Hmm. You look like you belong in a circus. No offense. But a chair and a whip and that suit. What are you a lion tamer ... oh. When I mentioned taming your chinchilla, you thought that ... Oh no. Heavens no. That's not at all how you tame a chinchilla. In fact, "taming "is a bit of a misnomer. Think socialization.
But wait. Don't bring out the tea service thinking I mean he should be taught proper etiquette when invited to tea. In fact, let's just get right down to the nitty gritty of this chapter. Otherwise, it looks like you'll be even more confused!
Handling. Taming. No wonder our friend is confused. These words can have different meanings depending on what type of animals you're discussing. Thankfully, we're discussing a small cute chinchilla.
An animal, by the way, who has many cute mannerisms he calls his own. And I have named this set of habits and instincts "chinchilla-isms."
Let's face it, we all have some type of mannerism which people have come to think of as our own personal signature. (I'd prefer not to go into mine, thank you.) the chinchilla, with its literally hundreds of years of living at the bottom of the food chain is no different. Just a little bit more pronounced and a whole lot darn cuter.
Part of the process of getting to know your chinchilla's mannerisms is to learn how to handle him as well as taming him.
Let's start with the taming process, shall we. While the term seems imposing -- and filled with drudgery -- you'll see it's anything but that.
Taming does ask that you have at least a little bit of patience though. I will warn you now of that. The first thing you'll learn is that you can't make any sudden moves around your nervous little chin.
You will also notice that sudden noised anywhere in the house -- yes, even something as simple as a door slamming -- can send Chilli scurrying for cover. That's all well and good if he's snug in his cage. But if he happens to be roaming the living room at the time ... he'll probably head for the closest piece of furniture for protection.
If you adopted a young chinchilla, then the taming process -- gaining the confidence of this little guy, in other words -- is relatively easy to do. Just don't expect it to happen overnight.
Taming -- what many animal experts call socializing -- your chinchilla is truly a process. And it can be accomplished by following a very simple routine.
Sit by your chinchilla's cage. Talk to him. Now, the chances are that he is even out of his tunnels or nesting box is slim. But talk to him anyway, he'll listen to you. Use a gentle voice, it's much more inviting and relaxing.
Next, you'll want to offer him a treat after a little bit of this talking. Your chin loves carrots. This would be temptation enough for him to stick his head out to at least investigate this carrot.
Remember, you new pet is not a dog or a cat. So whatever you do, be sure not to wave the carrot around like you're directing the landing of an aircraft carrier. This just scares the living daylights out of the poor little guy.
If you're lucky, Chilli comes out to visit with you on this encounter. Well, okay, he comes out to see what's up with the carrot. You just happen to be sitting with the carrot. He may even sniff the carrot. But the odds he won't take it. Not on his first socialization session. And maybe not even on his second. But he will be patient.
When you end this first session, don't take the carrot with you (boy would that be mean!) No, leave it in the same place in which you offered it. When the little guy is confident no one is looking, he'll come out to get it. And he'll head straight to where you offered it to him.
When you return for socialization session Number 2, the carrot from the day before, without a doubt, will be gone. So make sure you're armed with another carrot.
This second session is just about identical to the first one. Sit next to the cage. Talk to Chilli. Offer him a treat. Then you hope he'll come out to take it from you. Chances are he won't. But he's beginning to associate you with that tasty carrot. And that's a good thing.
In fact, he will even begin to anticipate your visits indeed. And so will you. Guaranteed. Eventually, Chilli will be brave enough to poke his head out, sniff the yummy carrot and take it from your hand. So it's best that you know what to do to make this experience less frightening -- and even pleasant -- for your new furry friend.
Once again, the best advice is "slow movement." Allow the chinchilla to take the treat Don't get impatient and try to catch him at this point. By doing this you'll pretty much undo everything you've already done in the way of socialization.
Just allow him to take the treat. Realize that this in and of itself is overcoming a great hurdle on his part.
Once your friend has taken the food from your hand, don't move your fingers. Allow him to slide it out of your hand. Moving your hand or wiggling your fingers right now would only make him run for the mountains (the Andes mountains to be precise!).
