I recently came across an interesting topic and an alternative opinion that is apparently widespread amongst Robo keepers. That is handling, taming and the idea that you..well…shouldn’t. I must admit to being confused about this and also to not watching various videos linked to me as, quite frankly, I think it’s rather harmful.
I’ll explain and also add a very important exception to this. Firstly, baby Robos should be handled if you want a tame animal that enjoys life in a stress free world that it’s used to. If you want a wild (feral) animal that hides away in its cage all day then by all means don’t handle it. The worst in my opinion is the half and half approach. Interact with them to the point of picking them up but then not doing it. In my mind, you are interacting because you want a pet to interact with. This assumes that your pet will visit the vet at some point. Imagine the terror an animal goes through when not taught to accept life and then taken to a busy, noisy vets probably in pain and definitely unwell to boot.
A feral exotic pet may be expected to pass away without treatment, likely because ill-health was not noticed. It’s hard to spot these things in a pet you can’t look at. So in a way, a natural environment and 100% hands off isn’t so bad. You will literally never need to handle your pet.
You should go one way, or the other. Handling is not forcing per se. You don’t force your children to go outside exactly, but they don’t have a choice do they? You teach your children to accept life’s challenges and that’s what you do with your pets. Your hamster should allow you to pick it up, scruff it, turn it over and anything else you need to do to check it’s healthy or anything it may experience in its life. Place the cage in a busy-ish part of the house so it gets used to noises, strange smells or people and it will learn these are not threats.
In the wild, an animal learns from experience. Repeated exposure to a stimulus (like a hoover noise) that doesn’t result in a negative experience (you wouldn’t want to be putting the hoover in the cage or banging the cage with it) means the animal becomes accustomed and comfortable with it.
To this end, my babies are brought downstairs into the living room when they are 3 weeks old and gradually exposed to the hoover noise, dogs barking, loud children etc because I’d like to rehome animals that aren’t neurotic bags of anxiety. I advise new owners how to handle them confidently and I’ve only experienced a problem where an owner messed about too much with handling and the hamster became nervous. I rectified this with a short holiday and, seeing the results, the owner changed her handling and had a long and happy relationship with her hamster.
Now the exception! Rescued and pet shop hamsters, particularly Robos and Chinese, may not have had any handling as youngsters at all. It’s incredibly important that they are worked with in terms of rehab as just because they’ve always been scared doesn’t mean they always have to be. But it isn’t always possible. Some are just too nervous. Genetically under confident and then left to their own devices. These guys just flat-out don’t cope with anything and owning one if you wanted a cuddly ham can be demoralising.
If this is you, you are not a failure. You’ve given an animal a wonderful chance at life that it wouldn’t otherwise have had and it’s important you remember this. Taming should still be firm and gentle. You are their guide and they look to you to tell them if they need to be afraid or not. But sometimes a less direct approach produces better results in these circumstances.
However, it shouldn’t be the ‘normal’ advice handed out to owners of babies that have been handled already. I’m surprised that it is although everyone is entitled to their opinion. See below my fool-proof method of handling and I hope to film it at some point too.
Using two hands, scoop your Robo. You achieve this simply by moving your left hand towards your right with the robo in between. Don’t squeeze. Your robo may run or even jump out so do this over a box. Be prepared for your robo to try to run up your arm!
Scoop then open your hands. The Robo should stand still and look around, deciding what to do. Let it do what it needs to do at this point.
Rinse and repeat – repeat this move for a few times a night, or even every other night until the Robo panics less. ROBOS WILL ALWAYS RUN AWAY. They are Robos. It’s what they do. It’s not horrendous fear, panic etc it’s just what they do. They don’t do things in slow motion.
Once your Robo stops flying off your hand the minute you scoop it you can start lifting your hand up. Not far though.
The next step is hand over hand juggling. This allows your Robo to run without allowing it to run away. They quickly stop running and may even sit and wash themselves in your palm. Robos rarely nip, if you do get nipped then that’s very concerning and there may be something wrong with your hamster that isn’t obvious. A sprained leg, feeling under the weather etc. Return it to its cage and keep an eye on it.
Once confident you can move to holding the hamster under the armpits so that you can check underneath. This is important so you can see the scent gland, nipples and legs/feet as well as under the chin for any abscesses or other problems.
I don’t like scruffing but sometimes it’s necessary. It’s optional if you want to get your hamster used to it or not. They usually cope with it quite well even if they haven’t been scruffed before. They will have been scruffed by mum as babies and it’s almost as if they remember.
I hope that helps people having issues with handling. Please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want specific advice.