Clicker Training Your Ferret

In companion animal training, positive reinforcement is when trainers use rewards, often in the form of treats or praise, to evoke desirable behaviors in animals. For example, if you give a dog a treat every time he sits, Fido is likely to start sitting without being asked in hopes of getting a reward. Since animals don’t quite speak our language (and we are still learning to interpret theirs!), trainers have devised a different technique in order to communicate with them.

Clicker training is a communication method that uses positive reinforcement to encourage our animals to perform desirable behaviors. With this method, owners can teach their pet to do anything from simple obedience to complex agility moves. Clicker training is a marker-based technique in which the “click” sound indicates to the animal that the desired behavior has been performed. When the animal hears the click, he or she knows the correct action has been taken and a reward will follow!

The magic of the clicker comes from consistency and precision. Clicking at the exact moment the animal performs the behavior lets the animal know precisely which behavior you want. It is often too difficult to provide a treat exactly when the behavior is occurring, so trainers use the click to mark the behavior and then have time to provide the treat. The click means, “Yes! You got it!” and then a reward follows. If you click too soon or too late, you may be encouraging the wrong behavior. Practice your timing by watching television and click every time a reporter says a particular word or every time an actor touches his hair.

In clicker training, no punishment, force or intimidation is involved. Incorrect behaviors are ignored and desired behaviors are encouraged with food rewards, affection or even play time. Research shows that animals retain learned behaviors better when there is no correction. In clicker training, the animals make the choice on their own to do the behavior: they are basically training themselves!

Reinforcement Ideas for Ferrets!
Ferrets are extremely playful, inquisitive and social animals. Although they sleep the majority of the day, their time awake is filled with curiosity and adventure (they are the clowns of the animal world!), so they are perfect candidates for clicker training.

Find a favorite treat for your ferret that isn’t difficult for him or her to consume. Many ferret treats can be bulky and take some time to chew, so using small edible treats will make training more simple and efficient. FuroVite is a great reward for training because it is a vitamin gel. It is not only healthy for your furry friend, but can be dispensed in small amounts. Ferrets also LOVE the taste! Make sure whatever you use is very tasty and motivating for your little companion. A ferret that is eager to learn has his ears pricked forward and shows interest. He may even do his infamous ferret happy-dance! If his ears go flat, he squirms or avoids you, suddenly scratches himself or yawns, then he probably isn’t impressed by your treat so you’ll need to find something better. Never force your ferret to participate in training. If he doesn't seem interested today, spend some time playing with him instead and try again tomorrow.

In the beginning, let your ferret know that the click sound means a reward is coming. Click and give your ferret the reward (the treat can be placed on the ground if he is over-excited or nippy). After a few click and treat pairings, the ferret will begin associating the sound with the imminent reward. Now, wait for your ferret to do something--any behavior can be fun to reinforce. If he takes a step forward, click and treat! If he gets on his haunches, click and treat! Soon, your ferret will start performing the behavior you have chosen to reward. He gets it!

The Game Is On!
Now that your ferret understands that the clicker indicates what behaviors you want to see him perform, you can start verbally cueing those responses. Say you’d like to teach your ferret to go through a tunnel on command (an easy trick because ferrets love tunnels!). When your ferret enters the tunnel, click to let him know he is doing the right behavior, then give him a treat at the end of the tunnel. Allow him to perform this behavior a few times so he reliably goes through the tunnel each time. Click and treat for each successful attempt. Now you can introduce the command. When you know he is starting to go into the tunnel, say “Go through.” Let him complete the behavior, click and reward. After a few trials, start rewarding your ferret for going through the tunnel only when you say the chosen cue. Some ferrets will literally beg for treats by going through the tunnel repeatedly. This can be cured by attaching a cue to all desired behaviors and only rewarding him when he does them on cue!

Ferrets Can Learn Tons with Clicker Training
Ferrets can learn any behavior that is physically possible for them to do. They can climb, spin around and go through obstacles. Litter training your ferret can also be accomplished with the clicker! Click and treat your ferret every time he uses his litter box or potty pads. Owners can even teach their ferrets to come when called. Every time your ferret comes near you, click and treat. When he starts coming reliably, introduce the command “come” or his name. At first, the word will be meaningless to him (they don’t speak our language!), but he will soon associate the sound you are making with coming over to you and getting a reward.

Clicker training your ferret allows him to have positive interactions with you and strengthens your bond with each other. Ferrets are naturally curious, so any new behavior is an exciting new adventure!

Tips for Training

  1. Always make sure your ferret is receiving adequate nutrition and seeing a veterinarian regularly. Ferrets have very sensitive systems and regular veterinary care is essential.Use favorite treats.
  2. Ferrets love when you mix things up, so find a few different kinds of treats to keep his interest.
  3. Keep sessions short. Ferrets get bored easily, so keep training sessions to a maximum of ten minutes (then have some regular playtime!) and repeat new behaviors a few times per session.
  4. Work in a low distraction environment so your ferret can focus.
  5. Click and treat all good behaviors! Using the litter box, not chewing/nipping, and performing cute behaviors are all worth a reward. The more you click and treat desirable behaviors, the more your ferret is likely to do them!
  6. Be patient with your ferret and have fun!

If you have additional questions about clicker training, visit www.clickertraining.com for advice from the clicker experts!

 

Clicker Training Your Ferret

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Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society

Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society