When he's taken the food and backed away some, then you can very slowly take your hand out of the cage. If you have any doubts, keep your hand in for a while longer, just don't move it around.
Basically, then, you would be starting the socialization process all over again. And this time around it may be even more difficult to gain Chilli's confidence.
Soon, very soon. I promise you. It's just that you want to be sure that he's ready for your touching him. While, I'm confident the two of you will become best friends, this BF (best friend) thing has to be accomplished on his timetable -- not yours.
I'll give you one hint of what your chinchilla likes even more than carrots. Routine. Yes, believe it or not routine. You shouldn't be too surprised by that. After all most animals do. And as humans, we crave routine more than we're willing to admit sometimes. But a routine -- a series of scheduled habits for lack of a better definition -- is crucial when it comes to your chinchilla's socialization process.
Now that you've set up a routine for his treat and your talking to him, you may want to ad another routine with this: allowing him outside his cage for a period of time on a daily basis. (If Chilli is reading this he's got to be thinking right now "Oh, yeah! Life is getting good. Very good!")
And if you keep his "out-of-cage" experience to roughly a specific time daily, then you've just set your chinchilla up with a routine he can actually look forward to.
Before we can get him out of his living quarters, we have to teach you the proper method of picking up this little guy. Don't worry, it's much easier than you're thinking it is.
First, you need to put any fears of being bitten by this guy out of your mind. When you lift him properly there is such a small chance that he will nip you. You're more likely to be bitten accidently when you offer him a treat. If he keeps on munching it from your hand, he'll erroneously bite your finger, thinking it's food (gives the term finger food a whole new meaning!)
You can make this all very easy and without stress by following a very few simple suggestions.
First, as you're anticipating picking this guy up, talk to him. Become the Chinchilla Whisperer. Go ahead! It will, without a doubt, calm his nerves. And it will make you feel better as well. Remember, he already knows the sound of your voice and links it with that carrot treat. In his view, you aren't such a bad guy anymore. A little big and frightening, but not really bad (Hey, no one's perfect!).
When you do get a chance to pick him up, remember that he associates a tightening around his body as being seized by a predator (Yeah, he's never actually been seized by a predator though!).
Obviously, you must be able to restrain your new friend properly when you pick him up. But the last thing you want to do is to overpower him. You want to hold him just tightly enough that he won't be able to wriggle free and fall to the floor. He's small and delicate and it could end not well for him.
Initially, you'll discover that the actual "catching" him part of the process will prove difficult. This is an experience he's not accustomed to. It's not everyday some big "something or other" snatches him from his home. And when it did happen to his ancestors it meant that he was being take to dinner (and not as a guest, but as the entrée!)
As he sees your hand come down for him, he'll become fearful -- and he'll try to avoid your grasp.
You goal (and this is no easy task) is to accomplish this with a minimum of disturbance. You don't want to scare him any more than he already is and you don't want to get yourself frustrated in the process. If you do, you're much more likely to accidently dropping him.
One option I've used in the past which works well for me is to gently take him directly from his nest box. Yes, you're right. He'll be sleeping. The key to the success of this approach is to pluck him just before his usual "wake up" time. In this way, he'll be used to being awakened with this approach and it will seem less intrusive for all.
The best way to pick your little friend up is to "scoop" him into your hands (it even sounds cute and loving this way!). Place your hands on each side of his body. This slows him down so he can't run away from you. Then, very gently, slide one hand under his body right behind his front legs.
Now, slowly shift your secondhand over his back. This is so you can lift him safely. You need to make sure your chinchilla feels safe enough tht there's no fear on his part of falling. If he thinks he may fall, then he'll struggle in your hands. And tht makes falling all the more likely!
Taking Chilli to the vet? Even just transferring him upstairs for a while. Let me give you one piece of advice. Use a pet carrier. Oh, yeah. This will safe you a couple hundred swear words and a whole lot of potential aggravation.
Why just look at this guy! He's a fast little critter. He's already proven that to you. Do you rally have to learn this lesson again? It really wouldn't take a lot for him to wriggle out of your hands.
Promise me you'll do this? Good. Thanks.
Now, we all know this time was coming. And we are all looking forward to it. And if Chilli knew this experience lay ahead of him, he, too, would be excited. You're going to have to give him some free-roaming exercise time. Time I affectionately call "out-of-cage" experience.
