TAMING & BEHAVIOUR
If you're looking for a hamster, or your own hamster needs to be rehomed, or your hamster had babies that need to find good homes, this page is for you.
USEFUL ITEMS FOR TAMING & BONDING
A BONDING "POUCH" can be very useful in the taming process to allow your hamster to become accustomed to being close to you without too much initial handling. (Aslo useful to comfort an ailing or cold hamster).
Unfortunately, there is no longer a maker of these BONDING SCARVES, but you could attempt to make similar yourself out of a snood or hood from an old sweater. Get creative!
You can also use a plain FLUFFY SNOOD or any soft cloth to cradle your hamster in for comfort and security.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR RESCUED/NEW HAMSTER
The following information is extremely important, not only for the wellbeing of the hamster but also for your relationship with it, going forward.
Hamsters are generally very sweet and most are relatively easy to tame. However, you may be alarmed, or even disappointed, when you bring a new little one home and it is incredibly scared, runs and hides away when you approach, or even screams every time you go near. Even after some time your hamster may continue to be nervous and skittish, and still appear to not be trusting you.
Pet shops and rescue centers can be extremely stressful places for hamsters: loud, smelly, noises from other animals, etc. (and in shops there is often also constant interference and even rough handling by staff). Therefore, many hamsters we get from these situations can be extremely traumatised, anxious, and stressed.
PATIENCE AND UNDERSTANDING IS REQUIRED!
This information can help you to build trust with your new hamster.
1. SPECIES-APPROPRIATE SIZE HABITAT AND ITEMS
PLEASE ensure that your hamster’s habitat meets the minimum recommended unbroken floor space (see Housing - Habitats & Cages page).
Hamsters in undersized cages will feel trapped and vulnerable, and can also develop cage aggression (or start bar-chewing if in a small wire cage). Wild hamsters can run up to 9km every night, and if she has enough space, and a correct wheel, she can "get her run on", and feel happier. A decent burrow area of safe bedding substrate (never pine shavings), and/or bedroom house, as well as a few hidey places also helps them feel more secure and allow them to mimic natural hamster behaviour.
2. GIVE SOME TIME TO ADJUST
Remember that when you bring your new hamster home she is now in an entirely new habitat, and your household also smells and sounds completely different from the pet shop, rescue center, foster home, or previous surroundings, and has also had to endure a car journey. She may have changed habitats a few times already in a short space of time. She is unfamiliar with the sound and smell of her new family’s voices and bodies. This could also be the first time that a young hamster is away from her siblings or mother, which can be rather daunting.
Therefore, it will be useful to keep in mind that she needs a little space to settle in, familiarise and scent her new habitat in order to feel safe. She really does not want to be handled and bothered right now in this time of high anxiety!
Let her be for a few days in order to get used to all these changes and to make the habitat her own.
3. GET A LITTLE ROUTINE GOING
Change the water and food daily, but resist touching her just yet. She may be a little nervous at first but will become accustomed to your hands messing about in the habitat, and learn that your presence is no threat and brings good things. Add extra nesting material (stripped up 1-ply toilet paper, never fluffy nesting) if necessary. Do this at the same time every day, if you can. Evenings are best as hamsters are awake and more alert during those times.
She should become familiar with such simple actions and routine, and become more confident and curious about you, and start showing up for you and investigating what you are bringing.
Hint: Rubbing some of the nesting and/or bedding substrate on your body will help her become familiar with your scent.
4. ALLOW HER TO APPROACH YOU
It is very important that your hamster is fully awake and alert, and you let her approach you first. Never chase or just grab her up! That is a sure way to get bitten or cause a set-back in any new trust that she has started building with you.
Ensure that your hands are thoroughly cleaned (but no hand sanitizer, heavily scented soap and/or hand lotion).
Rub some bedding on your hands so that they smell somewhat familiar.
Place a treat on your hand and lay it flat inside the cage. You can talk softly to her too. She may come and sniff, and even try to nibble, your fingers - don't be startled if she does this…she is most likely testing if YOU are food (don’t forget that they have poor eyesight so may initially be confused between your fingers and this new treat).
