If you are lucky enough to own one of these cheerful, little rodents, you may want to know how to train a gerbil. You may wonder if gerbils can even be trained. While you won't see gerbils jumping through flaming hoops, you can teach them many things. Most only require gentle handling, patience, and maybe a few treats. Here are a few ideas to get you on your way. You can start with the basics to gain your gerbils trust and then move on to the real crowd pleasers.
- The Basics. Before you jump into tricks and such, you need your gerbil to be comfortable with you. Frequent handling is a must to gain trust. Hold your gerbil gently, allow it to run from hand to hand, and learn not to drop your gerbil if it nips you (this actually reinforces the biting habit) These are all good first steps in making friends with your gerbil.
- Potty Training. Any rodent owner knows that cage cleaning is a pain. Training your gerbil to use a removable litter box makes the job much easier. You may want to observe where your gerbil prefers to do it's business first and put the litter box there. One expert suggests you put "a small bowl partially filled with chinchilla dust in your gerbil’s cage. Your gerbil may play in the dust, and then use it for urinating and defecating." Apparently "a gerbil won’t roll in the bowl after they’ve used it because they don’t want to soil their fur. Daily, remove the bowl to clean it, and then return it to your gerbil’s cage with the dust." Others use unscented cat or hamster litter with or without a "hamster potty". Just put a bit of their urine and droppings on top so your gerbil gets the hint. Change the litter every couple of days. You will find cage cleaning much easier!
- Name Recognition. This is a fairly easy "trick" to teach your gerbil. Just say your gerbil's name as you approach with a treat. Almonds, pecans, and walnuts are good choices, as are sunflower seeds. Just make sure your treat is something that isn't included in your gerbil's regular food. Your gerbil will learn to associate its name with the treat. It will take time and consistency, but before you know it your gerbil will come when you call.
- Sit Up and Beg. Hold a treat above your gerbil's head. Each day increase the distance your gerbil has to reach for the treat. Soon your gerbil will stand on its hind legs when you hold your fingers above it, even without a treat between them. But after that act, don't you want to give your gerbil a treat anyway?
There are many other tricks that you can teach your gerbil. They may sleep in your pocket, run up a tube for a treat, or even run up and down the "high-wire" of your arm. Just remember that the first step is building trust. After that, your gerbil will be willing to try just about anything. All it takes is love, patience, and plenty of treats!