Before you even consider this, though, you need to take a few precautions. Think of it as "Chinchilla proofing" a room. Because that's exactly what you'll be doing. You probably already know where this is going and are three or four steps ahead of me.
Keep in mind not only the agility of your chinchilla, but his sharp teeth as well. If you can remember these, then you'll know exactly what to do to "chinchilla proof" the specific room he'll be roaming in.
And here's another suggestion that sets up a nice routine for him. And it also saves you time and energy. Always have him roaming free in the same room. Then your friend will only have to get accustomed to one room. Once you place him down and he realizes that he's been here before, he'll get down to business.
And this saves you the problem of having to chinchilla proof a different room with each "out-of-cage" experience.
Start this procedure by moving any valuable, breakable or delicate objects or knick-knacks out of the way. Your pal may decide to play "superman" by leaping off what he considers to be "tall buildings." And he won't hesitate to do this in a single bound.
You'll probably be wise to move any dangerous plants as part of this process as well. Take into account any plant that can do him harm just be rubbing up against it -- like a cactus. Or by removing any plant that would be harmful should he try to munch on it.
Yes, I agree sometimes it is difficult to know what is poisonous to the little guy and what isn't. That's why I just remove all the plants from the room. That's one less hazard I need to be attentive to!
Of course, you also want to make sure that all windows are closed. And that once you get the little guy in there the door to the room is closed. Are you letting him roam in a bedroom? Then be sure that the door to the closet is closed. If a chinchilla got lost in my bedroom closet, there's no telling when he'd ever be found! Yes, it's that bad!
And one other thing. Let's just revisit those sharp teeth again. We mention them every so often. But just a reminder that sharp teeth and electrical cords can be a very deadly mixture. If there's any way at all you can keep them away from him, that would be wonderful.
Disconnect as many lamps, power cords and appliances as well as electronics as you can. That will reduce your worries quite a bit.
When Chilli first experiences his "freedom" so to speak, expect him to go crazy. He'll be running around as fast as his little feet could carry him. And you'll think he looks just adorable. As part of this initial ritual, he will no doubt check out a good area that has cover as well. You know him and his instincts!
If you are a parent to a pair of chinchillas, think twice before allowing them to roam free together. As cute as this may seem initially, it will only be twice as difficult to try to rein them in when the time comes. And during their free period it's especially hard to keep track of two. You'll be trying to watch one and the next thing you know, the other disappears somewhere!
If you're like a lot of folks, you really would like nothing better than during this time, your furry friend would spend some quiet time with you. You'd like for him to sit next to you so you could pet him, if only for a few minutes. That's understandable.
I'm not saying how successful you'll be at this. It depends, of course, on several factors. The first factor that will determine the extent of your success will be the age of your chinchilla. If you adopted a baby, and you're the very first experience he's having with socialization, then the odds are good, he'll be receptive to this.
But an older chin, who may have been neglected or abused, might be a little more resistant to this. But that doesn't mean it's totally impossible.
The extent of your success also depends on your determination to make this happen and your patience in dealing with the situation. But I'll give you a hint right now -- and if you are watching your chinchilla running around free at this moment, you've already guessed it.
Your chinchilla will never come out of the cage and go directly to your lap for some quiet time. That's just a given. Allow him to get some exercise. Then when he's ready to rest some, he may allow you to cuddle with him.
Once you have the little guy next to you, don't hesitate to offer him a treat in order to get him to stick around. (Is this a bribe? You bet it is!)
While he's sitting with you, you may also want to see how he reacts to being petted. Again, you'll have to work slowly on this. Some individual chinchillas like it more than others.
Start by stroking his head. If he accepts this, then eventually (perhaps not all in the same session), you may want to extend this stroke all the way down his back. You'll have to take cue on your next steps by paying close attention to your pet's reactions.
This may seem like a no brainer. But your chinchilla needs exercise -- and not just for his physical well being. It's essential to his emotional and mental health as well. After all it only makes sense. Exercise not only makes as, human beings healthier, but it also helps pull us out of depressions as well.
