Training Your Chinchilla

Chinchilla owners have to earn – and keep – their pet's trust. It may take weeks for your chinchilla to know you well enough to let you pick him up. You'll see the best results if you move slowly, have lots of patience and visit with your chinchilla at the same time every day. And like elephants, chinchillas never forget: One frightening capture or grab could ruin your chance to make friends with this high-strung animal.

The First Days

The first few days in a new home can be very stressful, so you should give your chinchilla time to get acquainted with his surroundings before you approach him. Remember that he is naturally more active in the evenings and night. When you feed your chinchilla or change his water, approach his cage slowly and directly. Speak to your chinchilla in a soft, comforting voice, but do not try to touch him. It is best for him to get used to your voice while you're still across cage bars from each other. With time your chinchilla will be more comfortable and may come up to the side of the cage to greet you when you enter the room.

Get a chair and sit quietly next to the cage. If your chinchilla comes over to see what you are doing, offer him a treat or a food pellet through the bars. Raisins are a favorite treat, but you shouldn't feed your chinchilla more than one a day (split them in halves to spread it out). Your chinchilla will likely bound away when you move your arm to bring the food up to his level, but curiosity will bring him back to your fingers. Repeat this activity every night at the same time so that your chinchilla will begin to anticipate your visits.

After a few days of feeding your pet through the wires, open the cage door and place your hand on the cage floor, palm up. Make no move to try to catch your chinchilla. Allow him to approach your hand on his own. He will sniff your fingers, then bound away, and then return. Chinchillas are jumpy and energetic, but they're also curious. After each session, reward your chinchilla for his good behavior.

Palm Feeding

Place a treat in the middle of your upturned palm such that your chinchilla has to step on you to get the food. Have patience; he may not go for it the first time. Do not move your hand toward him in the cage, for chinchillas hate to be chased. You'll knock your whole training pyramid down to step one if you frighten your pet, and he won't forget the incident easily. Once your chinchilla is willing to take a treat from your outstretched palm, try moving the treat up your forearm. To get at the food, your chinchilla will need to climb up your arms toward the cage door.

Don't try to lift your chinchilla out of the cage just yet. Allow him to crawl out onto you. Let him explore your arms and shoulders and get used to your smell while you gently stroke his back and ears. When it's time to put him back in the cage, tempt him back with his end-of-session treat.

On Handling

Your chinchilla will soon trust you enough to allow you to lift him out of his cage. Place one hand behind him or grasp the base of his tail to keep him from backing away from you and slip your other hand underneath your chinchilla's body, supporting his full weight. Lift him carefully. Hold your chinchilla securely against your chest or at your shoulder so he can look out behind you.

Never grab your chinchilla's tail while he is running away or a piece of it may break off in your hand. This is one of your chinchilla's natural defense mechanisms. He will also release clumps of fur if he is scared or handled too roughly. If your chinchilla is running around, do not chase him. Let him calm down and try to slowly approach him and scoop him up in your hands.