Setting Up the Training Environment for Success

By Joan Orr

Training sessions should be fun and as stress free as possible for both you and the pet. If the pet rushes out of its cage and the cat chases it behind the couch and you spend an hour trying to get it back out, this is not fun for anyone (except maybe the cat). By thinking ahead and setting up the environment properly, training sessions can go smoothly. Firstly, put the cat in another room. Then put a note on the door to remind other family members not to let the cat back in. Take equally cautious steps for any other animal in the household whose presence is incompatible with the training of a small pet.

Some pets can be trained at first right in their cages if they are shy or fearful. If the pet is happy to come out of its home, then some arrangements need to be made to keep it from escaping. Very small pets such as mice and hamsters, or baby pets can be placed in a box that is about 2 feet square with sides high enough that they canít climb out. If the pet has a house or a small box in its cage, put this in the large box for comfort in case the pet needs to hide. Small pets can also be trained on a table or counter top as long as you are careful to ensure that they do not fall off. Most small pets are prey animals and they must feel comfortable in their surroundings before they will be able to work. Gerbils, hamsters and other small pets can be trained in the bathtub. Just be sure that the drain is plugged and you provide a house and a non-stick mat. Sit in the bathtub with the pet and feed it by hand to make friends with it and teach it to come to you. Never leave your pet unsupervised.

Ferrets, rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs can be trained in the full bathroom at first (be sure there is no water in tub and that the toilet lid is closed). Here they are safe from chewing wires and there is limited fun to be had in exploring. For ferrets there is always fun in exploring; even a bathroom is worth a thorough investigation. Bring a litter box from out of the cage and put it in a corner. (If the pet starts using a different corner of the room for a toilet, then put the litter box there. Some pets like to have multiple litter boxes put out for them.)

Once the pet has had a chance to explore and become acclimated to the training area, you can begin your training session. Some pets may require longer than others to become comfortable or bored enough to take food in the strange room. You may have to sit with them for a few sessions and let them get used to things. If you are sure that the room is completely safe, just leave the pet in there for a while with a litter box and some toys. (Note that a ferret can get into trouble pretty much anywhere and will be able to get the toilet lid and all the cupboards open given enough time.) This process of conditioning the pet to the training environment may take time, but soon the pet will get used to being out of its cage, be willing to take food from you, and each session will go more quickly than the last. Eventually you will be able to take the pet anywhere and it will be ready to focus for clicker training in a few minutes.

A good way to make your pet portable is to do all your training at first on a surface that you can take from place to place. For very small pets this can be a box as previously described. For larger pets it can be a blanket , a rubber door or bath mat. Once the pet gets used to learning new things on the training surface you can take this anywhere and the pet will feel right at home. Eight-year old Jennifer and nine-year old William took their trained bunnies on live television to show off clicker trained tricks. The bunnies were accustomed to working on a special track while wearing a harness and leash. They werenít at all distracted by the lights and noise of the TV studio because they had their litter boxes, harnesses and special training surfaces Ė just like at home.