Tail Wagging

Wag the Ferret

By Heather Wojtowicz in The Educated Ferret, April, 2000, issue 13

Not all of them do it…but there are certain ferrets who, when adrenaline starts pumping, their whiskers start twitching, their noses start sniffing, and…their tail starts wagging?

Strange, but true. On occasion, a ferret who is having a particularly joyful time pursuing another ferret (or a human) will demonstrate an unexpected bout of frenzied tail wagging. Often tail wagging is seen when the ferret has cornered its playmate (or victim) in an enclosed space and the ferret is getting ready to pounce. And it’s not the sweeping, majestic tail-wag of a pleased pooch – their little rear ends seem to vibrate as their tail whips back and forth so fast that it becomes a fuzzy blur. The noise that the tail makes as it pounds against the wall or floor has prompted tail-wagging to also be labeled “tail-beating”, and it can be extremely amusing to watch!

So why do they wag? Tail wagging is another “word” in ferret body language. “I have a lot of waggers in my business, ” explains Educated Ferret Club Vice-President Catherine Bell, “it seems pretty obvious to me that it is a playful challenge, sort of mustelid ‘yo mama!’ Among my crew, it is always performed by ferrets with very strong, aggressive and mischievous personalities who usually end up winning the game of ‘tube chicken’.” For anyone who doesn’t have a long tube for their ferrets, “tube chicken” is when there is one ferret peering into each open end of a long tube, both preparing to bolt into the tube and see who makes it to the other end and who turns around and dashes out of the tube! Catherine also notes that sick, or sad ferrets are never tail-wagers. Ferrets with dominant, strong personalities are often tail-wagers, especially when they are poised to become locked in play combat with another ferret.

Donna, Shelter Director, has seen countless “waggers” and agrees that a wagging tail is the hallmark of a very playful and active ferret. “99% of the time, I see tail-wagging when they’re playing with each other in a tube or a small, enclosed space,” she says, adding that tail-wagging is a voluntary reflex not seen in all ferrets. Ferrets who drum their tails back and forth during stalking and pouncing play are usually the males with the most dominant personalities and zest for playtime.

So the next time your ferret starts beating his tail while staring down his play tube, answer his challenge and scratch or thump at the other end of the tube. He’ll love it!