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I got two female gerbils a few months ago, and I'm having trouble getting them used to being petted. They occasionally sit still while I stroke their backs, and if my hand is in the cage, they'll tend to sniff and nibble my fingers, but if I try to pick them up they run away.

What methods can I use to get them more used to being stroked/held?

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Just gently keep working at it on a daily basis and be patient.

We have 3 Degus (like a domesticated squirrel), and when we got them, they weren't very keen on even being touched. I offered my hand for them to sniff and nibble on everyday, and I can safely pick them up now.

If they're small enough, you can also lay your hand flat on their cage's floor, palm up, and let them climb on your hand. If they won't climb on, you can do a couple things:

  • Just keep working up to it, and be patient. First start letting them come to you, then lightly pet them. I've found that most rodents don't like their head or surrounding areas touched until they trust you, so focus around their front legs and surrounding area so they can see what is touching them.

  • Try putting a treat in the middle of your palm, and lift them up gently when they climb onto your hand to grab it. Note, this might scare them, and may erode trust. It's a necessary step though, so just be careful when/if you do it. If you're going to forcibly pick them up, don't do it too quickly, and if you do get them up, hold them over the tank for safety, and don't hold them for too long in the beginning. Your goal here should be to show them that you can support them without problem and build their trust.

It's all about trust, so just do what you can to get them to trust and know you. If one day they're abnormally irritable, back off a bit and let them be. You don't want to lose any trust you've gained by forcing the matter.

Good luck.

  • How long would you recommend doing this each day, while they're getting used to it? 5 minutes or so? – Yann Dec 10 '14 at 14:53
  • I never timed it, but 5 minutes should be ok. Read them though instead of using a set time. If it looks like they're getting even remotely annoyed, back off (or go to the other guy). On the other hand, if on a certain day they're putting up less resistance, go a little longer. Just remember to stop if they look (or sound) like they're getting mad; your won't be doing yourself any favours past that point. – Carcigenicate Dec 10 '14 at 14:58
  • Good point. Now my only issue is stopping the other one running out of the cage door while I'm looking at the other one (Gerbilarium with a door at "floor level") – Yann Dec 10 '14 at 15:01
  • Oh, ya, that will be slightly more difficult. We use a high walled glass tank, so we just have to reach over, and the other guy is free to still do whatever. Let me think about that for a bit. You might need to transfer them to a different temporary tank during "bonding". If I don't post back in a couple hours, I probably forgot (Sorry, I'm going to work soon). – Carcigenicate Dec 10 '14 at 15:06
  • Ok, and like I said, good luck. I've had all sorts of pets, and some just end up being miserable things that hate everyone. I had a hedgehog that bit me every time I picked him up until he died of WHS. I also have a Uromastyx now that had an abusive cage mate, and is now unfortunately mentally scarred. It's been a year and a half now, and she still runs away from any kind of movement. Unless you had the gerbils from their birth, you can't know exactly what conditions they were in prior to you buying them, so give them some slack. They too may have had violent partners in the past. – Carcigenicate Dec 10 '14 at 15:20
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You should when you are able to pick them up also hold them for a few seconds and then give them a treat. Once you give Them the treat put them back in the cage. This associates you holding them with treats.

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