Training your ferret

Ferrets are great pets for families, young kids and people who live in small houses or apartments. However their naturally inquisitive nature can keep you on your toes. With a bit of basic training, you can quickly transform your ferret into a safe and socialised member of the family.

Biting, digging and disappearing acts

Ferrets have a notorious reputation for nipping at their owners, escaping through tiny spaces and digging madly in potplants, water bowls and carpet. Fortunately, the techniques for discouraging each of these behaviours are quite similar:

Feed your ferret teething rusks and hard dog biscuits

Giving your ferret something hard to chew on will distract him or her from biting you. It can also distract your ferret when he or she is in the mood for digging.

Make a loud, high-pitched sound

Loud noises will alert your ferret that their behavior is unwanted. Hissing or saying “no” in a firm voice can also be effective. It’s important you do this whenever the behaviour is displayed, so the message is clear and consistent.   

Spray bitter apple scent

Ferrets can’t stand the smell of bitter apple. Spraying it selectively can be a great way to mark “no-go” zones in the house or to alert your ferret to negative behaviours, such as biting, digging or inappropriate urination. If you do not have bitter apple scent, alcohol and white vinegar work in the same way.

Reward, persevere, reward again!

All animals, including ferrets, respond to positive reinforcement. Whenever your ferret does something good, praise him or her with treats and cuddles. Continue to persist with the training for as long as it takes, always providing praise where it is warranted.

Toilet Training

Ferret urine is horribly pungent and best kept to the litter box (and not on your carpet!). Ferrets respond best to toilet training at a young age, so start as early as possible. If your ferret is older, he or she will have more established habits so training may take longer. 

Mark the spot

Teach your ferret what the litter box is for by putting a small amount of faeces in the litter tray. You may need to do this each time you clean the tray until your ferret is completely trained.

Learn to read the signs

Ferrets have a fast digestive system and will usually go to the toilet within three to five hours of eating. Common signs they need to do their business are:

  • sniffing the area first
  • walking backwards towards the spot where they intend to go

When you see these signs, place your ferret in the litter tray so he or she learns that is the “spot”.

Clean the litter tray

Keeping your ferret’s tray clean is key to successful toilet training. Any droppings should be removed daily and the litter box changed completely at least once per week.

Discourage negative behaviour

If you find your ferret straying from the litter tray, you can teach him or her it’s a negative behavior by making an alarm sound, saying “no” firmly and spraying bitter apple scent. You may need to do this several times before your ferret learns not to repeat the behaviour.  

Reward your ferret

When your ferret does use the litter box, shower him or her with lots of praise! It may take some perseverence, but it will be worth it in the end.

Note: ferrets are clever animals and will quickly learn to pretend they’ve done their business so they get a reward! Make sure they have actually done their business before you reward them.

Leash Training

Walking your ferret can be an enjoyable, fun-filled experience for all involved. With a little time and effort, you will be able to walk your pet up to 30 minutes a day.

  • Harness your ferret. Your vet will help you decide which one is most appropriate. You should allow time indoors for your ferret to become used to the restraint.
  • Start slow. Start by walking your ferret for just a few minutes, so he or she can get used to the new activity. Gradually build up to a maximum of 30 minutes.
  • Avoid fertilized gardens. They can contain chemicals that are toxic to ferrets.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures.  Ferrets do not have sweat glands and are prone to heat stroke above 28 degrees. They are equally vulnerable in extreme cold.
  • Keep vaccinations up to date. This will keep your ferret safe if he or she comes in contact with other animals.

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