• Socializing The Grumpy Hedgehog

    Through careful breeding by responsible hedgehog breeders, temperament of pet hedgehogs has improved dramatically since hedgehogs first entered the North American pet market in the very early 1990s. However, there are still some animals that are very unfriendly and temperamental that appear from time to time. While it is wonderful to know that probably less than 5% of hedgehogs are as unfriendly as the original imports, this isn't very reassuring when you do end up with one of the few very hateful hedgehogs.

    First, it is sometimes helpful to figure out why your hedgehog is unfriendly. If the hedgehog has been mistreated by a previous owner, then it may be more of a fear or lack of trust issue than an actual unfriendly problem. If this is a young hedgehog, especialy one from a pet store, it may be one of two (or possibly even a combination) problems. First, poor breeding. When a breeder does not breed for temperament, the extremely unfriendly individuals who produce other unfriendly offspring are not removed from the gene pool, and continue to pollute the temperament pools of hedgehogs. Secondly, lack of handling. Many of the mass breeders handle their hedgehogs very rarely, and so the babies they produce are not socialized before being stuck in a shipping crate on the way to the pet store. While knowing the cause of your hedgehogs temperament may not bring an amazing understanding of how to bring him around, it sometimes can help you know where you need to target your attentions.

    Any unfriendly hedgehog, regardless of cause, has the potential to become a more friendly pet. Notice I said MORE friendly, and not "loving perfect example of hedgehog temperament". While there are some hedgehogs who rebound from an unfriendly start and become a very sweet hedgehog, they aren't necessarily the common rule. I recommend hoping that your hedgehog becomes more easily handled, and less fearful, and then just be pleasantly surprised if they do end up being a very sweet hedgehog.

    There are two major keys that I recommend to unlock an unfriendly hedgehog. First, Patience. The best way to bring around a grump is to spend lots of calm, quiet time with your hedgehog. Let them run around on you if they wish, or just sit on your lap if they prefer to be lazy. If they prefer to sit still, provide them with a small blankie or hedgebag to hide in. Even if you don't feel that you are interacting with the hedgehog, the more time they spend with you where they are able to relax and nothing unpleasant happen, the less fear they will hold that something bad IS going to happen with you. If possible, spend an hour or more per day, when the house is at it's calmest and quietest, with your hedgehog out of its' cage and in contact with you. This doesn't necessarily have to be all at once, if your hedgehog is very fearful when it is first picked up, but then calms down shortly, you may have more results holding it for a short period of time, until it relaxes, and then putting it away, and repeating the process a bit later. This gives the hedgehog more experience with the time where it is most nervous, and will do more good than holding it for long periods of time when it is already comfortable.

    The second key that I use is Bribery. To begin with, offer your hedgehog a variety of small treats until you find something they really love. Then, make sure that treat smells of you. As gross as this sounds, rub the treats between your hands or *gasp* in your armpit for a second. This will be the start of the understanding that connects you with good things. Then, try keeping your hand near the treat dish while your hedgehog eats. Once your hedgehog accepts your hand near the treat dish, offer the treat dish while your hedgehog is sitting on your lap. Then, offer your hedgehog their treats from a spoon that you hold in your hand. Slowly move your hand up the handle of the spoon until the bowl of the spoon is resting on your fingers. At this point, your hedgehog should be showing a lot more trust in you, and then you can test your own trust for your hedgehog. Offer your hedgehog their treats straight from your fingers. However, be prepared so that even if you DO get nipped, you will not jerk, scream, or do anything else to startle your hedgehog.

    Keeping constant with these suggestions will do a lot to bring grumpy hedgehogs around. While there are a very few hedgehogs that don't respond to these techniques, most of them will show improvement with enough work from their owner.