Disciplining your ferret can be quite challenging. Most ferrets are very trainable but are still extremely curious and bull headed stubborn . They don't like to stop doing something that is fun or give up on something they want . – heck neither do humans!! This doesn't mean they don't understand, it just means that they are being a typical ferret.
There are two approaches to disciplining your ferret: a reward system and a punishment system. The behaviors that are displayed by your ferret will dictate which method you will use. If they are doing something that is a specific behavior you want to see (i.e. a positive behavior like using the litter box) then a reward system is appropriate. If your ferret is doing something that is wrong and rewarding a positive behavior would mean rewarding EVERYTHING else they do (i.e. negative behavior of scratching the carpet, positive behavior of anything that doesn't involve scratching the carpet) then a punishment system will be the way you have to go.
When you catch your ferret doing something you like (hopefully this will be often), instituting a reward system will help ensure that you see that behavior again. You can potty train a ferret, train them to come to a certain sound or light, teach them tricks and reinforce other positive behaviors all using a reward system. To use this system, simply reward your ferret with a few licks of Ferretone ( or other treat they like (see Food and Treats – raisins, yogurt treat, etc. ), praise, and give a great big snuggle every time they complete the behavior you wish to see. Giving them at least a few minutes of playtime after the reward can be helpful too. For example, if you want to train your ferret to come to the sound of a clicker, simply continuously click the device until the ferret comes to you then give them their reward. You will need to repeat this process until the ferret comes all the time but give them a break of at least 15 minutes in between “training sessions”. Be sure that whatever treat you are using that you don't ‘overdose'. Too much of a good thing can be harmful.
When you find that your ferret has done something that you do not wish them to do again, you will need to institute a short round of punishment. Generally, punishment should only be given for behaviors that are dangerous to the fuzzy, dangerous to other fuzzies in your house or that are destructive. For example, your ferret may dig at the carpeting in your home. Not only is this a destructive behavior, but also it could potentially hurt your ferret if he or she gets a toenail caught in the carpet fibers.
In order to punish a fuzzy for doing something you must first get their attention. This sounds easy but remember ferrets are very strong willed, so they may chose to ignore you. If this is the case, do not just scoop the ferret up and move him or her because as soon as you put them down they will go right back to what they were doing. You need to show them that this behavior is undesirable. Start with just clapping your hands or making another loud noise and using the word “NO”. Depending on your ferret, this may be enough to deter them (this works especially with older ferrets). Continue working on this for at least a few days. However if the behavior does not improve, then try putting 4 or 5 pennies in an old soda can and taping the top of the can closed. DO NOT throw the can AT the fuzzy. Toss the can underhand so that it lands near your little offender (about 1.5 feet away) and holler the word “NO!” as it lands and clanks. Again, try this for at least 3 – 5 days.
If this is not enough to make an impression on your ferret then the next step is scruffing the ferret. Scruffing a ferret involves grabbing the ferret by the skin on the back of the neck between your thumb and first few fingers. Grasp the ferret firmly enough to hold on if the ferret squirms, but not so hard that the ferret is hurt. While scruffing, flip the ferret so that they are belly up in a submissive position. This is one way to tell a ferret that you are the boss and they are submissive to you (remember, ferrets are stubborn so it may take them a little bit to understand this). Hold the ferret in this position for a few seconds. Then, lift the ferret off the ground and give them a very gentle puff of air right in the face. Once again, maintain this correction method NEVER hit a ferret on the nose either to get their attention or as a form of discipline!!!! This will only serve to make the ferret defensive and could seriously injure your little friend. for at least 3-5 days.
If this still has not made your ferret think twice about their behavior you have 2 last options. The highest form of punishment you can give a ferret without risking serious harm to the ferret is a short drag across the floor (24 – 30 inches) while being scruffed in a subservient position and either a shake of the can with the pennies in it or a tap on the behind with one finger ONLY!
Some other methods that you can use along with or instead of those mentioned above include bitter apple and timeouts. Bitter Apple (an awful tasting spray or gel used in training) can be used to train ferrets not to bite or chew on things. ‘Timeouts' can be given to punish an undesirable activity . It is important to do timeouts in a carrier or alternate cage so that your ferret does not learn to associate its cage as punishment.
There are just a couple of things to remember. One, do not pick up your fuzzy and play with it just after it has done something you don't want to reinforce. It can be tempting to try to redirect the fuzzy's attention with play, however try to think of it not as a distraction but as a reinforcement. Two, NEVER hit a ferret on the nose or anywhere else on their body to get their attention or as a form of discipline!!!! This will only serve to make the ferret defensive and could seriously injure your little friend.
HAVE PATIENCE – not just with your fuzzy, but with yourself too!! Ferrets really can understand most of what we want to teach them, however they are still ferrets, which always means training will be an adventure.
It must be the booze, it must be the junk, it must be all the pornography.