When you bring a hamster into your life, you are not bringing in a smaller version of a dog or a cat. You are bringing in a hamster. Hamsters, on the whole, do not like to be handled because they may mistake your good intentions as the actions of a predator. In thinking that they are about to be eaten, they will defend themselves.
Over time and with patience and a lot of treats, hamsters can eventually enjoy being handled or climbing about on you.
One special note on Roborovski or Robo hamsters, the smallest species of pet hamsters available. These tiny rodents are usuaully too small for safe handling. They still retain their wild instincts to bite anything larger than themselves. They then run an hide from what they’ve just bitten. These pets are best watched than handled. Skip to In Case of Emergencies Before Taming if your hamster is a Roborovski.
No Bad Hamsters, Only Bad People
Hamsters do not plot about when and where they can attack you. If your hamster bites, it is because your hamster is upset or stressed out. You can help relax your hamster by doing the following:
1) Never bothering your hamster when he or she is sleeping. Hamsters are understandably very cranky if they are abruptly woken up.
2) Don’t handle your hamster in the day, unless there’s an emergency. Hamsters are nocturnal and want to sleep all day.
3) Wash your hands before handling your hamster, else your fingers might smell like food and be inadvertently mistaken for food.
4) Try not to swoop down on your hamster from above like a bird of prey. Try to avoid picking up your hamster from above and behind him or her.
5) New hamsters are really nervous about their new environment for about a week until they get used to their new homes.
In Case Of Emergencies Before Taming
You might have to pick up an aggressive hamster for the vet to inspect, or to get off the floor and back into the cage or for whatever reason. Here are some steps to make the process less painful for you and less scary for your hammy:
1) Get a clear mug or measuring cup
2) Get gardening gloves (if you have them)
3) Corner the hamster with the mug or measuring cup and use your gloved hands to herd the hamster in the cup.
4) Pick up the mug and hamster with your hand over top so hammy doesn’t leap out. You can often examine the hamster in the clear mug or cup to check on bodily health.
Hamsters are extremely intelligent and if you are willing to be patient and get to know them on their terms, they will respond to being petted, stroked and handled. Talking to your hamster when your hamster is awake while not handling them will get them used to your presence.
You can then hold a treat like fresh broccoli in your hand left inside their cage. Ideally, have your palm turned up and the treat in the hand. Let the hamster get the treat when he or she is good and ready. Let the hamster take the treat and walk all over your hand, but do not try to pick the hamster up.
Repeat this process for about a week, and then try to pet the hammy slowly and deliberately. Have more treats ready to reward calm behavior. In this way, you can help your hamster realize that you are not a predator, but a bringer of Good Stuff.
Some people have had great success in taming small pets like hamsters through the use of clicker training. The hamster is intelligent enough to quickly associate the sound of a click with a food reward.
Taming an aggressive hamster takes a lot of time, so keep a sense of humor. The hamster will learn in his or her own sweet time. This may take months of short treat-filled sessions of a few minutes. Making friends with a hamster is worth it.
Training Your Pet Hamster. Gerry Buscis and Barbara Somerville. Barron’s; 2002.
Hamsterific.com. “Proper Hamster Handling.”
“Hamsters.” Nancy Ferris, et al. Bow Tie Press; 2008.
eHow.com. “How to Teach Hamsters Tricks.” Rena Sherwood.