| Health & Lifestyle Pages (site
map lists page contents) Chinchilla
Behavior: Relating to People and Other Animals
Introductions and Group Dynamics/ Chintelligence
Dental Health/ Exercise
and Play Grooming,
Fur and Skin Health/ Healing:
Ailments & Remedies/ Nutrition/
and Wild Chinchillas Today
Bonding, A Hands-On Approach (first contact procedure)
to Your Chinchilla (chin scratches or grooming, playtime bonding,
catching and handling)
Continued on next page:
Red Print: Please Read First
Source, or Background, and Behavioral Expecations (pet breeder, ranch,
pet store, rehoming, rescue)
Characteristics of Behavior
(exercise, sleep and covering cages)
Continued on next page:
Stress (attitude and behavior determinants, basic ways to prevent
stress, potential stress factors)
Behavior (biting; urine-spraying- single female chin syndrome; rearing
up and chattering teeth; hostilely pursuing, cornering, fur-pulling)
Rehabilitation: Addressing Biting and Urine-Spraying
Continued on next page:
With Other Animals (chins and buns don't mix)
Classroom Pets -and- Are Chinchillas a Good Pet for Children? (pets
INITIATING BONDING, A HANDS-ON APPROACH
Also see: Environmental
Stress and Anti-Social
"Getting A New Chinchilla" by Pet
Chinchillas.info is a good article
that represents the alternative point of view (although we disagree
with using bathrooms as a playroom for several
key reasons), which can be taken under advisement if you think your
chin is already confident and sociable enough for that approach.
The commonly advised (a lot of common advice is problematic)
"hands-off" or, "let the chin come to you" approach
of initiating a relationship with a chinchilla can work great with
chins who've come from a background of positive socialization with
people. Unfortunately, many have not, and we often hear from thoroughly
frustrated chinparents who've been applying the "hands-off"
advice with a chin who's had no real experience with people or who
has come from a background of negative socialization due to previous
Typically, the people
who give the most online advice are not the same people who spend
hours every day working with high-strung, oversensitive or troubled
chins, and that's why these chins are so often overlooked, misunderstood
or dismissed as the exception. "Just sit with you arm resting
in the cage and wait for him to come to you" or "Ignore
your new chin and let him settle in for the first few days, or a week
or two" might sound ok to us because we're not a small, powerless
animal of prey, trapped in a cage and yet exposed and vulnerable,
dreading and expecting the worst, feeling alone, terrified, bewildered.
Given that the human has his freedom and total control while the chin
is caged and helpless, how is that arrangement supposed to motivate
this small prey animal, especially one who's just come out of a bad
experience with people, or who has spent days, maybe months in the
nerve-wracking environment of a pet store, to step up and make friends?
When a chin is fearful of interaction and handling, especially
if he shrieks or acts intimidated and terrified, then he NEEDS
TO BE HELD, to be calmed, soothed and gently reassured, see: First
Contact Procedure and Catching
and Handling Your Chinchilla. You wouldn't turn your back on a
crying, frightened child, right? Well, a terrified chinchilla is no
different in this way. Walking away when your chin is feeling vulnerable
and scared will only justify and intensify his fears, because in his
eyes YOU, the one responsible for his welfare and happiness, have
deliberately abandoned him in his despair.
a chin acts out with anti-social
behavior that is NOT proof
that the chin is "bad" or that he dislikes his chinparent.
Although it can be hard not to take it personally, don't, because
biting, urine spraying and other defense tactics are a cry for help
when coming from a helpless prey animal. That is the only way they
have to communicate the alarm, fear, frustration or stress that they're
feeling, and they truly do not want to discourage or drive off the
only person capable of making them feel safe, secure and loved.
Fear and anxiety won't magically resolve themselves, something needs
to take place for those feelings to subside, for confidence and trust
to grow in their place. Only the chinparent has the ability to make
this happen, because the chinparent is responsible for and in control
of EVERYTHING that affects
the chin: his whole environment, and every aspect of how he is treated
and provided for.