It would be great, in fact, if you could establish a regular exercise routine for your little friend. And no, I don't mean you walking your chinchilla in the park on a little leash with a little harness on him. Bit it would be very cute now!
All that is really needed is some regular "out-of-cage" experience roaming free. While he's roaming, make sure you have several toys he can play with as well. He'll love toys like climbing ladders, tubes or wheels.
And think of it this way: while he's getting his exercise, you're getting your entertainment. You'll soon discover you can even play with him. You'll be playing with his toys so he can chase them. Just wait and see!
You know what? The more you do this, the friendlier your little guy automatically becomes with you. As he gets to know you better, he realizes -- despite your size -- you're really not a predator after all! Imagine that!
Yes, sooner or later, you're going to have to return Chilli to his home. In some cases, this may prove . . well, let's just say not the easiest thing. If your chinchilla isn't fully tamed, he'll be more difficult to catch in a larger area like the room he's roaming through.
The last thing you want to do is to chase him around the room. (I can see this in my mind's eye and I don't see it turning out good!) This not only opens the little guy up to heatstroke (remember his thick coat of fur!), but this gives him every opportunity to disappear under a large piece of furniture.
It's best to enlist the help of another person when you do this --even though it sounds like a bad joke (How many humans does it take to catch a chinchilla?). Your goal is to get him literally cornered in a corner of the room. Your first decision is to pick the best corner for this to occur in.
Now the two of you need to work as a team, gently and slowly guiding and "herding" him if you will into this spot. You'll want to come from different angles, to minimize his chances of running from you. Between the two of you, you should be able to effectively block any possible escape routes the chinchilla could think of taking.
You may want to be down on your hands and knees when you start this. For one thing, you'll be a little less threatening to your friend. For another, when the time comes to snatch him up, you'll have already saved some precious seconds being closer to him already (and trust me I speak from experience when I talk about the seconds being "precious"!).
As soon as you think you can get him, you'll want to employ that "scooping" action that you used to get him out of his cage.
Throughout this entire time (as frustrated as you may become), you need to handle them carefully. As tempted as you may be (and trust me, you will be tempted at some point!), don't grab Chilli by the ears or even the tail. He really is a pretty delicate little guy. Any type of rough handling on your part may very easily result in his losing some fur.
If you must, stop the chinchilla-chase for a moment to rearrange the furniture to see if it makes the "catch" any easier. As you try to corral the little fellow, remember that it's in his genetic makeup to run from you like that. He is, after all, at the bottom of the food chain.
Whatever you do don't take his actions personally. He has nothing against you personally. In fact, considering all the snacks you've given him, he probably thinks you're a great person. He's just reverting back to his ancestral habits. If you wan to make an analogy, think of when you're under pressure. Your heart starts racing, you have more energy.
Why? Because this is how our ancient ancestors -- like the cavemen -- dealt with the stress of the woolly mammoth or other physical dangers. We don't need those reactions as much now, but they're still lingering with us. That's why your friend, Chilli, is acting the way he does.
Yes, there are more little idiosyncrasies that make your new friend truly a chinchilla. What chinchilla owners call his vocalization is just one of them.
Squeak. Hear that. Squeak. Isn't that a cute little sound? No, it isn't your door that needs oiled. That's the small still voice inside the chinchilla house. It's Chilli telling you he loves you!
When you start to hear your chinchilla squeak, then you know that he has bonded with you. Congratulations!
This squeak not only means he loves you, but that he's ready to play with you. Some chinchilla owners have called it a "chortling" sound. You'll hear this with increasing frequency when he thinks its time for his "out-of-cage" experience. Should you ignore this, he'll keep repeating it. Not only does the call grow in frequency, but it gets louder as well.
But that may not be the only time he talks to you. Got a cat as a family member? Be prepared to check out his squeaks if they seem to be louder and more insistent." Many times it means Fluffy is sitting nearby eying him as a play toy. In other words, he's trying to tell you, he believes his very life is in grave danger!
Are you parent to more than one chinchilla? Then you'll be able to experience the distinct "voices" of each chinchilla eventually. It's true. Just as you know the sound of your best friend's voice, your spouse and others important in your life, you'll come to be able to tell one chinchilla voice from the other.
