Basic Guidelines for Nip-Training

Nip-training, unless you take on adult well-handled ferrets, will always be a requirement when owning ferrets, and it can be a big challenge to the new ferret owner.

Pippin nipping



Ferrets use their teeth in their interaction with each other, and for this reason, it is natural and normal for a young ferret to use teeth on its owner. This does not make the ferret nasty or naughty, and it is a complete myth that ferrets get a taste for blood and then will not stop biting.
From the day their eyes open, ferrets' mouths also open and generally at around 4 weeks old, ferret kits begin to nip, some will even try out latching from time to time (but at this young age, it barely marks the skin!). It is your job to teach your ferret how to interact appropriately and this is best done when a ferret is young without much 'clout' to its bite yet. Ferrets have very thick, tough skin, and so what may be a little play nip to them can draw blood on us!

Some golden rules for nip training ferrets ...

Rule number 1

Never shout at, shake or hiss at your ferret, despite advice given by many sources and ferret owners!
In my experience, this will either scare your ferret to death, or make them feel it's 'game on', and it will only exacerbate the problem.

Rule number 2

Never smack your ferret on the nose or (and I've heard this advised) pinch or bite its ear!
As above, this will only make your ferret more likely to bite you, and could create major behavioural issues in your ferret.

Rule number 3

Never ever whip your hand away from a ferret, this creates a ferret that thinks grabbing your hand is a game and you will never nip-train your ferret.
As hard as it may be sometimes, always handle ferrets (even extreme biters) calmly and with confidence!

Rule number 4

No gloves. If you use gloves or gauntlets you are only avoiding a situation where a ferret might bite, then when they come into contact with skin, they still won't have learnt that skin is not be nipped, only that gloves are not to be nipped.
You may also create a ferret that goes up your arm and tries to bite wrists or forearms or, even worse, faces!

Figdet nipping

I start nip-training my kits as soon as they start nipping, at a very young age, they get a 'no' and when they are really tiny, I will gently scruff them as their Mum would until they yawn and then they get lots of fuss after. I will always try to occupy a playful kit's mouth with a soft toy so they learn they can rag that around, but fingers are not available for biting! Set your ferret up for success, but don't avoid offering hands altogether. Reward your ferret with lots of praise and a nice play if they come to your hands and have a good sniff without nipping.

Ferretone on fingers can work very well in encouraging some ferrets to lick rather than bite, they do enjoy using their mouths, much like puppies, when they are young and it's important to give them an alternative option when they go to bite.

For more challenging (adult) ferrets, I will put english mustard on my fingers, and that will usually work in teaching eager biters that actually humans taste awful! If a ferret ever latches and I cannot persuade it to let go, I squirt a small blob of mustard into the corner of their mouth. I have heard all sorts of advice given that makes me cringe.

It is worth noting: squealing heightens a ferret's excitement, pinching ears will not help you bond with your ferret, and dunking a ferret into a bucket of water will perhaps just make your ferret's mind up that you definitely are a threat!

If you ever must use mustard, always make sure there is fresh clean water on hand to offer your ferret.

Princess

It is normal for ferrets to peak in biting at around 14-20 weeks old, and it can be a very big source of frustration. Just stay consistent, don't get angry, and you always have the option of putting a ferret away if it gets a bit much and trying again later.
I never hold a youngster up to my face, in my experience, noses are far too tempting to not nip! Usually when a ferret is nip-trained consistently and handled correctly, nipping will cease completely at around 12-18 months old, and most ferrets can then be trusted around faces. Many of my ferrets will lick my nose and groom my eyelashes!

I have yet to come across a ferret that will not stop biting, having owned many ferrets, some of which came to me as adults with behavioural and socialisation issues. Some take longer than others, but it's important to recognise in the older ferret, why that ferret may be biting. Mostly older ferrets bite through fear or frustration, and you have to be very gentle with these particular animals to avoid making the problem much worse! The reward of a loving, licky ferret at the end is always worth it!
If you have any nip-training problems with your ferrets, regardless of their age or where you have bought your ferrets from, feel free to contact me and I will try to help and advise as much as I can.