For a chin to overcome his fears, adjust to his new environment
and learn to interact and bond in a positive, healthy way, the chinparent
1) Without fail, be sure that the chin is provided
with all the Essentials
(fresh, high quality pellets and hay, distilled or filtered water,
chew toys, a hideaway, etc., a
is also strongly recommended) so
that he will come to realize that he can trust
his chinparent to meet ALL his needs, ALL the time.
2) Keep environmental stresses in
during waking hours does a lot to relieve debilitating stress), because
behavior (biting, urine-spraying) is often attributable to
3) Be assertive and persistent
(in a gentle, loving way of course, and sometimes it takes a LOT
of patience and time- like weeks, even months) in
reassuring the chin when he is afraid, helping him to feel confident
that he is loved and valued, no matter what
he does, no matter how he behaves.
Our advice about being "hands-on" (as detailed in First
Contact Procedure) derives from our rescue experience
working with unsocialized and anti-social
chins from all adoption
backgrounds, and from years of feedback from rescue workers and chinparents.
We believe that being hands-on provides a positive foundation for
building a relationship with a chin regardless of his former experience
with people, whether negative, positive or inexperienced. We also
recommend covering cages (as described on Routines)
because it has many benefits, including providing a sense of protection
To understand why a behavioral approach succeeds or fails, it is necessary
to understand the perspective of the one on the receiving end. Like
all animals, the behaviors that chinchillas exhibit are chiefly instinctual,
the result of nature's programming. Animals are neither morally complex
nor egotistically driven, they are motivated by simple instinct whose
goal it is to survive, thrive and reproduce (NOTE: chinchillas
do not "need" to be bred and we promote same-sex
pairing in captivity due to issues
with overpopulation and careless breeding. This reference relates
to their instincts in nature).
On one level of existence, chinchillas are prey animals, humans are
predators. Prey animals take their cue (how to act, what to expect,
how to successfully "survive, thrive and reproduce")
from their environment, and especially from the dominant species in
their environment (chinparent). In the wild, prey animals use
their intelligence and cunning in a more defensive or reactionary
way while predators (like humans) take a more dominant and
assertive role: initiating action, setting the pace, establishing
This means that instinctually speaking, a chinchilla is inclined to
expect the more dominant species in his environment to make the first
move, to confidently initiate the relationship, to welcome and reassure
him and show him what to expect. This instinctual predisposition is
reinforced by the fact that in captivity, our caged pets are
in a position of submission and we are in a position of dominance.
In their eyes they are completely at our mercy so again, this makes
it OUR, the chinparent's, responsibility to make the first move toward
bonding; they can't know what our intentions are unless we show them
by being kind, reassuring, comforting and loving. Unless
a chin has a background of positive socialization with people in order
to perceive things differently, in order to feel assertive and confident
in initiating the relationship, then the expectations of a hands-off
approach are rather absurd.
What happens when the chin is ignored so he can "settle in,"
or when the new chinparent acts tentative or afraid to pick him up,
or handle him? To an animal of prey, such wary, withholding behavior
on the part of the dominant species creates an atmosphere of fear,
distrust and uncertainty which at its very worst can cause the chin
to succumb to acute
shock (not a common problem, but it can happen). When a
frightened new chin is ignored he may also act out with anti-social
(biting, urine spraying) behavior, because in his eyes the
chinparent who was supposed to be there when he was afraid, who was
supposed to offer comfort and security, has betrayed him.
resulting from the reverse role-playing of the hands-off approach
can wreak havoc on a chinparent's relationship with their new chin.
With a hands-on approach (as
detailed in First
Contact Procedure), the initiative,
the responsibility for establishing a bond is put where the chin instinctively
expects it to be, squarely on the shoulders of the chinparent. And
when the chinparent assumes the role of initiating bonding
and sets positive expectations, then the chin is given a definite
framework within which to interact, which helps to alleviate his
fears (fear of the unknown, of neglect, abandonment or mistreatment)
and reassure him that he can put faith and trust in his chinparent
and expect the best from his new situation.
