Training puppies requires patience, proper technique and tons of time. Ferrets are harder. They’re not unintelligent, but they’re less eager to please and not as socialized as dogs. Though domestic, they’re simply a different kind of animal. But they can be trained. They may not do tricks (though some do), but they can be litter trained, taught not to bite and perform other activities.
Ferrets were trained centuries ago to hunt rabbits and mice to rid rodents from areas where food was stored. Grain in particular was a problem. But, ferrets are meat eaters, and they can get down vary narrow burrows, so they were perfect for the job.
In modern times, ferrets have been trained to string wires and cables through conduits on jets, and in setting up computer and telecommunications facilities. They love to explore tunnels and getting them to carry a light wire while they do it is a natural extension of a natural behavior.
That’s the key to training your ferret. Work with their nature, not against it.
Litter training, is a good example. To the ferret that paper or pellet filled litter box isn’t (at first sight) for pooping, it’s for playing in. They love to shove a nose down into the pellets, like they were snorkeling. It will take good timing on your part to watch for their backing up behavior – signaling they’re about to go – then moving them to the litter box.
Ferrets, like dogs, prefer not to eat where they eliminate. Given little choice either species will, but their tendency is to avoid it. Separate as far as possible the litter box from the food and water area. If they do eliminate near the food, clean it immediately and wash any cloth nearby. Any remaining scent will encourage them to use that area again. If necessary, move the food and water to a new spot.
Toys and treats are helpful adjuncts for training. But they need to be of the right type, in order to ensure the ferret’s health and safety.
Ferrets have very sharp teeth and claws, and they love to chew and scratch. That means any toy has to stand up to a lot. Avoid soft rubber or other toys that can break off small pieces easily. Ferrets are exploratory and will eat things that are not good for them. Styrofoam is particularly dangerous, but even ordinary plastics can be a problem.
When using soft cloth as part of the training kit, try to avoid materials that can produce small dust-like particles. Ferrets have sensitive respiratory systems and inhaling the fibers or small granules can cause infection.
It will take many repetitions, with a lot of patient reminders, to teach your ferret to understand the purpose you intend. That goes for both behaviors and objects. The ferret just wants to explore or play. You want it to do so in a certain way, and with a certain object. Getting on the same page, will require a lot of inventiveness on your part.
Remember that physical punishment and loud voices encourage fear, not compliance. You’ll need to keep your temper, just as you would with a very young child, while remembering they are ferrets not humans. That’s not easy, but the reward is peace of mind for you and your ferret.