Monday, December 7, 2009

Squeaky Weasels - Squeak training your ferret

Squeak training is squeaking a specific toy (such as a squeaky dog toy) to call your ferret to you.

Training your ferret to come to a loud squeak is not only more reliable than teaching them to come to their name, but it is also faster and easier. Furthermore, squeaks are loud and easy for ferrets to hear through whatever they may be sleeping in. Different pitches of squeaky toys can also be used for ferrets that are hard of hearing - you’ll often be able to find at least one squeak that they will be able to hear well enough.

Its simple.

step 1: Take a squeaky toy with a distinct squeaky sound (not the one that your dog loves to drive you cray squeaking) - there are many different sounding squeaky toys available at your local pet store, super market and dollar store.

step 2: Pick your ferret up or sit on the ground with him, take his favourite treat (I find that an oil such as Salmon Oil or similar which he will not be tempted to hide immediately works best) and begin squeaking the toy while feeding him the treat. This will create a positive association with the sound. What you are trying to do is imprint the idea that the sound of this particular toy means a treat.

step 3: Put the ferret down (let him finish wiping off his face and chin), take a few steps back and begin squeaking the toy again. The ferret should look for the source of the sound and the treat that comes with it. Don’t make him wait long and remember to treat him.
** some ferrets have shorter attention spans than others. If your ferret seems bored and does not respond to step three, give it a rest. A few hours later, when your ferret is up and about again, begin squeaking the toy when he is nearby and treat him. It may take a few days for some ferrets to associate the sound of the toy with treats, but remember: not everybody learns at the same pace and practice makes progress!

step 4: Repeat steps 2 and three until the ferret associates the sound with treats and looks up at you expectantly when he hears the sound. Once you reach this stage, you can begin to create more and more distance between yourself and your ferret, allowing him to come to you (wherever you are) for a treat. If your ferret gets bored or is not succeeding, don’t give up - you may be going to quickly. A bored or unresponsive ferret may mean that you are going to quickly. Slow it down and increase your distance more gradually.

Step 5: Constant positive reinforcement is a must. Do not squeak for your ferrets every night so that you can put them to bed. Though it is a great way to round up the little guys, squeaking and then caging discourages the response that you have been trying to get. This is not to say that you should never squeak for your pet and then cage him, simply make sure that you squeak and treat for positive events (such as a trip outside) or just to encourage the behaviour such as for a treat or a new toy.

Does the squeak and treat technique really work?

With patience and positive reinforcement, squeak and treat works extremely well on most ferrets. It can also be a lifesaver if the ferret gets out or you need to round the ferrets up in an emergency situation. Almost all of my ferrets are squeak trained with the exception of my little girl who is hard of hearing - she often cannot locate the source of the squeak though it DOES succeed in getting her out to where she can be found!