First Contact Procedure
Bonding, A Hands-On Approach should be read prior to this section,
also see Catching
and Handling Your Chinchilla. If you have a chin that came with
more serious anti-social
behaviors (biting, urine-spraying), skip First Contact Procedure
and begin behavioral
Firstly, don't expect "instant" bonding and total control
over your chin. Establishing a real relationship with a chinchilla,
one of mutual trust and understanding, can take weeks, even months
of TIME and PATIENCE on the part of the chinparent because chinchillas
are highly intelligent, complex animals. Once you have established
a bond of affection and trust, then the chin will usually become more
receptive to your direction, but don't expect absolute compliance
and obedience because by nature chins tend to be spirited, willful
and to like things on their terms. As someone once suggested to us
in perhaps overly simplistic terms, it can be more like relating to
a cat than a dog.
It's important to understand that "a hands-on approach"
is NOT the same as forcing your attention on your new pet in obnoxious
and overbearing ways. Ambushing him with your attentions, constantly
prying and never allowing him a moment's peace can be just as frightening
as withholding attention altogether, there is a middle ground and
THAT is what we're advocating here by a hands-on approach: giving
appropriate attention that is gentle, soothing, calming, caring. It's
up to you, the chinparent, to be sensitive to your chin's needs and
to determine if he's frightened and needs reassurance or if he's feeling
fine and just needs some time to himself, to be left alone for awhile.
When a chin is new to an environment, he needs to be welcomed by the
dominant species in that environment (chinparent) with positive
reassurance that this is friendly territory where he will be
valued and respected. This article was originally written after hearing
from several distraught chinparents who had been abstaining from interacting
with, picking up or holding their chinchilla because they were led
to believe the chin should be ignored and allowed to "settle
in," that the chin would decide when he was ready to bond with
them and would make the first move. Clearly, no one notified the chin...
and after waiting for days, weeks or months, if their chin hadn't
succumbed to acute
shock (not a common problem but it can happen, especially
chinchillas) and died, then it had shied away from them, become
a fearful bundle of nerves, begun fur
biting or even developed anti-social
(biting, urine-spraying) habits out of sheer stress
hands-on approach is simple:
After you get your new chin home and give him about an hour
to look around his new cage
and get acquainted with his surroundings, then gently pick him up
(if he goes berserk, see Catching
and Handling Your Chinchilla) and find a quiet place where
you can watch TV or listen to music and hold him for a while, sitting
down, for at least five or ten minutes. With a loving touch and genuine
concern for his comfort and happiness, speak to him in a soothing
tone, tell him he's a good boy, and be positive, calm, gentle and
Then find a way or relating that your chin seems receptive to, for
instance: kiss (dry kiss!) his forehead, his paws, his cheek
(again, whatever he seems to appreciate, find your communication
groove), let him snuggle into or under your shirt, under a lap
blanket or in the crook of your arm (snuggling under something
is comforting and soothing, they hide in crevices and burrows in the
wild). Be receptive to what your chin likes- find out how YOUR
particular chin wants to be related to, as one rescue we
work with put it, this calming and bonding time is essentially "Holding
Most chins don't like to be petted in strokes, see this description
scratches and use that instead, all the while speaking soothingly
to him. Be aware that some chinchillas
react to human breath as if they're being bombarded by another animal's
natural defenses. That is, they think that humans use breath the same
way that another chin sprays urine,
the way a porcupine uses its quills or a squid shoots ink; human breath
can be overwhelming, repulsive and even threatening, especially if
a chin is not accustomed to interaction with people. It can take time
for a chin to realize that our breath is not intended to offend.