With any luck, she could crawl on your hand right away and eat the treat, but don’t be disappointed if you just get a sniff and then ignored since she might not yet feel completely confident about your hand. Simply move the treat closer to the tip of your hand to make it easier to reach without getting on. If she is reluctant to take it from you at first, simply leave the treat for her to fetch once your hand has gone. You may need to do this a few times, or for a few more days…she will soon come to learn that the hand is a friend and brings happiness.
NEVER: * Grab her * Make sudden movements * Make any loud noises/shrieks * Chase her
Once she seems comfortable with your hand, or even sitting on your hand, gently stroke her back or head with your free hand. After these interactions over a few days, you should be able to start bringing her out of the habitat cupped in your hand (or by letting her crawl into a mug, tube, or container if she is not willing to get onto your hand by herself).
5. NEVER PUNISH YOUR HAMSTER
Unlike other typical pets, e.g. dogs, hamsters have no concept that any kind of behaviour is considered either "good" or “bad”! They go by natural instinct and simply cannot understand any type of punishment or reprimand. Hamsters mostly exhibit "bad” behaviour out of fear, stress, or boredom.
If your hamster insists on biting you, often a toy or a treat can work to divert attention in another direction. Gentle nibbling can indicate that they're testing out your scent, and licking can also be a sign of affection and trust. If your hamster bites hard, it means they're scared or that they just don't want to be handled right now.
Hamsters are naturally prey animals and many can therefore be easily startled, especially when approached without warning (always make sure that she is awake and aware of your presence and intentions).
In time, you should learn what triggers her biting or actions, and you should then refrain from doing the things that cause her to be stressed and afraid. With some hamsters, they can learn that “good behaviour” gets rewarded with treats (it’s worth a try, and what hamster won’t love a treat!).
Hayley Thea Ittmann with Rosemary
6. GET TO KNOW YOUR HAMSTER'S INDIVIDUAL PERSONALITY
All hamsters have their own individual personalities and temperaments. With time, you will learn your own hamster's personality, and start to understand what makes them comfortable or uncomfortable.
You can only build up trust with your hamster by being gentle and speaking softly until you learn the extent of how her personality will react to certain stimulations/factors/actions. Do not freak her out with any over-enthusiastic actions.
Hamsters make different sounds for several reasons, including happy little chirping noises, chattering/grinding of teeth when annoyed or unsure. etc. Screaming is a sign of fear or pain (like a constant loud funny buzz). It is important that you don’t force yourself on a hamster that is doing this…she needs more time, so step away for now!
7. PROVIDE PLENTY OF ENRICHMENT IN YOUR HAMSTER'S HABITAT
With time and patience, your hamster will settle in nicely and should willingly come to you, explore your hand for offerings and attention, and even explore the room/playpen/zone that you choose for outside playtimes.
Since you won’t be on hand 24/7 to entertain her, be sure that you provide sufficient enrichment items in the habitat to allay any boredom.
If your hamster is bored, she may dig continuously in the same spot, or even try to gnaw her way out of even a decently sized habby, or nibble at the bars of her cage (note: bar chewing is really BAD for their teeth, which is one of the reasons why wire cages are no longer really recommended).
USEFUL TAMING TUTORIALS
BE AWARE THAT YOU COULD GET BITTEN DURING THE EARLY STAGES OF TAMING! For bad bites, refer to advice on the Health Page.
(See full written editorial program further down)
We recommend using this method alongside "How to tame a new hamster",
taking over with Bath Taming once you are able to transfer your hamster.
Make sure your bathroom is warm. Put in the plug and place a large towel, blanket or fleece in the bath. This important because the hamster will slip on the bath surface and will become scared which defeats the objective.
Get into the bath with your hamster in a tube/transfer item and gently place it down at the bottom of the bath. Allow it to come out in its own time and explore by walking around you. BUT DO NOT TOUCH your hamster. Do this for no longer than 5-10 minutes and then use your treats to get your him/her back into the tube/transfer item. Place back in the cage and offer a treat.
