As all chinchilla owners know, chins are high energy and high maintenance – there’s no sugar-coating it! We go out of our way to provide safe multi-level havens for our babies, order them the finest foods, and hope that one day they’ll come around and show us some love back! A major part of chinchilla health and bonding is playtime. Playtime is critical for chins, as it gives them a chance to discover a new environment, stretch their legs, and get to know their owners a little better.
Get to know your fluffball. Playtime is an incredible way to get to know your little babies. Chinchillas have abundant personalities, and you miss a lot of that while they’re in their cages. Letting them out will encourage them to approach you (as so oftentimes it’s the other way around) and share their squeaks, leaps, wall jumps, and more with you! I encourage all owners to be very aware of their chinchilla’s behaviors – study them: their idiosyncrasies, movements, and physical characteristics. Any change in personality or behavior can be indicative of a health issue and should be carefully monitored – but you need to know your chinchilla’s baseline personality in order to detect any semblance of a change. There are a lot of health issues or injuries that can be fixed simply by detecting them early, and to put it simply, you can’t catch it if you aren’t looking.
Be present at playtime. Watch them like a hawk! – at least, keep a very watchful eye when you first start letting your chinchillas out. As you get to know your chins, you’ll be able to know which ones respect authority more than others, which ones you can trust around the furniture, and where they like to hide. There’s nothing more terrifying than fearing your chinchilla has dissipated into thin air when they’re actually snoozing under the couch – true story.
Set your boundaries. Many people like nice things, chinchilla owners being no exception (in fact, I think we have the best taste). So, it’s natural to be apprehensive letting your chinchilla out with such lovely molding, fabrics, and wooden furniture strewn about – chins are known for filing their teeth on wooden toys, and they don’t care whether that toy is your bed frame or an appropriately sized apple stick. It’s critical to set your boundaries and take up a stern talking with your chin. The easiest place to start for most homes is the bathroom or closet, as it’s a confined space and easier to spot a misbehaving chin. When you feel comfortable moving into a larger space, start in the new space by keep the playtimes short and working your way up. Trust is something that is built over time, chinchilla-human relations being no exception.
Chin-proof the playroom. The method I use for training my chinchillas not to bite my things starts with me. As people, we are responsible for our furniture, rug, walls, and important documents. No one can protect these things better than ourselves. Oft, it’s as simple as moving something important out of reach or closing the drawers. Chinchillas are so curious – you really can’t blame small animal instinct for why your favorite book (or camera, or passport, etc.) got destroyed. If you can see it, they can probably get to it. There is always a way. So put the birth certificates away, remove the climbing mechanisms, tape cardboard against your molding (make sure the tape is not reachable), shove pillows and blankets under your couches and around your radiators, and close those windows. When you’re done, you’re probably still not done. Those little buggers are more compact than your foresight will lead you to believe, and aren’t scared of venturing where no chin has gone before. It’s best to simply be there and catch them before they do the deed.
I know many owners have playpens, and I’m all for that – but if you have the time and energy to expend on chin-proofing, you’ll find it’s a much more interesting experience, allowing them to be more fully integrated into your space, if only for a moment.
Train. I don’t use treats when I train, I simply use the concept of ‘playtime’ vs. ‘home’. If they want to be out, they have to be good. If I see someone lingering by a wall for too long, I’ll say his/her name in the same manner I’d speak to a disorderly 4-year-old or a misbehaving dog – I’ll utilize the don’t you dare tone. They will hear you, and if they know you well enough, they’ll turn to you and be aware that you are talking to them. Sometimes they’ll stare right at you as they decide their playtime fate, chomping into a picture frame or art piece. Then, they’re headed home to think about what they’ve done. Less intellectual chins may never put it together, wondering with the same fascination each and every time why they’re going back to their cage! However, most chins will begin to see a trend in playtime consequences and learn what they can and can’t bite. I leave chew toys out for them, and allow them to bite on certain furniture such as my barn wood table and wicker chair. Everything else will simply buy them cage time. Again, you must be present in order to train. You can’t be sending mixed messages while they’re out (i.e. when you’re lazing they can bite, when you’re training they can’t), as it defeats the consistency required to teach & learn. If my chins are good, they can be out for up to 45 minutes before they decide they want to fall asleep, tap on the door to go home, or need a sip of water. I’ve found that some of my chins are now able to communicate their needs to me, which is extremely rewarding to recognize.
Enjoy and take your time. My chins are my children. I love spending time with them! They are badass kids at times and don’t care at all for what I have to say. That’s fine, they’ll learn – and, don’t tell them, but if they don’t, I’ll still love them. And watch out for them, and take care of them, and make sure they are safe and healthy. When playtime is over, be sure to collect your chinchilla carefully! Do not rush that final process, and if your pet escapes your clutches, do not panic. Be patient and coax your kids back into your arms or their cage, as long as it takes. I have heard too many horror stories of owners losing their chinchillas by stepping on their beloved pet accidentally, or falling on them when chasing an escaped chin. With all your might, try your best to avoid thoughtless and tragic accidents. Safety first! My best advice is to just take your time – don’t force it, and be genuine. If you love them, they’ll know – and on some level, they’ll reciprocate. Enjoy their company and never stop doing your best. Patience, practice, consistency, and human foresight can all create an extremely fun and productive playtime for all.