Take out your new chin and bond with him like this at least once daily,
during his evening waking hours, for about five or ten minutes at
a time or for longer periods of time or more frequently if he appears
receptive. The First Contact Procedure should
develop into out-of-cage
exercise and playtime
bonding when the chin is ready to explore his play area.
Once he's confident (and depending on his history it may take weeks,
even months and a lot of time and patience for him to get confident)
with you and his situation, then it's fine to allow him to take
the initiative and come to you.
To encourage him to take the initiative, put both your hands out,
palms up(it's the opposite
of how we hold our hands to catch them, and thus it's a gesture of
friendliness rather than dominance), in
front of the cage and wait for him to walk out onto your hands, or
just hold the cage door open and let him come out to you. Not all
chins will be receptive to this, what is important is that you extended
the invitation, not whether or not the chin took it, and don't just
try this once and give up, not every chin may get the idea the first
Allowing your chin to take the initiative is empowering and therefore
good for him and your relationship with him, but he may need time
to work up to that. Also, don't be surprised if your chin needs to
and taken to the playroom
for exercise, this is typical and a chin's reluctance
to be picked
up should NOT be misconstrued as disinterest in out-of-cage playtime!
Read more about Catching
and Handling Your Chinchilla.
The intent of a hands-on approach is to reassure your chin, to put
him at ease and to encourage confidence and reciprocal trust and bonding.
When you and your chinchilla find your communication groove, you'll
know it and then this initial bonding approach will no longer be necessary,
you'll have out-of-cage
exercise and playtime bonding
While becoming acquainted with your chin, be sure that all his essential
needs are being met, including his need for a setup
that provides some quiet and solitude (away from prying pets, excessive
traffic) during daytime sleeping hours, this is essential to his
health and a successful adjustment. We also highly recommend TV
for chins during their nocturnal waking hours, it is extremely helpful
in getting them to desensitize somewhat, to adjust to the hustle and
bustle of the household all from the safety and comfort of their cage.
Also see the Environmental
Stress section to get an idea of how to make your chin's life
more stress-free, because anti-social
behavior (biting, urine-spraying) is often attributable to
It may not be smooth sailing at first, but your chinchilla needs you
to reach out with affection and understanding and eventually he will
come around, so be gentle but persistent in comforting and reassuring
him. Don't let a "gruffer" or a "barker" dissuade you from handling
him, those are the ones most in need of positive attention and they're
usually not biters,
they're usually the ones that are "all bark and no bite."
A good guideline is, if the chin is frightened
(including those chins that go berserk at the prospect of being
picked up, caught or held), then hold, snuggle and reassure him,
but when he's got gusto and confidence, let him go, and he'll come
back to you.
If you have taken in a chin that needs some medical care, like tending
to a superficial wound
and the chin is resistant to treatment, don't withhold medical attention
at this point for fear of stressing him out. In fact, as we advised
chinparents in one case where a couple chins needed treatment for
"It's your stand-offishness and temerity that are actually making
it look like you ARE something to be feared and avoided. You need
to catch and hold them and talk softly to them and persist with moisturizing
their feet until the callouses/cuts heal. Do it for their own good
and it's not excessive or stressful once they learn that you are in
charge AND that they have nothing to fear from that. No, you won't
be giving them flashbacks to what they were put through before, by
letting them misbehave you're actually reinforcing their insecurity
because you're not in control. When they test their boundaries and
there seem to be none, they keep testing, they need boundaries to
feel secure, much like very young children."
A new chin needs at least a week to get acquainted
with you before being introduced
to another chin. They need to be firmly grounded in a bond
of trust with you, to know that you won't let harm come to them, to
know that you have their best interests at heart. It's fundamental
to a chin's confidence and even his will to live to know that, also,
introductions should never be rushed or forced to satisfy the chinparent's
impatience, this can and has resulted in chinchilla injuries and deaths.