Repeat the same steps but this time take a favourite treat or food with you and offer this as s/he walks around. Your hamster will associate being in the bath as somewhere where to get nice treats. S/he may walk on your legs or up your body and, if they allow, you can gently stroke the back but do not force this. If your hamster runs away let him/her. Do this for no more than 15 minutes and repeat the transfer back to the cage.
Repeat previous steps and, when your hamster comes to you, offer treats on the flat of your hand. If your hamster steps on to your hand DO NOT try to lift him/her at this stage. If s/he will allow then you can stroke the back and keep putting treats on your hand and allowing him/her to " step on ". No more than 15 minutes again today and transfer back to cage again.
Repeat previous steps but this time place the transfer item, with your hamster in it, onto your chest rather than the bottom of the bath. Your hamster will now have to walk onto your chest to come out into the bath and when he/she does offer a treat as a reward. Repeat this 2-3 times and then transfer back to the cage in the transfer item.
Repeat previous steps but, today, place a treat on the flat of your hand and position the transfer item so your hamster has to walk out onto your hand to gain the treat. Place more treats on the flat of your hand and, as your hamster steps on, gently raise him/her off the ground for a few seconds then lower again. If your hamster is confident with being lifted on your hand, then transfer to your chest and gently stroke the back and allow him/her to go where s/he wishes. No more than 15 minutes and transfer back to the cage.
Repeat previous steps, and repeat step 5, but gently stroke your hamster and allow him/her to walk around your chest and shoulders while stroking and offering treats. Depending on how well s/he has responded to the process, you may be able to pick your hamster up. Do this by gently scooping with both hands... DO NOT grab from over the top with one hand or your hamster will think it's a predator. Today no more than 20 minutes and if your hamster responds well and allows you to hold him/her then there is no need to continue with Bath Taming. If your s/he is a nervous hamster or has had an unpleasant past experience you may need to repeat this step for another day or two.
It can seem as if you are repeating what you have followed in the video once you have transferred to the bath and it's tempting to miss a step, but when you are following the cage taming you are gaining your hamsters trust in allowing you into their home (territory) and not seeing you as a threat or a predator. This can be invaluable when you need to do something in the cage or check that your hamster is ok and well, rather than him/her panicking and becoming more stressed trying to get away from you.
Once you have transferred to the bath your hamster may respond differently; just like we humans, hamsters have their own individual personalities and the steps are a guideline only. It may be that you have a very confident hamster and you can speed up the steps, or you could have a very nervous hamster and you need to continue a bit longer or even repeat in some cases. In the latter case, persevere and don't lose heart because eventually you will reap the rewards (in most cases) and form a firm bond with your hamster. Again, this is invaluable so that you can do their health checks or administer any treatments, as well as spending quality time together.
It can sometimes be the case that a hamster just does not respond to any taming and they simply do not like being held or touched. This can be for many reasons such as their past, genetics, or temperament, so do not blame yourself; and, most importantly, listen to your hamster and work with what you have.
Bath taming is also an excellent and safe way for children to learn how to hold a hamster and be calm around them.
~ Courtesy of Wendy Singleton via Hamster Worldwide Care ~
TAMING PROGRAM (editorial version)
Erin's guide on How To Tame A Hamster
When you bring your hamster home allow them to settle into their cage for 2-3 days so they can get used to the new surroundings, smells and sounds. This is vital for your hamster as moving will cause great stress in your new pet and hamsters are prone to several severe stress-related health problems like Wet tail (see Problems and Illnesses) which can and often do lead to death. In order to prevent these illnesses the hamster must be kept as stress-free as possible.
Step 1. (Estimated time 1-3 weeks)
After your hamster has settled in for a few days you can begin taming.
NEVER pick your hamster up in the first stages as you will only cause them a lot of stress and you may even end up getting bitten.
Chose a natural, healthy treat like small seeds, mealworms, scrambled egg etc. and hold it in your fingers near to the entrance of your hamsters nest while they are awake.
Be patient and wait for your hamster to respond and take the treat. If they are too nervous to take the treat leave it near the nest and move away.
Do this 2 or 3 times a day, every day! Use different natural treats each time so your hamster doesn't get bored and soon your hamster will be happy to take treats from your fingers.
