Bonding with your Sugar Glider
Firstly you need to take into account what the breeder means when he says ‘he’s hand tame’. What exactly does that mean? Different breeders have different meanings for the term ‘hand tame’. It could mean the glider won’t crab at you if you look at it, it could mean that the glider will take food out of their hand, or it could mean the glider will happily sit on their hand. Whatever it means you should be aware that the glider is tame with the breeder – not you! The glider knows and trusts the breeder; he doesn’t know you so you cannot expect him to be perfect with you when you get him home!
You need to gain the glider’s trust, he needs to feel safe and secure and know you won’t hurt him. Put yourself in your glider’s shoes, he’s tiny compared to you, treat him gently and talk softly to him.
When you get home, place an old piece of clothing that you have worn for a day or two (but not washed) over the cage, or you could give the breeder a small piece of fabric that you’ve worn on your person to put into the pouch. This is so the glider will become familiar with your scent while he sleeps. Then put him/them in the cage and leave them to become familiar with their new surroundings. Remember the glider is only familiar with the breeder’s home; your home will be filled with new noises and scents. Do not try and get your gliders out for 2-3 days; you should of course feed them, and you could sit in the same room and watch and talk to them softly.
During this 2-3 days try offering treats such as yogurt drops through the bars, this will give you an idea of how hand tame and confident they are. They may crab and lunge at the treat that is being offered, try to be prepared and not jump. Just leave the yogurt drop where it is, I’ve known joeys to do this and as they lunge they get a mouth full of the yummy treat and they learn that the treat and the treat dispenser (you) aren’t so bad after all.
It’s important that while you’re still bonding with your gliders they come into contact with as few a people as possible to avoid scaring them. If people want to see your babies take a picture and show them that instead.
After this 2-3 day period, many people tend to start carrying their gliders around for a short amount of time in a bonding pouch so they learn to become more familiar with your scent and will associate it with warmth and find your presence comforting.
Once your gliders have settled into their new home you can start gaining their trust; I suggest you have a pot of live fruity yogurt at the ready. The best time to start bonding is during the daytime or early evening while they are still sleepy. Take their sleeping pouch (with the gliders in it) out of the cage and sit with it under your jumper for a while. Talk to them softly and pet them through the pouch. Open the top making sure they’re at the bottom and peek in. At this point you will probably be crabbed at, just carry on talking softly and reassuringly to them. They can’t understand what you’re saying but it’s the tone of voice that is important.
When they stop crabbing you could try offering some yogurt from the back of your hand, they will probably start crabbing again but don’t be put off, when they crab don’t pull back just stay still until they stop and then you can continue. Don’t try offering them fingers as they will be able to grab and bite them! You may experience some lunging; some gliders will swipe at you with a paw, again don’t be put off by this, just try and understand they are scared and reassure them. The aim is to gain trust at this stage, they need to associate your hands with positive experiences which will make them feel safe and reassured.
Allow the gliders to lick some of the yogurt off but don’t let him take it all. Gliders instinctively gouge to find more food – this is how they would get their fill of sap in the wild, and this is what they will do if the yogurt runs out. They need to learn that they will be rewarded for good behaviour, so do not remove your hand when they crab or bite, only top up the yogurt when they are quiet.
At this stage do not try and remove the glider from the cage or the pouch by hand.
When you can put your hand into the pouch without being crabbed at and without being bitten you are ready to progress. The aim this time is to try and pet the gliders body using the yogurt as a treat and as a distraction. Now your glider has learnt that good behaviour is rewarding try just dipping your finger (it will make stroking him easier without having to use both hands), let him have a few licks and top up the yogurt as before, then this time try and pet his body – probably easier to use your thumb at this point. When you can do this without crabbing the next step is to try and get your hand underneath him so he is sitting on top of your hand. I find the best way to do this is to use both hands, if you’re right handed as I am you will find it easier to have the yogurt on your left hand and use your right hand to scoop the glider up from behind, this way you are out of the way of the teeth and by scooping forward you can release the claws from whatever fabric they are clinging on to. I also like to position my fingers so that the gliders front feet end up holding on to my finger tips.
You will notice that I haven’t put a timescale on how long each exercise should take, that’s because each glider is different, it depends on how much work the breeder has done as well as the glider’s individual personality; and you. If you’re confident then the glider will pick this up and the process will take alot less time. It’s easier to trust a person who has confidence in you than someone who is afraid or wary of you.
You’ve gained the trust of your glider, so now it’s down to some real bonding. The best time to bond with a glider is during the daytime. Now you can scoop your glider out of the sleeping pouch you can put him into a bonding pouch which you can wear around your neck during the day, preferably one that fastens shut. You may want to put a piece of fabric from the sleeping pouch into the bonding pouch just to reassure the glider. I don’t recommend you take the glider out of the house just yet though, not until they are bonded with you. You can talk to your gliders and pet them through the pouch and offer them treats. The idea is that the gliders will be comfortable enough to fall asleep on you. After a week of being in the bonding pouch for a few hours a day you can start leaving the zip open a little and see what happens, your glider may come out and explore you, or he may stay put. The idea here is that the glider remains with you, if he doesn’t you need to gently scoop him up and put him back into the pouch. It’s difficult to say how long the bonding process will take, a glider is classed as bonded when if something startles them they will run to you; if they’re out playing and you need to catch them you can just put a leg in front of them and they will jump on, they’ll sit on your shoulder or sleep down your top without trying to escape. They’ll come to your hand if you put it out to them and you will generally just be their tree!
You could at this point start to encourage interaction through the medium of play (lol!), feathers are a favorite as they like to chase them and pounce on them, lots of fun for everyone. In the U.S they use a tent for their playtime which I think is a great idea! It puts you and them in a confined, safe space together, you can take in treats and toys that you can all play with together, you will probably be used as a springboard and as a treat dispenser machine but so long as they’re interacting with you it doesn’t matter. If the glider comes and nips your fingers – don’t treat him!
Playtime out of cage must be done in a ‘glider proofed’ room. All possible escape routes should be blocked bearing in mind they can squeeze through inch square gaps! Although gliders aren’t really chewers, electric sockets should be covered so that if they urinate near them they won’t become damp and dangerous! They’re likely to use electric cables to climb on. It’s important to remember that nothing is out of reach to a glider, so remove any ornaments and house plants from the room completely.
Trust, bonding and play will make for a fantastic pet. My bonded gliders will happily cling to me all day while I go about my daily business, I could trust them to stay there whatever I do or wherever I go bit I don’t! Just because they are completely bonded doesn’t mean they won’t get curious and jump off up a tree to explore, the next thing they know is they’re lost and they panic and they’re gone! I would be devastated if that was to happen so if I go anywhere outdoors with them they go into their secure bonding pouch so I know exactly where they are. I’m not willing to even risk losing my babies.