RELATING TO YOUR CHINCHILLA
scratches or grooming, playtime
Also see: General Characteristics of Behavior
Bonding, A Hands-On Approach
As stated in Critical
Points: Although they appear cute and cuddly, chinchillas in general
are not sedentary lap pets who will sit still and welcome loads of
holding and cuddling. They are usually sociable and enjoy interacting
with people, but they like to be on the move: exploring, energetic,
playful. While some pets will accept being dominated and controlled
by their owner, chinchillas really do not. They prefer to have things
on their terms: chinchillas have a keenly intelligent, curious and
independent nature with a mind and will of their own. Chins need to
TO as companions rather than treated as mere pets, and it takes
someone with maturity and intelligence, emotional as well as psychological,
to truly appreciate them.
Chin Scratches or Grooming
Most chins don't like to be petted in strokes the way we would
a dog or a cat. Instead, rub the tummy, under the chin, along the
jawline, behind the ears or on the forehead in a circular, massaging
motion (see video examples: Leescratches1.flv,
that is sometimes referred to as "chin scratches." Approach
your chin palms-up to give scratches, this way he'll know he isn't
getting picked up, and use key words first to communicate intent,
for example, we say, "scratch-scratch, scratch-scratch"
a few times and they come to their cage door or let us approach during
playtime to get their scratches. If you want to hold your chin on
your lap for a little while before letting him out to
run or before putting him back in his cage, by giving chin scratches
you'll entice him to pause for a few moments of bliss.
It is typical for chins to gruff in response to chin scratches. They
guide each other during grooming sessions as well, making little chirping
or gruffing sounds to guide their groomer's technique. A little gruff
means "not quite right, you're almost there," the irritated
gruff means you're quite off and short barks means they've had enough.
Short barks when you initially approach can mean they're not in the
mood for chin scratches, but sometimes it's a bluff and they're won
over once you start. It takes time and requires empathy and awareness
to discern what your chin's sounds mean, exactly what he's trying
to tell you, and individuals do vary somewhat in their communication
sounds. Watch both your chin's body language and sound variation while
you're grooming him and this will help guide you. Once your chin is
being happily scratched he'll be quiet and completely absorbed in
your perfected technique.
Be aware that chins do nibble
and this should not be reacted to adversely, they nibble each other
while grooming and they may also groom their chinparent (knuckes,
fingers, callouses, beard stubble, eyebrows, etc.) in response
to chin scratches or just to express their affection and regard. A
chin who is really enjoying his tummy rub will pull your hand in closer
to show how much he likes it, and then nibble your knuckles gently,
grooming you in appreciative reciprocation. If the chin becomes a
bit too rough with his nibbling, then a simple admonishment like,
"gentle, honey, gentle" and pulling your hand back a little
will deter him, communicating the do's and don'ts of how you like
to be groomed without violating your moment of bonding.
The best time to bond with your chinchilla is during out-of-cage exercise
time, or playtime. Chin scratches while in the cage (see article)
and some cuddling when handling
are great too, and some chins like to take a ride on their chinparent's
shoulder. But chins are free spirits that love to run and play, and
being there to interact with them while they enjoy their out-of-cage
freedom is the ultimate chinparent experience.
We use key words to let our chins know when it's playtime ("playtime,"
repeated several times while getting them out of their cage and taking
them to the playroom) and when playtime is over, to let them
know that it's time to be caught
and returned to their cage ("getcha," repeated several
time while we catch and return them to their cage). When chins
know what to expect it allows them to relax and enjoy themselves the
rest of the time, they can act natural without being wary of being
Even though the playroom should be sufficiently chin-proofed,
if your chin happens to get into something he shouldn't, snap your
fingers or clap your hands once or twice and say "no" in
a firm, not loud or frightening, manner. Use this tactic sparingly
or its effect will diminish.
