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"Firm Training" - Valid Method or Too Harsh?


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#1 Taxonomist

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 10:46 AM

I'd just like to share an experience I had with taming my hamster. I also want to know if anyone else had similar problems when taming their hamsters.

When I first got my female Syrian a few months ago, I followed all of the training guides to the letter. I gave her time to settle in, got her used to my scent, hand-fed her treats, petted her, etc. All went well...until it came time to get her to walk into the palm of my hand. I tried every day for more than two months to get her to do this. I made absolutely zero progress. She would studiously ignore the tastiest hamster treat in the world if it were sitting in the palm of my hand.

This snag led to the main problem: I could not hold her for any period of time. I could pick her up and hold onto her for maybe 3 seconds, but she would wiggle away. She did not seem distressed or upset--she simply didn't feel like being held. I always let her go, for fear of stressing her out or hurting her.

I was stuck and frustrated. Until I went to my Psychology class.

All animals (including humans) are motivated by behavior and the consequences thereof. If a behavior produces desirable consequences, it will be continued. If a behavior produces undesirable consequences, it will be discontinued.

Wiggling (behavior) --> being let go (desirable consequence) --> continue wiggling when picked up (continued behavior)

It seems to me that by letting her go when she wiggled, I was rewarding bad behavior. So I tried not doing that--I held her in such a way that she could not escape from my hands. I cupped her between both hands, making sure not to squeeze her at all. When she stopped wiggling, I would open my hands and allow her to sit in one hand, usually offering a treat.

I've made more progress by doing that for a week than I did with 2+ months of the other method.

However, I am a bit nervous. This method flies in the face of everything I've ever read about hamster training (which is essentially just "let the hamster do whatever it wants at its own pace").

What do you think of this method? Am I harming my hamster in any way by doing this? Has anyone else here used a similar method?




#2 emilystar

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 11:19 AM

I don't think you are harming her. As long as you aren't hurting her or doing this for a long length of time then I don't see a problem with it. I hold Poptart in way's she can't escape when I'm transporting her or if I am doing something (like reaching for a treat) so she doesn't get hurt. Sometimes it is necessary to restrain animals. Make sure this is not the only way you are bonding with her though. The way I see it she is staying still because she knows bad stuff will happen if she wiggles (your hand staying closed). She is not staying because she is wants to stay with you. This method is good but only temporarily as to keep her from harming herself. A great way to bond with her is to lay a clean, dry towel in a clean and dry bathtub. Put her wheel in there and maybe some tubes. Then pick her up and hold her like you have as you carry her with you to the tub. Make sure you are holding her while you get in then let her run free. This way she can't escape the bath tub, and since it is still a relatively small space she has no choice but to interact with you eventually. Only do this for about 15 minutes to avoid her stressing out. Hope this helps :) Bath tub bonding time has been a huge tool in bonding with Poptart for me.

#3 Plushie

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 11:51 AM

It makes sense. The thing is, it can be hard to determine if the hamster's wiggling because she's learned that wiggling will get her out of your hand, or if she's wiggling because she's genuinely stressed and wants to get away. (Then again, I suppose if a hamster really was stressed, he'd be doing more than just wiggling.) In your case, it doesn't sound like she's being stressed, it's working well, and you're not harming her at all; but in case anyone stumbles upon this thread and decides to try it with their hamster, make sure you understand that it won't work well for all hamsters.

Emilystar makes a good point too. After a while she might learn to see getting away from your hand as a reward, because you've used your open hand as a reward for her to stop wiggling (I'm not sure if my wording makes sense). You might want to incorporate other rewards for not wiggling, like giving her a bit of yogurt or another treat when she's staying still.

(Semi-related note: I've heard of harsh bird taming methods that involve holding the bird firmly in your hand so he learns that struggling is futile. This is definitely what not to do! Yeah, you get the bird to stay with you, but you can't exactly say that it'll make him like you. Just a relevant anecdote; please don't think I'm mentioning it because I think it's what you're doing; you're not doing that :P)

I've never used it for hamsters but it's frequently in dog training; two that come to mind are for loose leash walking and for automatically leaving treats alone.

#4 Taxonomist

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 12:13 PM

great way to bond with her is to lay a clean, dry towel in a clean and dry bathtub.


I've tried something similar to the bathtub thing before, which is why I'm hesitant to try it. I put her in a large plastic container with a towel in the bottom. I put the container on the floor and sat next to it so that I could easily introduce her to my hands.

She hated it. She would squeak and show obvious signs of distress. It freaked her out for some reason. I'm not sure why, but I never tried it again.

You might want to incorporate other rewards for not wiggling, like giving her a bit of yogurt or another treat when she's staying still.


I do. I constantly give her treats so that she associates being held with good things. It never worked on its own.

She is not staying because she is wants to stay with you.

After a while she might learn to see getting away from your hand as a reward,


It's also worth noting that she doesn't jump out of my hands anymore. She'll contently sit in my open palm. She doesn't really wiggle around anymore either (at least not nearly as much). It's gotten to the point that I don't have to hold her cupped in my hands much anymore.

However, I do understand the concern about our interactions this way not necessarily being positive. It's something I worry about too. But NOTHING else has worked so far.

I might try the bathtub thing.

#5 Raigne

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Posted 29 March 2012 - 10:12 PM

I have seen people suggest this (on other sites) for taming robos. A hamster's reaction when they are threatened is to go stock still. However, they will also bite to show displeasure (as evidenced by how often they nip if you disturb their sleep). She's not doing this, so I am hesitant to say she's staying still simply to get you to remove your hand. My hamster does not like being in the bathtub, and she doesn't like being in a small container either. She does the same thing yours does, so I only use the container (it's a 10" sq cage I have for traveling) when I am doing her weekly cleanout or if it's too hot in the room she's in (main cage is too big to move safely with her in it). You are teaching her that sitting on your hand is not necessarily a negative thing. What I would suggest is after she sits there even after removing your hand, with no treats for a few seconds, go back to the other taming guide, and see if she will now climb into your hand. If she still won't, it could be that she'll never be quite as tame as you want her to be.

#6 princesshamster

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Posted 30 March 2012 - 03:51 AM

That seems like a good way to tame her. :) However, if you want you could get her into a container then have you and her sit together in a dry bath tub or bin so you can bond. It may make her feel more comfortable with you. :D Good luck! :D

#7 S3v3rian

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Posted 09 April 2012 - 10:01 AM

It may be that she just isn't keen on being held yet. Simple as that, but other then patience I'm not sure how to handle it. She isn't distressed when ypu remove her hand but niether is a kid locked in a closet for misbehaving, they're just happy to be free from the small place. Harsh analogy but same idea I feel.