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Help! Angry Prairie dog pup!

7889 Views 8 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Gena Seaberg
I have a four month old prairie dog pup who I was told was a boy but did further research and am going to take to the vet for a general exam and to see if he might be a she.

Anyway, when I first got him it took about two weeks to get him used to the family and to get his cuddly side out. But now, as soon as I open the cage door to let him out he tries to barge out instead of letting me pick him up to carry him to his play room. If I try to keep him from running out the cage door he squeaks angrily, and then bites me.

Once we're in the play room, he's fine for the next hour or two. But eventually, he'll start squeaking and biting me pretty hard, making me bleed to where I have to restrain him and take him back to his cage while he's trying to bite me and squeaking.

This has been going on for the past few days every time he comes out of the cage and while he's in the cage all he wants to do is come out! What is going on with my little guy?! :(

Please help!
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Hello!!! They dont do OK when you dont allow them to do what they want to do. :) Do you always pick him up for taking him into the cage? If you only grap him for taking him in, he is associating your hands to something negativa, something that he doesnt like and he will reject you hands and will try to scape from them biting you. What I suggest you is to slowly get confident to him and starting taking him in your hands for giving a sweet, touch him, so he will start associte that your hands... not always mean something bad for him.

No, I pick him up often to play with him or to put him on my bed or the couch, etc. But he'll start biting me with almost no reason, even if he's playing with me and then suddenly gets angry in mid-play.

Yesterday I tried putting him in a dark box for five minutes as a time out, after reading it as a suggestion to someone else on these forums. It completely stressed him out and he cried helplessly and peed and pooped, but the next morning he was back to his old self and played with me so I'm not sure if that benefited or just stressed him out and he had forgotten by the next morning because he did started squeaking to get out of the cage eventually.

I'm not sure what to do. :(
To be honest, it all sounds perfectly normal to me. They want to do what they want to do, and can be remarkably stubborn. They need to learn that you are the boss and what you say is what goes. If he bites or gets aggressive in any way he needs to be immediately put back into his cage, in a time out by himself. Even if that means closing up the door to his cage right away, and no play time for a while. They are capable of learning, and have very good memories, and do not respond well at all to negative reinforcement. They are talkers and respond to vocal cues, so talk to him a lot, even when you're not actively looking to interact or play with him, talk to him when you're in the room. When you can get regular yahoos out of them just for walking in the room, you know you're on the right track with becoming a prairie dog yourself. :)

Of course he's always going to want out - if you were in a cage, you'd probably always want out too. The key is to give him plenty to do. Tubes and boxes to hide in, or chew up. Deep substrate to dig in. Lots of timothy hay to chew on, and nest with. A big wheel to run on to get some of that energy out. Try a few different kinds of toys - always keeping in mind that anything that goes in their cage will be chewed up. And vary them up often. If you consider how active prairie dogs are in the wild; when not sleeping, they are constantly digging, foraging, arranging the area around their burrows, and being vigilant for other members of their community. If he's stuck in the same cage, with the same stuff day after day he simply has no purpose within the group and frustrated boredom can lead to lashing out. Plus, if he actually is only four months old, he's still very young so doesn't really have a set place in your "prairie dog town" yet. He doesn't have a purpose and needs some place to direct his energy that isn't solely into trying to get away.

Play periods should be kept short and contained. By contained, I mean just on the bed/couch, or just in a closed off area where he's never far out out of your reach. Maybe not even out of your arms. Once they're out and on their own, they want to stay that way, and can easily get overstimulated and edgy - and you reaching to grab them is naturally going to provoke a fear response as if you are a predator. You can expand his exploration area once he's learned to behave when only near you. Eventually you can get to the point where they'll come back to you when called, but it's all about patience and persistence and not letting him be the boss. If he acts up, put him right back in his cage. I've actually had one of my prairie dogs accidentally get out of her cage when I wasn't home, and when I finally did get home she was sitting on the bed where we always play, waiting for me.

That all being said, if he actually is a boy, I'd consider getting him neutered. Once he reaches maturity, every year during rut there will be a period where his personality will change and he will basically not want anything to do with you, or it can result in mood swings where he'll seem normal at first, but then suddenly get aggressive. The time period can vary a lot, from a couple weeks to sometimes 2-3 months. Neutering can help mitigate those symptoms. Females generally don't get the same symptoms, but sometimes they can. I've kept six prairie dogs over the years, 3 males and 3 females. The only time I've ever been bitten was by an un-neutered mature male in rut. It just takes some practice to learn their normal behavior and get to the point where you know how they're going to react - and when is best to just leave them be, or only interact with them through the cage.

I'm sure there's plenty I'm not even thinking about, but there is a ton of information online, even on this forum itself, about prairie dog behavior and ideas for enrichment. Google is your friend.
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Oh, and a bit advice I give anyone who has a biting animal they need to handle: invest in a nice set of thick leather welding gloves. You can buy them at pretty much any hardware or home improvement store for less than 10 dollars. They protect your hands and wrists, and are thick enough that I haven't had anything bite through them yet, from Nile monitor lizards, snakes, genets, prairie dogs, kinkajous... Let your prairie dog see them, smell them, and get used to them, so that he doesn't fear them... but they are very handy for those times you need control of him, and don't want to get bitten. A bite from a large rodent can certainly ruin your day, and even cause serious damage if it happens to be in a particularly bad spot. Not even considering the risk of infection. If you end up in the ER or going to the doctor for an animal bite, then the local health department can get involved... and that almost never leads to anything good for your pet, even if it was just a one-time incident.
Thank you soooo much! That was such great and informative advice and I couldn't have asked for a better reply! Timon and I are already on a better road, and I limited her to only playing on the bed for now :)
I use the technique that you did of putting them in a dark place (I use a small, bare carrier) and it has worked for all 4 of my prairie dogs. Yes, they cry and poop and such but its punishment remember. Keep doing it. It takes time to work. Good luck!!
And definitely listen to everyone else too, they have great advice!!
Yeah, I still use it too. It works great and I highly recommend it. The transformation in behavior was dramatic and fast for me.

I have a very well behaved little pup now, still mischievous but she knows I'm the boss :3 and I love her little fuzzy self
I'm hoping that you're continuing to enjoy success with your new addition, but if you find you run into behavioral or other concerns about her welfare, I'd be more than happy to help you with any aspect of their care as I specialize in their captive care and also work with prairie dogs in some aspects in the wild. You're more than welcome to contact me anytime as is anyone here at [email protected] or at 425.870.1729. I wish you luck and am here as a resource if you need it. I specialize in their captive nutrition and that is where my doctoral studies were focused. =) Take care!
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