When your chin is running about, let him lead and take the initiative
in coming to you, his curiosity will eventually lead him to do so
unless he's new and hasn't been through First
Contact Procedure. By allowing him to approach you during playtime,
on his terms, you will be establishing a balance of respect in the
relationship. Allow him to come up and investigate, jump off of, climb
on you, etc., and don't make a grab for him or try to handle
him, just let him have his fun. Of course it's fine to reach out to
him palms up (it's the opposite of how we hold our hands to catch
them, and thus it's a gesture of friendliness rather than dominance)
to do the affectionate things like give him a rub on the tummy
scratches under the chin, behind the ears or on the forehead.
When your chin realizes that the playroom is HIS domain where interaction
is on HIS terms, it will instill a sense of confidence and security
in him and reinforce his trust in you.
Chinchillas are very perceptive,
naturally curious and affectionate, they groom each other by gently
nibbling and when they're comfortable with you they'll nibble at your
hand, perch on your head, take flying leaps from your shoulder and
run across any book or handheld device you may be engrossed in. Several
of our chins have expressed an interest in our laptop, watching us
use the graphics program and putting their paw on the keyboard periodically
to ensure their input counts. Chins are amazing to watch at play,
they sometimes ricochet off things to gain height while they race
about, like springing off the wall to jump as high as the top of the
door frame. They love stairs, a ladder in the playroom works well
too, it gives them an advantageous lookout point.
The more active, wild and crazy a chin is,
the more happy he is. The ultimate expressions of chinchilla
joy and happiness include: "wall surfing" (bouncing off
walls) and the mid-air jump and twitch, sometimes called "popcorning"
but better referred to as a "happy dance."
Catching and Handling Your Chinchilla
Additional Articles: Crystal
Chinchillas- see Getting Started, then Handling; Granite
City Chinchilla's article
If your chin is afraid of handling and interaction,
Bonding, A Hands-On Approach
A person who is seriously intimidated by the prospect of catching
and picking up their chin, who is alarmed, frightened or downright
"freaked out" by their chin's quick movements and high energy,
should seriously question whether having a chinchilla for a pet is
the right thing for them. Some people don't realize until they've
already brought a chin home that they have a rodent phobia altogether.
At that point it is better to be honest about the predicament and
the chin rather than stick him in a remote corner of the house where
he'll be ignored and neglected. Trying to get around the "problem"
of catching your chin by denying him proper exercise in a large room
(about 12'x12' or more), or only allowing him out for petting
sessions is unacceptable treatment that can make some chins hostile
in response to having their freedom so tightly controlled and limited.
MYTH: It's totally unrealistic, particularly in the beginning
of your relationship, to expect your chin to come bouncing up to his
cage door on cue, to stand perfectly still and wait for you whenever
you want to catch him, or to come and go on command. People who boast
these claims have either adopted an unusually well socialized or passive
and obedient chin, or they've spent a lot of time working with their
(establishing a bond of trust, demonstrating expectations)
to get him to that point.
Of course, once a positive rapport has been established between the
chinparent and their chin, then the chin will usually become more
responsive to their chinparent's coaching, much like a child who is
eager to please. For instance, all
our chins come forward
to give kisses through the cage mesh or to get chin
scratches or a tummy rub when we put our hand into their cage,
these are signs that we've established a positive rapport.
But don't expect a high degree of control over your chin because by
nature they tend to be spirited and independent, with a mind and will
of their own, they're not inclined to docile obedience.
It is the chinchilla's instinct as an animal of prey that makes
them want to avoid capture, and this is why they can be difficult
and exasperating to catch and pick up.
Not cooperating when it's time to be picked up for playtime
or when it's time to go back to their cage when playtime is over is
not a sign that the chin is defective,
that he never wants to leave his cage or that he doesn't like his
chinparent. Even chins who enjoy some holding and cuddling (chins
tend to get more sedentary as they age)
still tend to resist the process of being caught and picked up, they'd
rather run free: exploring, jumping, kicking off walls, just having
Strong resistance to being caught or picked up should not be misread
as a sign that the chin wants to be completely left alone. A chin
that is not allowed to leave his cage will justifiably feel afraid
and punished and may attempt to convey those feelings by acting out
at his chinparent with anti-social
(urine-spraying, biting) behavior.