Step 2. (Estimated time 1-2 weeks)
Now that your hamster is taking treats from you its time to move on to "Palm Feeding".
This time you will do the same as in step one only you will place the treat in the palm of your hand and wait patiently for your hamster to notice.
They might not take the treat right away and lots of practice will be needed for some hamsters but within time your hamster will happily sit on your hand while eating the treat.
If your hamster takes the treat and eats it somewhere else you are not ready for the next step.
It is important that the hamster is climbing onto your hand happily before you move on.
Step 3. Part 1. (Estimated time 1.5 weeks)
You have two options at this point; the first is easier to do with dwarf hamsters. The second is easier for Syrians.
Once your hamster has happily been climbing on your hand for treats over several days you can begin lifting them off the ground once they are on your hand.
Start with just a few inches off the ground in case they panic and want to jump!
Then as they become more used to the movement you can lift them higher and higher until you have them at a level you are comfortable with.
(If option 1 worked, skip option 2 and move on to the next paragraph)
Using a small box or tube coax your hamster inside with treats and then lift it gently off the ground just a little.
Allow them to get used to the feeling of being lifted by lifting them slowly up and down getting a little higher each time.
Place a hand flat at either end of the tube and wait until your hamster comes out (you may want to use treats to encourage them!).
When your hamster is out remove the tube and hold them carefully in your hand.
Step 3. Part 2. (Estimated time 1+ weeks)
Now that you are holding your hamster you can allow them to walk across you by placing your hands one-besides the other making a never ending path.
Your hamster will walk across your hands and braver hamsters may even walk up your arms and over your body.
This step can be practiced throughout the hamster’s life as your hamster will enjoy doing this for a game.
ome hamsters may be happy enough to settle down and sit or even sleep in your hands but most will prefer to keep moving!
Step 4. (Estimated time 1 week)
You could do this before step 3 or after - it really doesn't make a difference!
This step will teach you how to get your hamster used to being stroked and touched without flinching or nipping.
While your hamster is inside a traveller or small box use a brush (old toothbrush or hamster brush) to gently stroke different parts of their body.
A hamster who hasn't been stroked before may flinch but they will soon get used to the feeling.
Once your feel your hamster is comfortable then you can begin stroking them with your finger or hand without the risk of being bitten!
Step 5. (Estimated time 1+ weeks)
This step will teach you how to pick up your hamster by hand and get your hamster used to being lifted.
While your hamster is in a travel box or on your lap, take your right hand and wrap it around the hamster’s body ensuring that your fingers are supporting the belly.
Lift your hamster a few inches from the ground, then take your left hand and cup it underneath their bottom for extra support.
You can now lift and carry your hamster, though I recommend practicing a few times over a box or carpeted floor first in case your hamster wriggles free and falls.
When you and your hamster are confident you can start carrying your hamster to a safe play place in this way.
Once your hamster is happy with steps 1-5 it is considered tame.
Every hamster has a different definition of the word tame. For some it means not running away terrified at the sight of you, while for others it means snuggling in for a cuddle with their owner.
Do not give up handling your hamster, even if it becomes obvious that you have a 'Ghost Hamster', as you will need to do regular health checks.
Step 6. (Estimated time 1+ weeks) HEALTH CHECKS
Your hamster is going to need home health checks regularly and part of that includes turning your hamster over to examine their stomach, but as prey animals hamsters are not going to let you turn them over easily.
Not all hamsters will master this step but its important that you as the owner at least learns to do it properly in order to perform a full health examination for your hamster and spot any problems early on.
To practice this you need to start in a similar way to Step 5 by holding your hamster low over a box.
Take your right hand and cup it around the hamster’s body so that your fingers support the belly.
Place your index finger gently over the back of the hamsters head for extra support.
Slowly turn your hamster over to reveal their belly and raise your fingers so you can examine it.
Your hamster is likely going to kick and wriggle, when they do slowly turn them back over and set them down on the ground.
Let them rest for a moment and then try again.
I would only recommend practicing this step for a few minutes a day as it will stress your hamster out if you practice for too long.