick used to train your ferret to come is actually a very long-handled spoon.
You can make this long-handled spoon in a few minutes. All you need is a plastic spoon, a wooden dowel or other stick that is about 3 feet long and some duct tape or masking tape.
Simply tape the spoon to the end of dowel or stick. There you have it–a long-handled spoon! Now you are ready to train your ferret to come when called!
There are 3 Steps to Start Training Your Ferret to Come
- Put the treat on the target stick and let your ferret smell it.
- Call your ferret while luring her to the treat.
- Give your ferret the treat when she reaches the target stick.
Grab a Partner
It’s easier if you have another person helping. If you don’t have someone to help, you can do it by yourself. I will instruct you how to train your ferret to come with a partner first.
Both people should sit on the floor about 2 feet apart. One person holds the ferret and the other person holds the target stick with the treat on the spoon. I recommend that the person with the most contact with the ferret (or the person the ferret responds to better) be the one with the target stick for the first few sessions.
The person with the target stick reaches it out and holds the treat under the ferret’s nose and calls her by name and tells her to come (“Panda Come!”). Use an assertive, but cheerful voice. Be sure to give the command the same way every time.
The person holding the ferret then releases her, making sure she is focused on the treat as you slowly pull the spoon back toward yourself while constantly repeating the command.
When you have pulled the target stick back to you and she reaches it, let her have a lick of the treat or a tiny piece, and give her plenty of praise. Repeat this training several times in a row. Don’t practice training your ferret to come too many times, however. Keep the sessions to 5 minutes or less. Ferrets have a short attention span. You don’t want her to get bored and lose interest. Plus, you don’t want to give her too many treats.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You should practice training your ferret to come the same way, daily–several sessions daily is best. It may seem like a lot, but you should be spending quality time with your ferret every day anyway, so just make this part of your interaction. When she is consistently following the training stick and coming to you when called, increase the distance about 6 inches. When she consistently comes to you at this distance, increase it another 6 inches. Don’t try to increase the distance too fast. It’s important for your ferret not to realize that she has to go farther for her treat. Be sure to give your ferret a small piece or lick of the treat every time she succeeds to keep her interested while she is learning.
When you get to a distance that is longer than the stick, you still put the spoon under her nose, but then back up to the required distance while cheerfully telling her to come. When you get to a distance of about 10 feet (may take a month or more of daily practice), you should be able to stop putting the target stick under her nose. You can then stand with the training stick a foot or so away from your ferret when you call her. When she gets this down, it’s time to remove the stick!
Now she should come when you call her, without enticement! When she is coming when called consistently, you can then stop giving her a treat every time. You can then giver her intermittent rewards–every 2 or 3 times she comes when you call her. It is not recommended that you stop rewarding her entirely. Remember, ferrets are motivated by tasty tidbits, not by praise or the desire to please you!
How to Train a Ferret to Come without a Partner
If you don’t have someone who will commit to daily training sessions with you, you can replace the other person with a ferret leash and harness. The leash keeps her from wandering away. You can then direct your ferret toward the training target. When you put the spoon under her nose, tell her to come while gently pulling on the leash so she follows the stick. The remainder of the training is the same process as with a partner. When she’s coming consistently when called, you can remove the leash!
Frequency, consistency and patience are the keys to successfully training your ferret to come.
Even after you have successfully trained your ferret to come, you still need to practice–the more, the better. Once a day or every few days is optimal to keep your ferret trained. If you wait too long between training sessions, you may need to revert to previous training steps until she remembers. If you don’t use it, your ferret will lose it!
Click on the links above for great deals on ferret training supplies!
Your comments are welcome.