When we think of training pets, we typically think of dogs. Cats and even rats are also known for being trainable, but if a pet responds to any kind of stimulus, it is potentially trainable. Hamsters might not be the first pet that springs to mind when thinking of training, but they do like food and they love treats, and many owners have had success using food morsels to train their little hamster friends.
Below, we look at some tips and tricks to help you teach basic commands to your pet hamster.
Hamsters can make great pets for owners of all ages but are often viewed as being good first pets for children and young owners. They are relatively low maintenance and with regular handling, they not only become amenable to being picked up but seemingly enjoy human contact.
Can You Train a Hamster?
As well as being cute, fun to watch, and tolerant of handling, hamsters can be trained, although it does take persistence, patience, and careful handling. And while some owners do enjoy success from their hamster training efforts, this isn’t always the case.
Functional training means teaching your hamster to do things that benefit it and you. It can be used to prevent biting or to make cleaning your hamster’s cage easier.
1. Prevent Biting
Unless you buy or adopt a hamster that is friendly and amenable to human contact, one of the first things you will need to teach your hamster is to be patient and calm while being handled, therefore reducing the risk of you getting bitten.
- Wash your hands before holding your hamster, to ensure you don’t smell of food.
- Start by placing your hand in the cage, a few inches from your hamster, and leave it there for a short time.
- You can also put your hamster on a couch or cushion and use your hand to stop them.
- Repeat this every day until your hamster is used to the smell of your hand.
- If your hamster does try and bite, gently blow towards its face. You need to be gentle, but the surprise will deter biting.
2. Litter Box Training
You can train a hamster to use a litter box. This makes cleaning and maintaining the cage much easier.
- Buy a small litter box or a small plastic tray that your hamster can get in and out of but that will hold litter without it spreading all over the cage.
- Add a suitable litter and then place the tray where your hamster tends to poop.
- Put some of its poop in the tray.
- Watch to ensure that your hamster is pooping in the tray. If it changes its toilet spot, move the tray and repeat the process in the new area. It may take a few attempts but should get the hang of what you want eventually.
The 4 Basic Commands
As well as functional training, you can teach some basic commands. Training your hamster these commands is fun and it also builds the bond between the two of you.
Hold a treat just above your hamster’s head and say “Stand”. Hammie will want to investigate and eat the seed, and when it does offer praise and immediately let it have the seed. If it doesn’t stand, don’t give the seed. Keep repeating the process and eventually, your hamster should stand when you give the command.
The stand command is usually the simplest to teach. Rollover can be a little more tricky but follows the same basic principle of stating the command and rewarding the desired action. Use the “roll” or “turn” command while placing a sunflower seed on your hamster’s back. If it rolls on its back, give the seed. If it doesn’t roll, don’t give the seed.
The jump command follows a similar routine to the stand command, but you need to hold the sunflower seed above your hamster’s head and slightly out of reach. If your hamster can grab it without jumping, it’s too close.
Teach your hamster to climb your arm by first desensitizing it to sitting on your shoulder and ensuring it won’t try and jump off. Then, have your hamster in your outstretched arm, put a treat on your shoulder, and use the command “climb”. You do need to make sure your hamster sees you putting the treat on your shoulder before giving the command and you may need to let it sniff the seed.
The 6 Training Tips
Hamsters can learn a few basic commands, but it is more challenging to train a hamster than it is to train certain breeds of dogs. For the best chance of success, follow these 6 tips.
1. Settling in Time
Don’t try training a hamster the second you get it to your house. Your hamster needs some time to acclimatize to its new cage and its new surroundings, while also getting used to your smell. Wait to start training until your hamster is comfortable getting on your hand and being handled.
2. Handle Regularly
You need to build a bond with your hamster if you want to enjoy successful training, and the best way to build this bond is through regular handling. Spend some time every day picking up and carefully handling them. They will get used to you, and when they don’t view you as a threat and are used to being handled, they will be more open to your training requirements.
3. Train Regularly
It will take multiple repetitions and will usually take plenty of time for a hamster to get used to training and for you to enjoy success. Dedicate some time every day to the training process.
4. Keep Sessions Short
While you should train every day, you don’t want to overwhelm your hamster, so keep training sessions short. Typically, this means training for a few minutes every time. Any longer than this and your hamster will lose interest.
5. Use Desirable Rewards
You need rewards to be able to train a hamster and those rewards should be something your hamster really enjoys. Sunflower seeds are generally a favorite treat, and they have a strong enough smell that your hamster will be tempted to stand up, climb, and even jump to retrieve them.
6. Be Consistent
When training, be consistent. Reward your hamster every time it successfully listens to your “stand” command. Don’t give rewards when they fail the command. Use the same command word each time, too.
Hamsters are cute, fun, and enjoyable pets. They aren’t as high maintenance as dogs and cats, but you can build a strong bond with a hamster, especially after regular handling. Training can also further strengthen that bond, and while it does take patience, persistence, and consistency, it is possible to train a hamster to perform basic commands like standing, while also training them to not bite and even to use a litter tray.