When you first get your sugar gliders and put them in their cage you might wonder: “how do I bond with my sugar gliders?”
This is a very normal question, after all, we all want to be friends with our pets. However, bonding with a pet sugar glider takes a bit more work than bonding with other animals. Especially if you’re trying to form a friendship with an adult glider it can be a tricky process. After all, sugar gliders are different from most other animals people keep as pets.
In this post, I’m going to give you 5 easy, actionable tips that will allow you to develop a bond with your suggies. If you follow these 5 steps you’ll be able to form a strong bond with your glider without rushing them. The most important things you need are patience, persistence, and love. Let’s get started!
Bonding with your Sugar Glider in 5 Steps
1. Let them get used to their environment
When you bring your glider home and put them in their cage they might seem anxious, scared, and afraid.
It’s very normal and natural for any animal to be scared and anxious when introduced to a new environment. After all, this is unfamiliar territory for them. For that reason, the first thing you should do in the bonding process is give them some time to get used to their new environment.
I know you might be eager to touch and snuggle with them immediately since they’re so adorable, but patience is key. Don’t touch him much while he gets used to his environment so he can get familiar with all the new smells, objects, and their new living area. It also gives them some time to mark their cage as their own by using their scent glands. You will notice them exploring their new living area and smelling everything they can find. They have a very strong sense of smell so by smelling everything they can identify things they’re unfamiliar with.
It is also very possible that your glider will make noises during this phase when you get too close. You might hear him bark or crab occasionally but don’t worry, this is normal behavior, he just doesn’t know what to expect yet and if you are a friend or not.
2. Let them get used to you and your scent
The next step is letting them get used to you. You can start doing this when you notice that your sugar glider is not scared of you anymore. For instance, when he stops making noises when he sees you.
A good tip is to put a piece of your clothing that you’ve worn in their cage. It will contain your smell and because of that, your glider will get familiar with how you smell and be less frightened when he smells you in person. Sugar gliders use their strong sense of smell to recognize members of their colony and they also use smell as a bonding mechanism.
If your glider allows it, you can also move on to trying to softly pet them at this point. I wouldn’t recommend picking them up just yet though. If you are going in for the pet, make sure to make your presence known first. You can do this by speaking to them softly. When they’re aware that you’re around them they will be much less likely to be scared off.
Also, make sure to move slowly. Sudden and fast movements can scare them off. Don’t rush it!
If they do not allow you to touch them yet, do not be discouraged. After all, you’re an incredibly huge creature compared to them; you’re literally a giant to this small creature that could easily crush them. Instinctively they’ll be scared of large animals such as yourself and will need to learn that you mean them no harm. For some gliders, this might take longer than for others.
3. Positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a very powerful tool for training but it can also be used to bond. Positive reinforcement means that your sugar glider will associate your presence and touch with good feelings.
One of the most powerful feelings comes from the food they enjoy. When sugar gliders eat food they enjoy their brain releases a powerful chemical called dopamine which makes them feel happy.
A good idea is to feed them some treats such as almond or honey when you’re planning on interacting with them. They will associate the good feeling the food releases in their brain with your presence and gradually learn that this huge human is nothing to be worried about, but rather something that brings joy and happiness!
If they still crab or hiss when you approach them do not scold or punish them; they will not understand. Be patient with them, after all, they’re wild animals that mostly act on instinct.
If you move too fast in the bonding process it’s also possible that your glider will bite you. Luckily, their bites do not hurt very much, and if you do get bitten just give them some space and try again later.
4. Get a room you two!
By now your sugar glider should be slightly bonded to you, but you still have to take care to not ruin it. If you make a mistake here you could set yourself back quite a bit.
The next step in the process is to spend some time with your glider in a confined space. A room where you can close the door (so your glider can’t escape) is perfect, but a tent or a large closet can also work. In essence, what you’re doing is creating a giant cage where you and your glider(s) can spend some time together.
It’s essential here that you use a room that your glider cannot escape from. Sugar gliders are very nimble and fast creatures that can be extremely hard to catch if they escape. Also, if they escape and you have to start chasing them it will not bode well for your bonding process; they will obviously get frightened if a creature that’s many times their size is chasing after them for reasons they do not understand. Make absolutely sure that the space you’re using is one that they cannot escape from.
If you’ve selected the perfect room to spend some one-on-one time, put your hand in their cage and allow them to climb onto if they want. If they do not want to, do not grab or squeeze them. If you grab or squeeze them they can easily feel like you’re trying to harm or threaten them; especially this early in the bonding process when they’re not fully familiar and trusting of you yet they can experience anxiety or stress from being grabbed.
It’s very normal if your glider does not climb onto your hand the very first time. If they do not want to try again later until they do climb onto your hand.
Now that you’ve got them into a secluded space with you allow them the freedom to come to you when they want to. To encourage them to come to you, you can place some sweet treats in your hand that they can eat if they want to.
Do not spend huge amounts of time with them in a confined space at once. It’s better to start slowly and only spend a few minutes with them and ramp it up gradually.
Also, since sugar gliders are quite habitual (they usually wake up at the same time every day, poop and pee at the same time of the day, and eat at the same time of the day) it’s best to do this process at similar times during the day.
