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Teaching Tricks to Small Animals

By: Lisa Klassen - Updated: 18 Feb 2013 | comments*Discuss
Kids Children Child Pets Small Animals

Trick training takes a lot of patience but is one of the most rewarding aspects of pet ownership, especially for kids. Here are some tips for trick training.

Treats Do the Trick

Healthy snacks and tasty treats are the best incentive to get your pocket pet started on the trick learning process, a way to reward for a good behaviour that your pet will understand. Praising your pet verbally is helpful as well but with pocket pets, treats and food are what make the training really stick. Try and refrain from using nuts or too many seeds as treats as these are very fattening and should be reserved for ‘extra special’ occasions rather than training treats. Mice, rats, hamsters and gerbils will be particularly interested in cereal and grain treats, a piece of Cheerios cereal is a healthy reward for a job well done. Guinea pigs and rabbits prefer fruit and veggies as training treats.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Consistency is an important part of getting a trick to stick with your pet. Most tricks will take a week or two to learn without pause or confusion, depending upon what level of complexity the trick you’re teaching is. Spend about half an hour at a time doing trick training; any longer a session and your pet’s attention will wander. Always use the same command word for the trick and use it every time the trick is attempted. Try and use the same tone of voice every time as well. Until your pet has learned the new trick, it’s best if only one person attempts the training process so there is no confusion.

Be Patient

Children can get frustrated if it seems their pocket pet isn’t getting the trick. You may just need to break the whole trick down into smaller, more easily learnable steps. Hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs are capable of several simple tricks but don’t learn as easily as rats, rabbits and mice. Hamsters and guinea pigs have little depth perception, so any jumping feats may have them digging their feet in.

Some Common Small Animal Tricks

  • Teach your pet to stand up and ‘beg’ for a treat. Hold a treat in your hand and show it to your pet. Raise it slowly up in the air, saying a command word like ‘up’ as your pet is rising. When your pet is fully up, say the command word again while giving the treat. After a few training sessions, give the treat after your pet has come up and held the pose for a little while.

  • Coming when a pet’s name is called. Start by sitting beside your pet and saying your pet’s name, then immediately giving a treat while repeating the name. After a few days, stand farther away, say the name first while holding a treat and then when your pet comes to you, say the name again when the treat is taken. Gradually increase the distance between you and your pet as you say the name. Eventually, you should be able to say your pet’s name from across the room and have him come running.

  • Circling. Hold a treat in front of your pet’s nose to get attention and then slowly pull it away. Your pet should follow the treat as you guide the animal around in a circle. While this is happening, say a command like ‘turn’ repeatedly, use a clicker or some other kind of noise. Once the circle is completed, say the command one more time and then give the treat. Do this for several training sessions, always turning in the same direction. Next, be ready with a handful of treats. Say the command without guiding your pet with a treat. If there is any movement at all towards the direction you want them to turn in, give a treat. Continue to say the command and give a treat every few steps they take until they complete the circle, when you’d give an ‘extra special’ treat. Soon, they should be circling on command with a treat at the end.

  • Pavlov’s Response. After you’ve taught your pet a trick, you can train them to respond to a bell, clicker or any other sound you like…just remember not to make it anything too loud, as this will scare your pet. Every time you have your pet do the trick, make the noise, especially during the treat reward at the end. In a short amount of time, all you will need to have your pet perform the trick is the sound you made during the training period. Kids can delight and thrill their friends by clicking their tongue, ringing the bell, etc. and seeing their pet perform instantly.

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