Chins NEED out-of-cage exercise
bonding, the chinparent should EXPECT to
have to catch their chin when he's in his cage in order to get him
out, and once he's out, to catch him to return him to his cage. This
is NORMAL and it will not traumatize the chin (if done correctly,
as described later in this article) or make him dislike you, he
simply needs the chance to become accustomed to the routine.
NOTE: Do not use a live trap, a fish net or even a butterfly
net to catch your chin. Such measures are extreme, unnecessary and
dangerous. If a net rim
descends on the thin, outstretched leg bone of a chin darting about,
it can easily break his leg. In the wild chinchillas are preyed upon
by owls and even at this point of domestication it is unnerving to
have an object continually pouncing on them from overhead. Using nets
and live traps to catch your chin will definitely traumatize him and
damage the bond of trust you have, potentially making him react with
behavior as a defense against this perceived aggression.
If your chinchilla is in his cage as opposed to running around
the playroom, then catching and picking him up will be relatively
easy. A well-socialized chin might be willing to come out on his own
if you offer him
your shoulder to perch on or if you hold your hands together in front
of the cage door, palms up.
This is the opposite of how our hands are positioned when we try to
catch them, palms down, and chins seem to recognize this difference
and perceive the palms up gesture as a friendly invitation to come.
If you always begin by extending the offer of your shoulder or hands
palms up, the chin may eventually catch on and accept this way of
being picked up. But don't be surprised if he chooses to decline or
if once he's caught on and seems to like it, if he doesn't always
accept the invitation.
If the chin refuses the shoulder or hands palms up but he needs to
be picked up for daily out-of-cage exercise
bonding, persist in picking him up anyway and once he sees the
playroom, you'll see his attitude change from ornery reluctance to
joyful enthusiasm. If your chin sprays
urine or attempts to bite,
Bonding, A Hands-On Approach and Behavioral
Rehabilitation. If for some reason your chin is exhibiting anti-social
behavior but needs to be picked up urgently, say if he's hurt and
requires immediate veterinary
attention, just put on gloves (for biters) and proceed with
the instructions detailed below.
Do not act afraid to pick up your chin! Erratic,
apprehensive or wary behavior on the part of the chinparent will be
perceived by the chin because they are very attuned to the behavior
of the dominant
species (chinparent) in their environment. If your
chin gets the idea that you're afraid to pick him up or uncertain
about how to handle him, he'll sense something's wrong, that perhaps
his chinparent is careless and unreliable, and once a chin thinks
that he may become truly difficult to deal with because, much like
small children, chins test their limits because they need to know
that you're in charge (in a fair, kind and benevolent way),
it makes them feel safe.
Always pick up your chinchilla with a confident, certain manner. If
he is frightened, made nervous or caught by surprise, he may release
fur in the spots where he's touched or where his fur is touched by
other things that he bumps into in the course of his escape. Don't
let slipped fur deter you from picking up the chin, just proceed carefully
and gently. The phenomenon of "fur
slipping" is described in detail in the hyperlinked article
but suffice to say here that this is a voluntary defense reaction
on the chinchilla's part, it will not hurt the chin and his fur will
There are two basic ways to pick up a chinchilla, "Base
of the Tail" and "Scooping Up." As you approach,
speak a key
word in a soothing tone so that the chin can associate that with
being picked up. Establishing expectations makes the routine recognizeable
and less stressful.
The "Base of the Tail" approach can be used on a chin that's
in motion or stationary. The chinparent must firmly grasp the BASE
of the tail, the part where it meets the body, with one hand.