5. Bonding pouch time
You might or might not have heard of these things called “bonding pouches”. They’re similar to sleeping pouches for your glider and they’re among the most fun part of the bonding experience in my opinion.
In essence, what these bonding pouches are used for is to emulate their mother’s pouch. Sugar glider joeys are carried in their mother’s pouch for the first 80 days of their life: this is a place where they feel very secure and where they bond with their mother. We can simulate this experience for them by using a bonding pouch.
You can buy a bonding pouch online or make one yourself.
The best way to move your glider into the bonding pouch is to do it when they’re in their sleeping pouch. You can take the sleeping pouch out of their cage and roll it out so you can see your glider (this might also be a good time to give them a treat!). Then put the bonding pouch as close to the sleeping pouch as you can. Another useful tip is to put a blanket from their sleeping pouch into the bonding pouch. That way it will smell familiar to them and they won’t be as frightened.
Now that the two pouches are close to one another, try to gently move your glider from the sleeping into the bonding pouch. Once they’re completely in the bonding pouch, zip it up carefully (make sure that he’s or his tail not in the way of the zipper so you do not hurt him).
When he’s securely in the pouch, put it around your neck, at around the height of your heart. Now you’re ready to move around and talk to him so that he will get familiar with your presence and your scent!
Keep in mind that while you can move around when he’s in the pouch that you should use common sense. They’re small animals that can be easily frightened by loud noises or sudden movements. Don’t go running around or make loud noises. Keep it calm and allow the glider to rest close to you in the pouch.
When you do this for the first time I’d recommend doing it for about an hour, but once they’re more used to it you can do it for longer times if you’d like to.
Make sure to not use the bonding pouch as a substitute for holding them in your hands. They have to get used to being touched by your skin just as much as they have to get used to your scent. Therefore, you must use the bonding pouch as a complement rather than a replacement for holding your gliders in your hand.
Frequently asked questions
Now that we’ve gone over the 5 steps of bonding with your glider let’s go over some frequently asked questions that people have about bonding with sugar gliders.
What does bonding mean and why is it important?
Bonding basically means that you change your sugar glider from a wild state to a tame state. Of course, since it’s not a domesticated animal it will never be as tame as a dog, but the bonding process’ goal is to get us as close as possible.
It’s important to bond with your glider because if you do not it will not be a good pet. If your glider is not bonded to you it will remain scared and anxious. This means that you will not be able to pick it up, play with it, and all the other activities I assume you have in mind when you decide to get one of these creatures as a pet.
Of course, the bonding process will take some time, but it’s very necessary and the end result is very rewarding.
How long does it take to bond with a sugar glider?
This depends on the glider; some are more affectionate than others and will bond to your quicker while others will take more time. In general, it will take around 2 weeks to complete the bonding process but it can be shorter or longer depending on the glider.
Of course, if you make mistakes during the bonding process it can also take longer. For instance, if your glider escapes and you have to chase him this can delay the bonding process.
How do I know my sugar gliders have bonded with me?
There are different stages of bonding. It’s not a binary “bonded” or “not bonded” state but more of a spectrum. The first sign of your sugar glider forming a bond with you will be that it comes to greet you when you come towards his cage.
Once they’re fully bonded they’ll want to be with you as much as possible. They will be excited when they see you and want to play a lot. Another sign that they’ve bonded to you is when they start grooming you.
Can sugar gliders form a bond with multiple people?
Gliders are very social animals that live in colonies of up to 7 individuals. Therefore, they can bond with more than one person. This makes them excellent family pets. However, they will usually choose one person (often the person that spends the most time with them and feeds them the most) to form their primary bond with.
This also means that gliders can bond to a new owner if you’ve adopted one from a previous owner.
Can you bond with adult gliders?
It will take a bit longer to bond with an adult glider that you’ve adopted from someone but it is definitely very possible if you properly follow the steps laid out above.
Can you discipline a sugar glider?
Never physically discipline your sugar glider. There are reports of people doing this, but it’s unbelievably unfair to do so. These animals are literally 1% of your size so you may inflict way more harm than you mean to. They depend on you for love and protection. By physically disciplining them you will also harm the bonding process.
If you cannot control your temper, please do not get a sugar glider or any pet for that matter.
You have to remember that these exotic animals are in essence wild animals and that they behave mostly on instinct. They can’t help it.
If your sugar gliders are doing something wrong, the only acceptable way to “discipline” them is to blow on their face lightly.
Can they learn their name?
They can! Sugar gliders are intelligent creatures (some people say they’re as smart as dogs). Because of this, they’re able to learn what their name is and respond to when it’s called.
The best way to teach them their name is to use them very frequently.
Can my glider ride on my shoulders?
I’m sure you’ve seen videos or photos of gliders riding on their owner’s shoulders. Sugar gliders actually really enjoy this and it’s easier than you think to train them to do it.
First, hold out your arm and let your glider climb on top of your shoulder. The first couple of times he takes a ride on your shoulders you should make sure that they do not fall off by holding them down a little bit or petting them. Then walk around the room with your furry friend on your shoulder!
To get them off, stop in front of their cage with the door open so you can put them inside.
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