The best way to promote small pets is to sell quality animals that have bonded to humans at an early age and are therefore exceptionally cuddly.
Most people are attracted to small pets in large part because of their size. People want to snuggle with them and caress, pet and stroke them. Many people want to carry these tiny animals around as if they were babies.
Unfortunately, not everyone who buys a small animal in a pet shop will get this experience with their pet. Many small animals sold in pet stores are shy, reluctant to be touched and even afraid of people. Selling a pet like this will disappoint the customer and reflect badly not only on the species sold, but also on the pet shop.
How cuddly a pet is depends mainly on two things: the animal’s genetics, and its experience of being handled by humans. The earlier an animal is handled by humans, and the more it is handled, the more it will trust humans and desire human touch.
Benefits of Bonding
In the book “The Man Who Listens to Horses,” author Monty Roberts, sometimes known as the horse whisperer, explains how important the practice of foal imprinting is on a horse’s relationship with humans. He says: “It is possible to introduce the foal to human contact through imprinting during the first hour of its life. Nature has created a tiny window of opportunity at this point of time, when the youngster logs memories that are virtually indelible. A good experience with a human being at this point creates a trust that has the potential to last a lifetime. The same applies to many species.”
Guinea pigs, in particular, are very much like little horses. They are born fully furred with their eyes open and ready to run, just like horses. And because guinea pigs are prey animals and have a tendency to be nervous and flighty, early human imprinting is especially important. A guinea pig that is exposed to humans during its first hour after birth will be much more trusting, personable and cuddly than one that isn’t handled until later. A guinea pig like this will be a superior pet and provide a much more satisfying relationship.
Most other small pets are born in an immature state: blind, deaf and helpless. Although this means the “window” of development and imprinting for these animals is longer than that for guinea pigs, early handling still has a profound and beneficial impact on their relationship with humans later on.
It is best for baby rats to be handled from birth for a few minutes daily. After their eyes open at two weeks old, the more the baby rats are handled, the more cuddly they will be as adults.
Retailers carrying small pets that have received early handling should promote this fact strongly. They can promote their cuddly pets in any print or media advertising. For instance, an ad can say that the store has “the friendliest pets in town,” or boast, “our pets are real cuddle-bugs.”
A great way to show off friendly and personable pets is to have a “Meet the Pets” event–a low-pressure opportunity for children and adults to learn more about the different species of small pets–sort of like a miniature petting zoo. An event like this can be a regular occurrence, scheduled for every Saturday afternoon, for example.
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and the book Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.