Do not grab and hold onto the tail's END, it CAN break off! (photo)
This is not a "defense mechanism," it WON'T grow back (although
fur will regrow
on the stump), it will bleed, it IS painful and the reason it
snaps off is simply because that thin, fragile strip of fur and flesh
cannot sustain the tension caused by the chin throwing his whole body
weight in the opposite direction of your grip. If the chin starts
yanking and struggling before you have a SOLID grip on the BASE of
his tail, simply let go and try again.
Once you have the base of the tail gripped securely in one hand, immediately
slide your other hand under the chin's body for support and then quickly
and gently draw him toward you. Hold him against
your chest and be sure that his feet are supported at all times, never
dangling. Chins also enjoy travelling about while perched on
their chinparent's shoulder, this can be encouraged by holding him
up to the shoulder to see if he's interested.
Picking up a chin by "Scooping Up" should only be attempted
when the chin is stationary and unlikely to move suddenly. It's a
natural reaction to tighten one's grip under those circumstances and
that can easily bruise ribs or cause other serious internal injury.
If the chin is stationary, as when he's being lifted out of a carrier,
then he can be scooped up by placing one hand under his middle while
simultaneously sliding the other hand under his posterior for support
before drawing him to you.
Once the chin has been picked up and is being held, it
is VERY IMPORTANT for the chinparent to give positive reinforcement
so that the chin will make a positive association with the routine.
Positive reinforcement can be accomplished by holding the chin for
a little bit and talking in kind, reassuring tones and giving him
"chin scratches," as described in this article.
If the chin is acting frantic it will help calm him to gently cover
his eyes with your hand or let him burrow under your arm so that he
can feel he's tucked somewhere safe. Give the chin comfort and reassurance
but do not release him until he is calm, otherwise he'll learn that
going berserk is his ticket to never being handled. Frightened, frantic
chins will stop acting that way (it may take awhile, even months)
if they learn what to expect because they are ALWAYS given positive
reinforcement when picked up, ALWAYS loved and doted on, comforted
and reassured, and only released when they are calm.
Be aware that chinchillas with a particularly thick, heavy coat usually
cannot take being held for very long because it makes them too hot,
especially during warm weather. Try holding your super-furry guy or
gal when the room temperature
is closer to 60°F than 70°F.
When the chin has been out playing and must be returned to his cage,
he will most likely need to be chased to be caught and returned. Some
people have luck calling their chin by name, giving a command or bribing
them back to their cage with a treat,
however, these methods are not always reliable and with regard to
the latter, giving sugary treats such as raisins around
playtime (an hour before or after) can cause bloodsugar-related
We've worked with
of chinchillas from all backgrounds,
including rescue and ranch chins that have needed socializing (because
they lack experience with people) or behavioral rehabiliation
(because they have had negative experiences with people), and
from having our fair share of chasing these chins in order to catch
them, we have
learned for certain that it's not a question of whether or not a chin
should be chased, but rather it's a matter of HOW the chasing is done.
When done right, chasing is not a big deal and it will not traumatize
the chin or cause him to distrust his chinparent.
When it's time for the chin to go back to his cage and he needs
to be caught, use cunning, not speed, to catch him.
Outsmart him by heading him off or anticipating his move so that he
can be caught quickly and efficiently. What you should NOT do: run
(this is DANGEROUS, you may not be able to stop in time to avoid
shout, make loud exclamations, set up road blocks, move furniture
(he'll run into them head-first) or gesture wildly and suddenly.
Instead, approach with deliberate, calculated, swift action. At all
times, the chinparent must be in charge of the situation and it must
remain absolutely safe and under control. Stop and rest immediately
if the chin appears totally panicked, or if he can't be caught after
about five minutes, so that you both can catch your breath and regroup.
When the chin is caught, no matter how obnoxious or uncooperative
he was in the process, never reprimand or display frustration or anger,
only give positive reinforcement as described previously. Eventually,
once there is an established
bond of affection, trust and mutual respect between you and your chinchilla
Bonding, A Hands-On Approach), things will get easier.