Body language? You ask. Chinchillas have a body language? Right about now you're ready to call me crazy. Perhaps you think I've spent on too many lonely nights alone with my chinchilla. Before you skip this section, give some thought to the idea.
Observe him in his element. Watch him when he's completely at ease and the master of his own domain: his chinchilla home. In the security of his home, Chilli moves more slowly; he uses his short front legs to help propel him on all four of his legs.
Another sign that your chinchilla is relaxed is simply the fact that he's grooming himself.
Put him on the floor during his "out-of-cage" experience and you're likely to see him move differently. Here he's acts nervously, always on the lookout for something to happen. He hops, relying on his powerful back legs to get him where he needs to go. In this setting he's also likely to use his tail for balance as he stands upright, alert to any intruder or predator. This is a chinchilla on "high alert."
The inquisitiveness of a chinchilla is fairly well known. You can always tell, while they are investigating whether they're on the track of something they aren't really sure of. Their ears are lowered and flattened toward the back rather than being raised at their usual "perky" stance.
It's not really Chilli's fault you know. He may really want to get along with the other pets in the family. It's just that the other animals are so darned big. And they view him as ... well ... lunch! If they don't see him as lunch, they see him at the very least as a very plush play toy.
We've touched on it briefly before, but it really does deserve a mention on its own. If you have other family pets, you should keep your chinchilla at a distance from them.
This is especially so if you have a cat. You may think you've taken all the necessary precautions, but consider some of the consequences of an accidental cat-chinchilla encounter.
Even if fluffy can't fully "get at" Chilli, fluffy still may be able to do some serious injury to your little furry friend. And the "close encounter" can even turn fatal for Chilli.
You may not realize this (I didn't and I'm a cat lover from way back), but the mouth of your seemingly innocent cat is filled with not so innocent -- even menacing bacteria.
All it takes is a bit from your cat -- contact with the long curved teeth at the corner of his mouth. And Chilli could be in potential danger. He may be injected with these bacteria and infected by them. The bacteria would spread quickly throughout his body.
When a chinchilla gets bit, he needs to receive veterinarian care as soon as possible. He is so small, it won't take long for these bacteria to overcome him.
Even if all your cat does is claw at poor little Chilli, the consequences could be serious. This is especially so if the cat clawed near his ears and eyes.
You can reduce the risk immensely, simply by the way you arrange your chinchilla's cage. Make it extremely difficult for your cat to either jump on top of it or to get right next to it. Yes, it might stretch your imagination some, but you'll be very glad you did this.
For even more protection, you should reinforce the clasp on Chilli's front door. The first time chinchilla parents did this, it didn't sit well with me. But I'm not quite sure I fully agree but many of my friends have already tried it and are quite pleased.
What am I talking about? You may want to get a small combination lock that requires no keys to open it (you just need obviously to recall the numbers that comprise the combination) Only you can make that choice.
If your cat is the senior animal in the house, there's really no way to determine how he'll react to the introduction of a chinchilla. Much of his reaction depends on his age and the type of cat he is.
Siamese cats are more likely to pursue the issue than some other breeds, for example. Many of the Siamese have a very strong hunting instinct and are very agile.
A younger cat may make more of a fuss over your chinchilla than an older one. He has more energy and is probably more interested in investigating the little guy, trying to figure out what exactly he is.
Dogs, by contrast, aren't usually that interested in the scurrying chinchilla. The barking of your canine friend may upset Chilli until he gets used to his new surroundings.
Having said this, I add a caveat. You certainly don't want your dog in the same room when your little chinchilla is roaming free. This is especially true if your dog is a terrier or a hound of some type. Both of these breeds have been used to hunt. And they will definitely "hunt" Chilli.
Whew! Reading all of this may make you feel a little inadequate to handle the introduction of a new small friend into your life. Please don't feel this way.
Think of it this way. Bringing any type of pet into your home -- whether it be a dog, cat or a chinchilla -- requires a great deal of patience on your part and every member of your family.
The difference is that most of the time, we have a better grasp of what to expect from a dog or a cat. Sure, you can expect some type of orientation period -- for lack of any other phrase. But once several hurdles have been cleared, you can be sure that the chinchilla will be a welcome addition to your family. Your little friend will add hours of delight to your day!